It was a Thursday that I and my fellow scholars went to take a tour of what would be the setting for a scholarly imposed community service project. The tour became a bore to me due to the fact that I thought it would’ve only lasted a half an hour, but actually lasted that plus another hour.
We saw many kids but they were infants, it was sad to see them at this housing hub for neglected, abused, or homeless children. But I didn’t know them so I didn’t think much of it. Many of what was being told was going in and out of my head after the first half hour.
When the tour finally came to an end, my colleagues and I decided that we’ d plan a day of activities for the 3-10 year olds including various games, face painting, play time, and have a barbeque for them. On the drive home I could only think about the stereo system I wanted to get installed in my car, pity is what it seems like now that I look back at it.
Cinco de Mayo: Two Thousand and Seven
The early morning began, and I was late, which has become an ongoing motif in my life these days that I’m not proud of. The arrival felt the same as the previous visit, and I walked in with a mentality that said, “ I want to get this shit over with already….This is stupid, I don’t know why I’m here…Just do it Kyle or your grade will be fucked and there goes your GPA…” None the less the purpose of this visit seen as an imposition from an outside power that held my GPA by the balls.
Walking onto the playground and seeing children play reminded me of my time when I worked with kindergarteners. But I far from a school setting and had to watch them and interact with the children a little and show them some kind of “affection” after all, some of them were there due to child neglect. I shot a basketball with’em for a while until I noticed that there was a little girl almost anchored to one of the workers. She was unlike any of the other children but the same all at once.
She was smaller than all the rest of the children except for maybe 2 other little girls. She had the darkest hair out of the whole bunch, which seemed very familiar. And she had the darkest skin complexion out of the whole group, and almost rivaled my own.
If she were a man and hung in my circle of peers she’d be called “Darkness” with an expression that made it seem like it was illegal and humorous to be that dark.
She had all the facial ingredients of a little Native American girl, so much in fact that looking at her made me forget where I was. My mind went back to 3 weeks prior when I was with my own little sister playing in a playground at a park while we celebrated her sister’s birthday. When we made eye contact she let her anchor go and left the leg side of the worker and walked towards me…naturally I waved to her to come over to me…her little feet gallantly walked to me with a smile on her face that immediately made me reciprocate back to her.
I gave her the basketball I had been playing with and immediately she started to dribble as best as she could she was trying to emulate all she saw moments before. She passed it to me on the floor which was really rolling. I picked it up and dribbled a little and passed it back.
A minute later I stopped and asked her what her name was…”monn" she said in her baby dialect
“What?” I asked smiling and hoping that she’d said it better.
“Morning Star” I heard from the harboring worker. I looked down at her and asked her if that was her name. She looked at me and nodded, while I thought about how interesting a name it would be to have a name such as Morning Star. I knew the answer to my next question but wanted to know for sure if she was from the Gila River Indian Community. The man said that she was.
Asking some authority figure to find out her ethnicity was really dumb on my part. I might as well have asked for her Degree of Indian Blood card or birth certificate. Morning Star was that really her name or was her “real” name pronounced in her own native language, but was translated into morning star.
I took it for what it was and them wondered if I was called by some of my birth or initiated names in English I’d probably get made fun of a lot more than I do already for being dark skinned, chubby okay overweight. Knowing that we were both Native American was one of those kinds of situations that were different from any situation that any person could ever feel.
In a world where you and your people are the minority within every other minority, finding another person of your relative ethnicity is a different kind of experience. For any American, regardless of where you come from, It would be like a citizen of Arizona becoming a space traveler and living amongst other life forms and meeting someone in a galaxy far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far way, so far that they’ve probably never even heard of earth because Earth will probably be primitive or even heathenistic compared to other life forms, well your far away basically and you find someone that heard of Earth and you’re like cool!
“Are you from Earth?” asks the alien.
“Yeah,” you say in surprisement wondering how he knows this. “How do you know?”
“I took a class that focused on your galaxy, and there were a few pages on the peoples of earth. Your 5 fingers and hair give it away”, Says the alien.
“That’s cool that you’ve heard of me” you say to yourself but the alien wants to know if all the rumors are true or if earthlings really live in what’s called a “house.”
Okay now imagine living your life like that all the time. Well people on Earth get ready cause it’s probably gonna happen cause from what I hear from Black Bush were going to Mars bitches yes that’s right Mars.
Now in the same scenario imagine meeting another person from earth and But more than just being from Earth you find out that they’re from America. Automatically there’s a camaraderie established and a kind of love from one another which is known as Agape, this is created when two beings both have this shared/experiences growing up on earth. But more than growing up on earth you were raised American.
This is what natives share with each other on a regular basis when they meet each other in non reservation settings. This is what I felt for Morning Star, this little Pima girl that fell victim to neglect, child abuse, or homelessness. I’ve felt this with other natives, but never in this way, not for someone so innocent. It killed me to know that this stuff was happening in the world but to see it happen with a child is another thing. And to see it in a person of your people, who there is very little of, is what made it harder for me.
I couldn’t imagine my little sister in such a place as this. And it was because of this that I made it my duty to help her have a good day.
There were too many times that I walked passed natives on the street acting like I was better than them. I’ve been embarrassed walking around ASU and seeing a lot of natives drunk begging for nickels and dimes. I’ve insulted many of these men and women whose lives became this way and will probably stay that way due to their addiction to alcohol. But never had I seen it in a little baby girl.
