Friday, April 10, 2009

Two ways of dreaming

During my time in Arizona I was plagued with thinking about the future and vocation stuff, while simultaneously my heart strings were being pulled by the kids and the reservation conditions. As I wrote earlier, I spent every night in despair and frustration. As an immersion trip on behalf of the school, our group reflected every night about our daily experience and interactions with the Navajo people. I felt so close to the students in our group from school that at one point I just wanted to come out and tell them everything that was going on in my head. "Hey I wanna stay here and help these kids after I graduate but I have no idea what the eff I'm doing after I graduate because . . . " But I didn't. I only told them half of what was going on. All the frustration at their conditions. I also pointed out how I feared that we were going to leave in a couple of days and things were going to stay the same. The people would still be fucked. And that in my personal view our stay there meant nothing. And I was frustrated because I wanted to leave knowing that we helped them somehow, but the reality was that we weren't doing anything. Their education process had already been screwed around with so much the damage couldn't be repaired in five days. I told them that instead of tutoring them and coming up with half-assed lesson plans that I felt compelled to do something else. I wanted to ask them about their lives, and about their dreams, and what was going to happen after the eight grade, after high school. I wanted to leave them feeling that they had to go on, that they needed to leave that reservation. And that it was possible and I was behind them 100%. I had tried having this conversation earlier with one of the girls I was tutoring with in the same class room and she just gave me a blank stare and said, "I came here to tutor, not to have a heart-to-heart."

I totally stirred the pot by pointing out the futility of our presence. The girl who worked with me in the classroom (who enjoyed the experience so much because she dreams of being a teacher and we were placed in a classroom of kids who had no teacher, but rather different subs each day, so she relished in coming up with lesson plans) wigged out. She was furious. She felt attacked. Crying, ranting, and banging the table she wailed, "How can you say we're not doing anything?"

"We're showing them that learning is fun, we're making them smile. How can you say that! If that's true then what am I doing all this shit for?!" (she threw her flash cards violently on the table; we were preparing a jeopardy game for the kids).

Yeah maybe we were making them smile. Maybe they were gonna have a fun time playing jeopardy. But here's a news flash: we leave and they still can't read, divide or multiply. You're no fucking Gandhi.

Even my best friend was thoroughly disappointed by my attitude. You can't think like that, she said. You can change the world, but it's not gonna happen in one day. (Yeah, I know, but I didn't feel there were any signs of a contribution to these people from us). The rest of the group squirmed in their seats, looking sheepishly at each other, at the ground, at the clock. silence. awkward coughing. Then I spoke up and took everything back. I said I was sorry for being such a downer and I didn't mean to offend anyone, that was simply the way I felt. For the next couple of days I noticed a few group members avoid me or talk to me differently. Even my best friend turned away from me. She was detached, there was such a tangible disconnection. It was the weirdest thing ever.

The day after I found out the dream act was introduced and after praying in the sweat lodge, I was ecstatic. I cried in joy. My cell phone had no reception so I couldn't call home. The only other person I ran to slapped me in the face, figuratively. I excused myself from the classroom and got her out of her classroom. "Girl, they introduced the dream act! This is great! I can't believe it, I prayed so hard for this in the sweat!" (She's in the same boat) Then came the blow. She cocked her head to the side and squinted at me like if I were standing far away. Girl there's other things to pray for. I prayed for my family. For their health. There are other things. I didn't understand. First of all, how could you think I don't care for my family? Of course I prayed for them, I prayed for my poor tired father who drives three hours to and from work as early as 4am. I prayed for my mother who's abused and derided at work. I prayed for the frustration that eats at my brother for his situation. And I prayed for the success of my incredibly smart sister (the "anchor baby"), I gave thanks for everything and prayed for forgiveness as well. I didn't understand. Why wasn't she happy? After that I cried harder, but it was no longer from the joy, it was from the pain of not being understood. The whole week I was dealing with the despair of feeling incompetent, and here, now, there was this small ray of light that shone, and there were other things that mattered? (Yeah, there were but at the moment, this was it). At that moment (our last day at the boarding school) I decided to close myself up. I swore I wouldn't talk to anyone on the ride home, the 16 hour drive. I'd keep the frustration and despair, and the little joy in the end to myself. And so I didn' talk. Not to her, not to anyone. I came back wanting to be by myself, just thinking, reflecting, sorting out these issues with myself and with God. Soon after I got calls and text messages, facebook messages, she even came to my dorm and left me notes. Nothing. I didn't want to talk to her. Not just her, to anyone. I avoided other friends who I knew would ask about my trip to Arizona. But I couldn't do it. I felt like a jerk by the end of the week, but I didn't feel like I could talk to her the same. I called her over on Friday and told her I didn't want to talk, I just wanted her to listen to me. And I excused myself in the beginning, I wasn't asking for an apology, an explanation, or anything from her. I just wanted her to listen. So I let it all out. Everything. My dreams, my fears, my frustrations. And she sat quietly and teared up.

