I was born in an adobe home in a village less than a square mile. We played carefree in the open spaces, and felt safe in our close-knit indigenous community. Once we went beyond our boundaries, everything changed; we were marginalized.
I was born in an adobe home in a village less than a square mile. We played carefree in the open spaces, and felt safe in our close-knit indigenous community. Once we went beyond our boundaries, everything changed; we were marginalized. Everything was different—the language, culture, dwellings and the expectations of fitting in. As a six year old, I attended the local school for the first time, excited about the new experience. But when we met our teacher, we couldn’t understand a word she spoke. She didn’t even look like us. As a community school, its students were all indigenous kids. All of the professional staff—the authority figures—were from the outside world.
Feeling marginalization made me aware of the difference between my home and the outside world. Although my sense of identity, place and belonging had real meaning in my community, it was as if these values were lost in that world beyond. As an indigenous community, our cultural and communal orientation was everything. It was not just something we observed through our numerous traditional ceremonies, but as an integral part of our daily lives. Noticing these characteristics lacking in surrounding communities made us feel all the more special. Others seemed oblivious to our uniqueness or even our existence. They even seemed to hold our difference against us. Public schools are supposed to provide equal opportunity, but that was systematically denied us through the discrimination of lowered expectations. As a result, my friends were mostly grade-school casualties, instead of graduates. I was one of only a handful of high-school graduates from our village.
I do what I do because nation building is the foundation to social justice. It begins with the awareness and appreciation of the wealth of untapped human resources that our collective cultural diversity represents. As indigenous people, we have meager economic resources and the social-integration deck is stacked against us. Our individual opportunity, our community vitality and even our cultural continuity is left entirely to our own self-determination.