Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tattoos and Skin

Brendan O'Brien      
EN 385
They Who Do Not Grieve Post

            Sia Figiel's They Who Do Not Grieve is a slightly depressing look into the nature of Pacific cultures and the role of shame and lack of autonomy that can sometimes reside there. The novel focuses on the role of the tattoo and how it acts as a cultural symbol and a mark of belonging. However, the native Pacific Islanders are marked just as much by their skin and their culture as they are by their tattoo. One particular instance that stood out to me is when Apa is describing the plight of the factory workers. and how it enrages him An old man questions him, "What do you want us to do? Rise and spill blood? Is that what you wanna see, Apa? Is that it boy? Because if we do we're not better than them. And in a roundabout way, that’s exactly what they want us to do. They expect it of us.” (Figiel 207). Much like the women are marked for their unfinished tattoos, the factory workers are marked by their skin color. Apa is enraged by this discrimination and unfair treatment but as the man points out, violence simply begets more violence. There must be other ways to end their plight.
            I couldn’t help but to connect this reading to Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or Fr. Kolvenbach’s speech. Both men similarly call for a nonviolent end to injustice. And furthermore, all three writers are suggesting that by violently resisting oppression, they only restart the cycle and affirm the white population’s racist beliefs. The only true way to end oppression and injustice is through nonviolent action. By bringing people together to understand the different ways in which society has taken advantage of minorities, injustice can be combatted.
            The old man seems very pessimistic at first but he ends on a high note by reminding Apa why he left his homeland. He tells Apa that he came here for a better life and the dream of success. He admits that it has been harder than he thought it would be however, he closes his thoughts by saying, “But still, Apa, I’m in my dream.” (208).  Despite the hardships and prejudices, the man has found something that no one can take away from him. By remaining hopeful of a bright and better future, this man offers an example of how to react to injustice. Instead of giving in or lashing out, he finds something that is completely his and can only be his.

            It seemed hard at first how to connect this story to any of my travels. My first obvious conclusion was to discuss my time in New Zealand and my interactions with the Maori people there. The Maori have similar tattoos to the Samoans and have also dealt with their share of discrimination. However, there is similar type of disparity in our country even to this day. There is no denying the fact that minority communities in America still experience disadvantage and prejudice. It is up to our society to follow the example of MLK, Fr. Kolvenbach, and Figiel and to praise and respect people for their individuality rather than discriminate against their physical appearance. Furthermore, we must look through their eyes to understand the way in which society views them. Literature and travel are both ways to experience this transformation.

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