I think there is a side to each of us that we don’t always talk about. Maybe not purposely, or maybe purposely. For me, I don’t often talk about our Hispanic heritage. It’s not purposely. But the reality of most Natives in the US, is that we are multiethnic. And identity to me, is more of a reflection of one’s experience than their citizenship or lack of tribal citizenship, and I didn’t have as much experience as a hispanic person compared to my cousins; partly because our parents raised us as Natives. But there are a few other reasons I don’t always write or share from these perspectives. One because, my Mom told us that our Native heritage needs to be counted for tests and if we mark multiracial we would be left out of statistics (which I understand more now, as a researcher). Two, my Mom told me that her classmates used to tease her about being the milk man’s daughter. Those classmates would later become councilmembers and challenged her membership in our tribe. Of course they were unable to prove anything because her birth certificate indicates she is 4/4 Quechan, but she wanted us to be cognizant of rumors. And finally, the Hispanic heritage from my Dad’s side is a mix of Indigenous people from Mexico, descendants of Yaqui and Cocopah, German, and Spanish. For simplicity sake, because I consider our Hispanic heritage Indigenous, I just say I’m Native. It is obviously a little more complicated than that, nonetheless, it is an important side of who I am.
I used to sit with my Tata when I was in middle school. Mostly because I was fascinated with the Army and even more so, with music. My Tata played in a mariachi band for most of his life into his 70s. He never really showed me how to play anything. I’ll put it straight, he wasn’t a teacher. He was a musician. If I played something wrong he let me know. He played, played really well, and if you just had to try to keep up.
But my fascination with music was because all our family played. My sisters somewhat played, my cousins, a few of my uncles, my Tata, my great grandpa. And I love that about our family. But I like the stories just as much as the music they played.
I remember sitting with my Tata one time. He was telling me about how he learned jazz chords. He said, “I was heading to World War II, and was shipping out from the south.” The south at this point still had segregation. Something that my Nana or Tata wasn’t accustomed to coming from a Mexican border town, but soon found the realities. The restaurants in the south wouldn’t serve my Nana or my Tata despite him heading to fight in America’s war.
At the same time, the Black speakeasies weren’t always accepting of my Tata either because he wasn’t Black. But occasionally his army buddies would sneak him into the club. He told me, “that’s where I learned jazz chords.” And listening to the mariachi music, you can seem glimpses into those notes.
Later on during the war he was shot, got a Purple Heart, and was allowed to recover and travel with the Army band in Europe. But every time I play music, I always remember part of that influence and legacy of what we play. And it’s also a reminder of the other side of me.