Stranger in a Strange Land

spidey

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother and grandfather talking and sometimes even arguing in a strange language that I couldn’t understand.  It turned out to be Mohawk.  You see I am half Native American, Mohawk, on my mother’s side and half German/French/English from my father’s.  My mom and dad split up before I can even remember and I was raised by my mom and my beautiful Mohawk family.

We didn’t live on the reservation that many of our relatives called home, but rather I called Syracuse, New York my home.  You see, the government had many ideas on how to undermine the cultural integrity of Tribes living on reservations and relocation was one of them.  My grandmother, who is the strongest woman I have ever known, was placed in a Catholic run boarding school, where she was beaten for speaking her native tongue.  She held on to her language despite their efforts and became one of the most devout Christians I have ever known, as well.  She would wake up early every morning and do rosaries, then when it was time for mass she would deny herself getting communion and when I asked her why, she said that she wasn’t worthy.  If she wasn’t worthy then no body was, as far as I am concerned.  My grandfather was a broad-shouldered ironworker, who lost the battle with alcoholism when I was very young.  With him gone the Mohawk words faded away and my connection to my culture was in a way lost.  There was a place that I hung out at in my youth called the Native American Indian Club and they held language classes while I was in elementary school, but less stuck than what most walk away with from taking Spanish all throughout high school.

We did go up north to the reservation during an occasional summer vacation, but other than fishing it was pretty boring.  I was out of place, though I wished I wasn’t.  You see, I had always found Native Americans to be more aesthetically pleasing to my eye, so much so that I’d wished I looked more like them.  I was my father’s son and had curly hair to boot.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, or at least it felt that way.  Then, when I thought I was starting to fit in, something would set me straight.

I was invited to a dinner at the Onondaga reservation, which was just outside of Syracuse, and as I sat outside eating I could see these Onondagan boys sitting together and I was envious of how they looked and of how closely knit they seemed to be.  That was when the pointing and laughter started…a pale, curly headed boy on the Rez.  I don’t know what happened next, all I know is that I ended up having one of them in a scissor-lock and as I squeezed with all my might I cried a flood of tears.  I cried for being shunned by those I wished I belonged with most.  My trips to the Rez became less frequent.

While in college I met and immediately became friends with a guy straight off the same Rez my relatives came from.  We hung out and talked about going up north and using his sweat-lodge.  Then one day he started talking to me in Mohawk and when he quickly realized I didn’t speak it, he asked me if I’d ever heard of the term “apple”.  I played it off, but inside I felt that same pain I did when I was a kid.

More recently I had entertained the idea of moving up north to the Mohawk reservation (Akwesasne), but when I brought this up to my relatives living up on the Rez, they would politely suggest that I might think about living the next town over…leaving the reason why unsaid.  I was even interested in a position with the tribe and when I asked my aunt, who was already a part of the tribal power-structure, via email if I was qualified or out of my depth…I got no response.  Maybe I was just that…completely out of my depth.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve never turned my back on either my paternal or maternal heritage, as I am now closer to my father than I have ever been and I know I have him to thank for certain attributes as well as my mom.  It was just hard growing up looking ethnic enough to be harassed by the police in my adolescence, but not enough to be truly accepted by my own tribe.

A stranger in a strange land.

Advertisements

50 thoughts on “Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. This is a very touching story about your profound desire to belong to the people, with whom you identify with your heart, but who will not accept you because of the way you look on the outside. I understand your feelings and I am glad having made your acquaintance.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the kind words as I am glad to meet your acquaintance as well. I know I am loved by my family and maybe a certain level of paranoia or being overly critical might be involved, but I was just trying to express how I felt.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The desire to fit in, to be part of the tribe, is probably the most basic. It leads to many good things, but also many cruelties – to be part of the tribe, must one exclude those who are perceived as not part? Also many irrationalities – if all my friends are anti-vax, no matter how many scientific studies I read, I will probably not be convinced that vaccines are safe.

    Seeing the issue clearly is the first step toward rising above it. Keep on keepin’ on!

    And thanks for liking my blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Is it strange or does it make perfect sense that one of my favorite quotes is:
    The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Three comments. First: Regarding the two, directly above entries, Man is a herd animal. This has been one of his survival tools.

    Second: Congratulations on your nomination. I haven’t yet read enough of your material to second the nomination, but judging by what’s on this page, I don’t doubt you deserve it.

    Finally: Thank you for your kind attention to my most recent entry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree…a herd animal and a creature of habit. I’m trying to revitalize the writing habit by blogging (keep your fingers crossed!) by keeping up with the herd.
      Thanks! There really isn’t a whole lot on here just yet…but I hope I’m putting out quality to make up for my lack in quantity! 🙂
      You’re welcome…if I put in the right tag/category for the reader I am always pleasantly surprised at what I find. I’ll continue to dig deeper.
      Thanks again
      Erich

      Like

    • Thanks 🙂
      I actually had a hard time writing this as I didn’t want to cast a negative light on anyone, but my cousin urged me to write it just for the reasons you stated and I’m glad I did!

