Notes from Nettie — Guest Post

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Our middle daughter, Janetta Emmelhainz, is currently in China, helping to teach English to 4-6th grade students. She made the following observations in a recent email:

I had an interesting conversation with one of the internationals that’s been here for more than a decade about Native American connections to China.  Apparently there is a specific cultural group of Tibetans (I don’t know which one) that have some very close cultural similarities to the Hopi in the US.  So close that there is actually a matching set of prophecies between the two groups.  In general there are a lot of similarities between Native Americans and native people here, possibly just due to the fact that indigenous people often have similarities in outlook, etc.  There are also theories that the connections come from the migration of native people from Asia to the Americas over the Bering Land Bridge however many centuries ago.  I was amused at how comfortable it was to have so many native looking people around me as I walked down the street.  The Tibetans, especially the more elderly ones, look very similar to the Navajo and other groups that I saw a lot around New Mexico and Arizona in the last few years.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time with the Navajo as my parents have but I have still apparently grown used to being surrounded by more than just white people!

"Cousin-Brothers" -- Kevin (on the left) is fully part of the Salazar Family, but not by birth

“Cousin-Brothers” — Kevin (on the left) is fully part of the Salazar Family, but not by birth

The other random thing that connected the Navajo to the Chinese was the idea of Cousin-brothers!  For the Navajo cousin-brothers comes mostly out of the matrilineal structure to their families–cousins on the mother’s side are connected because of the matriarch and matter more because of it.  Often cousins are even raised together.  The Navajo don’t differentiate between first and second cousins, or even cousins and brothers, because the distance really doesn’t matter as long as you are still considered in the same family group.  The reasoning is different in China, but here cousins are called brothers as well.  Because of the one-child rule there have been very few siblings in Han Chinese families in the last 50 years.  Therefore cousins were often as close as siblings.  So, they’re cousin-brothers.

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Navajo Families

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On Monday we had a guest post which talked about population statistics and about traditional values regarding families in Navajoland.

Like most places in the United States, what was traditional 50 or 100 years ago has seen significant changes with the advent of television, computer, and exposure to the wider culture. Dependence on aid from outsiders and from the government has also tended to weaken traditional family values.

The following comments are based on our personal experience of living and working in Navajoland, not on any formal or academic studies. We had exposure to a variety of families through our work in the public school. We also developed friendships with a number of Navajo individuals and families.

One piece of traditional Navajo culture is still strong: self-identity is based on the maternal line. The mother’s clan is the most important and the first one listed when talking about one’s clans. The mother’s sisters are called the “little mother” and are considered as close as one’s own mother. The mother’s brothers are still often more important that the child’s actual father.

3 Generations of Navajo Women

3 Generations of Navajo Women

Unfortunately with the high prevalence of both alcohol and teen pregnancy, nowadays children are most often raised by single mothers. Sometimes there is a “revolving door” of men who come and go from the family home, giving short-term companionship to the mother and holding temporary step-father status. Most often, with a single mom, the children are partially (or entirely) raised by the mother’s parents. It seems that by the time they become grandparents (often in their 30s) friends we know finally stopped partying and took child-raising (for their grandchildren) seriously.

Some of the families we know have only 1 or at most 2 children. But other families have 4-6 children. In many cases, the larger families have parents that are still together.

Another difference between Navajo culture and mainstream American culture is the different focus on “family.” In the Lybrook area, most people we know live in a “camp” with extended family members. Some might see it as a contradiction that there is a single-minded focus on “my family” to the exclusion of anyone else outside of that family. At the same time, “my family” includes a much wider range of relatives than in Anglo culture. It might well number in the hundreds! This can, at times, become a drain on resources when someone is pressured to help their “family” regardless of the cost to themselves or their immediate family.

The Groom's Immediate Family at a Wedding (Summer 2012)

The Groom’s Immediate Family at a Wedding (Summer 2012)

In a future post I will talk about the changing roles of women in the culture. With their focus on the women being the ones to hold the society together, these changing roles have wide-spread impact on Navajo society today.

Victory over Death!

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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)

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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)

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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.

 

 

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.)

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