So I’ve been in Gallup now for 4 whole days and Induction officially started today. It was a whirlwind of sessions and presentations on everything from Eliminating the Achievement Gap to Everything You Never Learned About American Indians (and Never Knew To Ask), which is not what it was titled but should have been. So here’s what I learned:
1. The achievement gap and the possibilities for my future students are staggeringly horrible. New Mexico ranks dead last out of 50 states plus Washington DC in student chances for life success, an aggregate score measured in things like infant mortality, poverty rates, literacy and test scores, health care, and etc. American Indians face risks of death, as compared with other populations, five times higher due to alcoholism, five times higher due to tuberculosis (WHAT????), and twice as high due to diabetes. Nearly half of Native kids don’t graduate from high school, even fewer go to college, and of those that do go, 4 out of 5 drop out before graduating. Demographically speaking, Native kids rank lower than any other group except Special Ed in test scores, and 20% of Native kids qualify for Special Ed services themselves. And those are just the statistics I remember. I knew it was bad–I didn’t know it was that bad.
2. I, as a highly educated (soon to be) college graduate of liberal leanings and worldly experiences, know next to nothing about the histories, cultures, and experiences of Native American peoples. Although I had a vague idea that Native peoples pretty much got screwed over and over again throughout history, I didn’t realize until today exactly how few specifics I could tell you about that. Sure, I’d heard of the Trail of Tears and I knew about assimilation-driven Boarding Schools (Wiki those if you don’t know–think forced migration for the former and kidnapping plus cultural brainwashing for the latter). But I’d heard these things second-hand, through random books or articles. No class I have ever taken has included the history or experiences of Native American people, and this is a huge oversight on the part of the American education system as well as myself, for letting that happen. So today I started learning. It’s going to continue for a long time, I think.
3. New Mexicorps is full of some really awesome people. Through group discussions, panel talks, and just hanging out and chatting, I have met such interesting, heartfelt, dedicated individuals–and it’s only been a day! It seems like, to a person, everyone is here for some powerful reasons. They are horrified by the achievement gap, stunned by the lack of knowledge, but most of all, excited and determined to fight against the issues facing this community. And at the same time, we keep stressing how we don’t know it all and we aren’t the whole solution. One of the core values of TFA New Mexico is humility and respect: humility to understand our limited experience with this community, culture, and area, and all the challenges that go along with them; respect for the traditions, experiences, and values of those who are from here, have been here, and are working towards what is best for their communities.
4. Gallup country radio stations sound like my iTunes DJ. Had to put a fun one in there at the end Sitting in the lobby of the Historic El Rancho Hotel, erstwhile dwelling of numerous Western movie stars whose names are forever immortalized on the doorframes of each room (I’m in Burt Lancaster’s), I realize that I know all the words to every song on the radio station playing. I have terrible eclectic taste in music. Not as cool as the piano that plays itself (!!!) but still pretty great.
So that was Day 1. Tomorrow morning I head out bright and early to interview at a school far, far away from Gallup. We’re all interviewing tomorrow in various places, and mostly expecting not to get a job because of the way hiring situations look out here just now. But it should be very interesting anyway–my first trip to Deep Rez territory, at the very least. Wish me luck!