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An ABC of INTERCULTURAL IDENTITY

ANETH

It was Christmastime, but the red earth was dry, and I rode with my father in the dark green, 1953, Chevrolet mission pickup, the long floor-gearshift between my knees. We took a two-track, dirt road all the way, perhaps thirty miles, from Teec Nos Pos to Aneth, which lies in the small Utah corner of the Navajo Nation. My father drove there every week to give what they called "religious instruction" to the elementary students in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA, now BIE) school. It would be the first and last time that I visited the little stone and pine viga school that was almost identical to the one I had attended in Teec Nos Pos.

 
This time my father would tell the Christmas story, and on the bench seat beside me in the truck sat a cardboard box filled with small brown paper sacks. They were filled with striped hard candies shaped like waves and rectangles, with red and green, yellow and white and purple gumdrops. There were peanuts in their shells, a candy cane, and an orange. Year after year these bags would appear at Christmastime, and there was always an orange.


When he was done telling the story, my father let me pass the bags out to the children. I was no older than most of them. Why should it be me and not some of them who got to give out candy? What was my father thinking when he gave me this task of apparent largesse? What did the children think as I handed each one a bag? I know from some of my friends, now that we're adults, that they probably thought nothing––that I was someone of no consequence in their lives. Their lives were about longing for home, being punished if they dared to speak the only language they knew––their school lives of harsh deprivation both physical and emotional. Maybe they thought about the contents of the bags, hoping they might contain something different from the ones the Mormons and Catholics and the government school itself had passed out a few days earlier. Maybe they were thinking about going home soon, the only time in nine months they would see their families. Maybe they thought about squirreling away all four bags of treats to bring back home and share.


And what was I thinking? Probably not much. It seemed natural that my father would tell me to do this. Perhaps I'd been part of an assembly line that filled the bags. Maybe I felt generous or imagined how generous the other kids might think I was, though the bags didn't come from me. Maybe I was self-conscious. Maybe there were no thoughts; I was just doing one of the tasks that fell to me as a missionary kid, part of something I had been taught and believed with all my heart was a sacred calling.


Whatever thoughts the Aneth school children had, whatever thoughts I had, two images from this event have stayed with me. The first is a deep, narrow ravine our truck crossed and, whether or not he actually said it, some words from my father about how the truck might have difficulty getting down and up the other side. Or perhaps that was my fear, since this was a route my father took every week. The second is just a moving picture of me, a little white girl, being part of the putative missionary largesse.

 

 

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FREELY

FREELY
 
rain at 3 am
 
on the
just
and the unjust
 
i must go out
and walk in it
 
grace
too
on the just
and the unjust
 
belongs to no one
to no religion too
 
grace
 
falls
freely
washes me clean
you know what i mean
 
 

The word freely is brought us by Lorelei Kay. May grace follow her freely wherever she goes.

 

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ECLIPSE

ECLIPSE

 

 

Going back further and further from Old French, to Latin, to Greek, and at last to Indo-European, eclipse, at its most basic means "to leave out." In the Old French it meant "darkness," and of course referred to solar or lunar events, but it began to be used metaphorically in 1570. If a student shines too brightly, she may eclipse all the others, which, under a less than skillful teacher can cause the others to be left out. Or the shining star may be eclipsed by the needs of the others.
 
Left out. I just finished reading for my town library book club Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. It turned out I was rereading it, which took me a few pages in to realize. Perhaps I'd suppressed it because, despite the achingly beautiful writing, there is pain on every page. The pain of being left out. Left out of the conversation, left out of the dance, erased from ordinary life in small town Ohio. A mixed Chinese-white family clipsed by the whiteness of the town.
 
I'm recently back from my mother's memorial in New Mexico. Typically, at wakes and funerals, no one wants to speak ill of the dead, so no one mentioned, until my nephew posted about it, the damage caused to Native people by the missionary ethic and how that was part of the legacy of both of my parents. After I read his post, I acknowledged to myself how some people's truths about my mother's putative saintliness were not my truth. The privilege, the systemic and personal racism had been left out of the encomium, eclipsed by whiteness in a land once red.
 
There was also erasure of me as a queer woman among family members, something I've been so accustomed to, that I mostly didn't notice or name it until after the fact. Having this essential part of my identity shoved to the margins for others' comfort or due to lack of awareness is Everyday.  
 
On the other hand, especially in art and writing, what is left out informs the whole, is critical to what is left. After reading Ng's first book, I was motivated to read her second, Little Fires Everywhere. One of the main characters is an artist who alters her photographs to make an artistic statement. In an interview, the author says, "Photography is…often seen as objective—after all, the camera captures what it sees—but it's also inherently subjective: so much depends on the framing of the photograph, deciding what gets included and what gets left out, how it's shown." Which, of course, is also true of writing. What will you permit to be eclipsed? What will you clip out? What will you decide is essential to the art, to the point?
 

 

The word eclipse is brought to you by Diane Joy Schmidt who is, among other things, an award-winning journalist, photojournalist and screenwriter. She knows from diverse experiences what it means to be left out and continues to shine in the dawn light. 

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REALITY

REALITY
 

 

I'd like to think it was sometime in childhood that it occurred to me to wonder: "When I see a field that I call 'green,' and you see the same field and also call it 'green,' are we actually seeing the same color? Or have we just agreed on a common name for a color we both see quite differently?" That pondering would end with the realization that we could never truly know what it is that each other sees.
 
As I said, I'd like to think it was in childhood, and I know it was fairly early in life, but it's quite unlikely that it happened in my earliest years. Here's why: I was raised in a tight-knit system in which there was literally One Reality. That reality existed in the Bible, and the interpretation I was exposed to was not interpretation; it was literal Reality. It was impossible to conceive of anything existing outside it.
 
I probably still lived in the embrasure of that reality when I first entertained that speculation about how we each see colors. Little did I know then that what my mind was exploring was the possibility of different and many realities. In fact, it's probably strange that we use the word "reality," since there are so many varieties of experience, so many angles from which to see what we think of as reality.
 
It's said sometimes that a person living with schizophrenia is "out of touch with reality." But which reality? Sometimes it's more accurately expressed that they are in touch with a different reality than "the rest of us." That assumes that "the rest of us" never experience the schizophrenic person's reality, whereas perhaps we do at times. It also assumes that there is a monolithic reality that the "rest of us" all experience, when there actually isn't a single one. And, it assumes that there is such a thing as "the rest of us." A lot of assumptions. About reality.
 
One of Cheyenne's uncles was schizophrenic, and once when I was walking across Copenhagen, deeply engaged in conversation with him, I nearly walked into busy traffic. Michael put out his arm to hold me back. Which of us was more aware of reality?
 
And then there's science, which is touted as a paragon of reality and objectivity. Science is no more objective than the people conducting it. Scientists searching for a particular outcome, a certain cure, often, and not maliciously, come up with results that are later shown to be inaccurate or even false. It's important to know what entity funded scientific research because sometimes the source of funding leads to biased results. Even in science there are different realities.
 
I sometimes think of reality as what we see through a kaleidoscope—ever shifting, many faceted, lavish with color and shape. The magnificence of many realities.
 
The word reality is brought to you in WORDS FROM FRIENDS by Mirakhel Windsong, whom I got to know, though not well, during my last time of living in Gallup.

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