A Variety of Social Aspects of Navajo People (Guest Post #18)

Leave a comment

This is the 18th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

The other day, I was asked by a Navajo if I knew any famous Navajo people. I tried to think, but couldn’t think of anyone. He mentioned someone who was a golfer. I did not think I had ever heard of the person. But anyway, it is interesting that he asked such a question which provoked me into thinking about the importance of role models. Simply put, role models help to shape the society and people. They provide inspirations for people and examples for them to follow. The earlier question was a direct link to the issues of role models. I wonder what other famous Navajo or American Indian people the locals know about and how they think of them.

"Culture Day" is good...but not the same as having role models

“Culture Day” is good…but not the same as having role models

Randy and I once saw hitchhikers on the highway. The weather was hot. It would not be a pleasant thing walking along the road. Also, their destination must be far away considering the remoteness of this area. I was wondering how they would manage to reach the destination. Another time, I was in Randy’s vehicle on a dirt road. Randy stopped near someone who was walking. Randy asked if he needed a ride. It sounded like the guy didn’t make it clear where he wanted to go. So, we left without picking him up.  As can be imagined, without a vehicle in this rural area, life can be hard.

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation...along the highway and along dirt roads

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation…along the highway and along dirt roads

From my observations at Lybrook Elementary/Middle School, I assume there are some families of Navajo mixed with other people, particularly Hispanics. According to Randy, some of the non-Navajo school teachers have a Navajo spouse. So there is ethnic diversity here to some extent. But obviously the mixed families are the minority. It is not surprising that there are mixed families as there is no restriction preventing Navajo marrying people of a different ethnic group. It would be interesting to know how the children of the mixed families think of themselves in terms of their identity.

Some students have mixed heritage...

Some students have mixed heritage…

Questions and Answers

Leave a comment

(Disclaimer: This post and all future posts are written personally by Jill Emmelhainz and do NOT necessarily represent the beliefs or positions of the overseeing board of Lybrook Community Ministries.)

There have been some big changes for our family and for Lybrook Community Ministries in the past few months. Here is a summary in Q&A format:

Q:        We hear rumors that your family is leaving?

A:        Yes, that is unfortunately true. As of Christmas, our family has moved back to Ohio to live with family while we figure out what is next for us.

Q:        Why did you leave?

A:        This is complicated to answer. The simple version is that there hasn’t been enough money for many months to cover the expenses for an “anglo” family to live in this remote location. Beyond that, for this or any other ministry to make a significant difference in local lives, we are convinced that a much larger program carried out in partnership with local Navajo leadership would be needed which would take significantly higher amounts of support. This did not seem feasible when basic support levels were not being met.

Q:        Are you just “abandoning” the Navajo?

A:        We hope not! We are trying to maintain contact with friends and Christian leaders via calls and texts. The Navajo-led church we attended made it clear that they were sending us back to Ohio as part of their Navajo family, to represent them and their needs to the outside world.

Q:        But don’t the Navajo need people there to help them?

A:        The Navajo in the Lybrook area certainly need help as many families are being ripped apart by alcohol, abuse, and suicide. However, during our time there, and in conversation with many Christian and secular leaders, we realized that outsiders often do more harm than actual good. Change in the community can only come when their own leaders step up to challenging the status quo, something that doesn’t bring change when done by “Anglos” who can be ignored as not really understanding what is going on.

Q:        What about the young people who attended that “Transition to Adulthood” retreat last spring? What’s happening with them?

A:        We are quite happy to share that (so far) all 12 of those students are still attending classes for 9th grade. (By this time in past years there have usually been a few students who have already dropped out of high school.) They are spread among three different high schools with some living at home and some in weekday boarding situations. They appear to be keeping in contact with each other and encouraging each other to continue on. They have asked for a follow-up retreat. We are hoping to gather them together for a day-long event when we travel back to New Mexico sometime in the spring.

Q:        What about the work you were doing at the local public school?

A:        We miss the contact with “our” kids. We miss the opportunities to encourage them, challenge them, and speak hope into their lives. However, the school district is facing financial crisis. Even if we had stayed in the area, there was not enough money to renew our contract through the end of the school year. (And that income was a significant part of covering living expenses that were not covered by donations.)

Q:        What’s happening at the school now?

A:        Both of us worked hard to transition our responsibilities to the other teachers. We believe that through example and conversations, we gave those teachers additional “tools” to better meet the challenges of teaching such at-risk children in ways the traditional teacher-training programs never equipped them for.

Q:        What’s happening with Lybrook Community Ministries now?

A:        The overseeing board is evaluating that question. They are looking for a long-term way to keep the mission open, perhaps with a retired couple as caretakers. If you want updates, you could contact Ken Frantz at frantz@haxtuntel.net As stated above, both we and this blog will continue to communicate, but will be independent from the mission.

