the different roads to college, dancing to the Bird Songs,
learning about the Kumeyaay's health risks, and fitting in
Reservation, California, Day Three —
went to Mountain Empire High School to present a workshop on going
to college. We opened the workshop with alarming statistics, such
as the percentage of students admitted
to the nine University of California campuses who are American
Indians (0.6 percent) and that
spends more money on its prison systems than on public education
(it's ranked No. 1 in prison spending and No. 43 in public education
spending). We introduced ourselves with statements such as: "I
am a first-generation college student." "I was born and
raised in South Central Los Angeles" "I am one of my
school's 3.8 percent group of African-American students."
the first installment by the Kumeyaay volunteers? Read
statistics and statements really got everyone’s attention.
The workshop was very effective and allowed many students to
participate and get their questions answered. It also showed
me many things that I often take for granted. It was liberating
and empowering for me because I was able to give my own testimony
about the struggles I faced in order to get into college. Although
it was extremely emotional to recall the trials of growing
up in a disadvantaged, immigrant family, the workshop helped
gain a greater awareness of my own identity and reaffirmed
my passion for promoting higher education to under-served students.
from Frieda Kreth's spoken-word piece presented to the
anyway pronounced means a lack
a deficit, a missing piece.
Poverty in the form of
classmates tracked to fail.
Teachers shifting their efforts and energies
for the three presumed college-bound students.
How 'bout the rest of us, man? We make up
85% of the school — we got knowledge and experiences to
share too. Don't take us as fools…
… How do you try to escape Poverty? It's in your blood,
your name, your stereotypes, your shoes, your shirt,
your sweat, your eyes, your skin color. Damn. This
sounds like a deadly game.
[Paul Cuero] had told us to share some of our personal accounts
for our presentation at the Alternative
High School. But Van, Sylvia, Frieda, Angelina and Lori Garrett
did more than that. They shared their lives, emotions and
knowledge all at once. I’ve been in these Native students’ classroom
twice to tutor and they hardly paid any attention to the
teacher. This time they were swallowing up every word.
It just reminds
me how much the same words can sound so different when they're
coming from a different perspective.
nicest thing after that presentation was probably hearing Mary,
one of the Native
students — and
Sylvia's little sister — say that she hadn’t
really thought of college until we came. And if the testimonies
Van and Angelina's and Frieda’s poetry did
not inspire the students, they definitely reminded me of
am in higher
education, and why I continue to promote it to people of
that day, we were able to visit the Kumeyaay Museum at the
Barron Reservation and also visit the nearby
Viejas Reservation where other Kumeyaay people live. We then attended
a dinner banquet at the Golden Acorn Casino with Barbara
Cuero, Vice Chairwoman of Campo Reservation, and Paul Cuero, treasurer
and Barbara's son. Paul and the Bird Singers performed
the traditional songs for this group as well — and this time
we were able to dance along.
trip allowed me to see and hear firsthand some of the major
obstacles young Native Americans encounter.
how difficult it is to be excited about school when
there seems to be no direct benefit for people on the reservation.
to hearing about the hardships of life on the reservation,
I gathered a wealth of knowledge about Kumeyaay history
Being invited to play rhythms with the Bird Singers
to be one of the defining moments of the trip. It was
a tremendous honor for me to be included in this performance
no longer felt like an outsider in their community.
had a guest speaker, Amy Herb of the Southern Indian Health
Clinic, come in to talk about health issues. I had no idea
that Hepatitis C is one of the three major health concerns
on the Kumeyaay
and drug abuse, diabetes, and obesity also threaten
the emotional and financial stability of families.
me to make the now-obvious connection between
intellectual vitality of a student and his family's
health. It forces
me to ask whether or not I would be where I am
of my parents had been ill during my childhood.
Berkeley volunteers drew a "medicine circle," a
diagram of the high school audience's wishes and needs
Truong: We put on our higher-education workshop for the students
at the alternative high school, who
inspired by our testimonies. Some of the audience
shed tears as we discussed
our own struggles to get into UC Berkeley.
turnout was much larger than we had expected. One thing that
seventh graders showed up because they were
so curious about these
13 strangers. As we were doing the medicine
circle, a student asked
me whether the "girl with the scarf is
I would be offended by comments such as these,
but I saw in his eyes that he simply wanted
to know. He did not have any intention
to poke fun at anyone, so I simply said, "No,
part of her religion."
we headed off to the Youth Regional Treatment Center,
a substance abuse rehabilitation
to make dreamcatchers
with the youth there. Later we returned to
the Education Center to play "peon," a
traditional game where two
teams try to guess which of the opposing
are hiding white bones or sticks, with the
young people. To our surprise, a majority
of the community, even members of the Manzanita
tribe, came to
dance and sing for us. Paul Cuero and the
director of the Education Center, Debbie
Cuero (no relation), also surprised all the
Breaks volunteers by honoring us with Kumeyaay
t-shirts before the community. It
was a ceremonial closure for an exciting
of the students blended in well with the community. There aren’t
a whole lot of outsiders that come onto the reservation and
actually work with the people as we
did for the week. So, when outsiders do
come, they kind of feel awkward, but the group of students
that came seemed to feel
at home and it made the community welcome
them with open arms. The community proved
that by letting them in
on their cultural experience and just getting
them what they needed. Truthfully, not just anyone gets to
learn how to play traditional
Kumeyaay hand games and Kumeyaay Bird Dances
and Songs. This group was special and I hope that they