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People always find it funny when I talk about how much I love the rain. Coming from temperate 75 degrees and sunny Southern California made rain a special occasion. Spending time with my Native grandparents proved this point further because they told my sister and I that we had the power to summon the rain. Growing up Native always felt like I had a secret super power no one else had. I had the power to control the weather and I was connected to the earth. My soul was one with the elements because of my Navajo heritage.
In kindergarten, we were asked to make a paper cutout that represents our cultural background. My mom and I made a honey skinned cutout in a traditional Navajo tan dress. In her hand, she held a Mexican flag and an Italian flag to represent the other parts of my makeup. I am proud to be Native, but I have always struggled feeling “native enough” to claim it as part of my identity. I know that not everybody grew up doing rain dances with their grandparents or going to powwows and enjoying fry bread, but somehow it still never felt like enough. I grew up in a predominantly white area of Orange County. I would tell other people I was Mexican or Native, and they’d laugh. I hesitated claiming the identity.
It wasn’t until freshman year, I realized how much being a person of color had affected my life. While I am privileged to have a fairly light skin tone, I was still othered for the difference in comparison to my peers. They’d ask about my secret for maintaining my tan throughout winter and make little comments I never realized were chipping away at my identity. One of my ex-boyfriends in high school threatened to break up with me if I got any darker and called me derogatory slurs. After high school, this came crashing down on me with a wave of fury. The fury motivated me and drove me to claim my native identity with my whole heart.
Being a person of color in America, in California and at USC brings daily challenges, but I face them with my head held high. And not only am I a person of color but I am an Indigenous person of color. America has a cute habit of erasing the ugly parts of our past, which is why the mass genocide of Native Americans is rarely more than a chapter in a high school textbook. Higher education provides opportunities to learn more, however, it requires a student to seek this out or stumble into this class because it was “the only GE-C with space left.”
When we were thinking about subjects for the Daily Trojan features supplement, I immediately thought of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. When Los Angeles stopped celebrating Christopher Columbus, it meant so much to so many of us. Indigenous narratives barely exist as is, and that was the first victory I can ever remember in my lifetime. The same goes for being Native at a predominantly white university. We are grasping for straws just to create safe spaces for us to exist. For too long, Native students’ voices have been hushed and ignored. I am beyond proud we are producing this supplement to elevate the Native student experience.
Sophia UngaroFeatures Editor, Fall 2021
Podcast Editor Abbey Martichenko sits down with features editor Sophia Ungaro to discuss the Daily Trojan’s newest supplement on Native students and how the edition is important for the USC community on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Music by ThunderHoodie Beats.
Podcast staffer Veronique Louis-Jacques speaks with executive director and co-founder of the Native American Student Association Maracea Chase about how the NASA has grown over the past four years, the path to becoming recognized by the University and what the future holds for the organization. Music by IMPERSS MUSIC.