My tribe have been agricultural from the beginning of their existence. The entrepreneurial spirit lives strong. Trade was a big part of life. My people were known not only for their agricultural talents but the practicality and beauty of our pottery and basketry. It was known throughout the West as some of the sturdiest and beautiful crafts.
Maricopa are known for their pottery, and Akimel O’Odham for their baskets often were traded with the early settlers and after the rivers were taken from us illegally, we lost all of our means of independence. The farms that our people and neighbors depended on were lost. With the loss of our water came famine and desperate times.
The only way that a lot of our people made money was to trade what food and livestock they could. However, for most they turned to selling their baskets and pottery.
During the early settlement of Phoenix and surrounding cities our people would go into town wearing the clothes they normally did which was nearly nothing! Men often wore breechcloths and women wore skirts made of rough cotton, often topless. Our nudity bothered the settlers and they even made a rule that we were not allowed to go into the city unless we were completely covered. It was common that in many villages they would share “western clothing.” On the trails to the city there was a common place where the people would have a single pair of pants and shirt, and a dress for the women. After the trip to town the clothes were put back on the community tree for use for anyone else who might go to the city.
I smile to myself thinking about how free my people were. They were not ashamed of their bodies. I suppose it must be in my indigenous roots that I often like to wear dresses and tops that show cleavage. I feel suffocated by clothes that are too close to my neck. I also don’t like to wear shoes. Often, I am barefoot, especially back home. However, living in Sweden doesn’t allow me to go barefoot for obvious reasons. It’s Spring and the snow melted and as I sit in my kitchen writing this, I am barefoot in a dress. Wearing dresses is considered traditional, because our women never wore pants. Some of the female tribal members often only wear dresses because they feel confined in trousers. I know some women think that may be sexist or oppressive but it’s our belief.
Our people were naturally business driven. As I’ve mentioned in my other texts we relied on trade. After the damming of our rivers we were on the brink of starvation. The U.S. government sent us rations that consisted of high sugar and high fatty foods heavy in preservatives. Maybe a lot of you don’t know the origins of frybread but it began with government rations. White flour and lard were given to us in mass quantity and we found ways to make bread with it. The process of cooking it, since the dough made for frybread is thick and dense, the best way to prepare it was to fry it in a pan, hence the word: fry bread.
A lot of our people even consider frybread as “traditional” food because of its early roots, but truly it is a product of our oppression and a product created from extreme poverty.
Still, I love the hell out of it. My Mom Karen made some of the best frybread on the planet. She had elegant hands and very hardworking hands. She was so skilled at making frybread and tortillas. I remember growing up that she would rise early in the morning to make fresh tortillas for my Dad for breakfast and his lunch. She took pride in the food she made and a lot of times it was her food that brought us money when we were struggling.
Her light and airy frybread was very popular when she sold food. It was often that we would settle outside the reservation stores or sell out of our house. We would sell frybread with fresh pinto beans, red chili stew, green chili stew and of course the “Indian Taco.”
An “Indian Taco,” is frybread that is spread with a layer of pinto beans, followed by spicy ground beef, which in our family also had small diced green chili, it is topped with lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese. It is a family favorite.
My parents made succulent, spicy red and green chili stew effortlessly. They were master chefs when it came to Native and Mexican food. Sometimes we would sell in Laveen at a local fruit market on the weekends and people all across Laveen would come to buy our food.
My sisters Larissa and Juanita were my Mom’s right hands. Especially Larissa. She was so fast at making orders and cashiering. When I got older, we sold at the tribal fair and I learned how hard it was cashier and make the food. My parents would be in the back of the booth “clapping out dough” and making the bread perfectly.
One year my Mom entered a frybread making contest and won! Everyone was hating, but we knew that she was the true master artisan in frybread making. It was hard work, and it took a lot of effort to sell food. For my family even now, we still rely on making food to sell and it has helped us survive. Sometimes it was the only means of income in the month. My family still works very hard to survive.
Since Mom passed away my siblings all take turns selling their food to make ends meet. My Dad is the closest thing we can get to the original recipe from Mommy.
We take a lot of pride in the food we make. My family infuses Mexican and Native food together. Sometimes we would offer a dish called menudo on the menu, especially during the Mul-chu-tha Fair. We were sometimes the only food stand that remained open until midnight since the dance contest and battle of the bands they hosted ended late. People would line up and enjoy a steaming hot cup of Menudo.
Menudo is a Mexican folk dish which consists of hominy, cow stomach (tripe), and is seasoned with a red chili base, and is topped with cilantro, green onion, white onion, and oregano. It was my Grandmother Consuelo’s recipe from Chihuahua. In my opinion THE BEST menudo is my Dad’s.
My parents shared a mutual love for cooking. Our family secrets for making bread, tamales and menudo are kept close to our heart and never really shared with outsiders. Mom had a mind for business and knew exactly what to market and sell. Our set up was always professional and clean. Sorry to say, but some people who sold at the fair were not as clean as they should be. For my family, quality and cleanliness are paramount.
I miss the food from home SO MUCH. Still…we make the most of it, and with the help from my father, Gustav learned how to make proper salsa and guacamole. Therefore, the Serna recipes endure the test of time.
What I wouldn’t give for some frybread from my Mom’s delicate hands. Luckily when I look down on my own hands, I see her.
The bird in all of its splendor is the great narrator of the Maricopa people. As the first animal on earth he was gifted with all seeing power. I was told that once the world was covered by water and when man was created, he was living on a small island. The creator gave the first men the bird, and with it, his ability to search the endless waters in search for land. When the first bird was sent from the island, he came upon the great lands that are now the U.S.
Although the world was filled with water, there was no way to have a civilization without its presence. The bird returned to the first men and told them where to settle. Our people would find life and prosperity along the Colorado River.
The Colorado River is one of the most powerful rivers in North America. Its veins cut so deep that it made rifts wherever it flowed. Through the Grand Canyon and all the way down to the gulf between Mexico and the North America.
The bird is one of our most sacred animals. It is he who we name our traditional songs after, he who we model our tribal regalia after. He is all seeing. When you think about life on planet Earth there is no place without their presence. The great narrator of life tells stories of our rise and demise. He teaches lessons and maintains his prominence as the all-seeing entity of the world.
I had a lot of issues growing up with my identity. I dare say that for the longest time growing up I did not know that I was a member of a tribe. I had zero tribal identity. It wasn’t until a day at school where we were asked to do a report on a tribe that the question of my tribal identity was raised. My teacher corralled all of the tribal kids and questioned what our tribal affiliation and I remember being completely bamboozled when my teacher asked me: “What tribe are you from?”
In all honesty I had zero clue what she meant. She proceeded to ask me where I lived and I explained roughly where I lived and she was like, “Oh ok, so you are Pima since you live on the reservation.”
I didn’t have a clue what she meant by Pima or reservation. She handed me a book, which is probably till this day the only book written on the culture of Gila River. I was extremely troubled by this new information and wondered why I did not know more about the culture I was supposedly born into.
When I went home, I brought the question to my mother.
“Mom, are we Pima? What is a reservation?”
I’ll never forget the look on her face. It was not only shocked, but extremely sad at the same time.
“What?! NO! You are Maricopa!”
Maricopa? What did that even mean? I saw the sadness in her eyes when she knew that I really did not have a clue about who I was or who her people were.
My Mom is a pure-blooded Maricopa woman, whose maiden name is Sundust, one of the oldest and most respected names in the Maricopa tribe. She had an impeccable pedigree, being that she had been born from many generations of full-blooded Maricopa.
When I talk about being full blooded, I am referring to the fact that in the United States a mean to control the population was dependent on a concept called “blood quantum” which related to the amount of lineage or bloodline you had with the ancestral inhabitants of the reservation.
I could tell that my mother was deeply disturbed by my ignorance. It was from that moment that she remedied my tribal knowledge.
I was 12 years old at the time, and had no clue what was on her agenda to remedy my ignorance.
The next weekend she took me to see someone who would change my life forever. We took a drive to District 7, known as Maricopa Village, also the birthplace of my mother. We made our way to a dilapidated house and outside was a large vato (indigenous word for ramada) and it was then that I met Clayton Lee.
