“this window is unbreakable.”

My parents left us home for the weekend with my oldest sister Joy. Not a big deal considering she was 9 years older than me and at the time was a responsible 17 year old. On the very first day I was in the front yard playing basketball. I was jumping off her car dunking on the 8 foot rim sitting on our garage roof. After awhile I decided to dribble the ball around the front entrance near a large wall and window.

I was dribbling, practicing my crossover, between the legs, and then started passing the ball against the wall. I wanted to see if I could throw the ball against the window. My instincts said it would break… but it made me want to do it more. I threw the full size ball against the window gently. It didn’t break, and I got a sensation of excitement. I said to myself, “this window is unbreakable.” I threw the ball a second time against the window. This time a little harder. And it smashed into pieces. I freaked out, got scared, and ran to my sister’s room. Camie had a trundle bed where I used to sleep in between the lower bed and top bed. My hair always got caught in springs beneath the top bed. It was there that I slept for the next few hours with my hair tangled in the top bed.

When I woke up, it felt like a dream. I was thinking to myself, “Did this really happen, is the window really broke.” But all I heard was Joy in the family room freaking out. She was talking to Camie in a frantic voice,”what happened?” Camie didn’t know. I wandered out of my room to meet them. I saw Joy, Camie, and the window. And instead of confessing I said, “Woah, what happened?” I continued,” someone must of thrown a ball.” Joy was still frantic that our parents would be upset, mostly because we knew we didn’t have a lot of money to fix things like that. The rest of the weekend Joy was nervous, but it turned out alright in the end.

My parents came home, and saw the window. My Dad called the insurance company and they showed up a few days later to replace the window. Luckily, my Dad had paid for window insurance anticipating me breaking a few windows. Sure enough I broke a few more over the years with a  baseball, football, and bb gun. It’s a good reminder now for myself, that I can’t always prevent things from happening, but I can prepare for them. A few years later I would confess about that first window I broke and didn’t get in any trouble, also reminding me that sometimes time is the best healer.

“You made it, you eat it.”

When I hit my mid-20s, I realized quickly there were two things that needed to be eliminated from my diet immediately… ramen noodles, and kraft mac n’ chesse. I spent 24 years of my life eating those magnificent creations. But supposedly they have no “nutritional value.”

Well, I recall one spring break when I was around 11 years old and I had a buddy spent the night. We decided to build a raft out of random scrap wood from my fort. We literally spent the entire week building this thing and it was awesome. We used the old warped wood that gave you splinters every time you touched it, we had snagged some crates from the back of Country Market near Mountain View and 15th avenue. Then we used an old broken broom and one of my Mom’s good sheets as a sail. After spending most of the days and nights working on it, we finally finished, after fastening the two crates and filling them with water balloons. We pushed the raft into the pool and gave it a test run. No sooner than we tried to sit on it, it sank. Little did I know, this wouldn’t be my last attempt at wasting time (The Army was especially good at wasting time). We eventually ditched the project, and spent the last day of spring break in the house eating mac n’ cheese.

After our failed attempt at rafting, we cooked up some food. We used to get food boxes when I was a kid, and someone dropped off the equivalent of a Costco palette size of mac n’ cheese boxes. My buddy and I made a bet. He said he could eat 4 boxes of macaroni and I said I could eat 5. We made it, and only ate about 3 boxes together. My Dad came home from work and saw what we were doing. I was getting ready to throw away the rest of the macaroni when he said, “You made it, you eat it.” My buddy left later that day, so I was on my own for eating the macaroni. My dad didn’t let me eat anything else til I finished it, and it stayed in our fridge for a few more days… slowly getting nastier. I eventually ate up all the food, and needless to say, I ditched mac n’ cheese for a bit. Now all I can think, is what I would give to eat another 9 boxes of mac n’ cheese.

It also makes me realize that sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad, and not having a good thing can be worse.

“…if you want to be hero too, start wearing the same clothes every day.”

Some of things I wasn’t allowed to do as a kid around the age of 8.

