Remembering our Natives

The 4th of July is a time for American citizens to celebrate the freedom that the original 13 colonies gained in 1776. American families celebrate the federal holiday by watching fireworks, having BBQ parties, seeing family, and sharing laughter. What we fail to recognize is the pain that this day brings to the Native people.

I am a daughter of immigrants and I am thankful for America. However, I do think it is possible to be thankful while remembering and respecting the tragic history of the Native people. The birth and freedom of America should not and does not make up for the blood and tears of the Native people.

I spent the 4th of July relaxing and doing an incredible hike. At the summit, all I could think of was how I wanted to be an American that appreciated the beautiful land that I was looking at. I want to recognize and honor the Native people who were here first. I want to acknowledge their history. I want to declare that their part of history is neglected and deserves to be taught in schools.

One of my dearest friends took the time to be vulnerable and share a little about her roots and what Independence Day means to her.


1. How do you identify yourself (i.e. name, ethnic background, student, job, anything you want).

My name is Justine Medina (she/her/hers)  I am Navajo, Ho-Chunk, Menominee and Mexican.  I’m an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. I currently live in Inglewood, CA. I’m an Assistant Director, Native American/Alaskan Native Recruitment at UCLA Undergraduate Admissions.

2. Tell me a little about your historical background.

I was born in Hollywood, CA. (Gabrielino/Tongva Land) I grew up as an Urban Indian.  My mom is Native American. My maternal grandpa was full Navajo and grew up on the rez  (reservation) in Pueblo Pintado, NM, where he now rests.  He spoke full Navajo. My maternal grandma is Ho-Chunk and Menominee, she grew up in Wisconsin and currently lives on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska.  Even though my grandparents grew up in two different areas of the country, they met in Los Angeles because of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956. The Indian Relocation Act was created to assimilate Natives into dominant society AKA have Native people forget their culture/their language and adopt the white man’s way.  The Indian Relocation Act promised vocational training, jobs and financial assistance for Natives to leave the reservation and move to larger cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco. Instead, Natives faced racism, high unemployment, and no financial assistance!

So, just like that my grandparents left their lives on the reservation behind and moved to Los Angeles.  My maternal grandparents eventually moved back to the reservations and left my aunts/uncle/cousins and me here to stay.

Even though I grew up in an urban area, I’m very thankful that my family made regular trips to the rez to visit our family and see where my grandpa grew up.  I’ll never forget how my grandmother always said “the white man” stole our land.

Lastly, my father is from Yucatan, Mexico.  My whole father’s side of the family immigrated to the US.  It amazes me that they literally brought everyone to the US.

It’s been amazing growing up in two different cultures.  I’ve been in too many settings where I couldn’t speak to my great-grandparents because they only speak full Navajo or only Spanish.

3. What is the first word that pops up in your mind when you hear “Independence Day”?

The first word that pops up in my mind when I hear Independence Day is Will Smith….haha. I really do not think about Independence Day. (Except for right now).

4. What sorts of thoughts and feelings do you have towards Independence Day? Why?

….it’s a lie.

I honestly don’t take too much time to really reflect on Independence Day and I believe that is due to the fact that I always knew that Independence Day is a lie.  It isn’t a day that is freedom for everyone…it’s a day that was freedom for the colonizers. This “freedom” was at the expense of my ancestors and many Native lives…Like I mentioned earlier, growing up my grandma would always say “the white man stole our land,” so I guess I always knew that this land belonged to Native people and Independence Day was the result of stolen land.

This “freedom” was at the expense of my ancestors and many Native lives…

And to be really really honest, I don’t think about the reasons why people celebrate Independence Day too much because it’s too painful to think about — to think that I don’t know the Navajo/Ho-Chunk/Menominee language because of white people that stole our land… to think that my grandma passed away at the age of 60 due to cirrhosis of the liver and had to live in two different worlds (the rez and LA).

Thinking about Independence day and the reason why people celebrate it makes me feel like my Native side is forgotten, that it doesn’t exist in American history, that my Native side is like “The Easter Bunny” or Santa Clause…Thinking about independence day makes me realize that my ancestors were the ones who survived genocide…

It makes me feel sick.

5. As someone who has both Mexican and Native roots, how do you navigate your identity as an American?

There are times it’s hard to navigate my American identity because I’m not your “typical” white American.  I’m brown. Americans wanted to kill my Native identity and right now, under Trump’s Administration, being Mexican is another identity that some very hateful “white” Americans don’t want in the US.  As a result, I sometimes feel misplaced as an American. It’s so difficult to navigate! I mean, my brother serves in the U.S. Army and I would never disrespect the sacrifices that military people give up to serve our country.  Then, there are times being American reminds me of all the privileges I have – such as obtaining a higher education, having a roof over my head, having a steady career and speaking English. It’s really messed up – I guess any person of color can relate – I’m a citizen of a country where I don’t feel welcomed, but I’m thankful for the opportunities that are given to me.

It’s really messed up – I guess any person of color can relate – I’m a citizen of a country where I don’t feel welcomed, but I’m thankful for the opportunities that are given to me.

6. What do you wish people knew more about when you think about Independence Day?

I really wish that people knew that Independence Day caused, and still does, a lot of pain for Native people.  It’s another day that fails to acknowledge that Native people occupied that territory and fails to acknowledge the genocide of Native people….

7. Why is it important to you for people to know about Native history? What about any part of history in regards to your Hispanic roots?

It’s very important to me that people know about Native history because NATIVE PEOPLE ARE STILL HERE! History seems to tell the story that Native people were once here, so I like to tell people – “Nope, Native people are still here and I live in the city!”  In regards to my Latino roots, I love telling the history of how my great-grandma comes from a Mayan background. It remind me that indigenous peoples are all over.

It’s very important to me that people know about Native history because NATIVE PEOPLE ARE STILL HERE!

8. How do you celebrate (or not celebrate) Independence Day?

I don’t think I celebrate Independence Day….but it’s more of “enjoy the day off to watch fireworks and visit family” kind of day.

9. If you could change any current policy, what would it be and why?

Wow, the endless possibilities of this question.  I don’t have any specific policy in mind, but since I’m a firm believer that Education is important and vital to our uplift the Native Community…it would be for equal educational opportunities for Native students.

10. What are some resources that people who may not be familiar with this topic can turn to? Any organizations that you’d like for people to support?

A good book to start at is “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Thank you for thinking about Native people on this day…I’m not trying to take Fourth of July away from Americans, but I’d like everyone to acknowledge that this day represents the genocide of many Native people and the failed attempt to stop culture from existing.

 

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