In the end she apologized said she never meant to make me feel like what I cared for didn't matter. But she said she was done getting excited about the Dream Act. That had all happened during high school for her. But with each rejection, she pushed out even thinking about immigration. "That's my way of surviving, I don't think about immigration. I know that con papeles o sin papeles I'm gonna change the world. I know that."

And it's a great way of thinking. I can't recite the rest of her spiel. but it was more or less inspirational. And I thought, yeah you're right. I lived 16 years without knowing and I got pretty far. Why wouldn't I now? I know I got it in me. That wasn't me, on that week in Arizona. I understood afterward. I would achieve nothing by wallowing in desperation. I know I could do this. Somehow I will find a way to pay for nursing school. And I will do Doctors without Borders, and I will travel the world and help earthquake victims, and victims of civil wars in Africa. She helped wake me up. This time it was a good slap in the face. Although the disconnection after my lashing out during our reflection merited an explication which I did not receive.

And I have to say that for the first time in a long time, I feel happy. Classes this quarter are great. My parents are doing good. My sister is doing good. We're all alive and healthy. I just celebrated my brother's 27th birthday. I don't feel lonely. Things are good right now. However things with the best friend are weird. It's really awkward right now. I've tried texting, facebooking, and calling to no avail. I went to see her and inquire after her sister spent the night in the ER. But it was still weird. I tried to show her that I care and that of course I'm still here. But is she?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A little bit of home

As I walked to class this morning, the rosary dangling from the "facilities" golf cart vehicle's rear view mirror provoked a smile, as I recognized Don Guadalupe's ride. He was emptying the dumpster, part of his morning work ritual.

In a school where I was literally the only brunette in my speech class of 27 students, it gets a little daunting to go so long without seeing any traces of the culture you grew up in. One of the greatest feelings I get from being a minority here (besides feeling exotic for my raven locks) is a connection to the employees. It just feels so nice to say "buenos dias" and get a response back. The employees love you for it too. And seeing them work so hard at their jobs, is like seeing my parents. It's like I see my mom everyday. And with more reason I smile bigger and chat it up with Do~na Graciela the cashier and Christian the bus boy; hearing about their migration experiences, family back home, their vacation during spring break, missing some home cook food and berating the Ole stand at the cafeteria which makes its enchiladas with shredded yellow cheese(!)

They spend all day laboring and rarely receive a "please" and "thank you." I notice as I wait in line to pay for my food, no one ever greets the cashier. No trace of acknowledgment from these hijos de papi. I walk up to the register and before I pull my money out:"Hola Do~na Graciela, que tal como esta?" Our eyes meet and our smiles match.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The real deal

I think we can all stand to gain something from Native American spirituality. I guess any kind of spirituality does a human good. Whether you believe in a higher being or not. Being in touch with yourself and your soul in a sense, that's something that really contributes to who you are and in the end, to the world.

In Arizona I was able to experience a sweat lodge. And I remember being annoyed right before we did the sweat when I was speaking to my mother and told her about the itinerary and she replied with, "you don't even belief in that stuff, you're not spiritual." And the truth is I'm not. I'm not in touch with myself or with God. I feel estranged. And this estrangement has been by choice. Until I can change my selfish ways and be truly grateful, then I guess I can be spiritual. But I'm on a spiritual journey. I'm trying to get there anyway. That's kind of why I need a week of isolation. To think about why I'm so damn angry all the time.

Anyway during the sweat I prayed for everyone I know and even those I don't know as I'm accustomed to doing. And I prayed for forgiveness and for guidance on this spiritual journey. But I also prayed for a solution to the situation. I specifically prayed for the DREAM. And I can't honestly evaluate how honest that prayer was. In the moment I felt like it was part of the "show" kind of a "go-along" thing. Everyone else was praying, so I did too. I've never prayed aloud, but I guess I felt the need to. But now I can say that it was real. That it is real. That prayer exists everyday since then and it's real.

After the sweat on Tuesday the 24th of March, with no access to a newspaper or television or cellphone, I heard the news on Friday. The DREAM ACT was introduced on the 26th. An I thought, "This is it." I didn't necessarily think "My prayers are answered." But I thought "Boom! This is it. This is our chance." This is God's way of saying, "here's to you kid." Although it's extremely early and it will be a difficult journey, I have faith. I want to. And I am trying my best to. Yeah, it's early, yeah the economy sucks and people might fear that giving us residency will essentially be giving away good jobs. But like I told a friend, and for once I'm being totally naive and unrealistic, faith has cured cancer (all those people who touch the pope and then come clean???). We need faith. Go ahead laugh. Bash me. Whatever. I didn't think Obama'd win. (If Bush stole the election twice, why couldn't McCain do it?)Go figure.