      Like

  5. Ugh! Erich, did you have to make me cry today? 🙂 I’m sure many people of all cultures in the U.S. can identify with your plight. Sometimes, even for those of us far enough removed from our full-blooded ancestors that we can’t relate to any of them, it is hard to know where we fit. And maybe that is why.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad it touched you…not made you cry :/
      The keys got a little wavy for me when I wrote it. It’s always a judgement call as to whether or not a stone is worth digging up. There’s still dirt under my fingernails but I’ve given this a nod of accomplishment.

      Like

  6. Hi Erich, many thanks for checking out therockmom blog and thus introducing me to your work. Wow, what a fascinating and unique story you’re telling! I look forward to reading more. Cheers from Hong Kong, Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

      • We are a LedZep house too 🙂 The closest I’ve gotten to the live Led experience is seeing Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on tour. They played mostly stuff from their duet album, but when they launched in to Black Dog the crowd went crazy. ha ha. Radiohead is just the best. ‘King of Limbs’ is my ‘okay, let’s get ready to write’ album. So inspiring.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for following my blog Erich and good to connect. My mothers family were divided because of religion. Her father who was Irish and catholic died in the First World War and my grandmother was a protestant. His family offered to help financially if she brought my mother up as catholic but she refused and went through dreadfully hard times as a widow with a young child. This set aside from her own family who thought she should have compromised. For some reason we feel it necessary to give ourselves labels of one sort or another and exclude those who do not have exactly the same one. It is a loss for both sides and your family on the reservation have lost out knowing you and all that you bring having a slightly different heritage. If it is something you really want I think you may have to work very hard over a long period of time making small inroads one step at a time.. but it could be worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re probably right. The thing I question isn’t whether my family up there loves me or will accept me, which I know they would, but the community. Maybe it’s an exclusionary response based off of cultural preservation and though it appears ugly on the outside…maybe it’s a necessary evil–one that’s bigger/more important than I.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A poignant piece which in a philosophical way can be related to many ways of life. I know someone who is European white, married to a native Aboriginal who are facing the same issues with their children, but we are all basically trying to fit in within our own communities and rejection is in the human psychic

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow! This is a touching and beautifully written essay. Thank you for sharing some of your life with the rest of us. I know the apprehension that is felt whenever something personal is released to the world. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hiya
    I am mixed (Burmese, Indian, Scottish, French, Jewish, and English) and I get the same feelings of not fitting in anywhere. Massive dark curls, tan well, and honey coloured eyes (I am told). Then one day my Dad, who is definitely more brown than me, confronted me on why I was so hung up on race, heritage and identity. I was confused because this question was from a man who was regularly beaten up in the 70’s for being mistaken for a 6 foot 3 Chinese guy going out with a white girl. When I explained in terms quite similar to you, he said, “You are you and it doesn’t matter where you come from. If anyone has something negative to say about it or makes you feel uncomfortable, they are the small minded ones, not you. You have a unique insight to life which no one from one singular culture has, therefore you are blessed.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Stranger in a Strange Land | J K C o n i b e a r

  12. Thanks for sharing your story Erich. It’s very moving and heartfelt. I suppose that most of us at some point feel ostracized, not part of the tribe. I have felt this way in the past, and feel it now I’m living in a new country. Mixed ancestry really should not be a big thing these days, since it’s becoming more and more common. We have so much to learn from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the positive feedback 🙂
      I always wondered what it would be like to go to a different country. I like to fantasize that I’d reinvent myself and shed my old self like a skin, pretending to be more forward and outspoken long enough for it to stick. You’re right about mixed ancestry not being as big a deal, but reservations have a way of making time stand still, and I suspect it’s a way to hold on to an endangered culture.
      I’m always a student of human behavior and interaction, so I look forward to it.
      Thanks again. 🙂

      Like

      • Yes, I certainly understand the need to hold on to an endangered culture, especially where there was a history of colonialism. Where I am from originally, it is the “mother tongue”, as it is French in Quebec, Canada. And of course in Canada, where reserves exist, it is similar. We all have a need to retain what makes us, “us”, and bestows upon us our unique identity.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. I think that’s why, although I’m saddened by my perceived exclusion, I have come to grips with it. The needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few…

        Like

  13. For my own reasons, I sorta understand. But you understand more. Let me say that you are no mistake, the way you are. You are unique. Original. A ‘broke the mold’ kinda fella and this is part of the reason why you are you. For one thing, we reap the benefits reading your life on the pages, and we thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. It’s incredible, in a horrific sort of way, to see the effects of colonisation on another culture on the other side of the world. As a white-passing Aboriginal Australian woman, I understand this all too well. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s