The Shared Qualities of Opposing Sides of a Border: How Cultural Relations can Merge Characteristics between Different Groups
Cultural and geographical borders within any society are believed to create boundaries that limit similarities between those on opposite sides. Contrary to the belief that the qualities of one side do not merge with those of the other, however, it can be seen that certain characteristics can become shared by different groups of people. Through cultural relations, certain qualities can come to represent two or more groups that no one would believe to have anything in common with each other. In the books The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman and The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos and John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star, certain qualities are combined among different groups, showing that even the most dissimilar people in the world can have certain things in common. In the works above, similarities are observed between Hmong parents and American doctors, Iroquois Indians and Protestants, and Americans and Mexicans, showing how the groups are really not so different from one another after all.Defending and maintaining one’s cultural traditions is extremely grueling when living in a different country, as seen in Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The Hmong people living in the United States were surrounded by others who did not understand their beliefs; they simply wanted to practice their own traditions and be their own group of people: “What the Hmong wanted here was to be left alone to be Hmong: clustered in all-Hmong enclaves, protected from government interference, self-sufficient, and agrarian” (Fadiman, 183). The proud Hmong just wanted to live their lives and practice their beliefs without interference from the surrounding American populace. Hmong parents Foua and Nao Kao Lee, however, had to accept changes in order to help their seizure-plagued daughter, Lia Lee. The parents had to learn English to communicate with doctors and understand how to provide American medicine to their daughter in order to help control her seizures. The American doctors, in turn, had to learn to deal with Hmong beliefs to help Lia. The doctors had to learn how to communicate with the Lees and discover how to approach each matter with them, all for the sake of Lia. The medicinal and community borders crossed established shared qualities between the Lees and the doctors, all for the health of Lia Lee in order to help her control her seizures.Though many problems may arise, it is possible to adopt a new culture and reject old values, as seen in The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos. There were numerous Protestant citizens captured by the Iroquois Indians who adopted their culture and did not want return to their old religious traditions: “captive children had no choice in these [appearance] matters; just as they were forced to accept the native language of their captors, so, too, were they obliged to adopt a native appearance” (Demos, 147). This was the case with Eunice Williams, a Protestant girl who was captured by Iroquois Indians at the age of seven. After living with her Iroquois captors for several years, Eunice Williams did not want to return to her old Protestant life; she had adopted the Iroquois values as her own and had no intention of going back to her old way of life: “By 1707, Eunice was reported to be ‘unwilling to return.’ And the Indians — including, one presumes, her new family — ‘would as soon part with their hearts’ as with this successfully ‘planted’ child” (Demos, 146). Although she still knew of her Protestant values, Eunice now held Iroquois beliefs as her standard in life. This situation relates to the one seen in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: Eunice Williams, the Lees, and the American doctors were all forced to adopt the qualities of another group in order to help either themselves (Eunice) or another person (Lia Lee). In both cases, borders were crossed and shared qualities were established.The groups of people surrounding a border that separates one country from another can also produce shared traditions, as seen in John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star. Newly formed customs among separated groups of people, however, can create both disorder and harmony between the two sides. Sheriff Buddy Deeds was thought of as a hero, but he did have a few undiscovered skeletons in his closet, which prompted his son, Sam Deeds, to investigate. Buddy tried to maintain order by promoting segregation in his town, as seen in a quote from a local Frontera bartender named Cody: “Place like this, twenty years ago, Buddy would have been on them [referring to an interracial couple]. He would have went over there and give them a warning. Not ’cause he had it in for the colored, but just as kind of safety tip.” Although he preached the segregation of Americans and Mexicans, Buddy Deeds did have an affair outside of his own race, going against the way he maintained order. He shared a relationship on both sides of the cultural divide: one with Sam’s biological mother and another with Pilar’s mother, Mercedes. He also fathered children on both sides of the divide (Sam and Pilar), This situation can be compared to what Eunice Williams experienced in The Unredeemed Captive. Both Buddy Deeds and Eunice Williams knew and lived on opposite sides of a cultural boundary throughout their lives: Eunice with Protestants and the Iroquois, and Buddy Deeds with Americans and Mexicans. Both people shared the values of opposing sides and held relationships with conflicting groups of people.Through cultural interactions, different groups of people that most would believe to have nothing in common can develop similar characteristics. Although groups may be divided by a cultural or geographical border, cultural interactions can establish shared characteristics, as demonstrated in the works discussed. The Hmong parents and American doctors had to learn to deal with each other’s beliefs to help Lia Lee in Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Eunice Williams held both Protestant and Iroquois values throughout her whole life in John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive. And Buddy Deeds preached segregation but had relationships with both American and Mexican women in John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star. These examples show that even the most different groups on opposite sides of a border — be it cultural or geographical — can share certain qualities, making them not so different after all.
