From Reservation to City Lights

In truth, I'm not alone and everyone has their own story. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie In truth, I'm not alone. Everyone has a story.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

With over 70,000 students on all ASU campuses, there are about a little over 1,000 American Indians enrolled and only one of me. I am a minority taking on the world with no immediate family a stone throw away.

I was raised in the heart of the Navajo reservation, a place call Mosquito Springs with no electricity and running water alongside two siblings; we herded sheep to learn patience, we did chores, and played with stone, sticks and mud for recreation. Life was normal, peaceful, and a time everyone envies and wishes it still were today. Now it’s just a memory existing in our past known as, “the good ol’ days.”

How time flies.

Growing up, education was not enforced in the household. It was more of a traditional standpoint by going to ceremonies, having to learn names of herbs, and dress in traditional attire when appropriate. In boarding school I was taught English and was introduced to education. High school was where I found friends and gained more knowledge of life outside home. Those four years passed like watching vehicles quickly mutter by in the middle of the night.

Time flies. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Time flies.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

In 2010, I made it to college, the first in my family to go to a university. I was nervous my stomach twisted, my palms sweated but it was deliciously exciting. Maybe I was a little eager to get off the reservation being a naïve teenager. The transition from the reservation to a city was not such a culture shock, since my parents had brought us to Phoenix a couple of times before.

The difference between home and Tempe still amazes me. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie The difference between home and Tempe still amazes me.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Though there are events to attend such as a Pow Wow, the atmosphere still does not feel welcome enough as home. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Though there are events to attend such as a Pow Wow, the atmosphere still does not feel as welcoming as home.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Arriving at ASU was not as easy, and I had to work for where I am today. It’s been three years now living in Tempe. I feel confident and recognize what needs to be done to live in this society, yet I still get discouraged and with discouragement comes homesickness. Without the luxury to travel home on a typical weekend, the only thing I can do is call home to hear the familiar sound of my native language, a tranquility that blankets my soul.

Everything is complex, it makes me feel like a puzzle.  Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Everything is complex. I'm just a piece of the puzzle.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Some days, I want to hide but on the surface I try to show confidence. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Some days I want to hide, but on the surface I try to show confidence.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Along with my language the only other thing I have from home is my blanket. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Along with my language, the only other thing I have from home is my blanket.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

There is a price to this self-confidence because everyday it seems like I am straying further and further away from — the most important aspects of my life — the teachings and my tradition I’ve been raised to know oh-so-well.

Seeking Out Inspiration Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Seeking Out Inspiration
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Once in a while, hints of my culture (to my surprise) are displayed and savoring the moment seems fitting.  Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Once in a while, hints of my culture (to my surprise) are displayed and savoring the moment seems fitting.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Expectations are high for attending ASU. It stamps me as a nifty individual undergoing pressure to prove myself and to my family that getting the education I am receiving is worth something. I have to be capable of balancing two worlds, living on and off the reservation even if my family realizes it consciously or not.

Everyday I step closer to my goals. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Everyday I step closer to my goals.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

In the end, I am just a girl making the most of everything. I'm no longer an ignorant teenager wanting to get away, but a person who longs and craves for home.

At the end of the day, I am a typical girl volunteering and living life. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie At the end of the day, I am a girl living life, and here, volunteering.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

 

Reach the photographer at ptohonni@asu.edu or via Twitter @purplekittehbum

 


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