“…shave your eyebrows.”

I was mischievous most of my childhood but it also meant I was entertaining for my parents. I was conducting my nightly routine a 6-year-old goes through. Mostly messing around, asking for water, using the bathroom a lot. All that to try to stay up for a few extra minutes. We were living at the 6th drive house. I was wearing an old oversized t-shirt going on my fourth or fifth trip to the bathroom. This time, not that is wasn’t there all the other times, I saw an orange and white Bic disposable safety razor sitting next to the sink. The same one I watched my Dad use in the morning. My Dad could grow a full beard, something I still can’t do at age 32.

But I saw the razor and thought I would try it on the only facial hair I had in those moments. My eyebrow. I took the safety razor and guided it along the left side of my left eyebrow. I looked in the mirror afterward and thought to myself, “It didn’t work.” I put it back on the counter and walked out of the restroom. I nonchalantly walked back into the living room to wait until my parents told me to go to bed for the fourth or fifth time. But instead I was greeted with my Mom’s puzzled look and question, “Did you shave your eyebrow?” To which I replied, “I don’t know.” My Mom insisted, “Did you use that razor?” I said, “sure.” She continued, “Well I think you shaved it.” Her and my Dad both laughed and told me to go back to bed. It’s the reason my left eyebrow still grows a little differently than my right. And then I witnessed it at a camp I was working at on the Nez Pearce rez about 14 years ago.

I was in Lupwai Idaho working at a Native youth camp. As with all kids, there was one Native kid that was particularly rowdy. He was continually sneaking away, disrupting the instructors and just being generally mischievous. He was assigned to my team and shadowed me most of the week. And as rowdy, as this kid was, he was equally hilarious. As we were gathering for the morning activities I saw him stroll by and I said, “Hey, did you shave your eyebrows.” He started laughing and said, “yeah.” I mean it was obvious, people look funny with no eyebrows. And I just laughed. The rest of the week he used a sharpie to draw in his eyebrows. When he was angry, he would draw his eyebrows with a gradual slope and quick drop at the end. When he was happy, he made them little hills.

My point is if you don’t think you’re funny or you want to be funnier or if you want to be more entertaining, shave your eyebrows.

“…not so humble brag”

I was 5 years old going to the Deer Valley preschool near the 6th drive house. I honestly don’t remember much from those days. I remember listening to some stories, painting and doing show and tell. Once I brought in an Apache burden basket my parents received as a gift when they were pastoring in the White Mountains during the 70s. I’m not sure if my fellow preschoolers were impressed, but I remember my preschool teachers eyes lighting up like she was looking at the cup on Indiana Jones. I remember one evening both of my parents picked me up alone. It was odd because usually, it was just my Mom accompanied by Camie or Joy. The end evening nautical twilight commenced as we walked down the outside of the glass buildings. My parents stopped to look at some artwork. Low and behold they saw my name next to one of the paintings.

I had painted Leonardo from Ninja Turtles using watercolors. It was a decent painting considering I was 5 years old. Or at least it was decent enough I got a grand prize ribbon. I remember seeing my parents faces. My Mom’s eyes lit up and my Dad just laughed with pride. They hugged me and said how amazing my painting was. I’ve always been introvert and calm when it came to accolades. The first time I played high school football as a defensive end I had a game-winning interception and walked off the field with no emotion as I was getting slapped on the back and eventually got a headache after our massive tackle head-butted me in excitement. My grand prize award for water coloring a Ninja Turtle felt the same. I think it’s because of how I saw my parents handle awards.

Walking through my parents’ house, you hardly see any awards hanging. And as a kid, it wasn’t very different. I can barely remember seeing awards or even degrees hanging, even though I know they received them. Lifetime achievement awards, tribal awards, faculty awards, etc. They never made a big deal of awards although they’ve been appreciative. They now sit in a series of dusty plastic storage bins in their garage. Through the years, I’ve always tried to maintain this type of humbleness although I have displayed my bronze star and other military awards for some years. I was reminded why it was important to remain humble a month ago.