Character Analysis of a Community: ‘Lone Star’ and the Concept of Borders
The movie Lone Star addresses multiple issues that people from troubled border towns have, including racial tensions, dirty cops, and illegal gambling. “Ours is a story about borders. Towns on either side of a given border generally have more in common with each other than they do with any towns further into their own state” says the director, John Sayles. Borders are a major apart of this film both physically and emotionally, and almost every character has one or more to deal with throughout. It includes many different types of people and naturally there is going to be conflict between specific groups. There are Mexicans, African Americans, white, and Native American people featured and there are borders between characters on all sides. There are more of these type of emotional and personal borders rather than man made walls. The main character, Sam, has to be able to play both sides of each individual border because he is the sheriff and has to be fair as well as live up to his father’s reputation. The borders created by the people involved always come back to Sam. The people that live there now think so highly of Buddy Deeds that they are dedicating the courthouse to him and if they were to find out that he wasn’t the man they thought he was the history of the town would be changed.
The first border was created long before the time that the movie takes place between Otis Payne or Big O, and his son Delmore Payne. Big O has lived in Frontera his whole life and has either worked at or owned a bar since he was old enough to work. His bar is the place for African American nightlife because they are outnumbered in population there. Big O had been there for so long and knew so many people he was the face of the black community in Frontera and was very involved in people’s lives. He is also a local historian and really values his heritage, showing it by having a miniature museum in the back of his bar showing pictures and paintings of the Black Seminoles that used to dominate the area. Otis drinks, he used to run gambling rings and probably still does but we don’t know for sure and he looks out for his best interests. His son, Delmore, is slightly different though. He is an army officer that hasn’t had any contact with his father for years but is reassigned to the Frontera base and he has a son, Chet, that Otis hasn’t seen to his knowledge. Delmore tries to keep Chet from seeing Otis because Del feels he never really had a father because Otis didn’t help raise him. Delmore channeled that energy and became a high ranking officer in the army not only for himself but also to get back at his father and try to prove that he is a better man than Otis ever will be.
Nonetheless, against the wishes of his father, Chet sneaks out to his grandfather’s bar on multiple occasions. The first time was early in the movie and a black man in the army was shot while there. Otis recognizes Chet and tells him to leave and not to tell anyone what he saw. This part is subtly important because the people involved in the shooting were under Delmore’s platoon and he is supposed to run the best boot camps out of any of the officers they have. It ironic that it happens in Otis bar because it shows the craziness and violence that Otis has gone through his entire life and shows that Delmore isn’t a perfect person as hard as he might try. The second time Chet goes in he is amazed by the pictures of the Black Seminoles and asks Otis many questions about them. Otis tells him about their struggles, their migrations, survivals, their participation in the battles fought and that he is in fact part Seminole. Chet is excited to hear the news and then Otis says something very important, “But blood only means what you let it”. By saying this he is referencing Delmore decision to not be apart of Otis’ life by choice and Otis sees this as not wanting to be related. Delmore doesn’t want to let their blood be the same and he does his best to stay away. As hard as he tries he eventually makes his way into Otis’ bar and has a talk with his father after years. They don’t get a lot accomplished, basically just slyly hinting at all of their pent up anger but as Delmore is leaving Otis asks if he’ll “ever see that family of yours(Delmore)”, having already met and talked to his son and Del say’s he’ll bring them in but he doesn’t. The decision Otis had to make about Delmore had to be extremely difficult but he ultimately chose to stay and continue his work at his bar but more importantly he didn’t leave his town. The people there need him as a public figure to represent the African Americans because no one else of that race really has any importance to Frontera. Otis has been there for everything, he has seen and done a lot to preserve the way it is now and he couldn’t bring himself to leave that. It isn’t fair to Delmore because he was robbed of a father but by sacrificing himself he saved hundreds of people overs decades because they had Otis instead of him.