  1. Watch violent cartoons i.e. X-Men and GI-Joes (My Dad said it made me too violent)
  2. Watch cartoons with magic i.e. Smurfs (My Dad didn’t want me turning into Harry Potter, jk. Christians don’t like magic… or at least in those days haha)
  3. Watch anything that shows disrespect to adults i.e. Simpsons (For obvious reasons)
  4. Drink Soda (My Dad said it made me too hyper)
  5. Eat jelly (My Dad said it made me too hyper)

What I was allowed to do at the age of 8

  1. Cook ramen noodles (I was always hungry)
  2. Jump off the roof into the pool
  3. Watch wrestling before church on Sunday
  4. Ride my bike by myself to the dirt lot across from the red Catholic church
  5. Work on my fort
  6. Drink coffee black
  7. Mow the lawn

I’ll talk about that last one a little more in detail. I remember as a kid I dreaded wearing the same clothes in the same week. And I felt like it was such a big deal to some kids. I really wanted to have at least a different shirt and a different pair shorts for each day of the week so five shirts five pairs of shorts. That way, I never had to go to school wearing the same thing twice in a week. Most kids at school could wear different types of outfits each week. But for me it was a struggle to make sure I didn’t wear the same thing twice.

My Dad taught me how to mow my lawn when I was 8. We had an old red gas self-propelled lawn mower, that you had to flip gears to move. I started mowing our lawn with my Dad’s supervision for a few years. Eventually he sold that mower, and bought an electric mower. I started taking that mower around our neighborhood and mowing lawns for a few dollars. My Dad also would find me jobs for people at his job. Although, he actually paid his work friends to hire me.

Eventually I got my first steady summer job at age 13 working for my Dad. This was Phoenix, so we started in 100-degree weather at 5am and ended in 120-degree weather at 2pm. During those summers, I did a variety of jobs that ranged from moving flagstone, shoveling rocks, and digging trenches sprinkled with some landscaping. I started off at $2.75 an hour and was getting $3.50. by my second summer. But all that manual labor at a young age made getting my first job really easy because all I had to do was sit in the air-conditioned building selling shoes, Brooks running shoes to be exact. And most people who knew about Brooks were going to buy them anyways. So, I didn’t have to make a selling point. I started making $7.50 and then I made enough money to wear whatever I want to in a week. But then I went in the army.

And then I deployed to Iraq. In Iraq, I didn’t have to worry about what I wore, because it was all the same. And I wore the same two army uniforms my entire deployment. One was for missions and the other was for when I got visits from our battalion commander or other random officers who came around our patrol base.

So now, I’m 32. I’m in grad school. And I have to admit, I wear the same outfits multiple times in a week, and don’t care haha. I mean really, our ancestors (or at least my tribe) didn’t even wear clothes that often. And if they did, they wore the same rabbit skin everyday. Which also makes me wonder why we think ribbon shirts are traditional. In reality we should be wearing some rabbit, bear, or deer skin for our traditional regalia.

But I get teased occasionally, mostly by my sisters or my sisters telling me I can’t wear my Stars Wars shirt again. I wear the same clothes two days in a row, and it’s probably because I don’t mow the lawn anymore… or maybe it’s because my childhood hero, Wolverine, (who I never watched on tv) wore the same thing every day and no one batted an eye… Which brings me to my next thought. If Wolverine wore the same clothes every day, and if I wore the same clothes every day, does that make me Wolverine? At the very least, it means I’m closer to being a hero. And if you want to be hero too, start wearing the same clothes every day of the week.

“That brilliant ignorant teacher said, “you get to be a pilgrim.”

This week there are a ton of tribes celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. It’s also my birthday today and I’m heading toward my rez to celebrate like it’s 1491… or I guess in our case it would be party like it’s 1773, the first significant contact we had with Spanish explorers.  But I remember those days when we didn’t celebrate Indigenous People’s day.

In kindergarten I had an amazingly brilliant teacher who acted stupid on the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day and holiday currently known as Thanksgiving. She dressed us up like pilgrims and fake Native Americans on those days.