My Dad and Mom were visiting from Fresno, and we were sitting in the living room watching the Office. As I was watching and working on my laptop, an email popped up, and it said I was selected for an alumni award. I thought I would humble brag (or not so humble brag) and looked to my Dad to let him know about my award. We both went to the same college, American Indian College. I said, “Hey Dad, guess what? I was just selected for the alumni award. Bet you never got that one?” He kept watching tv, paused a few seconds and said, “Actually, they gave me the first one.” We both just laughed, and I think  my Mom were laughing hardest at the failure of my humble brag. I’m thankful to receive the alumni award today, but I’m also grateful for those around me that keep me humble.

“you could watch the rush of water combing through the green grass”

The other day I had a news interview and talked about what lead me to my area of research, Native higher education. There are plenty of reasons why I research what I do. One reason is my Mom’s story, another is because I want to contribute to tribal nation building, but another big reason is the interaction I had with Native college students since birth.

My Dad was dean of students for some years, and my Mom was a faculty member. Every year we took short and extended visits to reservations in the White Mountains, Pacific Northwest, woodlands, plains, etc. Watching my parents recruit, subsequently enroll and work with Native college students to earn a degree was always captivating. I liked hanging out with the Native students.

After visiting and recruiting Native college students, many times in their living rooms. My parents would host student gatherings at our house. They would play games like mingle mingle, the orange relay (hold an orange in your neck and pass it to the next person’s neck), musical chairs, and break my few toys in the meantime. But I remember those gatherings and what it meant to have students at the house to their support. And I remember the events at the college. There is an area on American Indian College’s campus named after my Dad. It’s called, “Lake Lopez.” The college students gave it that name, and  a previous administrator felt that naming that particular area was disrespectful to my father because of how it got the name; but my Dad loves it.

In the beginning of the semester during the early 90s, the campus had a large hill of green grass and immaculate trees on the west side of campus, where Ramsey cafeteria is now. During each fall the end of monsoon rains would plummet, and you could watch the rush of water combing through the green grass to a drainage area downhill east of the trees. The vast quantities of rain would cause 3 to 4 feet of stagnant water to form. My Dad was famous for jumping into the water and convincing the Native students to join (not that they needed much convincing). They would be floating in rafts, playing volleyball and wrestling. I guess when your college is severely underfunded, you get creative with campus-wide activities. But those events often took my Dad away, but I understood.

I remember my Dad would sit with me and say, “JD, I hope you don’t mind these students coming over, a lot of them never had role models, and it’s important for your Mom and me to be there for them.” I had this understanding from a young age that I would have to share my parents. Out of necessity, not out of abandonment. My Dad always took time to talk with students. He never hesitated and would let me tag along as he walked with students to the circle k near the 6th drive house for drinks or an Icee. When I was little, my Dad explained why he helped students using a circle concept. He said, “Some peoples’ circles encompass just themselves, others encompass their families, and then others have bigger circles that encompass a people. No circles are better than others, but they come with different responsibilities.” I remembered that each time my Dad was taken away for work, and I remember that when I’m called away. I hope my kids will understand why I chose this career and the responsibility that comes with the circle I was given.

“…melting the sweat beads on my back.”

My family and I affectionately call our childhood home, “the 6thdrive house.” For most of my adolescent years, it was a tan home with dark brown trim shaded by a large ash tree. The backyard had partial grass, dirt and a large swimming pool that felt like bath water in the summer; minus where the palm tree laid shadow in the deep end. The house, at the time, was situated on the edge of an affluent school district relative to where we lived prior in the city. I have fond memories of our home and although we were fortunate to live in that house we occasionally had to leave. Mostly because we didn’t have an air conditioner.

You don’t realize how important an air conditioner is until you don’t have one in the middle of the desert summers. Swamp coolers don’t work when it’s as hot as it gets in our summers. Trying to wet the unit only works when it’s less than a 100 degrees and we consistently maintained temperatures well above that. It could be worse though, my Mom grew up in a one bedroom mud house, so it’s difficult to complain. Nonetheless, my Mom always sought to find us cooler refuges during the scorching days.