Another major border was that of the infamous Charlie Wade and he really had conflicts with everyone but he always won every situation he was in. Charlie Wade was a corrupt cop who used intimidation through murder to run Frontera however he wanted and no one was ever brave enough to say no and bring him down. Everyone had the same thoughts of Charlie but they were too scared to act. He controlled the police, politicians, and also oversaw all of the illegal gambling that was going on. Wade didn’t care that it was happening as long as he knew about it because if he didn’t there would be serious consequences and they all knew it. While Charlie was the sheriff he had two deputies, Hollis Pogue and Buddy Deeds. Hollis was always loyal to Wade possibly due to fear or just the fact of wanting to do your job well. During each flashback including the two Hollis is usually uncomfortable with what is going on. For example when Wade shot and killed the Mexican “coyote” smuggling people across the border Hollis was horrified that Wade could do something like that alone, regardless of the fact he shot a defenseless man without checking for reason. Wades brutal racism shows a more violent way of controlling the population like America has been trying to do for years. In the article “Moral Exclusion in a Nation of Immigrants” it talks about the Naturalization act of 1790, which tried to maintain the purity of America and keep foreigners out (59). Wade is basically doing the same thing just in possibly the most illegal way possible. Charlie was able to walk all over Hollis because at the time Hollis was too weak to stand up to Wade but Buddy on the other hand wasn’t. Buddy immediately knew that Wade was corrupt and he refused to do the work that was assigned to him even though it wasn’t always legal. During a flashback where Buddy refuses an order of Wades’, Charlie fires him and as he leaves he tells Buddy that he’s a “dead man” and then yells at Hollis to get the car. That was shortly before Wades’ disappearance and Buddy’s rise to the top
Still, the border doesn’t stop there, because of the culture and racism of the time Otis has had his share of run ins with sheriff Wade. Once when he was a young man and Wade embarrassed Big O in front of the whole bar by making him pour beer and then moving the glass to make a mess. Wade pulls a gun but just as a means of intimidation and to show O who runs the town. The second meeting between the two is much more explosive though. Big O was running and underground gambling ring without telling Wade and he found out. There was already an extreme border between the two but when Wade saw what was going on he threw Otis out of the closet and beat him. He lets Otis stand and gestures to the money and when his back is turned Charlie pulls a pistol out just like what he did with the smuggler. This time Buddy charges in but the only bullet fired was by Hollis. He and Otis were friends and Hollis just decided that this is where it all ends. However, by shooting Charlie Wade he has just unleashed a whole string of other problems that they have to deal with now. The three that are there know what happened but now there is another border between them and the story they tell the public. By deciding to stage Wade’s death and putting Buddy as sheriff they realize that the truth can never get out because as long as Charlie Wade is gone they don’t care. Anything is better then life with Charlie Wade as sheriff and Hollis says it to Sam, “People liked the story we told, better than anything the truth might have been”. At the time the movie actually takes place they continue to lie because everyone believes the story the story that’s out there and the truth would damage if not ruin Buddy’s legacy because he didn’t really get rid of Wade, Hollis did. Hollis doesn’t want that though partly because he’s an old man and has accepted what happened and partly because Buddy was one of his closest friends and best men he’s ever known. While a lot of people think the same as Hollis we know it’s not the whole truth and Sam has a nagging suspicion it’s a lie.
The possibly most overlooked border in the movie is the one between Sam and Buddy and not just the fact that Sam thinks he killed Charlie but of all that Sam had to grow up through having a father as popular and well liked in a town as Buddy. Sam never really had a place to hide from his father because Buddy patrolled the streets and was around but Buddy wasn’t perfectly ethical and he knew all the spots that Sam could go to get into trouble. Buddy had eyes everywhere ready to tell him if his son was doing something he shouldn’t be. Buddy let the town know too because in one particular flashback Sam is at the drive in theaters with Pilar when he isn’t supposed to. Buddy walks through and shines his light in every car until he finds his son and then drags him out while cars honk wildly at whats happening. While this was probably trauatice for Sam the thing that hurt him the most was the fact that Buddy wouldn’t allow Sam and Pilar to be together. During the movie we don’t know the whole story and just think he is doing this because he feels like it. There was a much deeper reason for Buddy trying to keep the two children apart. In the last scene, after everything has been resolved we learn that Sam and Pilar are actually brother and sister and no one told them. Even years after his death Buddy still finds a way to put a barrier between him and his son but Sam and Pilar decide to forget about it and continue to be together. A reason for this in my eyes is Sam getting back at his father in a way due to the years that he was forced away from her for no good reason. The line that perfectly summarizes the situation and really the whole movie is when Sam is leaving Big O’s bar after he finds out the true story. He says “His legacy can handle it” talking about Buddy. There are only a select number of people on the earth that know this secret and one of them is dead. This is could be the real driving force behind Sam leaving Frontera in the first place and trying to get away from his father. It’s ironic that he tries to run from this for so long but ends up being sucked into the same position that his father was in all those years ago. It makes it even worse that the same people that were a major part of the community when Buddy was sheriff are essentially the same people who are still there now. Their real allegiance is to Buddy even though they support Sam fully, they refuse to let anything bad happen to Buddy’s name. This barrier is more complex then just Sam and Buddy because of all the lives Buddy touched while he was in charge.
Lone Star brings up multiple racial tensions that are a real problem then and even in today’s America. It represents all the different angles and has real problems of real people in the same situation. It includes a level of complexity between characters that real people have and it shows the real life politics that people have to play to get what they want. Without all this complexity the town would be completely different because Buddy wouldn’t have the same legacy and Sam might not even be there. If none of that happens then the town just isn’t the same, it changes the whole history of Frontera. At the point of the film the people that were involved in Charlie Wades murder had no choice but to keep it a secret until they die because they’ve seen the town at its’ best and its’ worst. They understand the needs of Frontera and continue to put the people first. Anything is better then Charlie Wade, even a lie.