Mobility of Navajo People (Guest Post #15)

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This is #15 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE.

By mobility, I mean in either a geographic or social sense, as in many circumstances they were interrelated. From what I have communicated with Navajo people, I believe many of them have the chance to move beyond the place in which they are raised. I once asked a naive question about where Navajo people lived in the country. The answer was that Navajo people were everywhere.

At one party in a Navajo house, I met a guy who had the experience of living in New York state. His experience was quite interesting and unique. The reason why he went to New York was that he ran away from home when he was a teenager. I regret not to have asked why he ran away. He ended up going to high school there. He told me that he once drove from New York to the south with his friends. I do not know what kind of work he does now. His case, however, shows that there can be different reasons to leave their familiar places and people.

Another person used to have a job in Albuquerque. He had the training and the certificate for the job. He received high school education, but probably did not go to college. He had held that job for a long time. Only this year did he lose his job, probably because of the general economic downturn. I did not have a chance to ask how important that job was to him. Anyway, there are more opportunities in Albuquerque than in the Lybrook area.

I talked with a woman who was a teacher in a nearby town. She received both undergraduate and graduate education. Her case is not common in that most people do not have higher education. The school where she works is not far from her home. From what we communicated, I suppose she did not want to be away from her home. I have no idea how strong Navajo people attach to their home place in the wider culture. The people I have talked to, however, seem to show strong connection with their homes.

Another kind of mobility is related to marriage. According to Jill and from my communication with Navajo people, Navajo marriage is exogamous, by which I mean they accept a person from a different ethnic and cultural background. So when this happens, relocation might follow. However, this might lead to the change or loss of traditional culture.  [Note from Jill: in our experience, marriage by Navajo with “outsiders” almost always means the couple remains near family in Navajoland rather than the couple moving elsewhere.]

It is interesting to know people have some opportunities of moving in this relatively isolated land. I would like to raise this general question: what factors affect people’s decision-making when facing a choice of moving? Economic issues must be a factor, but I would like to stress the  social and cultural ones; although to have a more in-depth understanding would need further exploration.

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Navajo Arts (Guest Post #14)

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This is #14 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and the author HERE.

First of all, the following description and reflection on the Navajo arts is not professional as I do not have formal education in either arts or Navajo society. However, I cannot help but  talk about the Navajo arts since it is an significant aspect of Navajo society.

The Navajo art forms that I have seen include drawing, weaving, Jewelry, figurines in traditional costume, etc., although there must be far more than these in reality. In Lybrook Elementry/Middle School, I found a lot of beautiful drawings by students. One of the drawing themes is eagles. Although the meaning of the eagle in Navajo culture needs exploration, obviously it is an important component in Navajo culture.  Randy said that the students did better in arts than in other subjects. Responding to his comment, I said that it might be because other subjects such as math were more foreign to them than art which had been part of life from generation to generation.

In the Lybrook Community Ministries office building, there are some items showing Navajo weaving. One is a delicately made figurine representing a woman using a loom. Jill said it was made by a Navajo friend. There is a chart illustrating the sources of different dying color for cloths. These sources are from natural plants. It can be imagined that it is a complicated and demanding task to create a beautiful textile product. Navajo weaving is reminiscent of Eurasian nomads. It would be interesting to compare weaving, in the areas such as color and technique, of Navajo and Eurasian societies. This might provide some insights on the link between Navajo and Asian people.

Jewelry is another form of art products. As a Navajo student said, the beads were bought somewhere, and weaved into things like necklaces by Navajo households. I had the opportunity to see many kinds of necklaces that were made with stones in different colors. I was more interested in the symbolic meanings of each “theme” than what kind of stones they were made from. Although all the products are obviously talismans, the Navajo people who showed me the jewelry were not sure of exact symbolic meanings. Farmington, the largest town nearby, has stores to sell these folk products, as a Navajo student told me.

Another art form worth mentioning is the figurines in traditional costumes. I found them in Farmington Public Library, but I assume there are similar works of arts in the Lybrook community area. They appear to be religious or ceremonious figures as each of them seems to be responsible for a certain kind of performance. These figurines show that a feather has a significant symbolic meaning in Navajo culture.