The library, dollar movie theater, and mall served as our oasis. My Mom would take us to the library on 19thavenue and let us read for hours. In my case, look and trace pictures. One summer she enrolled us in the Suns reading program where we received bookmarks of Suns players such as Charles Barkley, Dan Marjele and Kevin Johnson for every few books we read. Honestly, sometimes I would sit there with a book for a few minutes staring at pictures, run up to my Mom and say, “I finished reading.” She would sign my paper and I would go get another bookmark. To this day I have a collection of Suns bookmarks that I hustled from the Phoenix public library.

The mall was another place my Mom took us. Usually, we just sat around or went to the arcade to pretend we were playing video games. It was strange but as kids, we somehow always knew better than to ask for anything. I knew we didn’t have quarters to burn at an arcade, so I just grabbed the joysticks and watched the computer characters until I grew bored of the blinking “insert coin,” banner. I knew if I was going into a toy store that I would never walk out with anything at that moment. It just didn’t happen. One of the few times I remember walking out of the store with a toy was with my Aunt. When I was around 9 years old I spent a few weeks with my cousin, Uncle, and Auntie out near Laguna Dam. My cousin and I had mowed the lawn and cleaned up the yard a bit, an often unrewarded job around the 6thdrive house, so it was a special moment when my Aunt bought me that GI Joe. The mall was a great place to escape our house for a few hours but it still wasn’t as great as the dollar theater.

The dollar theater on Bell road was amazing. It was literally $1 to watch a movie. My Mom would load my sisters and me in our van. If we were going to the movies, we always stopped by Walgreens for one snack each. Peanut M&Ms was and still is my Mom’s favorite and became a crowd pleaser among us kids. Inside the theater was a lobby area selling overpriced food and drinks. We would wait for the movie attendant to call out the sitting of our movie. As you moved through the hall to the respective theater, there was a stream of lights that made you feel like you were about to jump to light speed. Once I got to the theater I always felt a rush of cold air slowly melting the sweat beads on my back. The cool air felt so good that you could barely hear and feel your feet sticking to the cement floors. Those were awesome summer days.

Eventually, we did get an air conditioner when I was 12 years old. But I can recall our childhood without the a/c and I appreciate it. You can also see some of our family social mobility. As kids, my Mom and Dad didn’t have a swamp cooler, my sisters and I had a swamp cooler, and my kids have an air conditioner. But I often wonder if that a/c will make my kids spoiled. I fear they will be unable to take the heat if they lack exposure because of my desire to give them more.

“it’s still dressed in that same 70s green”

My Dad had a relatively usual routine every morning. He was an extremely light sleeper and almost always woke up early than the house. He would sit, pray and read in an old chair my parents bought from a yard sale before he started putting on his work clothes. By the time he was getting ready, I would start to roam and rummage through the house. I would occasionally wander into his room while he was sitting in that old chair putting on his shoes. My parents always claimed they would reupholster that chair, but to this day, it’s still dressed in that same 70s green it displayed the day they bought it. Sitting in that green chair, he would put on his dress socks and then his black shined wingtips using a shoe horn. I remember watching him stand up, put on his belt, neatly place a handkerchief in his back pocket and pull out a dress shirt and tie for the day. He delayed putting on his dress shirt for most of the morning for fear of getting it dirty. First, he would walk around in a white tank top doing his morning chores and inevitably eat a bowl of cereal. But I remember him following this routine most mornings of my entire childhood.

This past Monday morning I woke up. Not any earlier than the rest of the house, but also not any later. I woke up when we all woke up. I wandered out of my room and could hear the grinding the coffee beans, followed immediately by the wafting smell of Costco coffee brewing. I walked out of the room and could see the kids still sitting out the couch in their PJs like little zombies waking up. I rented a bounce house for $140 for Easter the day before for the kids and all their friends and it appeared they were recovering from a candy and dehydration hangover. Nothing says, Jesus has risen like a bounce house. Minus the 15 minutes of lethargic kids, that Monday morning it didn’t even look like we had 30 people over the night before. After the kids woke up a little, they went outside to play in the bounce house. Normally I would bounce before getting the day started, but I didn’t bounce on that Monday morning. I just watched the kids for a few minutes, because I needed to get my mind focused.