Never was it in a confined area of strangers. And never have I felt sorry for those native men and women. But that would all change after this day.
We walked over to the jungle gym to get some group interaction. Interestingly enough there was this barrier that kept her from the other kids as well as them from her. I walked away and noticed that she didn’t want to be there. Then I had a moment where I looked at my watch and realized I was gonna be there for a long time. I wondered what I was gonna do after. Then asked myself what was gonna happen with the kids after we leave.
It was at that moment that I realized that I wasn’t in a day care center, I wasn’t at an elementary school watching kid’s play just to play, I wasn’t at a park where at any moment their parents could come and get them. I was in a confined environment that was the home for these children until they could be shifted around from shelter to foster home to back to their parents and back there…the point was that there was no happy ending to this visit.
As a volunteer, I was gonna leave and walk into situations that I almost ultimately had control over. But these children weren’t, instead they were going to do what most children do at that age and just take life for what it is with their scheduled nap times, snack times, play times, and all the other “times” that dictate a healthy living for them according to the state.
I felt a big lump in my throat, a feeling I’ve heard of many times from women. I guess this is the feeling of pre-emptive tear shed. Because it seemed almost new to me I still knew what meant. I immediately reached for my sunglasses, as old as I am I still choose not to show emotion but I couldn’t help it on this particular occasion.
I think the lump was actually my heart trying to pop up into the world to show its presence. It was activated, like a plant seed rising to get some fresh air and love from the sun, my heart wanted the same, and its pathway was actually my throat and its extra vent was my tear ducts. The lump was the feeling of my own pride and masculinity holding down my heart from the world, my pride was like the Berlin wall. Just like how the sun is a star and plants need the sun, my plant needed a star as well and it was this Morning Star that it needed.
The day went on and I felt myself giving extra special attention to the little star. I wanted her to do every activity great. I wanted her to have big smiles with everyone else and not by herself. I wanted her to feel at peace with where she was at, because this urban city landscape was nothing like the reservation that she was probably used to.
We played a little more after the activities, and I once again found myself pushing my Little Miss Morning Star, or pushing her on her bike, or holding her while she reached from one monkey bar to the next, or waiting at the bottom of the slide waiting to see her come around the turn hands up, all smiles, and to down into my arms. Her laugh from me tickling her and enjoyment was like beautiful music to my ears, as was all the other kids. But her music wasn’t the same as the others. All of their music was “Pachelbel Canon in D” while her music was Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” only because it was distinguished and was a masterpiece that was different compared to the ,now, pigeon holed Pachelbel piece.
In one particular moment with my sunglasses off I had to keep a close eye on some of the other kids too, Morning Star wanted my attention. Most of the kids were calling us volunteers “teacher” but I looked at her as she stood at the edge of the jungle gym with her little left hand out trying to reach out for me and she yelled, “Daddy!”
I walked over and she wanted me to go with her to the slide so that I could catch her as she came down. While she waited in line to come down I reached for my glasses and felt the lump in my throat growing more and more and the pain was harder and harder to hold. I waited for her to come around the turn and saw her arms in the air and yelling as if she were strapped a rollercoaster at Six Flags having the time of her life. I caught her and laughed unison with her, holding her in a hugging position.
I didn’t want to let go, with her little body in my arms laughing was the last straw. The camel that was my pride had enough on its back and my wall was broken, I held her and gave out these weird laughs that hinted to my crying.
I asked her, “What’s my name?”
My heart came out before the Morning Star, sun, and my tears were the rain that would help it grow into what it will be.
Eventually we had to leave, but before we did we had to help them go to sleep because it was their nap time. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, emotionally. I sat next to her bed which looked like a king size bed compared to her little body.
As she laid there she nibbled on the end of her blanket staring at me. I whispered to her that it’s time to go to sleep. There was no expression on her face, but the one that said she wasn’t used to this place and that she was full of questions. I saw this little Pima girl lying in her bed with tons of strangers not saying a word but starring onto what she thought was her father.
I stared back and thought to myself about what was gonna happen to her after I left. Would she wake up and wonder where her daddy went? Was she really trying to go to sleep so that she could hurry up and wake back up to be with her daddy again?
Would she even remember me the next morning? Would she ask one of the workers where her “dad” went? In 5 years would she be with her real family? 10 years from now will she remember that one Cinco de Mayo when she spent the day with what seemed like her “dad”? Slowly her eyes began to fall while at the same time my tears were falling just as slow. I wondered if she was gonna have a dream while she slept. And I wondered if I’d see her again in one of my own dreams.
Finally I walked away with my sunglasses on trying to shade myself from my classmates. But I think enough of them saw it in my face that I was having a moment. Little do they know is that I actually found my heart.
I drove away home and cried until I got home thinking about what was gonna happen to her. I left the situation wanting to go back and stay there with her. I left wanting to adopt Morning Star. I left with a better understanding of myself. I left with a burned image of her laughing in my head, and with a picture of her with her little hand reaching for me, and with the sound of the word daddy ringing in my head.
I think that if I died in my sleep at night and they had a machine that could see what the last thing a person was thinking about before they died was, you’d see Morning Star on the edge of the jungle gym with her hand out calling for me in the only way she knew how.