Navajo art is colorful and delicate. It is probably not coincidental that Santa Fe and Taos became a well-known art center. Here in Lybrook I know a Navajo person who was previously an artist who sold paintings in Santa Fe galleries. But not all people can make a living by making art. Hopefully Navajo traditional arts can be preserved, and at the same time Navajo people can benefit from the development of tourism.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau–A Sketch of the Natural Environment (Guest Post #13)

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This is #13 in a series of guest posts by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

Here I am attempting to describe the weather in May, June and July in northwestern New Mexico. My description is from a layman’s experience rather than a geologist’s professional study. Therefore it might be inaccurate. However, a description will paint a more vivid picture than numbers and thus complement the statistical data.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau
(photo taken by the author)

The climate is quite dry in this area, the elevation of which is above 6500 feet. According to my record, it rained a bit on June 4. During the night on June 26 and the day of June 27, it rained again, but not very heavily. There was a temperature increase from May to June, but it seems that the difference is more tangible at night than during the day. It is often windy, both during the day and at night. Most of the time, however, the wind is not obvious. Most of May and June were sunny days with blue sky. I believe that monsoon season started July 6, because it rained several times during the following week.

The typical scene is the sagebrush on plain areas and the mountains. Irrigated crop fields can occasionally be seen along the highway. The vast green agricultural land is a sharp contrast to the rest of the immediate area, where sagebrush thrives. The terrain is generally flat without sharp slopes. Small cacti are everywhere. Poplar trees can be seen sporadically. It is interesting to see that in Cuba, a town not very far away, the environment is much greener. I noticed that there was more rainfall around mountainous areas.

When we were on the road, I often wondered when the rock pieces fell and formed the current landscape. It was interesting to see the fallen rocks in a distance. However, if they are close to the road, it might make drivers or passengers feel threatened, as there are many huge rock pieces scattered near the road. I have no idea how fast the rock pieces can break and fall onto the road. I believe the probability of seeing it happen is low. It would be a better idea not to worry about it.

Few kinds of animals are seen here very often. It would be reasonable to assume that there are fewer animal species here than in greener areas. However, we can see eagles flying. I saw rabbit once or twice. Coyotes are also in this area. We can see horses and cattle roaming near the roads. It is rare to see accidents of unfortunate animals on the highway. I talked with Navajo people about animals here, and according to them there are more species than I have described. It is just not easy for a newcomer to see them.

End of Year Ceremony (Guest Post #12)

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This is #12 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

I estimated that about two hundred people attended the ceremony. I sat on the steps in the gym observing the people and events. The eighth graders, beautifully dressed, entered the gym in pairs, one boy and one girl holding arms. Once everyone was seated, the principal gave the opening speech. She announced the honors, gave the prizes and congratulated all the eighth grade graduates. I noticed her emotional moment during the ceremony. I heard from Jill that she has devoted herself to the education of Navajo children for decades. I think such a career is respectful and challenging since it requires not only expertise but also familiarity with Navajo culture.

(photo taken by guest author)

Prizes for students from the other grades were given. Prizes are important in the sense that they give encouragement to students. During the ceremony, the students performed dances and sang in a choir. For those who are not familiar with American Indian culture, this is a good opportunity to see how colorful the culture is, which is reflected in their costumes and the performance. The Pine Hill Church pastor was invited to give a speech.

The eighth graders sat on the front platform. This was the day that they could feel proud of their graduation. However, I thought their proud feeling was probably mixed with nostalgia, as the ceremony marked the successful completion of middle school, and at the same time the beginning of something uncertain. I was thinking about the concept of rituals. We have different rituals during our life course. But what exactly is their function? Looking at it from a social perspective, rituals can strengthen communication, social cohesion, and grant authority. Psychologically, rituals certainly can create a moment for participants to reflect on themselves, and this will shape their personality. This graduation ceremony is undoubtedly an important event for the eighth graders.

(You can read a previous post about 8th Grade Graduation, including more photos, HERE.)

Transition-to-Adult Retreat: an Outsider’s View (Guest Post #11)

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This is guest post #11 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

It has been a lot of fun having the eighth graders around for a learning retreat (in mid may—read a blog entry about the retreat HERE). This is actually part of their education. As an outsider, I had the opportunity to observe the activities “at a distance” and communicate with some of them. In my view, this program is helpful for them considering the high dropout rate of Navajo high school students.