I started to get ready. I laid out my most excellent new dark blue jeans, my blue shirt to wear silver cufflinks from my undergraduate, a Patrick James vest a family friend bought me when she found out I got a job as a tenure-track professor, a reversible black and tan belt, new underwear with sharks my Mom bought me, my striped dress socks and my tan wingtip boots. I put on each piece of clothing and then sat down to put on my tan wingtip boots. I love those boots. Easily the most delightful pair of dress shoes I have ever owned. I sat down, and as I began to tie the dark brown lace on my tan boots, I realized that I was getting ready on the same green chair that I used to watch my Dad get ready on. I smiled and then almost immediately my son, G.W. walked in. I said, “Hi Gordie, you all bounced out?” He said, “Hi.” He watched me as I laced up my other boot. I finished putting on the vest and ultimately decided not to wear my cufflinks and rolled up my sleeves. I told Gordie, “Come on, let’s brush our teeth and comb our hair.” I took out my brush and started combing Gordie’s hair for a bit. I told him, “Sometimes an Indian man has to brush his hair.” Something that I heard a San Carlos Apache kid tell me in my mid-20s. I finished combing our hair and brushing our teeth. I sprayed a little cologne on both of us and said, “ready.” Gordie replied, “ready.” I walked out of the room and Gordie bolted back outside to play in the bounce house. Before I walked outside to tell everyone bye… I could see Luna through the opened glass sliding door enjoying books and breakfast on the grass in the cool breezed morning. I walked toward the kids and told them I was leaving, and gave them each a kiss goodbye and told them, “I love you.”

As I walked out of the house to my truck for my 30 minute I-10 drive to ASU, I reflected back on watching my Dad get ready for work and realized that my kids would one day remember me getting ready. And it makes me wonder, “will they remember this day,” the morning of the day I successfully defended my dissertation. I hope they remember me well despite my faults as a Father… as I remember my Dad.


We were headed to the White Mountains to promote the college on the Apache reservation. I was 8 years old during that hot summer June, so it was going to be nice to head to cooler-warm weather in Cedar Creek, AZ. A place that I loved to visit as a kid because of the tarantulas, cliff jumping, and chance to chase cows. We jumped in our blue Astro van and cruised on the 60 from Phoenix to Globe, AZ. A trip we had taken a million times before.with my Dad… my Dad who has always been interesting to take road trips.

When we were little he never stopped unless we had been on the road for a minimum of 3 hours. One time, my sister Camie had to stick her butt out the window because we weren’t stopping… I peed in bottles and we always had a plethora of snacks. We listened to the same cassette tapes and I remember drawing in my notepad for most of the trips. I often collected coke bottles and used my pocket knife to make gadgets and what not. We never sat in our seats. We always had these makeshift beds of layered blankets laid between the rubber floors and seats. It’s where we slept for our longer trips. It was a different time back then.

The trip to Cedar Creek wasn’t a long one, it took us about 4 hours with a stop in Globe. After our stop, we headed through the beautiful windy Salt River Canyon. The drive through the canyon was filled with sheer cliffs, flowing waters, and on occasion, waterfalls would burst through the plateaus after heavy rains. After our quick stop in Globe, we embarked on the scenic drive. My sister Camie and I crushed a family size box of cheez its in the beginning half of our trip. About halfway through, just over the Salt River, I felt it coming. My stomach turned, and the cheez its turned on me. I threw up a good half box of cheez its on the rubber floor of our blue Astro van. There’s not really pull-offs, especially then, in the Canyon. So my Dad kept driving. My oldest sister Joy grabbed Camie, and yelled at her, “DON’T LOOK, DON’T LOOK!” But Camie looked, and she threw up the other half of the box of cheez its. Bits of cheez its were running back and forth on the floorboards as our van slowly climbed up the canyon. We pulled off, my Mom got a towel and cleaned as much as she could. My Dad was a little flustered, just because we always ran tight schedules during those trips. Once we finally got to Cedar Creek, my Dad asked his friend for a hose and sprayed the floor clean while my friends and I built a wikiup in their yard.

My Dad is much different to travel with now. He stops every hour or two, he doesn’t get flustered during traffic, car wrecks, or missed turns. He also flies whenever he can. I tease him about changing his road warrior ways, but he told me, “I don’t get flustered or mind getting lost because it means I could have missed a wreck or someone may need me on the other road.” So if you get a little lost, take a few wrong turns or someone delays your trip with throw up, don’t get flustered. It’s just part of the journey you’re meant to be on.