Clayton was my mother’s cousin and was a bird singer. I was reluctant at first because I had no idea what this meeting was supposed to accomplish. He was sitting under the vato smoking a cigarette and he and my Mom exchanged pleasantries.
“So, this is the girl?”
Mom told me that this was the man who was going to teach me how to “dance bird,” the Maricopa traditional dances. After she left, he looked me over and questioned why I wanted to learn. In my ignorance I couldn’t give him an acceptable answer other than that Mom brought me there to “learn.”
He took out an instrument called a gourd and started to sing. The gourd is best known in English terms as a rattle. It is made from hollowed out and dried squash gourds and is filled with seeds and a mesquite handle. The sound that came from him was unforgettable.
His deep voice made the most beautiful song I had ever heard. My skin filled with goosebumps and I began to cry. I knew at that moment that this was what was missing in my life. As if all of my ancestors had risen from the ashes and filled my soul with knowledge.
After he finished the song, he told me what the song meant. I remember I brought a pad of paper to take notes on, but he stopped me and told me that if I had to write it down to remember then I was not really listening.
After the song, we began the first steps in learning to bird dance. He had strict instructions about how a woman should conduct her body while dancing. It is important in bird dancing to be modest. When I say modest, I mean that the moves should not be about shimmying or bringing sexual attention to oneself.
After learning some of the first steps, Clayton gave me a gourd of my own, and with it many explanations. One of the pieces of advice I will share is that he told me I should hang my gourd over my bed so that the songs can come to me in dreams.
I absorbed everything he ever taught me. I treasure all of the times we’ve had together and the unforgettable knowledge he bestowed upon me.
I was at the crossroads when it came to my identity, but on top of that there were new spiritual gifts that were blossoming. The church didn’t have answers to my questions, nor did they understand the emotional trauma I was going through not knowing why I was the way I was.
I don’t like to talk about it often, but I was born of a long line of mediums and medicine women. My grandmother, LaSalle was a known medicine woman and midwife. I know that the gift of sight, feeling and divination come from my bloodline.
Clayton could always explain everything. It was his teachings that broke my trust in the Christian church. I was awake for once in my life and everything I felt instinctually was real.
Clayton would help me throughout my life in so many ways. He kept me humble, he changed my life. When I needed him, he was always there. He was also responsible for my advancement in the tribal pageant world. Together we brought about pride and insight into a very closeted culture.
I know that he is in Spirit Mountain with my Mom, looking down on me with pride. Though he would be angry I am sharing some of my insights with outsiders I think he knows how necessary the written word is to the continuation of our existence.
In my darkest times I listen to bird songs and remember all of the times we had. Whether it was learning a new song or dance step, I could always count on him for his honesty and wisdom.
I would meet other bird singers in my life and they would touch me in similar ways, but I don’t think I would have ever known about my true identity had it not been for Clayton.
It is the duty of a bird dancer to be there for her relatives. She is charged with bringing support to those who are crossing into the afterlife. As we carry bundles of the belonging that were possessions of the deceased, we also carry the burden of sorrow for the family. It is a sacred pact to become a bird dancer. It is one that I take seriously, and it makes me deeply sad that I can’t be in my community to teach other women or be there for my kin.
I promised myself all those years ago that if I had children, they would always know who they are. With that I say thank you to Clayton for changing my life forever. I thank you for the invaluable lessons you’ve taught and for that I will always be loyal to my traditions wherever I am on the planet. The bird lives inside me, and will live my life always treasuring his lessons.
I am sure that if you have spoken with me, I tell you a lot about my ambition to write my first book. I’ve worked on it now for a few years and haven’t completed it yet. I’d say that it’s about 50% complete. Over the years since moving to Sweden I’ve been paralyzed by setbacks. Much of it surrounded a lot of family tragedy and also a knee injury that required extensive surgery to remedy. I feel so fortunate that I got the surgery in the U.S. because I am sorry if this pisses off some Swedes, but the Swedish healthcare system is really shitty. I probably would’ve been waiting years to get my surgery and though it took nearly a year of recovery, it was the best decision I made in regard to my health.
The biggest struggle living in Sweden is that I am very close to my family. I have strong relationships with my family, probably deeper than a lot of people have. I depend on them to keep me grounded and since the death of my mother in 2016, they are really all I have. When my mother died, it took a huge part of my soul. The pit of depression and loneliness I fell into was bottomless. I felt as if I was trying to drag myself out of a grave and that the depression was constantly burying me. It has been a rough few years.
I had surgery in 2016, and I am glad though I was away from my husband for so long that I got to spend the last year of my mother’s life at home with her. Little did I know that she would leave us. I can’t get a grasp on my grief. I feel empty inside because more than a Mom, she was my best friend. I could tell her anything and everything I was going through. Sadly, there is no one in my life I have that relationship with. I have family and friends who love me, but there was something more than special about my relationship with my mother.
I am still very angry and enraged about the circumstances surrounding her death and feel often angry with the creator that he took my mother’s life so tragically and painfully. She suffered so much in her life and did not deserve to go the way she did.
Still…I was there through it all.
I feel kind of sad today thinking about this, and I honestly wasn’t expecting to write something so depressing, but the struggle to cope with my loss has been reoccurring in my life and I think has even repressed my growth as a person.
I guess it’s why I am writing this book. She wanted her story to be told. She went through so much. I think it is important for younger indigenous youth and people alike to get glimpses into the struggles that indigenous women have fought on our behalf. My mother was very intelligent and incredibly street smart. I know she passed a lot of that down to her children.
This book is not only a memoir, but a collection of my family’s perspectives and reality growing up indigenous. No one from the Maricopa tribe have written a book. I intend to be the first. It’s been my ambition since I was a child. Little did I know that my life right now would give me the opportunity to do so.
I started this blog to motivate me and get into the habit of writing every day. I have a lot of stories. Some of them innocent but a lot of them that are not so innocent. I am grateful that my family have been enthusiastic about reading my work, but I think in order to be true to myself I may have to tell some stories that will raise an eyebrow.
Some truths about me will not be accepted as good behavior. I do a lot of things that I shouldn’t, but I live my life the way I have always wanted to. I drink. I smoke. I have radical ideas. I like to party. I don’t have children. I curse. I talk a lot of shit. I’m brutally honest. I’m blunt. I’m opinionated. I am a lot of things.Some of those traits could be seen as negatives but I feel they are the best parts of me. I don’t expect that this blog will impress everyone, and you might even question the life I live. But I’ll leave it up to y’all to make whatever assumptions about me you want.
Today, I talked with a friend and we were discussing what my next blog topic should be. I’ve spent a lot of time on my childhood this week. I enjoy discussing my upbringing, especially in Sweden because there isn’t the same relationship to poverty as we natives have growing up on the reservation. My family is hard working, and though we never had it as bad as some other people growing up, we do know what it means to try to find ways to make money. My parents and siblings hustled to get what we needed to survive. We never starved and neither did our pets.
We had a lot of pets growing up. How we got the pets is actually kind of a sad story that is still prevalent on the reservation. A lot of people have dogs and cats and can’t afford to feed them or spay or neuter them. Often random dogs and cats would show up at our house and we would start feeding them and they would stay and become ours.
My good friend Diana, or as I call her “Mama,” whom I met during my congressional internship in D.C. works really hard on trying to help tribes and other low-income communities with assistance for animals. Primarily focusing on dogs and cats. She formed the Native America Humane Society to help fur babies all over tribal communities. I appreciate the work she does. As an animal lover and witness to the tragedies that befall animals on the reservation, I am thankful for people like Mama who actually care. On the reservation we have issues with feral dogs roaming, often starved and in the need of medical attention. Diana is a saint for the work she does to help tribal communities create programs and get resources to address this serious issue.
My tribe does offer free spay and neuter services for dogs and cats for community members but it hasn’t done much to remedy the mass starvation and neglect that so many fur babies face on the reservation.
Now, before anyone is quick to pass judgement, you have to understand that poverty not only affects people, it also affects animals. So, if you can barely feed your family, of course it makes sense you will not be able to feed your animals as well.
That wasn’t a problem in the Serna family, however. My parents always took care of our pets, provided a good home for them and they responded with undying loyalty. All of the dogs we had were strays. My best pups China and Scrappy Doo came into my life by surprise.
