A Message from Don Juan's Granddaughter
    Marisa Duarte
You know what makes me angry? When people who donít know Native issues tell you Native people donít even try, or worse, that you ought not give up hope, because thereís always room for change. Bastards. I also canít stand cute posters and mugs with Indian proverbs on the side and nobody knows who said it.

And I wonder what other women think. I wonder what the women who hoard crystals and wear Che Guevara on their tee-shirts think when they find out weíre Native. Women find fault with each other for all sorts of reasons. Ethnicity is so often an excuse.

I donít want to explain so I mostly keep my ethnicity a secret, which I can afford to do since my fatherís Mexican and my motherís Yaqui. I can pass for Italian, Persian, Moroccan, or any other lighter shade of brown.

We remember our ceremonies, and are given another way to think at birth. Our stars line up in a different pattern, and the mountains and desert plains signify something completely, specifically different. Some of us talk to animals, and can feel invisible beings in the darkness. We teach the children the stories, the rituals, prepare them for the ceremonies, for life inside and out.

Passing is bad, I know, but sometimes, with women, when I say, "My mother is Yaqui," thereís an awful moment of measuring up. She looks me dead in the eyes and I look for her in hers and spines stiffen, and though the joust is over, the fightís still on. She wonít smile my way or catch my gaze anymore; thatís one method of fighting. Some Mexican women do this because they donít like Yaquis. In old Mexico, Yaquis were slaves, the lowest tier of Mexican and Spanish society. Some Yaqui women do this because they donít like Mexicans and my fatherís Mexican. Mexicans killed Yaquis during the wars to gain control over the Yaqui River valley. My mother has nightmares about this. Iíve had nightmares about this.

The other reaction to my telling is the weak, submissive business: smiling too big too often and then slipping away to a safer universe. There, everybody belongs to the human race and diversity is great.

But you know whatís worse? The asking. ĎWhere are you from?í ĎAre there casinos?í ĎWhat do you think about gambling?í ĎSo do you guys, like, have a different religion?í This is the worst one: ĎReally? My great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess.í Never say that to an Indian.

I was dating this Navajo dude, and he and I were going to a restaurant to meet another couple for dinner. She was my friend and former classmate, but I hadnít really met her boyfriend before. He was asking us about our cultures. I donít care to explain my heritage in casual settings, so my date was obliged to speak. My friendís boyfriend nodded like he understood, and while pouring rice wine, asked us, "So why is there so much drinking among the Native population?" My date and I looked at each other. I didnít know what to say. "Because life is very hard there," I tried to explain. The boyfriend responded. "Life is very hard everywhere."

Let me tell the other women what itís like to be Yaqui. Let me tell my friendís boyfriend why we drink.

Iím not dating the Navajo dude anymore. Iím seeing this guy whoís like me, half Yaqui, half Mexican. Down in southern Arizona where weíre from, weíre called Yaqxicans. Funny, huh? Say that to a Yaqui and that Yaqui will say, "Bueeeh." Say that to a Mexican and that Mexican will say, "Oh yes!" or "whateeever . . ." and if either party is friendly you may get a free beer. Or you may not. Depends on if you showed up with cigarettes to share. I do neither, no smoking no drinking, because Iím getting an ulcer. Itís a bitch, because I used to love a glass of wine, sangria, or rum. But I quit, and Iím trying to get my boyfriend to quit because weíre supposed to get married, and he kind of has a drinking problem he doesnít know about yet.

Thatís one thing. Indians get sick young quick.

Iím in Washington, DC, right now, finishing up with school. Heís in L.A. right now, at some conference having to do with tribal entities and government agencies who say they want to help. He called me last night, around 4 in the morning, drunk as a skunk and wanting to know what I was wearing. I lied: a pink halter top, lace thong, and high heels. He said, "Stop it. No more. No more. You know why? Iím the guy in the corner. Iím the guy in the corner and thereís just a bunchaí guys in here -- I fuckiní hate you guys! -- and Iím gonnaí have to fight for the gimp bed. Thereís only one bed. So stop it."

I said okay. He made me say I loved him, then say it twice. He said he wouldnít say it back because I knew why, he didnít trust me. He only told me this because he was drunk: two nights ago he got drunk and slept in some womanís room because he couldnít drive to his hotel, and she kept coming on to him. All the Native ladies at the conference kept on coming on to him, saying he was good because he was light-skinned, and had beautiful hair, and a college degree, and dressed nice. He said he hadnít shaved or nothing Ďcause he slept in that womanís room. He said he wouldaí fucked Ďem all if it wasnít for me. And he said those government agencies canít ever help Native people because they think weíre all alike, and some of us, weíre as different as night and day.

Some of us Indians, itís true, are different as night and day. Some of us, like me, arenít even full-blood, but itís like that one half of the body is fighting the other half: "Donít you even try to assimilate, because itís not going to happen. Youíre different." Itís true. Weíre different, and weíre not getting anywhere without a fight. The hard part is choosing which fights are worth it. When youíre drunk, you donít have to choose; the fighting just comes. And itís hard to not want to drink, because for Natives, almost every day presents some ignorant statements, or long working hours and low pay, or no job, or health problems, or run-ins with cops. A person could waste years fighting the wrong battles.