Camie and I still love cheez-its and to this day… Joy can’t be around them.

she turns to me and asks,”JD, will you go get me a Mr. G’s bean and cheese burrito.”

My Nana passed away a little more than 8 years ago. She lived in a small two-bedroom house that my Tata built in Winterhaven, CA. In the past year, I’ve been having more dreams about her. In my last dream, she was about to pass away. I was sitting at her bedside, and she turns to me and asks,”JD, will you go get me a Mr. G’s bean and cheese burrito.” We laughed together in the dream. I’m so grateful that I spent my summer months with her as a kid.

The house was on the border of the Quechan reservation, California, Arizona, Mexico, and the Colorado River. My family loved to tell stories about how much she loved to dance and her escapades. Apparently, she was quite lovely at wrestling matches in the 40s and 50s. In one of the events, my Tata had to intervene and carried her out because her loud, threatening voice was berating what she called fake wrestlers. She continued to taunt them, and argue that she could work them over. The event caused a small ruckus. I never knew that side of her, just the side where she made Saturday breakfast, made sure all the men were served and ate before the women, and turned the bedroom wall a/c on the coolest setting before we came to visit.

As a kid, our family always stayed with her. Outside of the guest bedroom, her house was always warm in the summer and a little colder than normal in the winter. I would sleep on the daybed right in front of the wall a/c and roll myself into a multilayered burrito of blankets. To be that cold and that warm at the same time, gave me some of the best sleep of my life. There wasn’t much to play with in her house. She had a couch full of taco bell chihuahua dogs that were for only observation and an old black and white tv that only played novellas. I often went around back of the house to play in the dirt or build fires in her old stove. The backyard was mostly barren with soft dirt that was as pliable as beach sand with a little water. Your feet would sink a little with each footstep. I would crawl through and jump on the old broken down car and dirt bike my Uncle left from his high school days; pretending I was cruising around town. Every year, I looked forward to those few weeks and months of hot summer days beneath the sun sweating in vehicles and building dirt castles for my hot wheels cars.

I continued to visit her through high school and eventually through my college years. When the opportunity to do my student teaching on my rez was presented, I didn’t hesitate to ask my Nana if I could live with her for four months. It was some of the most memorable times I had. Not because we went on a lot of adventures, but just because I never spent so much time talking and in silence with someone. I loved to ask questions about our family. I asked her what it was like as a kid in the great depression. I wondered why she could speak Spanish and English so well. I asked her why she didn’t remarry. And then we would watch novellas, and she would tell me that I don’t speak Spanish correctly. She would gossip with me about anything she could. A girl I was dating at the time stopped by, and she didn’t hesitate to tell me that she didn’t like her family.

But then there were times I would get home from San Pasqual elementary, the school on my rez, and she would be sitting in her chair. I would lay on the love seat with my legs hanging over the arm. As soon as I would plop myself on the couch, a plume of dust would rise and settle over my dress clothes. We would sit in the hot living room with the door open to let the dirt filled breeze cool us down. It would be a few minutes and sometimes hours of silence. And I loved that, and I miss it now when I come back home to my reservation.

“I stood on the giant boulders; then started jumping…”

I think we all had and have moments in life when we didn’t listen to someone’s warning and ended up embarrassed. Sometimes those warnings come from friends, mentors, siblings, and especially from parents. And there’s been a few times in my life I didn’t listen to someone’s warning.

Coming from the Sonoran desert, I’ve had my share of stories involving cacti. When my parents would take us to the southern part of the state, my siblings and I would get a chance to eat prickly pears. Anytime I had a scrape on my leg, my Mom would send me to our front yard to break a piece of the aloe vera cactus, and then rub the broken end on my cuts and scrapes. My sister and her friends once pushed this jerk kid into a patch of prickly pears. I’ve ran into small saguaros with bare feet more times than I would like to count. I once got a jumping cactus stuck in my leg when I tried out for my high school golf team (needless to say, I didn’t make the golf team and played football). But probably the most memorable experience was when I was 6 years old.