I enjoy telling the story of how I got China. She was a dachshund and Chihuahua mix. I was in South Phoenix going to a store and in the shopping complex there was a drive-thru liquor store called South Mountain Liquor. I saw this little black dog nearly get run over by someone in the drive thru, so I called for her. She ran to me, full speed ahead, zooming right into my arms. She didn’t have a collar and seemed malnourished. I held her in my arms and said: “I will name you China!” Pronounced Cheena. From the day she came into my life, she brought nothing but joy. When I moved to D.C. she watched over my parents and was my Mom’s constant companion. She crossed the rainbow bridge, but I know she is in the other world with my Mommy eating apples and toast dipped with oatmeal.
The other fur baby that was super loyal to me was Scrappy Doo. She was brought to me after my little nieces and nephews went for a walk and saw her running for her life from some bigger dogs. My nieces and nephews brought her to me knowing that I would give her a good home. She was in bad shape, but was the kindest, gentle girl. My husband used to call her Trashy Doo because of her scrappy appearance. Still…she was my sweet girl. She too is with Mom.
Besides my dogs, you should know I love chickens. Ever since I was a kid, we’ve always had chickens. My Dad built very nice chicken coops for our chickens and I was so happy every day to go collect the eggs. In my opinion, eggs straight from our pets were THE BEST. We had Rhode Island Reds, Marans, and a few other species. Even to this day, we still have chickens!
Every time I go back home to visit, one of my favorite things to do is to go to the chicken coop and visit the girls! Our current crew that I named “Koop Kriminalz” have Miranda, Smoky (the rooster), Felicia, Bettie, Chalino, and Bertha!
It’s my custom back in Arizona to wake very early and take my Dad’s teacup chihuahua Willy out to potty. Willy, also known to me as Wunnie, Wunnerz, Wunnerschnitzel, Wunz, ect ect…loves to go on his morning patrol. While he is on patrol, he follows me over to the “chicken house” and we go about feeding the crew. Sometimes I sing to them, and even practice my Swedish with them. I also like to sing to them while I change their water. I have to do it often because it’s so hot in Arizona that I like to water their coop down, so it gets cool and damp. I usually sing “blue velvet” to them and they cluck and gather around my ankles. The chicken house is no joke as this past summer I encountered about 4 rattlesnakes. 3 of which were in the front yard oasis, but the one that was at the chicken house was HUGE! In case you don’t know chickens can kill snakes, so it’s pretty convenient I had my girls to watch my back.
I do not kill snakes. It is against my tribal religion as snakes are revered as sacred animals that can be incredibly vindictive. The saying goes, if you kill one snake, another will soon follow to seek revenge for the killing. So, I recommend never killing them. I usually call the animal control or non-emergency fire department to pick them up and relocate them. It is the most humane thing to do.
I love chickens. I follow them on Instagram. Yeah. I know. I am a nerd.
My favorite hen is Miranda, the Rhode Island Red. She is incredibly smart. So smart that she can be quite demanding. As my custom, I would take Wunnerz out and then tend to the chickens, but in some cases I would sit and smoke on the back porch. I would see Miranda and the rest gather near the fence clucking and making all kinds of noise. If I did not come to the chicken coop right away, Miranda would jump the fence, and proceed to walk up to the porch and “escort” me to the coop. Almost as if she was like, “Ummm excuse me, you feed us before you smoke.” She would then walk with me to the chicken house and everything would be grand.
I am lucky to have some close friends who are chicken lovers like me. Every day on Instagram I look at chicken photos and proclaim: CHICKEN!!!!!!
There. Now you know one silly thing about me. I am not only a plant lover, but an animal lover.
It’s 24/2, which is known throughout the world more recently as World EBM Day. It is a special day for my household as my husband, one part of the duo known as Sturm Café have released their latest album, “Fernes Land”.
As a wife I have had the pleasure to observe Sturm Café’s creation of the latest album, which in my opinion is one of their best. You would think that I have to give a rave review because of my relationship to the band, but truthfully, I couldn’t be prouder of the risks that they have taken in this new venture. I’ve witnessed the countless hours of creating, and I have to confess I have never met a more dedicated duo.
“Fernes Land” is a testament to the many influences that they have had throughout their lives. This album is not typical EBM that I have experienced living in Europe.
Sure, I have been part of my own synth scene in the states for a long time, but it doesn’t mean that I am the biggest EBM fan. Of course, lovers of the genre go back the classics but in the case of Sturm Café’s “Fernes Land”, I think they have pushed barriers in the genre by daring to create new sounds that are not typical EBM.
Some will be surprised to know that a lot of the band’s influences are not just “synth” artists. Jonatan and Gustav have expressed in interviews that some of the sounds they were inspired by came from 90’s Euro-techno and even G-funk. It’s surprising to some people that my husband could be so diverse in his music taste. However, if you were ever to look through his vinyl collection you will find more than the typical “synth guy” collection. I think even I have been a small influence on my husband by exposing him to a lot of artists most “cool guys” in the synth scene wouldn’t dare listen to.
That is the beauty of Sturm Café, they refuse to stay in the same old familiar niche that most bands unfortunately conform to. Rather than make something safe for their fans, they are taking an electronic road seldomly ventured from such a well-known EBM band. This album is different in huge ways but still pays homage to their classic style. Whenever I hear that heavy bass line, I know it’s my husband.
What is always so impressive about Sturm Café as a band is their natural talent for production and sounds. It is so fun to see them at work. It was a lot of great times watching them flex their music muscles and play with melodies and sounds in the Sturm Café studio back in our tiny apartment in Lund, Sweden.
Firsthand I witnessed the friendship and mutual respect that they have for one another as musicians. That bond runs deep into their music. Their connection and collective appreciation for the overall vision of their music is felt heavy in “Fernes Land”.
As a writer, I also feel that their lyrical content is always daring. There is always some sly B-side movie reference, or historical context when creating their lyrics. They had some help with this new album from a friend which is great. Some new listeners will be surprised to know that German is not their native language. It’s always been a gamble and somewhat dare to see what kind of lyrics they will come up with next.
I am incredibly proud of Sturm Café for creating a REAL dance record. They have pushed their limits with this album by showcasing the many influences they’ve had throughout the years. They pay homage to their personal love for everything electronic and most of all everything classic about the creation of electronic body music. One thing is for fucking sure this doesn’t sound like anything coming out of Sweden right now. “Fernes Land” is a love letter to electronic music of all kinds and I am proud of their creation.
I know I’ve mentioned that the settlers of the early wild west never would’ve survived had it not been for the agricultural empire my tribes had. Harnessing the rivers in my ancestors’ time was no easy feat, and it’s not well known that some of the same irrigation systems built by the Pima and Maricopa are still in use today. We harnessed water in ways that were unbelievable and vast. A lot of Swedes ask me how I could have even survived through the hellish heat, and all I can say is I was built for it.
Just like any other people, we are products of environmental adaptations. Our skin, our hair and even our bodies were built to withstand one of the harshest territories in the world. We utilized what was available to us in the desert. However, there is something that you should know about the Sonoran Desert, it is unlike any desert on planet earth.
For one, we have a rocky territory filled with dense mesquite woods and a plethora of cacti and desert plants. The upper Gila River Valleys are surrounded by mountains, and from the west side to the eastern borders of the reservation there are mountains.
Whenever it rains the air is filled with a sweet perfume of mesquite sap, creosote bushes and Palo Verde trees. The forest floor is rich with thick mulch that’s comprised of mesquite beans, but its leaves, and flowers. Just as my ancestors did, my family gathered mulch in the Spring when it was its richest. The rain and cold layer all of the mesquite and flora into this dense fragrant, but rough fertilizer.
The mesquite begins to flourish in the Spring, and they leave a mess of the ground, even more so when you have Palo Verde trees blossoming at the same time.
The Spring is a very short time, but it’s traditionally known as the planting season. During this time the community have their annual festival called the Mul-chu-tha, which translates to the “gathering of the people,” or something similar. It’s a Pima (Akimel O’Odham) word that focused on the traditional celebrations we used to have to start the beginning of the planting season.
Spring is incredibly important because certain plants like chili, tomato and squash generally are harvested around the Midsummer celebrations. Hence, they have to be planted during the Spring to make sure they flower before Summer. Other crops such as corn and pumpkin are planted a little later in Spring and must be carefully looked after as the temperature rises incredibly quick after March.
