baby’s first powwow

This weekend, I went to the Stanford Powwow for the first time. It was about time, since I’m a senior and a couple of my closest friends here are native. I asked Ricky (who’s part Mexican, part Pasqua Yaqui and part… I forget) to show me around. It was kinda like being at one of those house parties and barbecues my parents always brought me to in Jersey City when I was little, except that this time I was the token non-Filipino friend that someone brought along– the one on the outside looking in.

Trying not to offend people
I was initially really self-conscious about how I was carrying myself, etc (I normally feel like this when I’m immersed in another culture for the first time). But it took me three hours to realize that I was walking around wearing a black t-shirt with the word “SAVAGE” printed on it in bold white letters. That’s because I’m a fucking idiot.

Omnipresent things that outsiders are hyperaware of and insiders do not notice
Until this weekend, I’d never in person seen full Native American traditional costumes, or seen the dances, or heard the singing. I had also never really noticed the little things about being native: the way dancers rotated clockwise, the crocheting on the footbag we kicked around with some of the volunteers, the feather charm hanging on Ricky’s rearview mirror, girls’ ornate earrings, silver bracelets adorned with smooth blue turquoise, how you can usually tell that a white person is native by the way their skin tans in the sun.

But talking to anyone native about all this shit would be like wandering onto the Stanford campus and talking to a student about how bikes are just so Stanford. “Well, obviously,” the student would say. “This campus is really big.”

Wandering into the realm of “incredibly ignorant”
While I was standing in the forty-minute-long Sno Cone line, a white kid perched atop her dad’s shoulders asked, “Are Indians different from us?”

American Indians,” her father began in his didactic drawl, “may be different, but they are kind of like you and me. Some of them use the same toasters as we do, and the same cell phones, and the same t.v.s and radios. They go shopping just like us, and…”

I honestly had to tune out at this point because it was starting to make my brain bleed. Seriously? Seriously?

Things that remind me of my parents
The Stanford Powwow is basically a huge fair, and since it’s a native event it obviously had a couple of frybread stands with really long lines and really high prices. I wanted to try one, but Ricky turned up his nose in their direction. “I could make frybread at home for free,” he scoffed. “Besides, my grandma’s recipe is probably way better than whatever secret recipe they use.”

Being comfortable with the big “Where are you from?” question
That night I ended up in a bar with a bunch of natives from all over. Many of the introductions involved asking where we were from. When people asked Ricky, he explained what part of Arizona he was from and stated his tribe automatically. As I understand it, he probably would’ve gone into his family in greater detail if the other person had been Pasqua Yaqui. The Native American community is already pretty small, so in a lot of tribes, most people in the tribe are connected to everyone else in the tribe by one or two degrees.

When they asked me, I said, “New Jersey butmyfamilymovedtoCalifornia… and I go to school here”.

Drinking with the natives
I didn’t have much to add to conversations (most of the people I talked to were alums of Stanford’s Native American Association and had stories to swap), but one of the more entertaining things I’d heard all night was a story about two drunk people arguing about whose people was better.

“Back in the day, my people woulda kicked the crap outta yours! My people were making pyramids when yours was still doin’ all that hunter-gatherer shit!”

“Man, shut the fuck up,” interrupted another guy. “My tribe would’ve owned his. We hunted whales. My tribe hunted fifty-foot whales in twenty-foot-long canoes. So shut the fuck up.”

This day and age
I still remember walking out of the bar and onto the patio to a chorus of drunken singing. It was traditional native singing, probably by one of the musical groups that participated in the Powwow, and it was so beautiful. But then I noticed that they were singing in English, and they were singing something that went like:

She’s wearing too much makeup and looks like a ho

But you’re too drunk to notice and will go home with her anyway…

***

The Powwow was pretty awesome. Too bad I had absolutely no cash on me to buy any of the stuff that was being sold in the booths (Ricky even had to spot me for food). Maybe next year.

(I bought a round at the bar, though. Did I mention I turned 21 in April? That’s another story, and a story I can only tell you in person.)

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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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