There is a place called Wapato Washington that is located in central Washington on the Yakama Reservation. This is where I grew up. Where I was chastised, chased, and berated for many things. For being Native, for not being the right kind of Native, and for being a fat kid. It was the all-out-shits if you get what I mean.
We lived out on West Wapato Road across the street from an orchard. My dad got Hodgkin’s from the spray they used in that orchard. It’s real nasty stuff. The guys that drove the tractors pulling the sprayers looked like they came straight out of Chernobyl. It wasn’t their fault, they were just doing their job. They were poor people looking to make money like everyone else in the valley, and they got the shittiest of the jobs.
Old white farmers end up getting cancer too. They have to get chemo and go bald like everyone else. I don’t know if the farm workers had comparable health insurance. I felt bad for them, even when they cat-called my mom when she took a walk through the orchard.
The white farmer says he is the backbone of America, but I believe the Hispanic farmworker is the real backbone. The Hispanic man and woman are the ones out in those orchards: spraying, pruning, and burning. They work hard and live hard lives. They may not see it as hard, but for a man that is well off, it is hard. All poor people, it doesn’t matter what color they are, they all have it hard. I have seen them work hard, I have seen them get sick, and then watch them disappear from this world.
Wapato is not the only town on the Reservation. The whole valley is vast and filled with desperation. It is dotted with this small-itty-bitty-shitty towns. My whole life there has never really been hope here. It never changes and the Tribe doesn’t help, they perpetuate the violence.
You know something is wrong when people work themselves to death; they find some strange form of honor in it that I will never get. They work, go to Shamrock’s Tavern, or the 49er’s. They get drunk and maybe take part in a good old fashioned weekend stabbing. A lifestyle built out of some strange form of neuroticism.
A lot of senseless violence and death happens on the Reservation. Woman have been going missing since I was a kid. There is a serial killer here, but they haven’t caught him yet. He lives somewhere out here, among us, haunting native women in seedy country taverns. He is methodical, friendly, and will even give you a ride. He could be your dads kindly neighbor, a pastor, or a teacher that all the kids love. That is how he has gotten away with it for so long.
People care—the victims and others close to them. Yet, some Native people have taken advantage of it for political purposes (Natives are humans and have those ancient human tendencies towards power and hierarchy).
Over the years, the natives have even gotten more violent. They have been more willing to kill for no reason. Get drunk, drive into a field, and kill a farmworkers daughter (this really happened, look it up). Or, get drunk and knife two woman (this really happened as well). Native men do this. I don’t know if they are bad men, but some type of evil has infected them. It has infected this whole place. The whole valley, beyond Wapato, from White Swan all the way to Mabton. These small little-dumpy shit towns. All of these little bastard towns, filled with people who have come from a bloody mess. Together, we are a people that came from violence, how do you think the farmers got there land?
It has been with us for a long time, this evil. We know it exists. But the problem is, we forget that our parents, our parents parents, and their parents, were all raised in a history filled with nothing but hate, violence, and desperation.
You have to wonder. Why do we keep perpetuating something ancient. Something that we don’t need anymore. If I learned anything in life, human intelligence is not as old as our primordial urges towards evil, which is why, those urges will most likely always have the upper hand.