The Mul-chu-tha fair and rodeo is one of the biggest events on the reservation. They have a lot of cultural presentations and a pow-wow. Vendors from all over the state and community come to the fair to sell their goods and food. My family participated often selling fry bread and Mexican food. It was really hard work to sell at the fair, but it was well worth it!
The Springtime weather disappears really soon mid-March. If one is lucky to have planted the first of the crops, the April rains bring much needed moisture to the garden. We pray for rain often in the desert as we do not see a lot of rain until the monsoon season comes in the summertime.
During the monsoon season our power would always go out. The city of Phoenix did not give a shit about the electricity insecurities of we “rez people,” I think they figured we were used to being without so why should updating the grid or making repairs be important to them? We would be out of electricity for the entire night until the morning in most cases.
Sometimes the temperature would be cool, and the rains would be cold. Dad built a nice porch in front of the house, and we would open the front door and sit outside and watch the rain. The smell was amazing. The perfumed air of wildflowers, cactus and creosote bushes were my favorite scent during the monsoons.
Dad planted grass in the front yard along with well-manicured mesquite trees. I remember one year we got a Christmas tree that you could re-plant, so we had a few pine trees in the front yard. One night lighting even struck our largest pine tree! That was really scary.
My mom had some interesting superstitious about how to behave during the storms. One thing she did was cover all the mirrors in the house with a sheet or towel. Also, when we had to go out into the rain, she made sure we covered our heads with towels. There was this belief that lighting was attracted to mirrors and our uncovered heads. For those reasons were not allowed to prance in the rain, in fear that lightning would strike.
My parents had a gas stove, so thankfully we could still cook in the evening. We had a small boom box that we used to play and all over the house we had candles and kerosene lamps. My mom loved kerosene lamps a lot. We had a big collection.
I think her love of them went back to her childhood and my father’s as well that they grew up without electricity and kerosene lamps were a great luxury to have. Since the electricity was constantly going out during any kind of storm, we relied a great deal on those lamps.
I love fire. I love looking at fire, and this love was brought about growing up with our fireplace. Maybe it’s why in my adult life I also love to light candles every evening. Something about my indigenous blood connects me to fire, but it also brings about a comfort that goes beyond my life, it reaches into my soul.
During the monsoon evenings my Mom would tell us ghost stories. That was the best. She had so many of them! It was the perfect ambiance on those long nights. I have memorized all of her stories and will share them on another blog post soon.
I feel a bit sad knowing that I am in Gävle and unable to help my Dad plant. In his old age, he’s in need of a lot of help to get things started. Though we don’t have a garden like we used to nowadays, my father has many planters in the front yard usually with varieties of chili. Recently he started growing basil as well.
The most beautiful thing about Dad’s garden are the flowers. We start wildflower planting in the Winter, and by Spring the entire garden is filled with orange and yellow African daisies. We also have sunflowers and morning glories. When I was running for the tribal pageants, we had a gorgeous explosion of flowers thanks to nice winter rain and I took my photos in front of them and of course my brother Adam was the photographer.
The wild desert is something I adore, and I miss it terribly when I am in this frozen city. Still, there is beauty in the cold, and I have learned to plant different things now that I am in Sweden. I love that there are fruits and vegetables I can grow that are nearly impossible to grow on the rez. If the bunnies or birds don’t get your crops in Arizona, the heat most definitely will!
Therefore, it’s a welcome sight to see flowers and fruit grow in Sweden. Strawberries, berries, plums, apples and turnips thrive in the cool weather. I suppose I have inherited my love of plants from my upbringing. Recently, however, I’ve taken the time to learn more about the planting process from my Dad.
He’s not able to do things as he used to. His health has declined as a result of working hard his entire life. He’s always worked hard labor, and for those of us who grew up with men and women in our lives who did heavy construction and outside work know that hard labor beats a body down. We’ve nearly lost him, but thanks to the creator he is still here, ever wise, always guiding and teaching us.
This past summer we truly almost lost him. His recovery back to health was a difficult one. I took it upon myself to start a “healing garden,” though it was late in the planting season I wanted us to have something to watch. Dad says that even if your plants don’t give fruit, it’s still a marvel to watch something you planted grow and transform. I felt as if our healing garden was directly linked to his recovery. Every day I would take him outside to the front porch in his wheelchair and we’d water the plants. It was our oasis. He loves wind chimes as well, so it would be so welcome in the evenings when we would water our flowers and watch the sun set over the Estrella Mountains with wind chimes in the background.
All my life, the sound of wind chimes brought me comfort. Their sound not only brings calm and serenity but it a useful tool to keep bad spirits away.
I am nostalgic about the desert. Perhaps it’s because I miss the sun so much in Sweden. I will say however, Sweden does have some of the most beautiful botanical gardens. I miss my favorite one in Lund. It’s where I did a photo shoot with my friend Adrian, and I used to like to go there often just to be around the plants. I tell my father about the plants and flowers I see. He loves to see pictures of my little garden in Lund.
One Spring I planted a lot of flowers like daisies, roses, lilies, and morning glories. One summer wild strawberries came out of nowhere. Dad says that plants know when you love them, so they will follow you and come out of nowhere responding to your soul.
Dad is filled with such beautiful wisdom. Now that my Mother is gone, he is one of my best confidants. I do my best to call him every day, and one thing we can always talk about is plants and politics. He’s truly a marvel, and I am so thankful for the love and teachings he’s bestowed upon me. Gorgeous inside and out. I love you Daddy.
The snow if finally starting to melt in Gävle. I am so grateful that the Spring is coming soon. I love all the seasons but there was always something so special about Spring in Arizona. For one, it would be the time that my Dad, Aurelio, would start getting our garden ready for planting.
Growing up we always had a garden. My Dad, having come from a poor town in Chihuahua, Mexico did not plant a garden as a “hobby,” it was out of necessity. I guess most people in the western world look at gardening as a hobby and not a means of survival. However, growing up with a huge family we relied a lot on the bounties of growing our own food and raising chickens.
The garden was huge, it was placed behind this shack that we had outside of the house. When we initially settled on our plot of land in Gila Crossing, we only had a 3-bedroom trailer that was purchased with the help of my brother Adam’s Godfather Jesse. He was a co-worker of my Dads who at the time worked in the landscaping department for Maricopa County in Phoenix.
We had a huge family to provide for. We crammed into the trailer until my father took it upon himself to build rooms to add on the trailer. He built a total of 3 rooms in the beginning of the 80’s and eventually added my room along with a room towards the north side of the house for my sister when she had her children. We were a huge household but managed our lives just fine.
Dad was a man of many talents. Not only did he provide by working, he also provided by keeping us fed with the garden. The garden was filled with rows of delicious foods. We grew jalapenos, hatch chili, corn, cilantro (coriander), tomatoes of every variety, squash, pumpkins, watermelons and a host of other things. In my book that I am working on, I write the following:
“My father has a talent for taming harsh environments, as if all the food he worked so hard to plant have come streaming from his working hands alone. Magic hands of life. My mother would often say that there was nothing that my father could not make grow. I always believed it was his gentle, kind nature that was felt from the roots of the crops we grew. And though I did not understand it at the time, growing one’s own food was not something that many of the children I went to school with knew nothing of.”
As I mentioned before life on the reservation was rough for a lot of people. To be honest I never really felt like my upbringing was hard. It was my life, I was happy. I had people who loved me and, in my mind, even now, all of my needs were always met. Sure, we did not have cable T.V. or expensive electronics but we always had enough.
One of my favorite traditions in our family was the love of movies. My parents and siblings often bought and rented movies for us, therefore when we did not have cable, we saw the latest films often. On Friday nights back in the 80’s my parents would prepare nice food for us and buy snacks and take us to the movie rental store where we would each get to pick out a movie. It was SO fun. The movie I wanted to rent ALL THE TIME was Labyrinth. I was also in love with David Bowie, and had been exposed to his music early. Little Duchess was in love like every little girl at that time with the masquerade scene. I loved her dress and hair so much! At a very early age I loved everything “extra.”