I stood on the giant boulders; then started jumping from one boulder to the next pretending there were giant alligators beneath me. My Dad said, ”Don’t play on those rocks.” I said, ”Okay,” and got down. My Dad went to his faculty and staff meetings and I climbed back on the rocks. No sooner than I started jumping again, I fell off one of the giant builder. I scraped my leg through my jeans and could feel the warm blood start to drip down the side of my calf. No big deal. My jeans would stop the bleeding. I started jumping again and the second time around, I would regret it.

I jumped and I fell, but this time to the backside of the boulders. Where there was an abundance of barrel cacti. Thankfully I only rolled a few times, but it was enough for thorns to get stuck all around my legs, butt, and back. I wobbled over toward my Mom and let he know what happened. My Mom took me to the room we were staying in, and plucked as many thorns as she could find. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing to have your Mom pick thorns from your butt with your pants down. Or admitting you didn’t listen to a warning you had minutes earlier. Either way, both happened to me. And anytime I don’t heed someone’s warning and end up embarrassed, it’s another reminder to stay off the rocks.

“there is a side to each of us that we don’t always talk about.”

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.


“how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?”

I was 12 when my Dad became president of American Indian College. He wouldn’t get any type of raise for a few years. The board at the time knew that he would need supplemental income because the president would have to raise money for the college as opposed to personal finances, since he was under a mission’s appointment. The board failed to act until a few years after he took the position when faculty and staff advocated for us because they saw our family struggling. My Dad, and even myself now, have always taken the position that people will take care of you, and that if people fail to pay your worth, it’s a reflection of their own integrity.

When my Dad got a raise (just enough to get us over the poverty line) my Dad continued to live like we didn’t have the money. I turned 15, and using the equity from my childhood home and the money he saved from his raise, we moved to Anthem, AZ. I stepped in the house and looked at the 20ft vaulted ceilings and thought, “we can afford this?” First my dad was frugal, we stayed out of debt, and lived below our means. We moved into that $225,000 in the middle of July. My Dad was still working as president, so he was traveling frequently. It was the first time I was in charge of moving. My Dad borrowed Big Red, an old maintenance truck from AIC, and said, “there it is, thanks.”

I love moving. And I’ve moved more people than I can remember. There is something about moving in 110 degree weather with a sweat dripping shirt that makes me feel good inside. It would get so hot, to the point your body would start to get chills, and I could feel the heat radiating off the top of my head. It took me two days to load and unload most of our stuff. But it was the craziest thing, because for the first time in my life, we could afford a few nicer things.

Before the raise, we hardly ate at restaurants unless it was Taco Bell. We would each get a hardshell taco and bean burrito. If we ever did go to Denny’s, we shared plates and only drank water. After the raise, coincidently when my oldest sister Joy was still in college, we could go to the Sizzler buffet and even order soft drinks. Eventually we ditched the foil antennas, and vice grip tv, and got a new 32 inch tube tv and cable.  It was an exciting time in my life.

After we moved our stuff into the house, we started looking at the landscaping. I had worked a summer job and laid flagstone for a few years, but my Dad wanted to get professional landscapers. As he was out front looking at the yard, a lady approached him and said, “how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?” My Dad smiled and said,  “I live here.” She apologized and went on. A seemingly innocent mistake, but this happened all the time. We could now afford a few nicer things since the raise, but the family was still treated like we were incapable of living in a nice house, having good jobs, or eating at a few nicer restaurants. This certainly wasn’t the first or last time someone would mistake our family for not belonging, and it happens even in places meant for Native people.

The landscaping interaction wasn’t the worst thing in the world. As a kid I remember walking with my Dad up the hill at AIC. I was about 15. A well respected White minister was at the top. As we got closer my Dad called out his name and asked, “It’s good to see you, how’s it going?” The minister just glared at us and walked away in disgust. I asked my Dad, the most reputable man I know, why that minister did that, he shook his head and said, “some people are just like that.”

I asked why my Dad put up with so many people like that, especially being underpaid for the job he had at the college and often being treated poorly. He told me, “It was never about any glory or recognition, we will do anything and put up with anybody to help Native students. Secondly, if I leave, nothing will change.” It was the first real lesson I had in commitment. It was good reminder the work isn’t about myself, the institution, but about the people and especially Native students.