Growing Up in New Mexico, Years Ago


zia_symbol_nm_flagI have a very dear friend who is Hispanic.  Her family has been here since the Conquistadors. Because she grew up in rural Lincoln County, even in the 1950s, she was sent to boarding school.  When she went to school, she did not speak English.  Her mother, who was born here, never did speak English.  Neither did her grandmother, or great-grandmother.  The video I’ve found of Chief Dan, who is Dine, or Navajo, reminds me of my friend’s story. Chief Dan was forced to eat a small bar of soap because he did not speak English.  Because my friend did not speak English, she was whipped, with a belt, repeatedly.  The boarding school system was cruel and abusive.  Unfortunately, because school were either so bad, or only in large towns and cities, kids were sent away to school.

I was talking to another friend, who was on his way with his parents, who were quite well to do, to boarding school.  He told the story of his day of horror. It was quite cold, very snowy, and they were in an old Ford pick-up truck.  On the way to the school, they drove by an old Native American man who had frozen to death on the side of the road.  It horrified Michael.  By the time he arrived at boarding school, he had broken out in hives.  He was Anglo, his parents were famous, locally.  He was not punished or abused in school the way the non-English speaking kids were.

Chief Dan survived the abuse. He said when he was in about the 8th grade things began to change.  He stayed at the same school, graduated with a scholarship, and went on to the University of Utah and became an engineer.  Because of his traditional Dine upbringing, and his education, he is one of the men who began bridging the gap between the old and the new.  When you listen to him, the inflection in his voice is typical of those who spoke their native language before learning English.

The interview is about the Navajo tradition of Bigfoot and the Dine. It is quite fascinating.  On the Crypto Four Corners YouTube site, there are numerous interviews with Chief Dan.  His tales of traditional Navajo life are fascinating.   Even more fascinating is the tale about him meeting a woman who was supposedly raised by Bigfoot.

If you are interested in learning more about the Dine and about New Mexico, I suggest the wonderful novels of Tony Hillerman.  Aside from being one of the great American writers of the past half century, he was my literary idol, and my role model.