I left Naʹnízhoozhi (Gallup, New Mexico), my hometown, eight months after I graduated from high school. The train tracks, the fields of scattered broken glass, the summer ditches filled with sunflowers and thistles, and all the people there.
I moved to Albuquerque for school at the University of New Mexico. Like 6 a.m. light in my eyes, the next two years were all reading, studying and part time work. I didn’t have close friends, but was visited constantly by my lesbian friend from high school, Mia and every other weekend by my family.
I was twenty the first time I got drunk, which for growing up in Gallup was considerably late. There was me, three lesbians (including Mia), and one woman of questionable sexuality in the Howard Johnson’s off of I-25. I had 12 shots of tequila. The next day I went to class at 9:30 a.m. and took judicious notes, perfectly sober.
Two years later, May of 1995, I received a big envelope with the word “congratulations” on the back flap. It was just a week earlier I had been accepted as a transfer student to Cornell University. This envelope was my transfer acceptance into Stanford University. I was un-phased and immediately thought of months of blowing snow, as I mailed the acceptance postcard back to Stanford admissions.
Four months later, September of 1995, my mother prayed over me in Jicarilla Apache, as she, crying, left me and my few belongings in my dorm room. Save for a one-month high school writing program, I hadn’t lived away from Gallup for any significant time before. And even though I was poor, brown, Native, and backward, I felt proud, I felt I belonged.
In my first English class, “17th Century Lyric Poetry,” I was the only person of color. This one girl made a joke in French to which the rest of the class chuckled, as I sat there completely unaware. Then a few moments later, this other girl was asked to read a poem aloud. Even though on the page it was written in English, she started reciting it in Latin, which the rest of the class followed perfectly. I felt like I was back at Jefferson Elementary in Gallup, when these white kids were calling this poor girl from Smith Lake dirty and stupid. I had sat there, hoping they wouldn’t look at me next.
At this time I had many white and Asian friends in my dorm. I felt like I didn’t need to make Native friends, because my few interactions with the Natives on campus weren’t very impressive. I felt like the theme song for the Native program should’ve been 70’s Cher in a black wig with lots of turquoise singing “Half-breed.”
Growing up in Gallup, most of the children of interracial parentage didn’t appreciate us “fullbloods” and mostly hung out with the white kids. They were usually the children of Navajo women who married “out,” or as everyone said in town, married “up,” which generally socio-economically was the case.
Then there were the Navajo orphans adopted by non-Navajos. Many changed their last names because they sounded too Navajo. From Blackgoat to Black, from Manychildren to Mitchell. And then there were those special cases.
One girl denied having a Native parent. Being one of the popular, wealthy, “dumb” girls in school I never suspected she was Navajo. It wasn’t until years after high school that I met her parents and realized she wasn’t Hispanic like she told us. Her father was Navajo. I never saw her hang out with any Navajos. Even though we had the same classes for four years, I think she talked to me once. My views on racially mixed people have been colored by my experiences in Gallup.
So I didn’t have any Native friends my first quarter at Stanford and I thought I was just a regular student, making friends with people in my dorm. Those few white and Asian friends I had made me feel welcome. So within the pseudo-liberal safety of Stanford and with my new friends support, I called my family, my parents and four primary siblings, chatted briefly with them before I told them I was gay. I was 20 years old.Read More