I’m sure some of you remember. You would get some construction paper, glue, and start making your costumes. Everyone wanted to be Native, because the crafts looked better and plus Natives are romanticized so much by society as being warriors and running barefoot with the wind that it made the idea of being Native awesome. And let’s face it, pilgrims historically sucked. Being a pilgrim in class only involved black and white paper and making a nun type hat to put on your head. But if you were a fake Native in class, you got all the colorful construction paper for feathers, and got the foil to make all your silver turquoise bling.

Well, only half the class could be Native and half could be Pilgrims. And for that day, everyone wanted to be Native. Only problem was, it was done by lottery. Like you picked a race from a hat. And I remember thinking in my mind, I can’t wait to be a Native. I still didn’t quite understand that I was Native, but I knew better than to want to be a pilgrim. Like what were they known for, other than being diseased.

You can see where I’m headed with this. It was my turn to pick from the hat, and as I was praying to be a Native for the day, God played a joke on me. That brilliant ignorant teacher said, “you get to be a pilgrim.” Like what the!!! I’m a pilgrim. I sat there all mad, making my black and white hat and felt inferior to the Natives in the class. And all I can think now is, “The one day when everyone wanted to be Native was the day I didn’t get to be one.”

…“Let’s pee on the fire.”

I heard my Dad use that cliché “put out fires,” referring to addressing or solving a problem because it prevents it from spreading while working at AIC. The cliché made sense because I put out multiple fires throughout my life, and something that I learned at a young age.

My God brother Jon, my bro Dave (Jon’s cousin from Stockton), and I spent a lot of time together during different points in our childhood. Dave was from Cali, so we only saw him a few times a year when we went to visit him or when he came down to the valley to visit us. But we always picked up where we left off playing basketball, fishing, or making fires.

We had a tradition of making fires in Dave’s front yard, and talking all night til the morning. Dave’s Dad, my Uncle Claudio (NDN way), worked a night shift that had him getting home around 4 or 5 am. We would still be out in the front yard with our fire talking. At other times, we would be at Jon’s house in the backyard with the fire roasting pecans that we took from the trees at the church, and/or burning green army men and listening to the wax whistle as it melted away.

One of the most memorable fires we had was in Jon’s backyard. We were out back like we always were, chillin’, talking, and roasting the stolen church pecans around the fire. That evening turned into early morning and we were tired. So, we decided to put out the fire and head to bed. Before we proceeded to put out the fire with water as we always did, we got a genius idea, “Let’s pee on the fire.” We all agreed and stood there, and almost in unison started to pee on the fire. Immediately following us peeing on the fire was a massive billow of smoke that shot back into our faces causing instant headaches. We jumped back from the fire, while trying to put ourselves together and peeing on each other in the now, dark of the night. Needless to say, we were sick for the rest of the night and next few days. The lesson I learned that day, only get close enough to the fire to put it out with water, because the closer you are to the fire the more likely it is going to make you sick…. Also, don’t pee of fires.

“…I got up early and started digging my moat.”

One of my favorite toys to play with when I was little was called outside… also one of my only toys. I had a decrepit fort in my backyard that came from a church in Sunny slope. My Dad and I took his red pickup truck to go haul it home. I remember that day and that truck.

It was a warm summer morning and we took my Dad’s red 1979 F100 step side to go pick it up. My Dad’s truck was the definition of a rez ride. You couldn’t put gas past a half of a tank or else the gas would leak, you could use a butter knife to start it, and we had these Mexican style blankets that covered all the rips in the single cab seat. We took his raggedy truck to go get that raggedy fort. The wood was all rotted, there was termite damage, and the fort barely stood on three of the four leg supports. But I loved that fort. We put it in my Dad’s truck and headed home to set it up. On the ride home, my Dad told me, “We’ll fix it up, let’s go set it up first.”

