Last, year on November 15, 2015, I wore my moccasins as part of the national #RockYourMocs when I was studying abroad at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Quoting myself from last year;
Being abroad, I have become very aware of my existence as a Native American/Indigenous person on an international level and it is alarmingly isolating.
Coming from a predominantly Navajo (Diné) community and growing up on the Navajo Nation, I am used to being surrounded by individuals who look like me and understand where I am coming from.
Often times, I forget how much my ancestors have willingly sacrificed for my survival, my resistance, and my existence. I forget how very narrow the choices they had in life, and the choices they made were not for themselves. The choices they made were for me, and the generations after me.
I owe my agency to being able to study abroad and attend institutions outside the United States to the choices and sacrifices of my ancestors, my grandparents, and my mother. If it was not for their support and their sacrifice, I would not be where I am today. I owe my existence to their resilience. Personally, being Native American/Indigenous means navigating this world, while being aware of the constant violence against us, yet possessing the ability to overcome them.
Being abroad was very…exhausting. I say that with an appreciation towards my time in Ireland and the acceptance that I received from the land. My conception of my essence was in a comforting space before I traveled to Ireland. Yet, the land wanted me to reconcile with the trauma that I carried and recognize the resilience that I inherited.
It was also an opportunity for me to escape. My decision to study abroad was a form of self-preservation that I needed to enact. The toxic environment at Brown cornered me because I allowed it to. There was a lot of pressure to fill a void in the communities I valued. But I was not prepared for the challenge or the subtle attacks at my emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. I was struggling internally and externally. My time abroad allowed me to isolate myself and to recognize the people who were willing to provide me the emotional support I needed. While also supporting me to come to terms with my own strength that I have obtained and inherited.
These memories and awareness remind me of myself, especially with what I have been experiencing during this entire month.
I have forgotten.
I forgot that my embodiment, my Diné aesthetic, was and is built upon legacies of love, histories of survival, continuous moments of kinship & family, and remnants of fighting. But also reclaiming. Reclaiming these legacies, reclaiming these histories, reclaiming these moments, and reclaiming these remnants.
Reclamation and Reconciliation became a and are part of my Diné aesthetic.
There is this photo that circulates on Facebook that tells or gives the story of the Diné (Navajo) Moccasins. The photo says that our moccasins were created to represent the growth of one’s life and one’s connection spiritually to Nahadzáán Nihimá, our Mother Earth. To wear and walk with your moccasins is to ask for stability and strength to overcome the barriers in your life while also identifying yourself to Diyin Dine’é, the Holy People. The sole of the show represents White Shell and the top of the moccasin represents Nahadzáán Nihimá and the universe. These represent the foundation and stability within our lives.
I write all this because this time of the year is the annual #RockYourMocs. Although I missed the official day of, November 15, 2016. I still wanted to participate.
So, yesterday, Friday, November 18, 2016. I put on my new pair of moccasins for the second time and decided to wear them most of the day because I felt that I needed to call forth stability and strength in my life, because of the obstacles I have been facing since the beginning of this month.
Yet, it was also because #RockYourMocs2016, will be the last for my undergraduate college life. That significance prompted me to participate. Above is a photo of me wearing my moccasins in front of my university’s well-known Van Wickle Gates.
At Brown, there is this tradition since 1901 in which at the beginning of the school year, the Van Wickle Gates (pictured above) open inward (towards the east) to admit students into Brown University. I walked through those Gates as part of the class of 2017 at the beginning of Fall 2013.
Now, at the end of this 2016-2017 school year, the gates will open outward (towards the west) for Commencement. I will be walking out of these Gates, as someone who will be graduating from Brown. I plan to walk out of those Gates with my moccasins on.
This is monumental for me because it shows my journey, and reminds me a lot my own culture. Every morning, before the sun rises, we must run towards the east. The Holy People taught this to us, the Diné. For me, traveling towards the east and going back home, Dinétah, towards the west is the physical manifestation of that journey. I have left Chinle, AZ to go to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I left Brown for a semester to study abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, in which I visited London and Paris, yet I always went back home, back towards Dinétah.
My journey at Brown is almost at its end, yet the journey for my Diné aesthetic continues. It involves reclaiming the parts of myself that I and others have closed ourselves off too, but also reconciling with the undesirable parts of myself.
There is a strength that I have forgotten I possessed. A strength that I gained from these processes of reclaiming and reconciling.
And yet, every single moment I wear my moccasins, my connection to our Mother below and the Universe above, remind me of this journey I am constantly on, and the journeys that everyone else is on.