By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Celebrated Indian author Sherman Alexie, however, is skeptical of any wider cultural impact The Exiles could have on the Indian world. “I doubt most Indians will pay much attention,” he says. Nonetheless, Alexie, who, together with African-American filmmaker Charles Burnett, is credited as a presenter of the Exiles reissue, is delighted a film has come along that captures the urban Indian life.
“Far too many Indians and non-Indians see the creation of a new culture as the death of the old one,” Alexie says. “This is beautiful strife. The film is honest. Life is painful and these characters are suffering. That’s not stereotype, it’s realism.”
Alexie, whose own mother was part of the Urban Indian Relocation Program (“She took a bus to Sacramento, got off, got a cup of coffee, and went right back to the reservation”), further praises The Exiles for capturing subtleties of Indian life in a way no other film has managed to do. He points to an early scene, in which Tommy helps to shave the sideburns of a self-conscious friend.
“You don’t see that kind of tender moment in films about Indians — one friend helping out another.”
Still, notes Hanay Geiogamah, “The one thing about The Exiles is that the title implies these folks are somehow banished or disconnected from their home. But a lot of [Native] people came here on their own accord. They prospered here. This is their home.”
In one of the opening scenes of The Exiles, Yvonne Walker window shops through the various stalls of the Grand Central Market on Broadway. She browses but buys nothing — a somber look on her face that implies a life of austerity. Her thoughts turn to her unborn child.
“I want my baby to grow up here,” she says. “To speak English and maybe go to college. I want him to have the things I didn’t have in my life.”
Back at her home in Bellflower, Walker sits on a plush beige couch in her living room, reflecting on that life. She and Cliff stayed together for two years in their Bunker Hill apartment. She hoped the birth of their first child would settle him down, but it didn’t. He continued to drink and stay out all night. After two years, Walker left him. Tragedy followed.
“I moved back to the reservation for a few months to get away from Cliff. The water isn’t so good there and the baby took ill — diarrhea and dehydration. He passed.”
Walker moved back to Los Angeles and got a job in the aerospace industry. Cliff eventually went back to Oklahoma, where he was originally from. He died of diabetes years ago. Before she and Cliff broke up for good, however, Walker had another son with him — James.
Though he and his mother were close, James never knew about her film debut. “He and I did get a role together on that show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,”Walker laughs.
A couple of years ago, James met the same fate as his father, succumbing to complications from diabetes.
“He was 47,” Walker says, pointing to a framed, smiling picture that rests next to a computer.
After Cliff, Walker married an American man she met on Main Street. They had five children together, but he, too, had alcohol problems, and the marriage ended. Today, the walls of her apartment are lined with pictures of her children and grandchildren. Walker smiles with pride and points to her oldest daughter, Betty.
“She’s a nurse now,” Walker says. “She was thinking about going to medical school, but she’s doing pretty good where she’s at.”
Several of her grandchildren are on their way to college.
Walker laughs when she thinks about the conversations she had with her old boss — the one who found it unconscionable that Walker could raise a family without a husband.
“I lived for my kids,” she says. “And I have to give it to myself, I did pretty good by them. They all have good jobs. They’re on their own and they’re doing well.”
Despite her hardships, things didn’t work out badly for Walker, either. After her time in the aerospace industry, she spent 17 years working for the L.A. County Registrar/Recorder. Now she’s retired with Social Security and a pension. She goes to powwows when she can, and her kids are all proud of their Indian heritage. She visits the reservation often but has no plans to move back. She’s happy where she is.
“For all I’ve been through, I’m actually amazed things worked out as well as they did,” she says. “God must have been looking out for me.”
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