I was obsessed with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, Mia Sara in Legend, and Apollonia Kotero. I remember thinking mostly who I wanted to look like when I was little, and Apolonia Kotero was my number one reference for beauty. I watched Purple Rain a lot growing up because my sister, Larissa was obsessed with Prince. I grew up hearing all of his music, and I think we even watched the movie like a million times. I know all the dialog to this day. Apolonia, however, was one of the most beautiful women in the world to me. I remember thinking, when I grow up, I hope I look exactly like her!
My sisters was also a huge influence on my femininity. Though we never had much money my sisters, Larissa and Juanita were so lovely. They were so good at makeup and hair. They were very fashionable and feminine to me. I remember spending a lot of time in their room just watching them fix their hair and makeup. I used to put on their high heels or shoes and try to walk in them. Great music was always a part of observing them getting ready. I know that they had it much harder than I did growing up, but in my eyes, they were the most gorgeous sisters a girl could have. They probably don’t really know how much I admire them, but if I am honest, they were the biggest influence on me when it came to my sense of beauty. From the magazines they used to let me read and the movies and music they exposed me to, I was heavily influenced.
My family was rather conservative. I was not allowed to wear makeup until the day I turned 14. My friend in school was allowed to do whatever she wanted so sometimes she would sneak makeup on me. I remember that day vividly. I was 12 and my mom was still picking out my clothes and braiding my hair. In my mind, I never thought I was pretty. I thought I was really plain and ugly and longed to look like the women I admired. I remember that day because her family was having a huge party. My friend was Mexican, and all the years I was in her life I was exposed to 2 different types of households. She was the princess of her family and was also a rich girl, so she grew up in the Laveen valleys up on top of Laveen Mountain. She had everything I did not have. It was bizarre for me to have 2 different lives.
Anyhow, she put makeup on me for the first time. She put foundation, mascara and eyeliner and lipstick on me. I looked into the mirror and thought: “THIS is who I want to be!”
I was so mesmerized by the power of makeup! I looked so grown up and different, my self-confidence for a moment came out strong and true. It was a new experience for me because I have always been such an awkward nerd. I was sick a lot growing up from severe allergies and asthma and would succumb to that misery often. My mom braided my hair every day and picked out most of my clothes growing up, so I often felt like I never had an autonomy over how I looked. I had extremely low self-esteem and the bullying for being a chubby girl was unrelenting.
It was the summer I turned 13 that I took it upon myself to change. I no longer wanted to have pigtails and be dressed like a doll. I wanted to be alternative. It was at this time that I also noticed that I wanted to do something about my physique. I collected some home workouts from my sister’s Cosmopolitan magazines and spent the summer working out. I would exercise for hours during the days, and because we did not have access to gym equipment, I used this workout routine for resistance training only using a beach towel. I used to lift weights by using heavy cans out of the cupboard as my free weights. Though it was very tough, I eventually shed most of my baby fat, and grew a few inches taller. I could never be as tall as my sisters because like my Mom has told me all my life, “You take after your Mexican side, that’s why your legs are short.” I hated hearing that because my Mom and sisters have such beautiful legs. They run in the family, even my nieces have beautiful legs. Long and lean. Unlike me.
That summer I did not see my friend so much because I was dedicated to my fitness. It was a shock when I came back to school I remember because I ditched the braids and wore my hair in a long spiral perm. Spiral perms in the 90’s in my school was all the rage! I didn’t exactly blossom into looking alternative, I had to search for clothes, but most of the time I was wearing long t-shirts with long black skirts. Mom also allowed me to use some pressed powder and lip gloss. It wasn’t until the day of my 14th birthday that I was allowed to use makeup. ALL THE MAKEUP.
I was getting ready for my birthday party and I went into the bathroom and invaded my sister’s makeup collection. Foundation, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara and blush! I even cut some little bangs like Bettie Page. I didn’t develop a love for lipstick then, so I stuck to lip gloss. I was dazzled by how I looked and from the moment I was given permission to wear makeup I have been OBSESSED with it. I never turned back. I was hooked and I knew I was finally on my way to developing my own style.
At the time I used to think I wanted to be a model. I was obsessed with all the 90’s supermodels and especially Mariah Carey. Mariah is someone I will always adore, her singing, her style and iconic femininity is probably one of the biggest influences on me, even now. However, things would take a dark turn during this time as problems in my friendship began to beat me down into submission. My so-called friend was content with me being the nerd, so when I tried to blossom after puberty, she tormented me and berated me. I was tortured not only at school but even the only friend I had turned against me. I could never understand why, but when I reflect, I know it’s always been about jealousy.
Without getting into too many details about that friendship other than the bullying, I also struggled to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
High school was not fun. Besides the bullying and the straight up boredom, I felt I was torn about what my next move would be. I was in a deep depression during high school and felt like my life was going nowhere. I was so depressed that I let my grades slip and didn’t really have any ambition to do anything because my dreams and ambitions were beat down from my “friend.” Though I still had excellent grades my hopes of going to an Ivy League school were shattered when my school counselor told me that I would never do well at a university, and I should go to community college. I laugh at that now, but it was devastating to me because I have dreamt of going to Harvard my entire life. I knew education was the only route to success in my life. I knew that there was no other option than to go to school.
The so-called friends in my life were dragging me down and I got to point where I had to remove them completely. It was the best thing I ever did. I just regret that I allowed the bullshit to go on for so long.
It was after high school that my life really changed, and all of it began when my mom came home from a community meeting. That chapter is best saved for another post. I think the decade that would follow would be the greatest triumphs in my life.
When I look back on my childhood, I think about what Disney princess I most related to. For me, if was Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. Why? Well for one I identified with her firstly on the fact that she was a book worm. Growing up I did not have a T.V. of my own, so often I would spend my time in my room or wherever reading books. My love of books began early, as I learned to read at a very young age.
The circumstances surrounding this early development had to namely do with that I contracted spinal meningitis when I was a baby. My mother told me the story many times. She explained that the year that I was born many children had come down with meningitis, and she believed that it was some kind of epidemic in tribal communities.
Native people are very superstitious when it comes to babies in general, but not like Maricopa. When my nieces and nephews were born, I remember that my Mom had so many instructions of do’s and don’ts when it came to not only carrying the child, but how you allowed the child to interact with the general public. There is a deep seeded belief in the “evil eye,” in a lot of cultures and Maricopa firmly believe that children can become ill if they are exposed to envious eyes.
When I say envious eyes, it does not mean necessarily that someone is wishing ill on a child, but the longing and admiration for the child can turn into evil energy. Therefore, the belief is that when you take your child out in public, especially when they are newborns, the baby stroller should always have a blanket draped over the front, so the child is not seen. Also, if the child is seen its customary that the person looking upon that they touch the child. The link to touch and admiration is a very thin line, as most women of my culture are taught to be very careful not to take newborns out in public very often. With that belief in mind, my mother always expressed to me that she felt at fault for my contraction of the illness because she did not protect me from “jealous eyes.”
Nevertheless, I contracted the illness and nearly died. With the serious nature of the disease I was placed on a lot of medications including phenobarbital, a heavy barbiturate that is used for seizures. I was on the medication from infancy until I was about the age of 5 or 6. I suffered seizures when I was first diagnosed with the disease and it was believed that the amount of brain trauma I experienced as a baby would affect my brain in the long run. My prognosis was not good, the doctors had little hope that I would develop like a healthy child, let alone survive. My parents were even told that they should not expect me to survive at all. Devastated, my parents arranged for me to be baptized in the catholic faith in fear that I would die.
I survived, but not unscathed. In response to the prognosis the pediatricians recommended that my parents take extra care in my development. Namely with speaking and basic motor skills. Due to the fact that I am the youngest of my siblings, I had a lot of support to help me learn. The doctors had little faith that I would ever be “normal,” and I was subject to not only heavy medications, but I also had to go for quarterly evaluations of my development. It’s safe to say that I proved the doctors wrong when it came to my recovery. Instead of having developmental problems, I flourished.
My parents and family spent a lot of time helping me develop. It was my sister, Larissa, who not only convinced me to take my medication, she was also the person who helped me to read. Like Belle, I was in love with books. I read everything I could touch.
One of my favorite things to read were fashion magazines, especially Vogue. My eldest sister always had an excellent collection of magazines and I would often spend my time pouring over the editorials and looking at the foreign places in the pages. I think my love for the magazine and fashion in general prompted an early love and fascination for Europe.
