Winoka Begay (Diné), is a Spring 2016 intern in SITE’s Education and Outreach Department.
“I stick with my people, I stick with my traditions. I can’t be angry with these people, because it interrupts with my happiness.”
For two days, I worked with SITElines artist, Jonathas De Andrade, a Brazilian artist who focuses on the social issues of race and racism. This project derived from UNESCO’s 1952 report “Race and Class in Rural Brazil,” in which Jonathas created a similar project at the Performa Hub in New York City, that utilized an ethnographic approach toward exploring the history of race and racism as experienced by individuals in a particular setting. Jonathas’s former work has also investigated universal questions of love, desire, and modernity through the individual stories and local cultures of Northeast Brazil.
For SITElines 2016, Jonathas has reimagined his project to fit the setting of Santa Fe, New Mexico. For one week, Jonathas visited several organizations throughout Santa Fe to take portraits of individuals and speak with them about their own experiences with race and racism. One of the organizations he visited was the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), where he photographed and interviewed over twenty participants of different ethnic backgrounds, a majority being from several Indigenous communities.
While working with Jonathas, I listened to several stories told by IAIA students, most were positive while others portrayed the portrait of discrimination. As a Diné (Navajo) woman, I couldn’t help but relate to the comments that were shared. While I was writing down their experiences, I could see the words of ignorance flooding the pages of my notes: Indian, exotic, uneducated, redskin, dogs, poor, and savage. I have heard these words many times throughout my 29 years on this earth, yet I couldn’t help but feel emotion toward such comments: anger, sadness, and disappointment.
I wanted to share my own stories, tell them that their not alone, I too have been discriminated against. But I stayed quiet and listened. As the day went on, I noticed a pattern evolving from these students’ stories. Each of them have experienced racism in one form or the other, but that didn’t discourage them from identifying as Native American. Instead, because of those experiences, their pride in who they are as Indigenous people gave them the strength to prove others wrong, by becoming successful in different areas of their lives.
I then felt a sense of happiness and pride. I couldn’t help but be proud of these students, to share their experiences so openly and know that their words will be shared with thousands. Some of these students experienced discrimination, yet they held their heads up high, some of them never left their Indigenous communities until college, but they walk confidently between two worlds. What I enjoyed about working with the artist, was not only learning the stories about these participants but seeing their own pride in who they are as: Inupiat, Diné, Taos Pueblo, Taino, Apache, Hopi, Northern Cheyenne, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, Jemez, Athabaskan, and Lakota.