Another School Shooting?

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This is something that has infuriated me over the years. When something tragic happens in a suburban school, people from around the country rally in support of the community. At the time of the Columbine shooting, young Cambodian friends of ours had not-too-long-earlier had to deal with shootings in their neighborhood which killed friends and family with no acknowledgement or support from the outside world.

Working with families and students in the Lybrook area of Navajoland was devastating at times. Far too often we saw first-hand the results of beatings, of abandonment, of neglect, of abuse. I’ve written occasionally on this blog about some of the bigger tragedies in the community. But where is the outpouring of support? Where is the free counseling? Where is the money and the prayers and the encouraging notes…for the adults choosing to work with these families and for the children themselves?

There was another school shooting this week. But it hardly merited comment. Perhaps that was because it might have been gang related. Perhaps it is because it happened in a school that has metal detectors at the doors. Perhaps it is because we can’t acknowledge the violence faced by thousands upon thousands of children every day in this country. Perhaps that is just too hard to think about when it makes us feel too helpless.

Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives.

Our family is no longer living and working in Navajoland. But a piece of our hearts is still there, suffering and celebrating with our friends. Concerned for the children we know who are trying to raise themselves and their siblings with no stable adults around them.

I wish I knew what WE could do about such callousness in our country. And I wish there was some way to set hearts on fire so that each and every one of us would rise up in outrage at these tragedies, insisting that things MUST change for the “least of these,” for children who are precious in the sight of our Saviour…

I read a few blogs written by families who are doing what they can to stand in the gap for needy children. One of these summarized that life well today:

And the truth of the matter is that the cracks aren’t very comfortable. They’re dark, and kind of squishy, and supremely lonely. We’ve been having trouble recruiting mentors, which has given me a bad attitude and made me feel a little despondent and frustrated. Like why in the world are we the only ones here? Where are all the other people who love Jesus?

But when I get in that place, when I get overwhelmed by the darkness, by the storm that so often surrounds us here, it usually means I have taken my eyes off of Jesus. Because here’s the thing about cracks: they let the light shine through. So even when they feel broken, and dark, and even a little scary, I am learning that standing in the gap for “the least of these” means we bear the great privilege and responsibility of being a fissure for Christ’s love to seep through.

I challenge each one of us to step outside our comfort zone. To reach out and help someone who is in a difficult situation. To speak up for the children. Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives. Making time to spend regularly with one or two of these children could make a huge difference. Jumping into the “trenches” with a family who is working with little ones in tragic situations, trying hard to understand what that life is really like, and encouraging those workers can make a difference.

The real question is: are we willing to wrestle with the uncomfortable? Are we willing to be stretched outside our “normal”? When will we react with as much shock and horror to the devastating lives of the poor as we do to tragedies among the well-to-do?

(If you are interested, you can read more from the above blogger HERE)

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Navajo Personalities (Guest Post 16)

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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…

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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.

 

 

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)

 

 

Musings at the NM State Fair

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A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a chaperone as students from the local school had a field-trip to the NM State Fair. I was responsible for 2 students (plus my daughter) and their 5th grade teacher joined us for the day as well.

“My” girls meet Smokey the Bear

We wandered the fairgrounds and enjoyed the usual things: shows, animals, art displays and 4H projects. The kids picked up lots of freebies and handouts from the Department of Natural Resources, and the various branches of the Armed Services, and Science groups, and Libraries, and more. (You can see photos from the day HERE.)

I enjoyed spending time with the girls. It was interesting to see what they found intriguing and what things bored them. It was fun to share my love of “agua de sandia” (watermelon water—a favorite drink from time in Mexico) with them. I was pleased to see that the tacky wares in the vendor booths were no temptation (at least to “my” girls—not talking about many of the other kids who returned to the buses as the end of the day with amazing money-wasters!)

Behind the up-front, oh-so-typical story of kids going to the fair is another story. It’s a story that I’ve been pondering. Let me share a few pieces with you…

I tutor one of these girls—let’s call her Dee. Many days she is sullen and withdrawn. It can be hard to engage her in what we are working on. At one point, she and I had an in-your-face argument. You don’t need to know the details…it is enough to say that I wrote an apology and an affirmation of the value and worth I see in Dee. I assumed our relationship, which was tenuous to start with, was irrevocably broken. The principal herself wondered if it would be more effective for someone else to work with Dee. I chose to stick with it for a little longer to see what might happen.

Imagine my surprise, then, during a tutoring session the day before the fair trip, when Dee asked me if she could be in my group. WOW! But I knew she was bringing money for a ride band…and I don’t believe spending the day on the midway is an appropriate use of a school funded trip to the fair. I gently explained that my group would NOT taking time for any rides, and suggested she would probably be happier in another group.

The next morning, I discovered that Dee was assigned to my group after all. I suggested that she might want to trade and be in someone else’s group…but she chose to stick with me. That made me both happy and worried that a no-rides-policy might yet again break relationship between us.

