A Native New Yorker
A Native New Yorker
I am a Native New Yorker, though this isn’t exactly true. For one the moniker is incorrect as it stands for someone born and raised in New York City. I am from Suffern, New York which is thirty miles north of the city, ‘upstate’, so in reality I am simply from New York. There is a big difference for those of us who have lived here.
In reality I am actually more ‘Native’ than I am a New Yorker, even though I was born and raised there. I basically live and work amongst the Native American tribe of the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico. When they tease me unmercifully, as they so often do, and I ask them if they are harassing me because I am an Anglo they tell me, “You are a Native, you have been here too long.” I consider that as a compliment.
In all truthfulness I am not any sort of Native. My father is a son of Jewish immigrants and although I was born here in the United States my mother still retains her Canadian citizenship. In essence I am still first generation American and my roots are spread across the globe. I cannot lay claim to any specific heritage and it is no wonder I chose to be a gypsy.
My family members all stayed in New York while I fled to the west in my late teenage years. My return visit is one of few over the course of thirty five years. It has driven home the reasons I left here all those years ago and leaves me with no regrets. It also brings to my attention the reality that I, the proverbial Black Sheep, am the only one who has achieved the perceived stability nobody ever thought I would have. Hah! I live in a remodeled school bus parked along a narrow road which leads to the Reservation line up Nogal Canyon in Bent, New Mexico. If you didn’t know where that was you would never find it. Hell, the bus even runs and drives if I need to relocate it, though for the present I am happy with where I am.
My family. As this is all about contrast I must offer my opinion even as I beg for forgiveness if any of them should ever read this, it is the one article I will not ask my sister or my father to edit. My perspective comes from a jaundiced eye which is clouded by the golden splendor of the New Mexico fall colors. The chamisa, sunflowers and the leaves of the cottonwood and the aspen are in full majesty at this moment. The orange, red and magenta leaves of the eastern woods are lovely also but cannot turn my heart, things are different here.
My father, in spite of his eighty four years of life seems to live in a world all of his own. His sense of reality differs as greatly from mine as do our opinions, as they always have. I am my father’s daughter by all rights but we have chosen different paths. Ironically the man who was so critical of my choices has reached the late prime of his life without any of the stability he insisted I procure. Instead he can reflect on the pleasures of his life and hopes to remain in his home for the remainder of his time here on the good graces of a neighbor he is lucky to have. Sadly, there is none of his immediate family, myself included, who has offered to do the same and the details need not be explained. My Native friends are far less selfish than that and cringe at the fact I refuse to step forward, it is a reality I cannot even explain to them.
My mother lives in a nursing home and she is happy to be there, the place insulates her from any and all surprises. She refused to embrace the reality of her life from the very start it seems. She became a victim of her own device as nothing went as she had expected it to and she did little to change that. She was and is a most lovely woman and I imagine if she had lived among the people I have chosen as my own her life might have been far different. If she had been able to escape the judging eyes of the society she felt she had to be a part of she may have found the freedom to embrace the warmth and affection she denied herself of and she would have been well cared for. She took a more roundabout path instead as such alternatives never availed themselves to her, nor she to them.
My sister seems to have made some progress in this last year but she too wavers on the precipice of failure in spite of her many creative talents. She has tried and failed to achieve the success which defines the society I escaped from so many years ago. Just a few months ago she was living in a homeless shelter with her thirteen year old son though she has since found herself a home. She seems to have some sense of entitlement which to me is an unreality as nobody has ever given me anything I haven’t somehow earned or paid for, anything. The end result for her, as with my father and mother as well, is that they are still living in anticipation of some saving grace which will never materialize as it simply does not exist.
The irony is this. An Anglo friend of mine offered me a wonderful insight into the culture and the thinking of the Native American people which put much of what I was trying to understand and adjust to into perspective. He told me this, “The culture which he and I had been born into has a tendency to make things happen while in the Native culture they so often wait for things to happen.” When I consider the root of this philosophy it makes perfect sense to me though it also contrasts with the approach my family has taken to their lives in spite of the environment we were all geared to live in. The goal here in New York was always to live up to the expectations of our society, to prosper and excel, to work to the fullest of our ability to attain the comfort and security of a stable modern life. Everyone in my family seems to have somehow failed to achieve this goal, while I, who set such a low standard in comparison, have managed to do just that at a very basic level. In a way my bus is much like a teepee, it is warm and dry and yet mobile as well. I can relocate it at will to a better location and maintain all of my basic needs with a minimal effort. I have made things happen in my life; my family is still waiting for things to happen. Who then, I might ask, is the real Native?