Q:        What’s happening with this blog?

A:        We still have a few more guest posts. In addition, Jill plans to continue writing about our family’s experiences living and working in Navajoland. Beyond personal reflections, as we keep contact with our friends in the area, we will share new stories and new insights.

Q:        What’s happening with your family?

A:        We don’t have a clue! As mentioned at the beginning, we have moved back to Ohio to live with family until we figure that out. Jill and Anna are currently living in Germany for a few months, to help friends with their new baby and their active family. We continue to look for the “open door” that God has next for our family.

Q:        What can we do to help during this transition?

A:        Please keep reading this blog (and let me know what topics you would like to know more about!) Keep praying for the Navajo people in the Lybrook area. We know God has good things for them. And, we greatly appreciate continued prayers for our family during this time. Transitions are filled with uncertainty!

Victory over Death!

Leave a comment

One year ago, the Lybrook community was devastated by the tragedy of multiple deaths in two horrific accidents. Through family lines and marriages, these deaths directly affected most families in the area. (If you weren’t reading this blog back then, you can find the story HERE.)

It seems to be part of being human to wonder where God was when someone we love dies. Death often feels so wrong, such a horrible shortening of what “should” be a long life. Questions come flooding in, and it can be hard to walk in faith during such times.

Today, at the start of a new year, I want to share a different story of death with you. A story that still leaves questions, but one that unfolded with clear signs of God’s victory.rainbow photo from microsoft

A few months ago, one of our friends died of cancer. Rosie had been fighting this cancer since before we met her 2 ½ years ago. She was a loving, generous woman who was full of life and laughter. She was passionate about God and longed for others to have that same kind of relationship with God, rather than just following lifeless rules or religion.

Rosie doted on her family. Along with God, her family was the center of her world, something that came through in every conversation. And with her husband, children and grandchildren at the center of her heart, she was the one who held her family together through whatever storms they faced in life.

Then, she died.

As her husband Eddie told Randy a few weeks ago, God walked with the family through this dark time. They chose to work together in their grief and paint the casket. One side was given a rainbow. One side was filled with roses. Eddie was surprised when their artistic daughter chose to paint the top of the casket black with a simple white cross rather than painting some glorious scene or a more specific painting of her mother. roses by Microsoft

It rained the morning of the funeral, mirroring the grief of so many who loved Rosie. When they reached the cemetery, the rain stopped and a rainbow filled the sky. The casket was lowered into the ground, covered with roses, reminding everyone that Rosie herself was being buried. And then, as family and friends threw handfuls of dirt into the grave, a white cross appeared to glow in contrast to the darkness that was surrounding it. That simple painting by the artistic daughter was visible for a long time as more and more dirt covered the casket.

In looking back, Eddie realized that each painted side of the casket had been fulfilled that morning. Over the next few weeks, Eddie had encouraging dreams of Rosie. God was present that funeral day, and continues to bring comfort to the family.christian cross 1 by Microsoft

What a different story than the one from last year! Yes, Eddie and those who love Rosie miss her. Yes, they question why God took her home so soon. But there is a sense of celebration, even in the grief. Rosie’s love for others and her passion for God continue to challenge and encourage those who knew her.

Through Jesus, there truly is Victory Over Death!

Traditional Architecture and Change (Guest Post #17)

Leave a comment

This is #17 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE. Jianping provided many of the photos for these guest posts. However, the photos for this entry were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

From the LCM buildings to the houses along Highway 550, all are “modern” styles of buildings. It is not easy to see the more traditional style of building. In towns like Cuba and Farmington, there are some buildings with adobe characteristics. However, I suppose many of those buildings are new and public, and the adobe features are stressed in order to show local cultural heritage, while the adobe homes are no longer popular. The buildings around Farmington, such as some of the hotels and Farmington Public Library, preserve some features of adobe buildings such as the exterior terracotta color and the rounded rooms similar to hogans.

Farmington Library

Farmington Library

I had the opportunity to visit an adobe house. I was very impressed by the layout and coziness of it. It was a two-story building, if not three-stories. The circular living room has large windows that give good views of nature. It was an interesting contrast between its simple outside appearance and the modern living conditions inside.

However, this traditional type of building as a residential house, I suppose, is not common in this area. I guess it would be easier to obtain and use modern construction materials to build a new house nowadays. When did the adobe house lose its popularity? Was the change more the result of an economic or social factor? Recently, I read an article about social change. Basically, it suggests that the elite in the society play an important role in bringing about social changes. In other words, social change starts from the elite, and then spreads to ordinary people. I was thinking, was the replacement of adobe the result of the Navajo people who may be regarded as elites? And to extend the question, how was the architectural change related to other changes of the society?

a typical Navajo "family camp"

a typical Navajo “family camp”

[Note from Jill Emmelhainz: much of the modern style of housing was the result of planned housing built by the Navajo government a number of years ago in such communities as Nageezi and Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle. In addition, for local families with consistent income, modern mobile homes are a status symbol desired by many.]

