Archive for the 'Native American' Category

west coast is the best coast

The road trip was a success. Gas was cheap ($1.20s in Tucson, damn!), our car was pumped full of music, and Ricky, being the only driver of the two of us, drank soda after soda while I navigated and kept him talking and alert. I finished off the cans of Spaghetti-Os I’d bought for last year’s Burning Man (even though I’d bought the wrong kind of can opener), Ricky taught me about cactus permutations, I hijacked his camera to take pictures of the road, and he barreled on to destination after destination along the coast and the border. (We almost went to Tijuana just for the hell of it before we remembered that border patrol now requires passports.)

A few things I learned about the west coast and the people who took us through it:

“San Diego’s like a cross between Tucson and the Bay Area”
… what we saw of it, anyway (we stayed with Ricky’s friend in Encinitas and visited Sam J. in Chula Vista). It’s got that low-key sprawled-out suburban desert feel mixed with an alternative hippie community. Ricky wants to buy property along the coast in Encinitas because it’s halfway between Tucson and San Francisco both geographically and culturally, and has the most gorgeous views of the sea.

“Tucson should be closer to Black Rock City”
Tucson turned out to be awesome: it’s strangely chill, fairly young and alternative edgy, the kind of place Burners would love to raise their kids in, mixed with a desert Native/Mexican style characteristic of Arizona. Plus it’s actually great to visit Tucson if you’re broke—  thanks to all those hot U of A chicks, it’s got fashionable thrift stores galore with prices a fraction of those you’d find for similar clothes in the Bay Area. (Too bad I’d spent all my money in L.A. and San Diego on the way down!)

One-story houses and– always– the mountains
Ricky had to do tons of family and friend visiting, so I tagged along to see lots of people’s houses, which in Tucson are mostly one-story adobe-type affairs in bright colors, making it easy to see the four mountain ranges that border the city (in NESW order: Catalina, Rincon, Santa Rita and Tucson– they spell out CRST, or “Christ” in Spanish with no vowels). After a trip to eegee’s (which had a version of poutine italienne! And who knew you could make a Smarties-flavored slushie?) we visited his father, who lives in a new housing development across town, and that was pretty much the only two-story I saw.

A Mexican Christmas isn’t far from a Filipino one
Though Ricky’s super-native, long hair and all, and his house has a lot of Pasqua Yaqui art and stuff, I found out he’s kind of an anomaly in his family since they’re mostly Mexican culturally. (Which was awesome ‘coz I finally got to eat the “real Mexican food” Ricky always talks about when he complains about Bay Area Mex. Dear God, I’ll never think badly of tamales again!) His family’s Christmas party kind of felt like my own family’s parties when I was a little kid in Manila, especially with the posole stewing for hours on the stove and hella cousins running around.

Rain has so much more meaning when you live in a desert
Tucson is the only place I’ve ever been to where people were really genuinely happy about the rain. It’s probably because they’re in a 7-year drought right now. It wasn’t even that much, but if your climate is perpetual summer, you take what you can get.

Anyway, Ricky’s family was super nice and my stay in Tucson was great– before I knew it Ricky was burning sage to pray for a safe trip and a good year, and we were off to L.A.

Austin is the new San Francisco
On our way down we stayed with Ricky’s friends and family, so on the way back up we crashed at my aunt’s place in Glendale and partied with my sister and my aunt’s son Jerrome. He and I go way back (to daycare in NYC!), and he’d been living in El Paso for the past couple of years so it was great to see them. Thanks to him and some of my Texan friends at Stanford (and SXSW), I’m being gradually convinced to move out to Austin. It’s young and hip, it’s sort of neo-eco-hippie like San Francisco, it’s the new indie rock capital of the U.S., and the rent is cheap as hell. But more about that later.

The difference between natives and transplants
Partying in L.A. with Ricky’s friends and partying in L.A. with my sister, Jerrome and my own friends turned out to be two completely different beasts. Ricky’s friends were L.A. area natives— they’re high-rolling, really scene, borderline prepster jaded types who are L.A. insiders but are outside the entertainment industry. They’re basically characters out of Laguna Beach– their parties are at their own hot tubs and houses, they stay within their own social circles and they don’t know much about their own city because they’ve never been tourists, which made them fun to party with but not ideal guides to the city.

My sister, on the other hand, was one of the many who moved to L.A. because of the industry, and she loves the place with all her heart (save the ridiculous traffic– one night I spent 45 minutes holding my bladder in a stressful traffic jam, and realized why my sister doesn’t want to move back here anymore). All of her L.A. friends work in the movies (if we’d had more time we probably could’ve gotten into some studio backlots), she knows the hot clubs and cool tourist attractions like I know my favorite beats in Paris, and she would point out all the famous people she spotted while we were driving, as well as their houses. My former Paris friends Tim and Amy are similarly industry-oriented, and Jerrome, having gone to high school in Glendale and being a hip-hop dancer, has a ridiculous L.A. network and knows where to go to have a good time without all the glitter and coke.

All in all, L.A. the second time around was pretty tight. We got our picture-taking in at the observatory, people-watched at The Grove, and partied at a lot of low-key bars and lounges (my favorite was Little Bar, near where my sister used to live).

A side trip and a new year
Ricky headed out earlier to catch a New Year’s rave in S.F., so I drove back up on New Year’s Eve with my sister and cousin. There was some kind of insane pile-up on our way back, so acting on a recommendation from Jerrome we took a three-hour detour through the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen on a road trip (and mind you, I once went cross-country on a Greyhound) and still made it back in time to ring in 2009 at home. (Sort of. I slept through the whole thing.)

Happy new year, everyone. Here’s to more adventures to come.


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.)


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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