I had zero clue growing up that I would ever travel the world yet alone my own country. Something you have to understand about growing up on the reservation is that poverty is a true mitigating factor in the advancement of its members.
My family is very working class and we never had much money when I was growing up, but we never starved. I look back and feel very content with how I was raised. I felt all of my needs were met and my parents and siblings never hesitated to buy me books.
My favorite routine on Saturday morning cartoons was to go to my room with a pile of books and read them before breakfast. Saturday morning breakfast was THE BEST. My Dad would cook us what my husband calls, “Mexican breakfast” which comprised of fried potatoes, bacon & sausage and omelets, and my favorite refried pinto beans. My Dad was a wizard when it came to making omelets. He had this technique for making them perfect every time. Usually filled with cheese and jalapenos. We would take turns making toast to accompany the food, and at times we even had fresh tortillas my Mom would prepare. We always had a big wheel of longhorn cheddar cheese in the house, not only for making tacos but on Saturday my Dad would often slice us a nice big piece of cheese to enjoy with our food. It was my favorite day! It was a day for chores of course, and we often went to get wood in the afternoon, but the morning was mine and I looked forward to it every week.
Another thing that I shared with Belle, is that I was seen as a strange girl not only in my community, but at school too. I went to Laveen Elementary School in the border town to my reservation. It was a mixture of kids from various economic backgrounds and there were also other kids from my reservation who went there. I liked school a lot. I’ve always loved to learn, so my time at school was fun for me because I excelled in my studies. I was in the advanced courses and even won my first poetry contest when I was 8 years old. Some kids used to think that I was the “teacher’s pet,” because I often finished my work before everyone else. There were some other students that were also really smart, and my school had a program for “gifted children,” and they used to take us on field trips to museums and other places. I liked the trips, except that they were often on Saturdays and I would miss my routine. I guess another thing that I did not like so much about the program was that I had no real friends that also went to the trips. I was the only Mexican-Native in the entire program and all of the other kids were white and upper class. I had little in common with them, and I sort of felt like they questioned whether or not I was worthy enough or “smart,” enough to be in their group. I used to get a lot of anxiety because I was alone, with no one to really talk to or relate to.
My intelligence has been a blessing and curse to me in my community. My mother was incredibly well spoken and street smart. She never spoke baby talk to us growing up and encouraged us to be self-reliant and not afraid of the world.
One of her favorite stories to tell about me when I was small was when she would take me out to eat and the waitress would come to get our order and when it came to order my food, the waitress would say to my Mom: “And what will the little girl have?” Without blinking an eye, little 5-year-old me would say, “Umm excuse me, but I can order for myself.” As Mom would say, even back then I knew what I wanted. A little diva indeed.
I had one friend growing up from the time I was 9 to about 19. That relationship is one of the most painful things for me to talk about and I don’t talk about it. What I will say is that I did not really fit in with her either. She was a hinderance to my life, and I will never be able to tell the real truth about what happened.
When I was about 12 or so I fell in love with electronic and rock music. My sister, Suelo, was a huge grunge and metal fan so I was exposed to a lot of bands like Alice in Chains, Tool, Soundgarden, Pantera and Nirvana.
I would like to think that I have an eclectic taste in music. I like a lot of music, almost as if I have an encyclopedia of the music permanently burned into my brain. I absorb lyrics a lot and even if I hate a song, I can still know all the words to the song.
My sister Larissa was the person I admired most of all my siblings. She was so good at many things, like cooking and most of all singing. I think she has a beautiful voice, and it was her singing that inspired me to want to sing too. When I was growing up, I thought she was the most beautiful and fascinating person. She loves U2 and Prince a lot. She is still so kind to me, but I don’t think she knows how much one gift she gave me when I was 6 would mean to me.
As far back as I can remember I’ve suffered from anxiety and insomnia. I was an incredibly troubled sleeper. I don’t know if my family knew that about me, but I would often be awake most of the night in my own little thoughts and unknowingly learning about my spiritual gifts.
Anyway, my sister Larissa bought me a night light radio. I remember it so well. It was blue and white and had a little mouse hanging from a crescent moon. The best thing was that it had a radio! So, every night I would ease myself to sleep with music. It was awesome because it had a timer, so I did not have to worry about turning it off in the middle of the night. My weekly routine was to choose a different radio station to listen to every week. I guess that is why I love and adore so much music is because I would listen to everything. I hope my sister knows now that gift was the best thing I ever owned.
I finally got a proper stereo when I was 12 and from there it was when I discovered shock rock. I mean I have always loved a lot of artists, but it was shock rock and industrial music that would define my fashion and obsession with alternative culture. My brother Adam and sister Suelo would buy me CDs and take me to the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe, where they had a huge Virgin Records store. They not only had music, but all of the music magazines! So, when I would read about Nine Inch Nails, or Marilyn Manson I would learn about their influencers. That is when I discovered goth, post punk, ebm, and glam rock. I dressed like a really nerdy girl so finding this new subculture of fashion and identity I stuck to it and made it my own.
Being the only goth girl on the reservation and at school was really difficult. I was bullied even more at this point because not only was I the “nerd” I was now the “strange girl…the weirdo.” I was never popular so being cast aside even more was nothing new to me. I was often mocked over my fashion, and some teachers in my school also took it upon themselves to bully me as well.
They called me a devil worshipper, and even my former church had prayer circles for me because they thought I was evil.
Still, it did not stop me from being a goth. I was really lucky because my parents and some of my siblings were supportive of my new look. It was truly my identity. My parents bought me lot of black clothes and my mom even sewed me skirts. I remember when I graduated from middle school my mom gifted me with a pair of 20 eyelet Dr. Martin boots. It was the best. I still have those boots.
In high school things would get more difficult however, and because of not only my intelligence but my style, I was bullied and psychically assaulted. In my community the norm was to be into gang attire and sorry but not sorry they didn’t dress feminine.
I was slow to blossom into my femininity, but when I did I really idolized Siouxsie Sioux and Shirley Manson from Garbage. And of course, the woman I wanted to be most of all was Mariah Carey. I used to love to wear short dresses and skirts with my Dr. Martin boots. People were mean to me. They called me horrible names and even questioned whether I was even tribal.
Girls would make it a point to let me know how much they hated and resented me, and the physical attacks got so bad that I had to do distance learning from home. I was lost at this time in my life about what I wanted to do, but what I knew was that I was just like Belle, she too wanted to be so much more than the place she grew up in.
“I want much more than this provincial life. I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand, to have someone understand, I want so much more than they’ve got planned.”
Relating to a cartoon made a lot of sense to me when growing up. Even now, those words still mean a lot to me.
After high school…so much more would happen that transformed my life for good. However, that is for another post. This weird girl was on her way to the next level. With it came a lot of hatred and invaluable lessons but like the old cliché says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
It could be said of me that I used to really like Winter. However, this time around since moving to Gävle I have found that I really do hate the snow. I suppose it has a lot to do with the last time I lived here I fell on my ass wayyy too many times that I even had to go to the hospital to check if I broke some shit. So, I don’t like the snow.
Still, I have really fond memories of Winter in my childhood. A lot of people in my life assume that because I have this diva-ish attitude and way that I carry myself that I grew up in luxury all my life. Sure, right now it’s kinda true that I am comfy. I even go so far as to call myself a “luxury housewife.”
To be honest I never thought that I would be in this predicament. I never anticipated that things could get as hard as they have. I think I am still in this space trying to recover from all of the tragedies that fell on me over the years. But I am still here! I have found a little spark of creativity lately which is why I started this blog. I think it’s a great way for me to share my thoughts. I have a lot of them. I miss telling stories to the people I love. One thing that could be said about me in my family is that I am the storyteller. I have experienced a lot, seen a lot, lived a lot and with that I feel it is my duty to share my perspectives. Why me? Why not?
