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Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™: 12/21/18
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative short story that fits beautifully into the road narrative project. If you haven't read or listened to the story via Levar Burton's podcast, stop reading this review. While analyzing this story I will be revealing spoilers.
This story is told in second person present tense. That means, you the reader are being immersed in into the protagonist's experience. You are, in fact, getting the "authentic Indian experience."
At first glance, this story is about cultural appropriation. A Pueblo man is supporting his wife through these virtual tours. He has to act "more authentic" than he really is, meaning he has to show up in the Hollywood and Zane Grey version of the Indian experience. It means having to put up with white people who claim to be related to an "Indian Princess" but can't accept that Native people might be living in the city and consuming the same pop culture they are.
If you're familiar with how second person present tense stories you'll know where Roanhorse's story is headed. You will see a clear map or at least a limited number of probably outcomes.
If you're not, then eighty or ninety percent of the story will seem like the story should be classified with Summerlost by Ally Condie (666633: marginalized, home, Blue Highway). At this level it seems like a marginalized character whose story is centered around home and the blue highway that takes them to and from work.
But here's the thing. The big thing. "Marginalized" writers — the catch all phrase for the majority of the world that isn't white — don't cast themselves as "marginalized" characters. I'm not saying that they whitewash themselves (no that's again white people adapting stories for white consumption). No. They create characters who are people first — just people who are part of their culture. And then they make them heroes or monsters or rock stars or whatever else type of protagonist they want.
The fact that white writers are most often the ones writing stories about how dangerous it is to not be white is why I put the "marginalized" protagonist so near the bottom of the character spectrum.
So if the protagonist isn't just a Pueblo tour guide in virtual reality, what is he? Or rather, who are you? What happens when your most annoying client takes over your life. What happens when your home life seems to be devolving into the start of Mildred Pierce but from the husband's point of view?
It's the point where you, the reader, takes a step back from being you the tour guide, and you realize that it's not playing tour guide that's the authentic experience, it's the obliteration of self through cultural appropriation that is the authentic experience.
For the "twist" at the end, the short story reveals itself to actually be a 9966CC or a minotaur at home in the maze. By minotaur, I mean someone who is trapped in their existence. The home is the home life that becomes the final battle ground for the protagonist. The maze is the virtual reality simulation.