Breaking The Stereotype
By Robert Bracamontes
September 1, 2008
Somebody once told my wife if she married me, our children would be mentally retarded. I know these are very harsh and ugly words, but those are the words that person used. And too often this is the stereotype people have of Natives – that we are too dumb or not good enough to attend college. But trust me, we all know that is so far from the truth.
My intent here is to tell a story seldom seen in the mainstream media about Native success. I know some will see it as bragging or being elitist, but the message is simple: Juanenos go to college. I think each and every member needs to send that message to our youth.
The bologna that NOT everybody is cut out for it is false. Don’t ever believe for a minute that you are too dumb. Parents must believe that their children are the hopes and dreams of the future. The children must remember that we will need their expertise as much as they needed us when they were learning their ABC’s.
My children are no better than any other Juaneno child. They had advantages and luck; they had parents who were college graduates and knew how to manipulate the system. I went to East Los Angeles Junior College and that is where some of us start. Later I earned my two degrees from Cal State LA. This served as an example for my children that attending college was natural. Growing up, they all went to public schools. The elementary school they attended was exceptional and their Juaneno aunt, Clara, was the office manager who helped keep them on the right track early.
Today my five children serve as an inspiration for our family and the extended family that is our tribe. My hopes are that these great feelings of pride and accomplishment can be passed on to others that read this story and motivate our youth to go to college. In the arena of higher education my five gold medals have done great. But I hope they never forget that their Elders hold the keys to an even more powerful knowledge – their Native culture – that they will have to pass on to their children as well. For the person who said those ugly words, the lesson is be careful whom you put down, it might be yourself. Here are a few examples of how they were raised.
- Tough Love:
When they were very young my wife made them all cry in the first grade. Each week, they had to memorize and recite nursery rhymes in front of the class. On Thursday night before bedtime, and again Friday morning before exiting the van, they had to recite it perfectly to my wife to ensure they were ready for when the teacher called on them in class. If they were unable to, my wife would scold and yell at them, often leading to tears.
- Setting Priorities:
After school I would pick them up, feed them, do homework, bathe them and then put them to bed. My wife worked all weekends and the swing shift three nights a week. I worked from midnight until 2 or 3pm. The children and their education came first, before chores, family gatherings, etc. They were allowed to be in any activities as long as they got A’s and B’s on report cards. No, they did not get money for good grades, but they were punished for bad ones, because they had already proved they were capable.
Throughout their school years they would all sit on the living room floor, watching TV and doing homework together. They yelled out questions and answers at each other. In high school, because they all played sports, they came home, ate dinner and fell asleep until 8 or 9pm. They would get up and do homework, often times until 1 or 2am, go to sleep, wake up at 6am and do it all over again.
- Carefree and Supportive Environment:
My children were raised in a very communal setting and they learned to share, even knowledge. Until they were about five years old, they ran around like wild dogs and only knew the very basics needed to start school. Mike didn’t use words until he was two years old. Most importantly, we loved them to death…even today.
The following are brief statements about what my five little Juanenos experienced in college. And yes I am bragging about it because these translate into great positive lessons on never giving in to believing we can’t attend college and always remembering who we are:
“What I really enjoyed about my experience with NAHC was that the organization had a very liberal and fluid meaning of what "Native" means (although I think that has changed over the years). No one asked you about your blood quantum or questioned whether you were Native. If you said you were Native, then you were Native, end of story. At the end of the day being Native wasn't about whether you grew up in a certain region (reservation versus urban) or whether you spoke the language or if you attended tribal meetings. Being Native was defined by you, and I very much appreciated this.
Everyone there was a mutt – Native and something else – and I suspect this helped in fostering a liberal and broad view of what "Native" meant." - Jenny 1
“I was Treasurer for the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) at Boalt - now known as Berkeley Law. As you can imagine, it was a small community. There was about 4-6 of us in my class. Notwithstanding our lack of man power, we sold frybread every year and sent a few of us to the national NALSA conference every year.” - M. Braca (Mike)
“My Native involvement included: 1. Native Americans at Harvard College, 2. Harvard University Native American Program, and 3. Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program Coordinator - Native Americans. There are a couple of memories about my experiences come to mind. The one that stands out the most happened during my sophomore year. I attended my first social event of the year and realized that this white girl I had for class the year before was the co-president of the undergraduate group.
This girl had blonde hair, green eyes, and was from upstate New York. Never did I imagine she would be part Native. It was then that I realized that you could not pick out Native Americans like you could a black person or Asian person because there were so few 100% Native Americans. And although one was not 100% or did not look like they were Native, that didn't exclude them from showing interest and participating in that aspect of their ethnicity. It's not about looking Native, it's about feeling Native and believing you are.” - Gus
“I belonged to SAIO, Stanford American Indian Organization. My first SAIO experience took place a couple weeks before my freshman year. The SAIO staff took all the freshmen on a retreat near the beach for a few days. One of the biggest fears that freshman have about college is meeting new friends and becoming socially acceptable. In all honesty, after the SAIO retreat, this fear was not an issue anymore. The intimate setting that the SAIO staff had created on the retreat forced me to genuinely get to know my fellow Natives and classmates. I ended up meeting my best friend in college at the SAIO retreat.” – Bill
“My Native involvement includes: 1. Native Americans at Harvard College and 2. Harvard University Native American Program. One experience that immediately comes to mind was when I was visiting Harvard during Prefrosh weekend (when all the admitted high school students come and visit Harvard).
Prior to this weekend, I was contacted by a Native American Recruiting Coordinator from Harvard's University Minority Recruitment Program and asked if I wanted to have a Native host. I agreed and was assigned a first year student, Caitlin. Prefrosh is pretty stressful and intimidating for many reasons, but mostly because, as a prospective student, you are expected to mingle and meet other prefrosh, and essentially start building an entirely new social network in an entirely unfamiliar place.
“However, Caitlin and the rest of the members of NAHC (Native Americans at Harvard College) arranged informal lunches and social meetings throughout the entire weekend with me (and other Native prefrosh) so that I could have a break from the scheduled pre-frosh panels and socials, and have a real look into the life of a Harvard minority student. None of the interactions ever seemed forced with the NAHC members and instantly I felt connected to them. To this day, I do not know if it was their non-pretentious spin on being a Harvard student or their ability to make me feel comfortable just being me, but I know that NAHC's warmth was a decisive factor in why I chose to matriculate at Harvard that coming fall.” - Julie
For my children their education is not done. They must still include sharing with all of us what they have learned about economics, law, mathematics, and medicine.These are our people and we are them. It is as if we all went to Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley Law School. We were there, Acjachemen, and no one can ever deny that we are going to college.
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