All that and Iím sticking around like a dog on a leash because we have this dream that when I get down to Arizona in two months, it will all change. We can have an apartment together, with saltillo tile and bougainvillea outside. When the pascolas are dancing, the pascolas who can see through all worlds, who can smell the storm before it comes, and death before the sickness, the musicos sing a song about a bougainvillea, the bright flowers and long branches. For Yaquis, flowers mean heaven, grace, blessedness. In Phoenix, the bougainvillea is in bloom ten months of the year.

My boyfriend told me he had a dream that we had a daughter, and she had really thick hair we tied up with bolitos in two long pigtails. She was wearing a dress and we were walking up the ramp to Caruso's, this Italian patio restaurant in Tuscon.

Last night I dreamt the old people gave me pieces of a map drawn on leather, and they told me to put it together to lead the people. I looked at the map with sadness and despair. I had only three pieces and they didnít match up. The walls were crumbling all around me as I tried to match the pieces. My friend Miranda, whoís Zuni and Tlingit and a curatorial researcher at the nascent National Museum of the American Indian, told me not to worry; the pieces looked like something sheíd seen before. Maybe we could make it work. I dreamt the old people gave me some traditional clothes to wear. I put them on, then went to the bathroom to look in the mirror. You could see right through the fabric.

The night before, I dreamt I was dancing matachin in the hallway in front of the bathroom. There were flowers, bougainvillea, pinned to the walls, tucked in the corners of picture frames and the tin mirror frame. I danced and danced, watching my feet make a pattern on the floor.

Only men and boys dance matachin, although I remember my mother saying that years ago her father made her and her sisters dance matachin because there werenít enough boys around. They practiced wrapping long ribbons or rope or string around the May-pole.

I hope my boyfriend doesnít lose his job because then weíll be back to square one, him bored and drinking a bottle of Old Crow every Friday and beer all the nights in between, and me going out dancing and flirting with dark-skinned DC men who have jobs and touch my hair a lot. Some white women, they say they wish they had thick wavy hair like mine, and some black women, they run their fingers through my friend Mirandaís long straight hair when sheís not looking at the club. I watch it when someone touches her hair. I know the men will let go; at a bar, manís attention span is short.

But all we need is for one woman to not let go, to pull, and then some big fight will erupt because there are issues about light-skinned vs. dark-skinned, and black men dating other women over black women. If a fight erupts and weíre in the minority, which we are, Iíll say, "Donít mind us, we both got men, weíre just new to the area, a couple of skinny little brown girls from New Mexico exploring the big city." You canít get drunk here, because you never know who will drag you home. At least in New Mexico, its gonnaí be someone you know, because you know almost everybody in your home town, and what happens in New Mexico, stays in New Mexico. I donít have anybody to back me up if I get in a fight out here. Nobody but Miranda. Itís so hard to have dignity in this place.

Listen. This is why itís important to pay attention to your dreams. Yaquis believe in four worlds, and one of those worlds is a supernatural place where the animals speak and spirits tell you things. If a Yaqui dreams of playing the violin, or of singing pascola songs, or of dancing, then itís said heís had a message from that world telling him to play the violin, sing the song, or dance in the ceremonies in this world.

After I dreamt that the old people gave me the map to rebuild the crumbling walls around us, I dreamt I was writing a story spun out of a dream.

So I wonder what other women think when they see us, the women who wear large faux turquoise stones and dangling earrings, the women who drum sitting in a circle, and chant to a moon goddess. I think Sherman Alexie once wrote something like, "you know youíre Native if you donít want to be," or something like that. I donít remember what exactly he said but I know that feeling. I want to tell those women, "hey, itís no magic, no mysterious thing, no key to the natural world. Itís my boyfriend drunk, and my brother drunk, and Mirandaís brother drunk.

Itís all of us fighting for indigenous rights and then celebrating together for so long, we get sick. Itís me trading DC with all the museums and shops and shows and great jobs for the dusty deserts of Arizona because out there, in the mesquite trees, in the branches of the palo verde, little spirits live -- children who died while crossing the desert; the severed limbs of men stumbling beside the train tracks; women who died fighting Spaniards, fighting Mexicans, fighting Yaquis, fighting the pain of childbirth -- and Iím going to be the one to tell their stories.

Iíll tell their stories to my kids, to my brothers and sister, to my cousins, to my friends, to my coworkers. Iíll tell their stories to my boyfriend so he will stop drinking and listen, see himself in the spine of the saguaro drying in the sun, and come back to me, to this world, so we can build a life together out of something other than a frustrated dream.



Dear Editors of In Posse Review,

I read the beginnings of the multicultural anthology online, and I would like to thank you for creating a space for multicultural and marginalized voices. I appreciate the opportunity to learn about new perspectives through story.

Don Juan is actually my grandfather's name. Back in the '70s, hippies and quack anthropologists used to come to my grandfather's village, Old Pascua, in Tucson, and ask for Don Juan, the character from Carlos Castaneda's trilogy about the Yaqui people. People would point to my grandfather's house, and out he'd come, asking them what they wanted. We joke: for a cure, take aspirin. For love, have a beer.

Marisa Duarte
Pascua Yaqui Tribe


 
 
 
 

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