I’ve been a world traveler since a spring break trip to the slums of Mexico in college. You could say I caught the travel bug. I became mesmerized by new languages, people, customs, landmarks, history, patriotism. People I’d met in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Honduras and even London had a deep set pride for their country and their culture.
This struck me as very odd, because I’d never felt that type of connection to my country. In fact, it was my dream to live as an expat in a foreign country and learn to embrace a new lifestyle that I could call my own. I gave this a trial run in Kathmandu, Nepal back in 2012. It was the most difficult experience of my life. To this day I have a great admiration and love for the Nepali people, but I was not cut out to be one of them.
Upon my return to full-time living in the states, my own homeland, I was once again discontent and frustrated, feeling very much out of place. I was an American citizen. But, that meant so many different things to so many different people, and unfortunately, meant absolutely nothing to me.
Yes, I was grateful for my freedom, for the safety and security. Though I never seemed to connect with what other Americans valued as “our” culture…independence, materialism, baseball, hotdogs, Fourth of July, English, democracy, Christopher Columbus, pant suits, politicians, Wall Street, corporations. That’s what I thought when I thought “America.” That and sadly some very jaded views of rednecks, cowboys and hillbillies. I didn’t relate to any of it.
In other countries I saw beauty in dance and a cup of tea and traditional dress and multiple languages and historic buildings and family ties. Parts of life that held depth and meaning, centered around honor and relationships.
With the highest pursuit in my world being independence and wealth, life felt cold, distant and empty.
I had no history to connect to, no place to feel at home, no culture to thrive in. In fact, American history was centered around Europeans destroying the very culture and society of my ancestors, the Native Americans. And my country expecting me to be happy about that and grateful for it.
Yes, I realize that I wouldn’t be here had it not been for those Europeans and my Spanish great-great-grandfather marrying my Chickasaw great-great-grandmother. But I’m still working through the bitterness of how it’s all been presented in history and the loss of my own native culture.
Because ultimately that’s how I feel. I feel that my culture, Chickasaw culture, was crushed when our land was “discovered.” Our heritage and our values were not “good enough” for the new system of government and city planning and religion. My true heart-language ceased to be spoken. My family was stripped of their name-sake and literally given a number, and told to conform to a new, “better” lifestyle, AND to like it and be thankful for all of those who fought for its freedom.
And yes, maybe my tribe and my state and my family has already come to terms with this ancient history. Our governments have become partners and have made peace with it all. But for me, as a twenty-something, I’m still dealing with it. This is why…
This weekend, my family and I attended the Red Earth Festival in downtown OKC. At the event, I saw art and dance and dress; I heard music and prayer and language and laughter; I felt supported and accepted and instantly part of a family with a deep sense of belonging.
photo from newsok.com
For the first time in my life, I made the connection. THIS is me. THIS is my culture. THIS is who I am. THIS is who I want to be. THESE were my people.
The pride for a community was there – the admiration, honor and respect of leaders; the awe, humbleness and thankfulness for God the Creator; the importance, thoughfulness and beauty of culture; the respect, care and value for each member. These values I’ve longed for and sought after, but never knew where to find.
As I get older, I’m realizing just how meaningful and necessary a culture can be in life. It’s a sense of identity and community. It allows us to connect with others and share experiences. It reminds us of where we come from and what’s most important in life. It’s something I want to embrace and pass on.
With that I’m elated that the Chickasaw Nation is opening up a new community center in Oklahoma City. Living outside of my nation, I’ve felt disconnected from my roots. I will be forever indebted to my tribe for all they have done for my family, growing up and even now as an adult, to enhance the quality of life and provide opportunities for me as a citizen to flourish. In that I do feel a great sense of pride. I’m proud of what my nation has become and what it is doing and will continue to do in the future. And for the first time in my life, I feel like this is home.