Activities were indoors and outdoors

The four day retreat was quite intense. The activities combined both education and entertainment and were held both indoors and outdoors. They involved a lot of creativity and reflection. When it came to the part about presenting their personality, they were asked to make a collage. Although the pictures and symbols were limited for them to choose from, the way the collage was made certainly showed some traits of personality. Much of the lectures were about people and society outside of students’ main experience. Randy and Jill mentioned the different ways of thinking of different people. The effects of such lectures would be to familiarize the students with the complexity of the real world on the one hand, and motivate them to pursue a different life on the other.

Outside, students participated in a competition by completing certain fun tasks in pairs, such as shooting hoops. It was more of a fun activity than a competition. Our two dogs participated as well. One of the nights was a campfire night. Besides the fire, the students were joking, watching videos on the phone, or just careless talking. It continued until late that night.

Job-related training was one of the most important components of this program. The students were advised on how to write a resume, how to balance personal interests and actual job, how to do an interview, etc. For others, it is still too early to receive such training, but for these students, it may be practical.

closing activity of retreat

Overall, this retreat program provided an excellent opportunity to prepare the students for their future, especially when they look for a job. It was aimed at motivating the students to think about their future and promote their confidence to solve problems. It emphasized concepts such as adaptation, aspiration and achievement. Hopefully, they will reflect on this program and find it helpful for their transition to the next chapter of their life.

(Note from Jill Emmelhainz–after a rocky start for a few students, currently all 12 young people are still attending highschool. This is a victory compared to past years when by now in the semester there have usually been 1 or 2 that have already either dropped out or been suspended! As we have met some of these kids in the community, they talk happily about the retreat and beg to have a reunion retreat. We are hoping to schedule one for spring break. Please keep praying for each one of these young people as they go against their current culture and (for some) against family pressures as they work to stay in school.)

Sports Day for Jemez Mountain Schools (Guest Post #10)

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This is guest post #10 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and the author HERE.

It was a sunny day of late May. The elementary and middle school students from the Jemez Mountain area came to the sports field for competition. I believe it was both a competition and for fun. The categories of competition included races, egg-holding races, relays, three-legged races, kicking a shoe into a barrel, etc.

The children seemed to enjoy the competitions very much. Sitting in the shade of the “stadium”, I enjoyed watching the activities without feeling warm. I couldn’t help but laugh at their performance. For example, in the three-legged race, the two partners who could not synchronize well sometimes fell onto the ground. In the sack race, some competitors could not move forward smoothly. During the egg-holding race, some kids couldn’t balance well and dropped the eggs. For the shoe kicking, some shoes ended up hitting the spot far away from the target barrel.

While students from Lybrook Elementary/Middle School were predominantly Navajo, the other schools had more white students. This sports day was a diversion for these students at the end of the school year. They could learn something about coordinating with others, balancing their senses, improving their physical strengths, etc. In addition, they had an opportunity to communicate with their peers from nearby areas. The activities could help develop their sense of achievement. And of course, the competitions were fun.

(Photos taken by the author)

 

 

Scholarly Research on Navajo People (Guest Post #9)

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This is the Ninth in a series of Guest Posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts HERE.

Having collected several dozen  scholarly articles on Navajo people, I am trying to find what the focuses of these studies are. The following categorization certainly cannot capture all the themes. However, it gives a general idea what social science studies are concerned with relating to the Navajo people. These focuses are education, health, identity, adolescence, and way of thinking.

The cultural aspect is emphasized in the studies on education. Studies on education involve not only students but also the superintendent and school administrators. Examples of these studies are the effects of bilingual education, superintendent turnover, and the cultural impact on school administrators’ career, etc. Although these studies were not conducted in New Mexico alone, they certainly provide insights into the education and administration of Lybrook Elementary/Middle School. Health is another major theme, which deals with obesity, drinking, mental health, and so on. Other articles look at Navajo adolescence focusing on cultural identity, pregnancy, etc.; and Navajo way of thinking, such as in terms of wellness.

These studies involve both urban and rural areas. They particularly emphasize the influence of Navajo culture on people’s lives. Jill, Randy and I already talked a lot about these topics which also apply to the area where we live. I believe they are valuable in providing insights into the transformation of Navajo community in this area.

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