We unloaded the fort and set it all up. We realized we were going to need more wood and supplies to fix it up. Being that we didn’t have a lot of spare cash to go to home depot, we headed out to construction sites along greenway parkway along the new housing development going up. We went from house to house in my Dad’s red truck and asked the foreman for scrap wood. To my surprise, the foreman was always willing to give us whatever leftover wood they had. Including nails, and even paint they didn’t need. We did this same process every Saturday for weeks. Soon I had a ton of wood, nails, and paint to fix up my fort. We started reinforcing, and replacing wood on the fort and got it stable. We added a trap door and ladder to the fort. I was able to put up one side of a wall with a window. I painted my fort with the left over red paint from housing construction. I banged in nails randomly, just because I was 8 and I liked to use my hammer. Pretty soon, I had a nice-looking fort. I decided that something was missing though… a moat to be exact.

One Saturday morning I got up early and started digging my moat. In my 8-year old mind, I was thinking I would put alligators in there with a draw bridge. I started digging and digging. After making it about a foot down I hit something hard. I thought was a rock. I started jamming my shovel into the rock trying to break it and get it out. When that didn’t work, I started jumping on my shovel to break the rock. And then I jumped some more, and more. After about my fifth time jumping on my shovel, I thought the rock broke. But it wasn’t a rock, it was a water pipe and water started shooting up from the ground to about the height of our roof. I started freaking out running around in a circle. I had no idea what to do.

I was dreading it, but knew I had to tell my Dad. I walked in the house doing that Native kid cry (where you’re huffing and puffing, pretending to cry with no tears, and while sneaking a finger into your nose to grab a booger). I was trying to tell my Dad about the water pipe, but couldn’t, or at least I was pretending I couldn’t. Finally he said, “Calm down, what’s wrong?” I calmed myself and said, “Dad, I was shoveling, and hit a rock, but it wasn’t and now…. Well now there’s WATER EVERYWHERE.” Then I went back to my Native cry. My Dad didn’t say anything. He walked outside, looked at the water spewing from the pipe going 15 feet in the air and calmly walked right back into the house without saying anything. I was like, “what’s happening.” When my Dad came back from the house he had two things in his hands. One was a rag and the other was duct tape. He put the rag around the pipe, and duct taped it. He walked back toward the house and said, “Bury the hole.” Morale of the story…. Anything in life can be fixed with some duct tape.

“…I never got kicked out of the White children’s church.”

You ever wonder why some Native people are mean? I used to wonder why some Native people at church were mean, because I thought God wanted us to be nice to each other. I grew up going to church most days out of the week. My parents took us to a White church for the first half of my childhood. My Dad told us it was to make sure we understood how to interact with White people. Later on, my God parents started a Filipino church that we attended in the second half of my childhood. Those years were filled with adobo, pancit, lumpias, fried bananas, and rice. It was an awesome time, not just because of the nice spread at potlucks, but because my God brother was there too. However, we had a pretty mean children’s church teacher. And despite it being a Filipino church, she was one among several Natives that attended.

Our children’s church teacher was this Native lady, she was Navajo of course, and she was always riding me. Whether it was to stop chewing my gum loudly, sit in my chair, stop talking while she was, etc. She was always on my case about something, and she was always kicking me out. It was interesting because I never got kicked out of the White children’s church. It was only the Brown children’s church. All my White Sunday school teachers were mostly nice to me (although a little condescending). Or at least the White Sunday school teachers in the city, don’t get me started on the White children’s church teachers on the rez.

The most memorable time I got kicked out of children’s church was because I made a butt out of the playdoh ten commandments. Not my first or my last (reference to Bob) time getting kicked out. That older Navajo lady flipped her lid. She yelled, “Leave, now!” She took my yellow ten commandments playdoh and threw it forcefully into the garbage. According to her, Jesus doesn’t like butt references. I always like to think Jesus would have laughed if he was there… I mean, sure we were making the ten commandments that should be held in reverence, but it was out of playdoh. And she threw the ten commandments in the trash, so technically she had the greater offense. But come on’ man, cut a kid a break. And if Jesus is fully human, he would have a butt and he would like butt jokes because a cheerful heart is good medicine.