I have mentioned that I grew up in Gila Crossing Village, in the 6th District of the Gila River Indian Community. I have lived there most of my life and miss is terribly. One of the greatest sights living in Gila Crossing is waking to the valleys of the Estrella and South Mountains. Both mountains have significant cultural ties to my people and neighbors. For those of you who do not know too much about my tribe, we are a community that is comprised of 2 completely different people. We don’t speak the same language, nor do we share the same culture. One thing that bound us a people is that we are agricultural. My people, known in our language as “Piipash” which translates to “the people,” in English, once shared territory in the upper Colorado River valleys known today as Parker, Arizona. The Mohave people can be said to be the mother of many of us “Pi” people who share similar dialects, but most importantly believe in the power of our bird songs. Anyway, we settled in the valley of the Estrellas and South Mountains, where water was plentiful. Before the illegal taking of our water, we once harnessed the Gila, Salt and Santa Cruz Rivers and built an empire based on trade and agriculture. It is often left out in history that the settlers that came into our territory would never have survived without the help of my people.
I am a Maricopa, which is a very small minority in Gila River. I feel like I have tried my best to be a champion for my people though they have never really accepted me. I have always found it difficult to be accepted in my community. Maybe it’s because I have always been different, bold, unique and fearless. Some of those traits are negatives in my culture. I guess I will never know why but I don’t care. As my mother used to say, “Maricopa can hold grudges until the end of time.” I laugh to myself thinking about how true that is. Especially in the tribal pageant circuit. Tribal pageants are an entire separate blog. I have so much to say about it, and of course a lot of “T” to share about that. Scandalous.
I was talking about the Winter. One thing you should know about me growing up is that I was not a princess. Nor were my brothers and sisters. We worked fucking hard. Firstly, we grew up in a house that did not have air conditioning or central heating. The only thing that kept us cool in the Summer was an evaporative cooler, or “swamp cooler,” and believe me when I say that it is not so comfortable to have that kind of cooler when outside the temperatures can reach and average of 115°F (46°C) but we survived! My room was one of the hottest in the house, but it did not stop me from curling up with my music and books. I know some of y’all in Europe bitch about the heat in the summer, but you have no effing clue what REAL heat is. In Gila Crossing the winters are mild. My husband and Swedish friends call Arizona winter, Swedish Summer.
Still, one can never know how cold it can get in the Sonoran Desert in the wintertime. For one, the desert can turn very cold very quickly because of the dry air. I am sure if you have spoken to a native Arizonan, they will tell you that it is a dry heat. Yeah it is, but it can still get cold. I remember my brother in law, Vincent, when he came to visit for our wedding, and he was surprised about how fast the sun sets. The sun rises and sets very quickly in Arizona. It is one of the things I love and miss most of all. In Winter, the moon and cold causes the desert to turn a deep shade of indigo and purple. The air is so dry and cold.
When I grew up, we had a single fireplace and space heaters to keep warm with. Every weekend my brothers and sisters and I would go with my Dad into the Santa Cruz Forest and scavenge for wood. Something you should know about the woods in the Sonoran Desert is that they are made up of mesquite trees. Mesquite trees in the Maricopa culture is known as the tree of life. It has provided not only wood for housing, sap for painting, wood for weapons and mesquite beans for flour but I was told by one of my aunts that it was a prominent clan in Maricopa culture. The tree is thick, rough and filled with thorns. It is not an easy wood to cut down or transport. Still, we went into the wood, riding in the back of my Dad’s truck and go out into the woods and gather. The woods are beautiful, wonderous and treacherous. I would hate to be an outsider going into the woods. They can be treacherous. Still my Dad in his prime was the strongest man. I would watch as he took an axe to the thick stumps and we would gather up the logs and transport them to the truck. When we came home, we wound unload the wood and my Mom and older sisters Juanita and Larissa were with my mom preparing food for us. It was the greatest feeling to have a shower and then eat the delicious Mexican food they would make. One of our chores was to bring a cart of wood before the night came so we could have plenty to last the evening. I can’t begin to describe to an outsider what mesquite woods smells like. It’s a robust, smoky and dank scent. It is so strong that if you are near the smoke you will automatically absorb it in your hair and clothes. In my community we call smelling like mesquite “smelling like village.” Though I did not smell like “village” it was always so welcome to sit by the fire and watch T.V. In the mornings my mom would put our clothes near the fireplace so they could be warm when we put them on. The skies are always clear in the winter and with it came the cold. I knew it was truly winter when I could look up to the sky and see Orion shining down on me. The stars used to shine so bright when I was a kid in the valley, but now streetlights have dimmed their light. Still…when you come to my desert you can always see the stars.
I did not have air conditioning or central cooling until I was 19. Some people are surprised by that fact. Yes, I am a diva who enjoys nice things, but it does not mean that my upbringing was easy. It was difficult. Still, I would never change it. It gave me a connection to my homelands like a lot of kids on the reservation do not have. I enjoy thinking about the Santa Cruz Forest and all of the mythical beautiful things I’ve seen! I dream one day of going into those same woods with my children to gather herbs and mesquite. I am so fortunate to have a father who worked so hard to keep us alive. I miss the mesquite woods but take comfort being in the woods of Norrland. I am still trying to connect to this place, but I miss my routine back home in Arizona when I visit.
When I am back home I often wake early to pray. I take my Dad’s little chihuahua Willy (Wunnerz) out to potty and then I make my way to the chicken coop where I sing to my lovely hens and rooster! They are always so happy to see me. I love my time in the morning, gathering eggs and watching the teeny-tiny Wunnie on patrol. Winter is hard in Gävle, but I am getting used to it. I still complain it’s too cold, but as the old saying in Sweden goes, “There is no such bad thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” which means you can battle the weather with the right clothes. There is truth to that. I say that as I am in layers sitting in my tiny kitchen writing this. Winter, I love you, but Spring please make your way to Gävle soon.
I have had many thoughts about how I ended up in Sweden. I guess I can say that I was destined to love Scandinavian men. I might be a bit biased having lived in Sweden for many years now, but what can be said of the Scandinavian men I have known have been nothing but beautiful.
I think of my experience of first seeing the man of my dreams. It was 1985, and I was 3 years old. I attribute my love of cinema to my family because if there was something that was loved most in my house was the art of film.
I remember as a small girl the first time I saw, Ivan Drago, better known as Dolph Lundgren. I had never seen a man so magnificent in my life! There was something not only about the beautiful body that he had, but there is something further that goes into the deep admiration I have for Scandinavian men, hell I will say it I have the upmost appreciation for Swedish men above all.
Historically, in my community there are often lines drawn in the sand referring to interracial marriages and relationships. Given that our tribe experienced much earlier encounters with the Spanish rather than the rest of Europe we could surmise that the experience with mass colonization and acculturation had deluded the concept that Spanish, or more accurately, Mexican were encounters that came way before the great colonization of the so-called “Wild West.”
My mother met my father while she was going through a bitter and painful divorce, and it seemed that fate would bring her into the arms of another Mexican man. However, my father, Aurelio, is not like any other “Mexican man” I have ever known. It could be said that there is a certain essence of bravado in Mexican culture that led families to be governed in a more patriarchal manner, but my father has never been the man who demands obedience, nor does he flex his dominant muscles in being the sole bread winner for my mother and the 4 children she had before him. He accepted this role as father and provider without hesitation and has often told me, especially after my mother’s death, “I met her on my birthday, she was my gift. And from the moment I saw her, and danced with her, I knew she would be mine forever.”
I have often defined my principals of love on the union of my parents. My father immigrated to the country illegally, trekking through the gruesome and harsh Sonoran Desert of Arizona to find life on the other side of his home in Chihuahua, Mexico. He has always been a hard working man. Full of life and principals of duty. He would show my mother his loyalty from the time he met her until the very last days of her life. The love that they shared spanned across decades and nourished my spirit in ways I can never repay. Even now, despite all of the health issues he’s faced, he is the strongest man to me. My definition of love, loyalty and perseverance. My father is the light of my life.
I can’t say that my father is the only light of my life however. For some reason my creator has blessed me with many men in my life who love me. One man I can mention above all is my brother, Adam. Through everything that I have ever been through he has been there. I’ve always been like a floating balloon aimlessly and carefree; Adam has been the man whose kept me grounded. More than a brother, more than a friend, he has loved me above all others and has never hesitated to show me loyalty. I suppose it is the strong Serna bloodline that runs through him that keeps him devoted to me no matter what chaos I have brought to him.
