What is the authentic experience?

For class this week, we were asked to read “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse. In a very short summary, leaving out many details the story is about a Pueblo Indian man named Jesse who works at a tourist attraction called vision quest. Through his job, he befriends a man nick named White Wolf and begins sharing his experiences and life with him. *Spoiler alert* In the end, White Wolf takes all that he has learned and is able to steal Jesse’s job while he is out sick. Then due to his unemployment, Jesse’s wife leaves him and White Wolf is able to steal her away. So how did I feel about this story? It was a story with a twist I never saw coming. So much that I ended up sending it to a close friend so he and I could talk about it because I couldn’t keep this in to myself. Love the twist. Thank you, Rebecca Roanhorse.

The thing that I felt like kept me connected to the story was how real the emotions felt. From the beginning, you knew that Jesse had a strained relationship with his wife. You also understood how his job and native heritage really played off one another. Jesse worked at a Native American experience where people could use virtual reality pods to become engrossed in the experience. The issue Jesse had was that he was playing off of the stereotypes of what it means to be Native American and not what his everyday actually was like. I feel like I understand why he did it, since people tend to be more comfortable with their preconceived notions of how things are, but in the end he really damaged his self-image. When I was a freshman in college, I had many people ask me about the “black experience.” The question in general is really confusing because you’re asking me what it’s like to be me but I’ve never experienced any other race so how would I really know or fully understand how to describe my personal experience. I don’t intend to be dense with my opinion towards these type of questions but I don’t think those asking the question fully understand the plight of my position. The same goes for Jesse. Minorities can’t give you a stereotype version of their lives. We can share with you our experiences and you can give yours back. Even within the same race, there are differences in our upbringing and that completely changes our experience.

Another interesting part to this story was in the title. I thought it was interesting that Roanhorse was able to bring up the topic of what it means to be “Authentic”. That brings up a lot of questions about how someone identifies with themselves, others, the stereotypes, and the truths. In Roanhorse’s story, I feel like there was an internal battle between Jesse and what he thought it meant to be a Pueblo Indian. In an argument with his wife, Jesse say “Nobody wants to buy a Vision Quest from a Jesse Turnblatt… I need to sound more Indian.” This section shows how Jesse may identify with being Native American but he feels like aspects of his life disqualify him from being Pueblo, which is not the case. Jesse is living his best Pueblo life, even if he practices a different religion and his last name is not “Indian” enough. I think the idea of being authentic really changes how someone see themselves verses how someone thinks people see them. It is because Jesse was not being authentic with himself that White Wolf was able to steal those memories and use them to take Jesse’s job. Jesse wasn’t being true to himself when he was at work so people were getting an experience but not the authentic one they deserved.

Overall, this is a really well written story with a twist that you don’t see coming. I would recommend this story to someone who was struggling with being their authentic self or were having difficulties loving their heritage and culture. This is not a coming of age story at all but it does remind you to love and appreciate the culture you come from.

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