Our vote for “Best of Show” quilt

Once we got to the fair, Dee, Kay, and my daughter, were happy to follow my suggestions about which shows to see and which exhibits to visit. They asked to walk through the petting zoo—commenting that their grandmas had sheeps and goats, too. Dee asked once or twice about rides, but didn’t argue when I pointed out she was the only one in our group with money to pay for rides.

Eventually, Dee quietly asked if everyone could put their money together to share the cost of rides. That seemed totally unreasonable to me, since Dee had $25, my daughter had only $5, and Kay had no money to spend at the fair. However, Dee persisted. She quietly insisted that if the money was pooled together, she would be happy to share.

Sharing the rides…

I finally gave in, and the girls enjoyed a few rides together in the last 30 minutes before time to leave the fair to head home. Instead of a day full of unlimited rides, Dee had only 3 rides. But she was happy. After all, she had done the rides together with her friends. They had shared their money, and their fun.

I can’t get this picture out of my mind. In my Anglo world, it is only sharing if everyone is (somewhat) equal in what they contribute. Otherwise, it is either a gift or charity for one to pay for others. In my Anglo world, an expectation of “sharing” can become a burden, or can cause the giver to feel taken advantage of.

…sharing the fun!

But that wasn’t Dee’s world. She was happy: happy to spend far more than the others to pay for everyone to ride. As long as each person put everything they had “into the pot,” Dee felt that they had all shared the cost of the rides. It was a gentle, face-saving way for everyone to enjoy the special occasion.

It makes me wonder: we work hard to break the “dependency culture” out here. We see how the expectation of hand-outs from Anglos too often undermines the Navajo taking care of each other. But perhaps there is another way…a way to pool resources…a way for everyone to walk in mutual respect, taking joy in sharing with each other.

Trip to Navajo Student Dorm and Bloomfield Highschool (Guest Post)

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

There are about 12 eighth graders graduating this June [2012]. The school organized a trip for them to visit a dorm for Navajo students and the Bloomfield High School, where they can choose to stay for their high school life. The dorm is located outside the town, and the students need to commute between dorm and school.

We visited the dorm first. Currently, there are about 100 residents in this dorm. The corridor walls are decorated with American Indian arts and slogans in both English and Navajo. For example, two slogans say, “do not be overly shy”, and “do not be easily hurt”. Residents share bunk-beds and communal bathrooms. Within the dorm building, there is a computer area, a laundry room and a dining hall. Outside the dorm building, there is a library built in the traditional stone and wood style. Overall, the facilities are nice, while the dorm rules are strict. For example, the dorm sets up bedtime and laundry time. Students are not allowed to enter other students’ rooms. I was thinking that living in a dorm for children can help them develop communication skills and live independently. On the other hand, living away from home can be hard for these children.

At Bloomfield High School, we visited the main building, the theatre and the sports center. Inside the main building, we had the opportunity to see students in different classrooms making art, doing chemistry experiments, etc. I noticed that some of the outstanding alumni of this school went to University of New Mexico. We were instructed on the topics regarding registration, attendance rules, graduation information, etc. One aspect about the courses that deserves mentioning is that students can earn college credits for free. The school provides some courses related to Navajo language and culture. The great majority of the students I observed, however, weren’t Navajo. I think this may cause adaptation difficulty for some of the Lybrook area students, as one of the concerns of they have is whether or not they will have Navajo peers in the school.

These eight graders have other options, such as the high school in the nearby town, Cuba. Whichever they choose, they will start a new chapter of their life. I wish them good luck in their high school years.

Anna’s Presence in Navajo Community (Guest Post)

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

My opinion is that difference makes progress. I want to exemplify this view by talking about Anna’s presence in this Navajo community, which I think is beneficial to both the community and herself. First of all, the fact that Anna is enrolled as a student at the local Elementary School helps create the atmosphere of diversity. Anna is one of the few people in the school who are not Navajo. She certainly stands out among others, but I am sure Anna and the other children can learn a lot from each other through participating in classroom activities, hanging out when going to church, etc.

The other students will learn that an outsider is both similar to and different from them. Since Anna is an outsider she certainly brings something different to the school, such as the way of speaking and acting. This will open the mind of the students and provoke their curiosity. The fact that Anna is one of them can help the students understand that there may not be strict boundaries among people of different backgrounds. In the future, when they move to different locations, their experience of having an Anglo school friend will be helpful for their adaptation.

I wonder what Anna’s exposure to Navajo culture at such a young age means for her future. She has learned some of the Navajo language. Her pronunciation sounds very natural to me. We all know that children acquire a language more easily than adults. If she keeps learning, she will likely become fluent. A second language will definitely improve her cognition. More importantly, her experience with Navajo people shapes her interests. As she told me, she was interested in linguistics. Also, being among Navajo people who are good at arts, she probably has developed some ability in arts. Her drawings are simple, yet definitely artistic. Or will Anna choose a social science major related to American Indians for her career?

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