Monday, March 30, 2015

Culture Corner 3.30.15


I am half Navajo Indian and Half Ashkenazi Jew. So, obviously, I attended a fundamentalist Christian Junior High and High School.

I suppose I should give some context, right? Ok. My father is a man who was once upon a time the lead singer of a popular Top 40 cover band. He is a man who danced at Woodstock, high as a kite. My father--a man who rallied and protested The Vietnam War at Kent State University--converted from "Jew'ish'" to "Crazy Fundamentalist married to a Pagan" when he was around forty-two. Unfortunately, that meant I was twelve. 

For the most part, my dad made all of the decisions. You can see where this is going.

We lived in an area of the Midwest with a rather low population of Jewish people. There were precisely six Indians in the entire area, and we were all related. For years, I attended public schools. I liked it. No one gave a damn if we were Christian (because they assumed we were). No one cared if I my twin sister occasionally spoke to me in a language they didn't understand (they thought Dine' was a special "twin language"). No one looked at me as though I had two heads when I didn't attend sporting events or dances on Friday night. They just assumed I had better shit to do.

This all changed the summer before seventh grade. On the night my sisters and brothers and I returned from the reservation in Arizona, we could tell that the climate in our home shifted in the time we were playing with our cousins, and learning to weave from our Shima Sani. My mother, normally a buoyant personality, shimmering with the light of the desert beneath her skin, was subdued. She seemed withdrawn into herself. She looked as though she aged ten years in the six weeks we were gone. 

Also, there was a big, fucking crucifix on our wall above our dining table. Huge. That memorial of Our Lord and Savior was four feet long and nearly as wide. Apparently, no one told my father about "The Buddy Christ."


Because nothing says "be thankful you have food on the table, and so help me 'eat your peas'" like the Lamb of God forever posed on the worst day of his life.  It was a bit of a shock. That night, when we all gathered around our hand-carved Navajo table, with its sun faces on every chair, and Coyote legs, our father told us that we were now good Christian children.

He. just. told. us. We were now a new religion. After we'd spent six weeks learning how to walk with the earth, watching our cousin get his name, and dancing with our older brothers at a sing. This meant a few things: one, CHRISTMAS!! that was an unexpected bonus; two, our Friday nights were suddenly free of family meals; and three, we had to start going to church and Christian school.

Two weeks later I found myself standing before the mirror with my identical twin (no, we don't just look at each other to gauge how we look), trying to figure out how to snap our uniform skirts. There were at least six snaps. This did not bode well for the rest of our experience. It was likely to be as convoluted and irritating as getting into that skirt.


At this point, we had attended two church services, and could say with all surety that we were terrified and fascinated. These people danced in the aisles while they sang. It wasn't the gentle row of a "sing." It was  full-body freak outs of which we could only assume were caused by psychotropic substances filling the pre-church coffee ritual. If Navajos have peyote, did fundies have magic mushroom coffee that made them dance that way, and yell out in a foreign language? They looked as though they may be doing the Eagle Dance, but with far less-fearsome costuming.

My dad brought a tambourine. Because being twelve and in a new church and school wasn't difficult enough.

When we were dropped off at the front of the school that August morning, my sister and I stared at the students headed into the main doors. It was like a scene from Children of the Corn. They all dressed exactly alike. They all had their hair down and flowing around their shoulders, tartan headband firmly in place. The LL Bean backpacks they wore were each monogrammed in a perfect metallic. Meanwhile, my sister and I had dark brown pigtail braids hanging down to our waists. Our backpacks were hand-hewn leather, and stamped with the symbols for water and the Thunderbird. We weren't going to be normal at a public Junior High. At the Twilight Zone Academy--we were freaks.

During Homeroom, we not only performed the Pledge of Allegiance, but also the Pledge to the Christian Flag, and the Pledge to the Bible. Yes, we pledged daily to the flag that was the marker of the Crusaders.

Don't worry--I found an image to help you on this part.


The very next period was Bible class. Fortunately, seventh grade Bible class was the Old Testament. Seeing as how our Bubbe still insisted we attend Hebrew school and get Bat Mitzvah'd, we had this on-lock. I was also a huge fan of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and could totally handle singing all of the tribes of Israel. 

However, every other class somehow brought that subject back to Jesus. I was in over my head. I was just getting to know the guy, and BAM! Jesus is science! (Jesus as prima materia, and we super duper can link him to Adam and David and possibly dinosaurs because they were totally around at the same time...) WHAM! Jesus in math! (one plus one equals my relationship with God.) And all of every history ever was Jesus. I'm pretty sure I learned one thing about Asia in the entirety of my time there, and that was, "Hey! We brought Jesus to Singapore, and now they're great! Thanks for asking!"


My sister and I were quickly relegated to "those Indian Jews" who sat together and always brought their lunch. 

We were proselytized to, but not invited anywhere but church. We were regarded as more of a cabinet curiosity than persons. Needless to say, we hustled like hell and took every available course, as well as summer school to graduate early with a state diploma. 

Oddly enough, I look back on those four years with a sort of detached fondness. I learned a lot about myself at a very young age, and learned about true love and caring from those in the school who embraced and accepted my sister and I. I learned that with enough grit, I could get out of most awful situations.

I also gained Christmas. STILL a bonus. 

And now...your daily zen.






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