I am fortunate to have a lot of men in my life who love me. And it just so happens that the love I’ve recieved have been from the land of Sweden. I can mention them by name: Simon, Andrè, Ken doll, Jonatan, Patrik, Jocke, Frederik and Christoffer, to name a few. All beauties in their own special ways.
I look at my husband with adoring eyes. The first time I saw him was when he had a photo on his facebook. He was standing very astutely in front of his movie collection holding a cognac glass. He was wearing his signature black suit, looking debonaire and elusive in his stance. The beauty I see in him is often questioned. I am not sure why, but there is endless beauty that I see in him. As cheesy as it may sound, I wished for him.
I’ve always sought solace in writing my feelings. And from an early age I have always kept a journal or diary. Sometimes I would call these books my books of wishes. One night when I was listening to Mariah Carey (an artist I LOVE above all) I conjured the man of my dreams.
In my naive, romantic mind I conjured the following: ” I pray he will be tall and handsome, have perfect skin, be a musician, be a boss of a company, be kind and funny, full of history and love of history, methodical, sympathetic and loving. May he possess sexual prowess and know how to please me. May he be faithful and creative. He’ll be a boss of some kind and be a creative chef”
Little did I know that I was sending my wishes to the universe. Little did I know that after all of the bullshit with other guys I would find my love. It’s really uncanny because after I did my astral birth chart I was told; “You will find love and happiness across the sea.” When I first read that prediction I was like WTF!
I laugh to myself thinking that I married a Swede. Seems like ever since 1985 I have been destined to find a Swede to be mine. It was a strange and desperate time in my life when I found him.
I had recently come home from my internships in Washington D.C. after I had a freak accident that resulted in a shattered orbits, dislocated vertebrae in my neck and endless other injuries. I was lucky to be alive, but the truth is that falling from those stairs was like as if my entire life I aspired to accomplish was scattered to the winds.
At the time of my injury I was on a journey to the top of politics. I had completed my education at Arizona State University in American Indian Studies with an emphasis in Federal Indian Policy in addition to a certificate in Public Policy Administration. I graduated cum laude and accepted an internship with the Morris K. Udall Foundation’s Native American Internship program.
Falling in love with Washington D.C. was easy. The fast pace and endless possibilities was all that I ever strived for. It was the first time that I truly lived far from home, and the cultural shock was real. I may have even misbehaved during that time but it was not until after my internship with Congressman Raul Grijlava’s in the summer of 2007 that I realized that D.C. was the place for me. With help from a friend I was given the opportunity to work as a contractor for the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars that I landed 2 of the most influential positions. Firstly at the U.S. Department of Interior: Bureau of Indian Affairs: Office of Self Governance. My second position was to serve as an intern for The Library of Congress: Legislative Information Service, which was a job that focused on gathering research and precedence for law that was written in congress.
In short I got into a freak accident thanks to a pair of high heels that sent me tumbling down several flights of stairs. Broken bones to say the least, but to be the tragedy was leaving my career in Washington D.C. behind me.
I was recovering back home when Gustav and I started to chat. To be honest I was quite in a dark place, giving myself to a lot of people who did not deserve it. Gustav was different in every way. He was not sexually demeaning or sleazy in any way. We connected on a level that was beyond the superficial laws of attraction.
It has been 11 years since we met, but I still feel butterflies when I think of him. He pays homage to the beauty of Scandinavian men that sometimes I feel only I can see so intensely. I suppose I have always been observant of Scandinavian beauty with Dolph Lundgren being my first REAL crush.
I recall being a little girl of 4 playing with my Barbies and I always made Barbie’s man named Ivan or Drago. To me, he was the epitome of beauty. I can explain why I felt that way in so many cheesy sonnets.
I suppose that the most beautiful thing that I found about Dolph was his perfect skin. Even at an early age I could already give an idea of what I found to be aesthetically appealing. There was something about the clarity and smoothness of his skin, radiant, glowing and gorgeous. There was also the clear blue color of his eyes, his tall stature with well defined shoulders. He loomed over everyone he was in contact with, and I felt at a very young age attracted to him. It may seem strange that one would get so connected to their sexuality at a young age but it was a feeling I had deep inside of me from the moment I saw him. Who would’ve known that I would marry a man from Dolph’s homeland?
I have been in Sweden a long time now. There is something that I know to be true. If you like “white” men then Sweden is the place for you. I have often thought about why I am attracted to them so much…could it be the men in my life have been graced with such good looks. I often find myself looking around me day to day as I walk through the streets seeing men of great beauty. Milky, smooth white skin, and this very sharp symmetrical bridge of their noses, the way their full lips flare when they speak their individual accents, their height, their eyes. From baby blue, to hues of green and hazel I find myself spellbound.
I can think of many instances when I feel like I am amongst the most beautiful men in the world. I merely have to look in my own life to see the splendor of Scandinavian beauty.
I suppose the relation to health is quintessentially Lutheran. It’s funny to me to think about how the Lutheran vein runs so deep inside the population. A few examples would be firstly to never drink alcohol, eat candy or snacks except on the weekend. It’s really common when I go out to eat lunch I often see rough neck Swedish men drinking water or milk to their food. The love and necessity of coffee is also incredibly important. But it tripped me the fuck out when I saw many men choose sparkling water and milk over soda. I don’t know any rough necks who drink anything but soda or Gatorade! Or if you are like my Daddy you drink coffee every meal, in every weather.
However, if you are to drive to a “Systembolaget” (The Swedish Government controlled liquor store) on a Friday in Gävle, you will see a parade of roughneck and bougie guys with cases and bags aplenty filled with booze. As Gustav always says when a lot of booze comes “The weekend is saved!” All T all shade there is some crazy relationships with alcohol in this country…sorry about it. I will confess I have enjoyed the wild ride.
If this observation disturbs anyone then they can challenge me. Come to Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland or Norway. If the beauty of men is on your mind then this is the place to be. I have often dreamt about being an exchange student back in the day so I could have gotten my “hoe life” on fucking point. Fortunately I have my man so I can only observe from afar.
I am blessed with so many beautiful men in my life. I have often thought about the attraction but it is so multi-fact that I have no idea how to bottle the essence of the beauty of Scandinavian men. I think I am a bit obsessive because I observe the nuances of human communication more than others. For one thing, Scandinavian men will never know how I observe how they speak their words.
There is something special about the Swedish language. Other Germanic societies/languages have often related that Swedish is more like singing when spoken. I have to agree with that statement because in order to speak proper Swedish one must be aware of the influx and diphthongs of the melody the language is spoken. I think it is a lot like singing, and often when I have tried to attend school to learn the language I have been endlessly disappointed on the poor attempts other students have made to speak “properly.” Fuck that.
I think about the first time I really made this observation of how their lips flare and round when speaking was when I was given the film “Lust Och Fägring Stor,” (all things fair) and Johan Wideberg was lying on his back in one scene talking about what his father did to his new older lover. To me, there was something so beautiful in the way that his accent would flow and flutter off his lips. His perfect full, pink, lips would flare and I would hear such sounds!
As an obvious Native English speaker it was so bizarre to see another person round and form their words with slight rolls of the tongue, speaking through the front teeth and my favorite the use of gasping or sighing to acknowledge the other person speaking.
I am bamboozled even now when I watch my husband speak Swedish, with his full round lips flaring and rounding sounds in a way I never thought I would know.
There is a subtlety to the way that Swedes speak english. One of the things I most notice in their accent is the use of the “S” sound. As I have spent a lot of time learning Swedish over the years, and one thing that find fascinating is the completion of the word and letters. Every letter is accountable for sound, and completion. I also find it endearing how the “J” sounds is often said with the “Y” sound. Yacket (jacket) yam (jam) Yak (Jack) to name a few examples. I think its cute and still tease my husband when he pronounces words with the “Y” sound.
Racism is real however and I have constanty faced the backlash from marrying a “foreigner.” It was like wearing a burning red “A” on the bodice of every dress I wore. I even had a friend tell me I was betraying my people by loving Gustav.
Truth be told, I have never liked what my kin or peers liked. From the moment I saw men like Dolph Lundgren and David Bowie, I knew that this place I lived in would never deliver the kind of man I desired.
Mom was so full of wisdom and said we don’t find love when we are looking for it; like lightening, it strikes and you find yourself in love like never before.