Now that I’m older, I’m a little more forgiving. In reality, there are mean people from every ethnicity. But I believe part of the reason the Native children’s church teachers I had were mean was because they were acting out their childhoods going through boarding schools or replicating the behavior of White missionaries who evangelized their families. Either way, it’s a good reminder to be patient and compassionate with our Native kids, because they’ll remember. And one day, they may tell a story about you.

“…I couldn’t make eclipse glasses out of cereal boxes because our cereal came in bags.”

With the recent eclipse, some tutorials were popping up on my Facebook timeline talking about how to make eclipse glasses out of cereal boxes. All I kept thinking about was when I was a kid I couldn’t make eclipse glasses out of cereal boxes, because our cereal came in bags. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, because we had the occasional bran flakes that came with our commods.

Have you ever had commodity food? For those of you who haven’t, it’s a part of a federal food distribution program for Natives. And if you really think about the history of commodity food you realize that one of Native America’s staples, Fry Bread, is an off spring of those government rations. I’m sure for most of my Native sisters and brothers especially know about the golden brick. It was the glorified and highly anticipated commodity cheese.

However, if you have ever survived on commodity food you would know about another one of my favorites, commodity peanut butter. As my Mother would grow tired of making school lunches in my later years of grade school, I became responsible of making my own lunches. I remember the first time I tried to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with commodity peanut butter. I attempted to spread the peanut butter when instantly the peanut butter crumbled the bread. Commodity peanut butter is like trying to put on your high school jeans after years of binging on frybread, honey, and powdered sugar, everything just kind of crumbles and falls apart… including your self-esteem. I used to ask my Mom, “why can’t we just get JIF.” My Mom hated when I complained, and rightfully so. She grew up often times without food, but my Mom was also patient with me. She showed me a little trick. She said, “JD, go get the pancake syrup.” I did, and she continued, “Put about a teaspoon of syrup and mix it together. Now try to spread the peanut butter on the bread.” And boom! Wouldn’t you know, I had made knockoff JIF. As I reflect now, Natives are the syrup to the stiff consistency of our society, because we can make the best of anything.

“…thank you Taylor Lautner for generating female interest in Native men again.”

  

Hair in tribal cultures has varying meanings based on each particular tribe. I’ve read articles and watched video logs of other Natives explaining the meaning of Indigenous hair, but in reality, it’s based on respective tribal traditions (although there can be some similarities). I know for our tribe, hair is important for several reasons. One of the reasons is due to the traditional belief in dream power that, in part, came from taking enemy scalps. Both men and women in our tribe wore their hair long, and lots in our tribe wore their hair using mud to keep the bugs out and used sap from mesquite trees in small twisted braids (so if you have lice, better bust out the mesquite sap and mud). One could argue that Quechan invented dreadlocks, but we certainly had them before Bob Marley made them popular.

I started growing my hair long off and on when I was kid. Sometimes I had a tight fade, sometimes I had a buzz, sometimes I had a bowl cut like I just came out of boarding school, and then sometimes it was just a bit longer. My Mom cut my hair, or at least until she messed up my bowl cut and had me looking like a chia pet. I hid under the bed and fell asleep, something I did when I was little to avoid life.

During my undergraduate years I really started letting my hair get long, because it was my way to identify as being Native. Not that you need to grow out your hair to do that, but I saw it as some form of resistance that challenged the legalistic mindset of the church. But even then, I still didn’t (and still don’t) wear my hair as a traditional Quechan. And most Quechans I know with long hair don’t either, because If we really wanted to wear our hair traditional we would have dreadlocks.

Most people thought I was trying to be super Native when I first grew out my hair. I remember a family friend, a Navajo woman, was teasing me and saying I was “all rez” and didn’t even grow up on the rez. I laughed, but I also knew I didn’t have to grow up on the rez to have long hair, just as much as you don’t need a bowl cut to show you’ve got a government education. However, the real reason I first grew it out was because I wanted to look like Antonio Banderas in Desperado.

