What is the common theme in both the speech "The First Americans" given by the Grand Council Fire of American Indians and the poem "Refugee in America" written by Langston Hughes?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Both Langston Hughes's poem titled "Refugee in America" and the speech written in 1927 by the Grand Council Fire of American Indians titled "The First Americans" share the theme of oppression of a race. But more importantly, they share the theme of hypocrisy by revealing the hypocritical nature of the white Anglo-Saxons to proclaim the value of freedom yet oppress anyone not of their own race.

In "The First Americans," many historical and cultural references are made to illustrate the oppression of and the unjust judgements made against Native Americans. One example can be seen in the fact that the speaker points out any victories the British made against the Indians are called "battles" in "schoolchildren's" history books, while Indian victories are called "massacres," just as we call General Custer's last stand a "fearful massacre." The speaker further points out that his people's ability to create music, beautiful blankets, and beautiful pottery proves that they are a "civilized" people and not the savages white Anglo-Saxons have misjudged them to be, showing how unjust their oppression is and the hypocrisy of the Anglo-Saxons to proclaim freedom yet oppress any group of people.

Similarly in "Refugee in America," Hughes uses the diction choices of "Freedom" and "Liberty" to juxtapose the concepts of freedom and liberty with reality. For example, the speaker states in the final stanza that hearing "words like Liberty(it) ... make [him] cry"; he continues to say, "If you had known what I knew / You would know why." The final two lines of the poem indicate that the speaker has been in a situation in which he did not truly feel liberty, most likely due to oppression, which underscores the theme of hypocrisy.

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