Revision Street: Vanessa Roanhorse (IV)
I have to curb my small talk when I go home, Vanessa explains. It’s not something people do. The Navajo people are straight-to-the-point kind of people. They don’t dillydally around conversation.
I’ve been talking to her for several hours about growing up on the rez and living now in the drastically different urban environment of Chicago. And what it might take to go back.
When I go home I just sound like an idiot. It just sounds like I’m talking to hear my voice and I can see people shutting down on me. I’m better now than when I first used to go home. I thought they would enjoy my stories but it was more like, You’re talking senseless stuff, I don’t even know what you’re talking about: I don’t know who these people are, I don’t know what the point of the story is…
Part of it is definitely the urban environment way in which I operate. I learned a lot of these nuances of speaking on the East Coast, so there is a little bit of a quickness and there’s a lot of sarcasm. It’s definitely an urban way of thinking: you push it, you push everything. Everything’s got to be on a certain timeframe. People can’t be stagnant. People in the city feel like, if I take morning off, I better do something in the afternoon because I’ve just wasted a full day. No one knows how to just enjoy something and you can’t just arrive when you feel like it. There’s this pace and I think that has a lot to do with the way you think.
Back home it’s not like that. People actually take time to—if there were roses, they would smell them. You’ll be talking to someone [laughs] and they’ll just stop talking and look off into the distance. They’ve just decided to take a moment, you know. You’re like, alright. I don’t know if I should get up and leave you to your moment [laughs] or if I should keep talking or what should I do. And then they’ll slowly look over, and you’re like, Are you bored with me? But it has nothing to do with you. It’s that they’ve decided to process, or they had a thought come into their head, and they’re working it through.
I live in this really stupid in-between. When I volunteer at the American Indian Center here in Chicago, or I try and work with them, I really enjoy everyone I meet but it’s like we’re in totally different spaces. I am this liberal, artsy, hippie chick who has traveled and is really interested in world music and hip-hop [laughs]. But I meet another Navajo and they’re working steel, and they only hang out with other Natives and we have no common interest besides the fact that we share a culture. That’s fun for a little while but we don’t have anything else in common. This is the part that blows my mind. I feel bad about it, but it’s hard to meet other Navajos with the same interests. I can’t find them. Especially in the city. But because I’ve been away from home for so long, because I do talk differently and because my interests are different, I’m still an outsider. I’m still kind of that apple. Red on the outside, white on the inside. It doesn’t help that I’m marrying a giant, six-foot-four German man. [Laughs.]
Seriously, I was so nervous the first time he was coming out with me because I didn’t know what the family was gonna think. How is he gonna react to all these people scrutinizing him? Navajos are notorious teasers. Once you get past the initial you’re-a-stranger-danger kind of thing, they’ll just pick on you. You have to be able to roll with it because if you can, you totally earn people’s respect. I was really nervous, ‘cause we were gonna have a simple barbeque at my parent’s house and 40 people rolled on in. It’s a simple barbeque that’s not my entire family—you know, my entire family is over a 100-something plus people and that’s just my mom’s side—this is only my dad’s side. But everyone absolutely loves him. I think it’s because Blaine is a real down to earth dude who can talk about anything. He’s culturally sensitive and aware and he knows not to speak out of turn, he knows how to treat someone who’s older than he is.
Blaine is five years younger than me. I fought tooth and nail not to get involved with him. I was on the cusp of 30, and he was just so young. But he stuck it out. It look six months and a fight before I realized that he was my boyfriend. He’s definitely changed my life in really neat ways. I’m talking about getting married and having babies. Before him that wasn’t on the menu. I never thought that was my cup of tea. I just wanted to be the awesome aunt who wore muumuus and big earring and took the kids to weird performances.
That was who I was gonna be. The muumuus and the cheap plastic jewelry, like Mrs. Roper, the Three’s Company wife. [Laughs.]