Monday, February 27, 2017

Generational Navigation of Identity

           Throughout the week, we continually confronted the concepts of fragmentation and continuity among the O’odham.  These concepts were usually discussed in terms of generational gaps or developing loss or maintenance of direct cultural ties.  A particularly significant source of fragmentation is language, as I addressed in an earlier blog post, but other areas that could contribute include location of birth and current residence (which tie into language), occupation, family, urban and suburban development, technological advancement.  The list goes on and on, as with any group of people, as we exist simultaneously within communities and as individuals.  We navigate this balance in our ambitions throughout life.  With ever-increasing opportunity, those ambitions can become far greater, thus enabling greater possibilities for distance.  The relationship between individuality and community constantly changes, and the navigation of such a relationship and its changes exists both individually and communally. 
            Most of the speakers this week touched on this navigation in some sense, whether historically or in the context of the present situation.  What it means to be O’odham and what it means to be a member of the O’odham community comes to be defined and redefined individually and generationally.  Any changes in this identity on an individual or group level can be particularly terrifying for others within the identity, as they may feel that their particular community is collapsing around them if suddenly it does not mirror the same practices and beliefs.  These fears and worries become apparent when community members encourage the repetition of the same patterns of life, the replication of old customs, behaviors, and beliefs, in order to maintain the life of the community among present and future generations.  This tension between change and replication has existed universally throughout time as a critical element of culture.  It is a matter of not just culture in the static but culture in fluid practice as well. 

            Nevertheless, even though this type of navigation is inherent to the communal human experience, it does not make it any easier.  The O’odham have passed through periods that tested their own definition of their identity, through the separation in beliefs regarding the homes of creator I’itoi or through the imperialist influence of the Spanish conquistadors or of Father Kino.  These influences had impacts on the O’odham identity in multifaceted ways, both enforcing and solidifying their beliefs and practices and introducing new elements.  Current influences should theoretically have similar impacts; however, it is important to note that identity definition and redefinition are not merely passive acts.  The actions by the O’odham individuals that we met with this week, in which they actively pass down and reactivate cultural elements such as language, customs, practices, and beliefs, represent aspects of natural and continued identity definition and redefinition in the navigation of the balances between individual and community, tradition and change, fragmentation and continuity.

Reaction to the Border Crossing

            I am so very fortunate to be able to take this trip this year, following the recent political events with the new administration and paralleling my LACS Capstone course surrounding the latinoization of the United States and border relations with Professor Barnett.  Before leaving for the trip, Professor Barnett stressed just how excited he was for me to be able to travel to the borderlands for the first time, as it is critical for both this course and his course as well as for active, effective, and compassionate citizenship today, and I was particularly interested in that aspect of our trip, in relation to the O’odham specifically but also in the broader sense of human rights and international relations.  Now, after spending a week in the borderlands and crossing the border into Mexico and then back into the United States, I feel both completely taken aback by witnessing the current situation in person and completely unprepared to digest the changes that are to come from my own perspective or from one much more vulnerable than mine.
            Throughout the week, I was repeatedly shocked by the number of Border Patrol officers that we witnessed each day, especially surrounding Sells.  The officers at the checkpoint station on the edge of the reservation marked the first moment that I, even as a U.S. citizen, felt some degree of unwantedness by my own homeland.  In this space, everyone is suspicious, as if it truly belongs to no one, contributing to its identity as one of the tensest international borders in the world, even though the reasons for such lie ambiguous in context and solidly within social construction.  If it is to be considered a truly welcoming and accepting home to anyone, it would be for the Border Patrol officers themselves, as suddenly they came to equal or outnumber depending on the day the number of everyday people that we saw. 

The most disgusting parts of the border relations are definitely the human rights violations and the exemplifications of profound racism and ethnocentrism, but it adds a sickening twist when the very sense of protection that the officers and the administration cite as motive and true aim, which many us saw immense cracks and holes in before this trip, completely collapses around us when our country starts to feel less and less like our own, in sentiment and in the representation by the behavior of the administration.  I do not even believe that I have the ability to truly comprehend why we have constructed this terse and cruel situation that has hurt so many thousands of people directly if the very purpose remains so hollow.  I do not want to hate the actions of this country, but when we drove up to the border crossing to face signs explicitly stating that cell phones, cameras, and recording devices were strictly prohibited and to be turned off, my stomach dropped and my mouth became dry.  This was not an operation for the people – most definitely not for the people trying to enter the country for the first time but not for those already living within it either.  It is not protection; is it hatred and the fear of otherness that defines profound racism.  And as much as I knew that from books and pieces of literature, I was still taken aback, because even I, as is the case with many others, hung on to some naïve hope for some kind of justification or sense of understanding in order to maintain a worldview in which people have a basic understanding of and capacity for kindness, compassion, and the granting of intrinsic human worth.


          One of the most impactful parts of this trip has been the degree of mindfulness discussed by the different speakers and then projected into our lives.  I always believed myself to be a very present, aware, and mindful individual, but experiences this week have made me increasingly so.  Awareness and present-ness are especially important in times of tension and turmoil like the state of our country and planet today, but, unfortunately, that very tension and turmoil and the pace at which we live lend towards increasingly less-aware lifestyles.  In order to navigate these periods of time, we must be able to live with the degree of present-ness demonstrated in the image brought up multiple times, in which one walks through life along a narrow path, careful not to disturb any neighboring communities no matter how small.  This is an image of the awareness of the existence of surrounding lives and the inherent value in each one of them as well as the active role has in the relationship with them.  It is not only a mindfulness of others a but mindfulness of self and the extent of our impacts.  In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we very rarely take the necessary moments to not only acknowledge our own active existence but to learn and modify the extent of the ways in which we exist. 

Even though almost everything we have talked about has carried some degree of mindfulness thematically, we have definitely spent the most time on mindful consumption of resources in terms of food, water, and land.  While we were only ever indirectly asked to analyze our own consumption, the discussions of the Tohono O’odham consumption as well as Ajo consumption through the Sonoran Desert Alliance, which are both incredibly mindful in terms of connection to the land, the plant, one’s own body, and surrounding and far away humanity, left us increasingly aware of our own situations.  This reflects not only the passage of these values generationally within the O’odham community but the passage of awareness of O’odham values to those outside of the community as well, extending to the point at which individuals come to analyze their own existence and ways of life.