“I Learned Everything”
Hogan’s “Heritage” is a poem about accepting life, learning from experiences, and growing as an individual. It’s about maintaining focus on the important things in life; not getting caught up in the small, frivolous things.
The writer is a woman of mixed race and cultures; part Chickasaw Indian, and part Caucasian. As a child and also into her adult years, she often wondered at the calmness and acceptance of her Native American grandparents as they were forced to move from place to place; often losing their possessions and even much of their culture all for the sake of ‘progress’. And yet they never showed anger towards anyone. They came to understand that material belongings are not always promised and therefore, to hold on to that of true value in life: family, those close to them, heritage. These circumstances did not always make sense to the writer during her childhood and she often felt isolated and even ashamed of who she was. This is shown in the line “It was the brown stain/ that covered my shirt, / my whiteness a shame." (Lines 28-30)
The writer describes her different family members as if attempting to feel connected to them; to make herself feel as if she belongs. She begins by comparing herself to her Caucasian mother; watching herself age and as she ages she looks more and more like her mother. From her mother she inherited her fair skin; she may have even learned from her how to bake bread. The writer has eyes the same brown as her father’s; eyes that have seen so much – good and bad - concerning her family, as well as her Native American culture. She speaks also of her uncle; he is old and represents their dying culture as he sings old Native American chants to her and tells her stories of their culture. Her grandfather symbolizes the manner in which hardships can be handled as the Native Americans were forced to become integrated into the white person’s way of living....