Tayo has green eyes, a physical symbol of his mixed heritage. Born from a Pueblo Native American mother and a white father, Tayo’s green eyes show that he is a “half-breed” that doesn’t belong fully to the Native or the white world. At first, these eyes are a source of shame for Tayo. As a child, the other kids tease him and call him “Mexican Eyes” while Auntie resents Tayo’s presence as a constant reminder that her little sister (Tayo’s mother) embarrassed the tribe by sleeping with men of other races. As Tayo grows, though, he begins to see the strength he has from the two sides of his identity. When Tayo sleeps with Night Swan, a Mexican woman, Night Swan tells him not to be scared that he doesn’t look exactly like the other people of the tribe and that his eyes show he is uniquely suited to the changing world, implying that his hybrid background will help him to adapt and thrive in a world that is swiftly replacing cultural purity with cultural hybridity. The childhood jeer, “Mexican eyes,” now carries the weight of Mexican history, a nation which began in violence but eventually embraced the cultural mixing of indigenous and European peoples. Tayo later views his green eyes as a sign that he can “speak for both sides,” that is, understand both the Native and the white perspectives on the world in order to make a bridge between the two cultures.
Tayo later meets a medicine man named Betonie who also has green eyes due to the genes of Betonie’s Mexican grandmother. Betonie’s green eyes are a sign that Betonie is open to cultural diversity and adaptation. Betonie’s ceremonies are complex rituals that honor the traditions of the Native past while interweaving elements of the modern world that Native Americans now live in. Betonie, as shown by his green eyes, is able to take the best elements of many Native tribes (including Betonie’s own Navajo heritage and Tayo’s Pueblo heritage), as well as the Mexican and white cultures in the American Southwest and bring them together to form a ceremony that will return the entire region to balance with nature and end the drought. Tayo is the only one who can complete the ceremony because Tayo also understands the value of looking to all of these cultures for power instead of insisting on cultural purity. With their green eyes, Betonie and Tayo can see a future in which cultural hybridity is celebrated as an asset rather than a stigma.
Green Eyes Quotes in Ceremony
“I'm half-breed. I'll be the first to say it. I'll speak for both sides. First time you walked down the street in Gallup or Albuquerque, you knew. Don't lie. You knew right away. The war was over, the uniform was gone. All of a sudden that man at the store waits on you last, makes you wait until all the white people bought what they wanted. And the white lady at the bus depot, she's real careful now not to touch your hand when she counts out your change.”
They think that if their children have the same color of skin, the same color of eyes, that nothing is changing." She laughed softly. "They are fools. "You don't have to understand what is happening. But remember this day. You will recognize it later. You are part of it now."