“Working to Find our Own Regalia, The Pursuit of Culture, Freedom, and Self Worth”
Sherman Alexie calls Jackson Jackson a “cultural kamikaze” in an interview about his short story “What You Pawn I will Redeem”. Jackson Jackson is a Spokane Indian who has lived in the state of Washington all of his life, and has been homeless for six years. His homelessness is more an act of defiance than anything, and a slap to the face of society. It’s a way of defying to accept a national culture, and remain true to the one his people have ultimately been robbed of. Spotting his grandmother’s regalia in a pawn shop window set him on a seemingly impossible quest to win back a family heirloom and salvage his culture. Despite the turmoil Jackson finds himself in, the pride he takes in staying true to his cultural makes up for it all. He is proud to keep a culture alive through his day to day actions and social encounters rather than letting it die as so many before him have. This is exactly why Jackson was rewarded the way he was in the end of the story. It is a different kind of work ethic that doesn’t conform to today’s society that ultimately pays off for Jackson.
American society today has a pretty set plan in place for humans regarding work. From a very young age toddlers are sent off to preschool and get their first indulgence into what seems like a never ending cycle of pointless work and learning. All of this learning in turn solely teaches us to work. After paying what seems like a fortune at college, regardless if the money is coming out of your pocket or a parent’s, what are we to do when we graduate? All of those countless days, months, and years of what is deemed hard work, and for what? We just fall into a niche in society that seems to have been planned out for us since the beginning. That niche is our work. We graduate to then find a job and fall in line with the rest of society. Mostly hoping to keep a low profile and socialize seldomly just as school has taught us to do with our peers. Have you ever thought if there is anything more to work? Perhaps Jackson Jackson has the answer. Maybe it’s not an answer at all, but rather a different way of working all together.
The reason Jackson has been homeless for many years is not solely due to the fact that he has never worked. Jackson went through society’s schooling program and made it to college. Despite flunking out after a couple semesters, Jackson worked various blue collar jobs in Washington State, and even married a couple of times fathering some children. That’s when Jackson Jackson began to disappear. I believe this is because society is trying to force his people into a way of life that they do not agree with. The Spokane Indians were here way before any of the modern day Americans, and they went about their own free way of life. Jackson Jackson tried to fit into society but it nearly killed him. Jackson became a homeless alcoholic and seemed to lose all self worth along with his Spokane Indian Heritage. It’s easy to see why Jackson Jackson says being homeless may be the only thing he has ever been good at, because in away it’s the closest he has been in his whole life to living the way the people of his culture had for thousands of years. However, the difference is that Jackson’s people were always working towards the betterment of each other, and with Jackson being a homeless drunk he was never working towards anything. That is until the day he stumbles across a long lost family heirloom.
Little did Jackson Jackson know, but his luck was about to change. Jackson stops his crew of drunken Indians one afternoon due to the surprise a familiar pow-wow regalia gave him as it was on full display in a pawn shop window. This regalia would in turn bestow upon him an opportunity to work so that he may regain his self worth and connection to his tribe’s culture. With a creeping suspecion that this pow-wow regalia may not be the one stolen from his grandmother fifty years ago, Jackson and his crew decide to take a closer look. Knowing that his family always sewed a yellow bead on their regalia, Jackson and the pawnbroker look over the regalia thoroughly to find the bead hidden in the armpit. However, it wasn’t going to be that easy to retrieve an heirloom that the pawnbroker was already one thousand dollars invested in. The broker gives Jackson a deal where if Jackson comes back in twenty four hours with nine hundred and ninety nine dollars he would be willing to lose a dollar on his investment and give the regalia back to Jackson and his family. Jackson at the time only had five dollars to his name yet he agrees to the deal. The pawnbroker gives Jackson a twenty dollar bill as he leaves the shop to help him get started on his quest.
First order of business, Jackson and friends go to the 7 eleven and spend some of their newly acquired wealth to get drunk. After waking up from a passed out state later that afternoon, Jackson goes off to try and get some newspapers to sell so that he can achieve his twenty four-hour money goal. Once he arrives at the Real Chance mission he asks the boss for a ridiculous one thousand four hundred and thirty papers for him to sell, so that his profit would total enough to buy back the regalia. Jackson manages to get a generous hand out of fifty free papers, and after selling five papers in an hour he throws the rest away and goes to buy some cheeseburgers. After his meal and with only two dollars and fifty cents in his pocket, Jackson sets of for the gas station to buy a fifty cent cigar and two scratch off lottery tickets. The lottery wins Jackson a free ticket and one hundred dollars, after receiving his fortune he gives twenty dollars of it away to the gas station clerk with the notion that she was his family. This seems suitable as is the Indian Culture to share with family after one wins something. This family sharing did not end there. Jackson proceeds to spend the remaining eighty dollars on one dollar whisky shots for a bar full of Indians he deems to be his cousins. After inevitably passing out, Jackson wakes up to Officer Williams kicking him in the ribs.
Jackson had ended up passing out on the railroad tracks and spent every dollar he had acquired in his quest for the regalia. Officer Williams tells Jackson that this has to be his biggest ill-fortune yet. However, being the good man that he is, Officer Williams lets Jackson go and sends him on his way after doling out thirty dollars to go towards the regalia. Jackson heads to the water where he saw some other Indians sitting last night who were still waiting on a their ship to return that had left them many years ago. Jackson walks up to them still sitting there, and has them sing songs one after the other. Once they had exhausted their memories of song, Jackson invites them to have breakfast. Jackson tells the waitress he will pick up the check and demands as much food as twenty five dollars can buy. After their feast, Jackson heads back to the pawnshop with only a five dollar bill in his pocket. After presenting the Lincoln, the pawnbroker had only two questions. He asks if it was the same five dollars from the previous day and if Jackson had worked hard for the money. After answering no to the first and yes to the second, the pawnbroker gives the regalia to Jackson Jackson and says he doesn’t want any money for it. Jackson, seemingly disappointed, exclaims that he wanted to win the regalia back, and all the while Jackson had turned down multiple offers to file a police report. He truly did want to work hard for this heirloom that represented more than a piece of property but a culture and self worth that he almost let slip away and into the shadows.
Jackson’s work story is quite different than one considered to be the social norm. It does raise a pretty interesting question though. Would you rather work everyday of your life to be able to fit into society in hopes that you can make a decent living and be able to pay for all the material goods you think necessary for life, walk around and change your own persona to adapt to which ever group of people you find yourself around, or get stuck in a never ending niche that you can’t seem to afford to leave? Or is it better to work the same way as the homeless Indian man? Jackson Jackson, worked astonishingly hard in his own way to earn back his family’s regalia. To me it is more fulfilling to work hard as Jackson did and go to the grave not with material possessions that societies work has afforded you, but dying having lived a life seeking relationships, self worth, and preserving a culture that will forever be passed down.The regalia represents our freedom, culture, relationships, and individual self worth. I feel like no matter which form of work we fall under our own personal regalia is out there just waiting to chased.