Navajo Personalities (Guest Post 16)

Leave a comment

This is the 16th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

It is difficult to generalize the personality of an ethnic group, especially considering the diversity within a society and the small sample of local people. However, it cannot be denied that there is something in common in terms of people’s personalities. By looking at people’s way of thinking and acting at the society level, we can understand both the similarities and differences of personality within a society.

Most Navajo people usually do not talk loud and looked like they preferred keeping to themselves. Some of the students I met did tend to keep silent or try to avoid me. My impression was that most of them were curious about me, but few of them asked questions or initiated a conversation. However, I met other people who seemed to be more outgoing. So, I have no idea how to place Navajo people’s personality along the continuum between introvert and extrovert.

Lybrook students: sometimes quite...

Lybrook students: sometimes quiet…

I did meet some students who tried to approach me. When I was at the school, one small child came to me and gave me a strawberry. He and a couple of other small kids showed curiosity about me. Another time, an eighth grader approached me and initiated a conversation with me, and we talked about his plan for the future. It turned out to be a quality conversation.

Church mealtime was also conversation time. Here I want to mention talks with two families. The first time, I sat randomly close to a family. The husband talked to me and asked me a lot of questions, such as how I liked New Mexico. He talked about his family and children, and his wife talked about education with me. The conversation was interactive and informative. The couple did not talk loud, but they were open-minded. The other time, I talked to a woman about Navajo food. Her parents were also there. Her father played jokes with me. The conversation with them ended up being quite lighthearted.

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

At school or church, I often met a woman who works at the school. She always said hello to me loudly, which made me feel that I was not so strange to the community. If I remember correctly, I talked to her first when I met her for the first time. Maybe it is just an issue of familiarity? Also, it seems to me that the younger people are easier to talk to.

So I think in every society, there are various types of personalities. Here many Navajo people look reserved, but there are many other people who actively engage in communication with me as well. I noticed that the older people’s English was not as fluent as young people. Maybe this is one reason why they seem quiet? The ways people communicate with each other may be complicated and situational. However, I consider the diversity of personality to be universal.

a little of this…a little of that…

Leave a comment

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of small things that have “jumped out at me.” Unfortunately, most of them are too small and insignificant to write an entire blog post about. I have tried to put them out of mind…but they are persistent memories.

Then I realized I could bring them all together in one place…and, voila!, a full blog post:

I was chatting with a few of my tutoring students at the end of the school day and joked that the following week I was going to “turn into Mr. C.” I was referring to being a substitute teacher for the 1st grade class. But one student gasped and asked if I was going to do witchcraft. I’m still not sure if he was joking back…or if he is one of the many, many Navajo who believe in human shape-changers called skin-walkers.

Most of you don’t get updates from my art blog. Go check out a post HERE from a few weeks ago — with photos and explanations of the Van Gogh art project I did with the 1st graders while I was subbing in the class.

our lovely swirly mural a la Van Gogh

One morning I was running late and hadn’t finished up my cup of coffee, so I brought it to tutoring with me. Anthony* asked what it was, then asked if he could have a sip. (No, obviously not…) Katie* immediately asked him, “Do you want your hair to turn WHITE?!” As I asked her about that comment, she explained that is what her grandpa says every time she wants to taste his coffee, as he points to his own white hair.

With the Twilight series of movies and books still quite popular among the students, there were a bunch of vampires and werewolves for Halloween. Somehow, I have still managed to avoid this series, although I’m glad it keeps some of these students reading. When she is stressed or anxious, our daughter Anna has a pattern of chewing around her lips until the skin is raw and bleeding. Her mouth was quite a mess before we left for Ohio, but she wanted to go to school as usual on the Tuesday before we left so she could say goodbye to friends and teachers. I was quite uncertain how the students would react to her injuries, knowing how vicious teasing can sometimes be. I was baffled, but quite pleased, when most of the students thought it was really COOL. They wanted to know how Anna managed to make herself look so much like a vampire!

For my tutoring groups, I bought a pack of bright colored ink pens. Somehow it feels less like WORK when we are writing or doing exercises if we can write in hot pink, or purple, or neon green. I continue to stress that the students must follow their teacher’s rules about what to write with in the classroom. To me these pens are just a bit of colorful fun. To the students, however, the pens have become something to look forward to. When I said my goodbyes before Thanksgiving, I gave each reading student a pack of colored pens as a little going-away gift. By their reactions, you might have thought that I had given them GOLD!

Well, enough random tidbits for this week. I’ll try to add some photos and another more in-depth post for next Friday.

 

 

Mobility of Navajo People (Guest Post #15)

Leave a comment

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.

Older Entries Newer Entries