You ever see Desperado? It was awhile before I saw it because I was a kid and it was rated “R”, but I was allowed to watch the opening scene of him rocking his guitar and I saw the movie poster. By taking a quick gaze at Antonio Banderas, you’ll notice the long hair, guitar, and that he had a beautiful girl by his side, Salma Hayek.  I thought my attempt to be Desperado would of gave me some kind of higher level of attractiveness. Thank you Taylor Lautner for generating female interest in Native men again.

As I think about why I still keep my hair long, I continue to do it a symbol of resistance. I keep it long in memory of my ancestors who had to cut theirs because of the government assimilation process. I keep my hair long because I want people to know that whatever success comes my way, that I am undoubtedly a Native. I keep my hair long because I want my kids to know we can keep forms of our traditional identity alive today.

“I was 8-years old, and this kid looked like a Mack truck.”

My Dad discouraged fighting, but I never got in trouble for it either. Let’s face it, fighting to protect, defend, and strengthen our tribe is a part of our Warrior Spirit. Beside the point, my Dad has a ton of scars from fighting. Including a large gash in his arm when he was cut by glass, a scar on his head from being hit with a pipe, and a bunch of other remnants of his early brawler years before becoming a minister. Because my Dad was a Christian minister, I also knew I was supposed to turn the other cheek, I just wasn’t good at it.

One of my first fights I remember was in Los Angeles county in the city of Bell Gardens. Some Natives who participated in the Urban relocation program that followed WWII found themselves there around the 1950s. In the city was a small Native church that was a sanctuary for Christian and non-Christian Natives who migrated to the area to find economic opportunities. My Dad was asked to go preach there one spring and, as always, my Mom, Sisters, and I followed along. While my Dad was preaching, I went in children’s church. There awaited this ginormous Native kid who stood about a foot taller than me and weighed about 20lbs more. I was 8-years old, and this kid looked like a Mack truck. He kept poking me for no apparent reason, and telling me a bunch of stuff I can’t remember. When service was over, my Dad was still talking with people. My sister Camie and I decided to wait outside for my parents to get done chatting it up, and as we were waiting, that humungous Native kid came back. We were around these pillars outside the church, and I kept trying to head back to where my Dad was, but he kept blocking the way. My sister stepped in, and said, “Leave us alone.” He didn’t listen, and kept poking me and then teasing my sister. I knew what I had to do.

I remembered my God brother who was a few years older than me was teaching me how to throw a real punch. He told me, “All you have to do, is pull your fist back as far as it can go, and then push your fist forward as hard as you can.” I don’t know how he knew, I don’t think he had been in a fight yet either.

But I could hear my God Brother’s voice in my ear, like he was my boxing trainer, “Pull your fist back, and let it rip in his face.” Well that kid came around that pillar about ready to poke me again. Only this time, my fist was cocked as far back as I could pull it, and with as much might as an 8-year old had, I ferociously threw my fist forward. It felt like a dream, and no sooner after my fist met his nose there was blood everywhere. I mean everywhere. I must have broken the kid’s nose. I was never more scared in my life than that moment because I knew I had really hurt this bully, and I understood I should have turned the other cheek. I decided my parents couldn’t find out what happened. I watched that bully try to hold a pool of blood in his hand as he headed into the women’s restroom with his sister. I was freaking out and wasn’t sure what was going to happen, because although my Dad never seriously punished me for fighting, he just got done preaching. So, I immediately went to my Dad, asked for the car keys, and contemplated driving away. Well I was 8-years old, and that made no sense. So I did what any 8-year old kid would do to avoid trouble. I fell asleep.

When I did wake up, we were at Denny’s. The pastor and his wife took our family out to lunch. During lunch the Pastor’s wife said, “I don’t know what happened, but there was a bunch of blood outside and in the women’s restroom.” I didn’t say a word, and just quietly kept eating my club sandwich in remorse. (I finally told the Pastor’s wife about this a few years ago… she didn’t remember, but I hope whoever I punched is okay). But now you know, don’t poke people.