We traveled from our small town in Utah to visit with relative in Phoenix for Thanksgiving. Ah, Phoenix (and surrounding areas)! The weather was tender and irresistible: rain showers and sweet breezes. Just walking through the art stores in downtown Scottsdale was worth the whole trip.
We drove through the Navajo reservation on the way. Both of us (my husband and myself) worked on the rez or with the Navajo during our earlier teacher years. During that early time, we experienced Navajo culture in these ways: the students (and their families) were soft-spoken, modest, restrained. They often spoke with the distinctive accent of the tribe (vowels can be strongly accented in Navajo, which pronounciation carried over into English speech).
Things seem different now! The reservation kids dress just like teens all over the United States–baggy pants, name-brand T-shirts, and hats, including those now-popular knit ski hats that hang down with strings below the chin. They talk street jive just like my small-town Utah kids and just like the real street kids in big cities. They clatter up to a store on skateboards and mountain bikes with I-pods in their ears.
Since it was just before Thanksgiving, everybody was at the grocery store, but if you closed your eyes, it sounded just like anywhere USA.
“Hey, Mary, you ready for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, yeah! Have a great day!”
Americana in the shape of the rez, the former haven of a particular culture unique in the U.S.
We also saw young people ravaged by meth and crack cocaine, hanging on dusty corners, just as you see in urban America. Tribal people often struggle with alcoholism, which is difficult enough. These hard drugs are becoming pandemic on many reservations, and it broke our hearts to see addicted young people whose bodies and lives will be damaged forever.
We weren’t around for the transformation, since we hadn’t visited Phoenix in four or five years, so to us, it seemed instant, just like access to media is instant. What can you say? Hurrah for the positive educational aspects and woe for the denigrating aspects of American culture instantly available via the media and the Internet.