Friday, June 28, 2013

Confessions to My Mom

I realized just recently that many of the stories that I write about have to do with my Mom. 

I've called her a bad cook, a bad baker, a bad seamstress and a bad shopper.  So I thought it would only be fair to read my blogs to her and let her know what embarassing things I'm throwing out into cyberspace.

Instead of getting angry, like I thought she might as I read aloud to her, she laughs and asks me to keep reading story after story.  She constantly interrupts me, shares a memory sparked by my words, eager to elaborate, clarify or give me the background to something I had already written. 

"You should have said something about how good it smells." she says, when hearing what I have to say about the magic of the rain in the desert. 

I watch the memories in my Mom's eyes glistening, sometimes tearing, especially at the memory of my dear, late, Hu'uli.  She laughs about the story with the fly, picturing it clearly in her head.   

I read until my voice is hoarse.  My eyes are heavy and the battery laptop burning on my thighs. 

My Mom listens with her eyes closed.

"Mom, go to bed. I'll read you the rest tomorrow."

"I'm listening." she says with her eyes closed. 

The two of us sit side by side on the couch, listening to the small clicking noises of my keyboard and the hum of the air conditioner. 

My family has long since gone to bed and it's just the two of us, sharing memories and sitting in patient (and impatient) silence. 

Everytime I think she's about to get up, to make her way to my daughter's room to go to sleep, she readjusts herself and gets more comfortable. 

I keep typing away.  Having read out loud to my Mom, I've noticed all the typos, awkward sentences, comma splices and tense shifts.  There's no chance for me to fix them of course, she's asked for another story.   

"Are you mad about the things I'm writing about?" I ask her with a smile on my face.  She immediately responds, "No." but I know that she isn't done speaking, she's simply pausing. "It's your opinion." she says with a hint of a laugh.  "It's the way YOU see things."

We sit in silence, smiling for a few minutes in a room that has suddenly gotten too dark. 

Finally she says, "Okay, it's all probably true."

I read her what I've written so far.  She listens intently and just nods her head, chuckling. 

She's given her approval.  It's time for bed. 

I won't ask her today, but I wonder if that means it's okay for me to write about the time my brother was being obnoxious by prancing around the house like a deer, and she caught up with him with her broomstick...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nuns and Non-Dairy Creamer

On the Tohono O'odham Nation, there is a huge Catholic presence.  In the village I'm from, Pisin' Mo'o, there has always been a couple nuns living in the village.  When I was a little girl, they used to be the only people in the village with a telephone.  If you wanted to use their phone you would have to write your name and the phone number you were calling on a pad of paper and you had to give them a bit of money.  Everything back then was long distance, so you didn't do it very often.  If you did, sometimes the whole family would go.  I remember waiting outside on the stairs that led into the carpeted, air-conditioned trailer that the nuns lived in while my mom was inside, heavily supervised by the nun as she made her phone call. 

I remember thinking that they were rich, to live in such a nice place with carpeting, A/C and their own telephone.  Of course, I didn't know until I was older (and had seen it discussed in several movies) that nuns take a vow of poverty. 

The nuns have always been somewhat of an interest to me, I want to know what they're really like when they're not being nuns.  I want to know how they grew up, what were they like in grade school? Where they mean to their brothers and sisters? Do they have embarassing moments?  Do they get angry? What about? I think and over think these things not because I'm particularly interested in religion, but because it seems like such an odd profession.  I have similar questions for my dentist. 

I think I must have this fascination with nuns (and dentists) mainly because they deal so intimately with our lives, but we rarely get to see into theirs.  The nuns in my village would come to family gatherings and community feast days.  They of course, living in a community of under 300 people, know everyone's names, and family lineage.  They've been with us during our hard moments and our celebrations.

The nuns of my mother's childhood, the ones who wore head to toe, angry, black robes and beat her for speaking O'odham in the village school are now gone.  They have been replaced with smiling ladies wearing black skirts and immaculate, white, starched, short-sleeved shirts and modern veils. 

I grew up knowing a nun very well (as well as you can know a nun), but she retired and went back to the mysterious place where she was from.  We've since had other nuns come in and out of the community, but now that I don't live there, I don't really know them or know their names, which is fine, because they all go by, "Sister" anyway.  They, of course, know me and my family.  Although my Mom has been living in Tucson for the past year, when she's home in Pisin' Mo'o, she's very active in the church and she never misses a moment to brag about her kids.  "Are you the daughter who works at the casino?" "No, I'm the daughter works at the college... and I'm the one with the twins."

A number of years ago my Mom and Grandmother hosted the Las Posada procession.  The Las Posada Procession is a small group of people walking from house to house with a small statue of Jesus and Mary, reenacting the pilgrimage back to Nazareth, before Jesus was born.  The nuns usually organize and lead the procession, but anyone can join. They begin at the church and every day the statues spend the night at a community member's house.  The next day the procession begins at that house, and goes to another, until they return to the church for Midnight Mas on Christmas Eve.  The host family at first denies Joseph and Mary a place to stay, then finally lets them in.  They usually feed the pilgrims (the participants), sometimes a meal, sometimes Christmas cookies or other goodies.  There would be readings from the bible, then we'd sing religious songs and end with Christmas Carols.  Then they return the next day to escort Joseph and Mary to the next house.  It's considered a blessing for the statues to spend the night.  My grandmother and I used to go every year, multiple days in a row.  I loved it.   

My Hu'uli-bat used to host every year on her birthday.  It was nice to have her friends with us for cake and coffee.  Sometimes they would give her cards and presents, and we'd always sing happy birthday. 

One year, after we had sung happy birthday to Hu'uli we were serving coffee and hot cocoa to the pilgrims.  My Mom was asking what everyone took in their coffee.  I heard the nun say to my Mom, "I'll take some coffee with non-dairy creamer." and my Mom went back into the kitchen to fetch the coffee. 

My Mom realized that we were completley out of non-dairy creamer, so instead, she scoops in a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk (a common staple in Hu'uli's house) and heads back to the living room, where everyone is sitting.  "Mom! Sister asked for non-dairy creamer.  You can't give her that!" "We don't have any non-dairy creamer. This is the same anyway!" "No it's not.  She asked for non-diary for a reason... What if she's allergic?" "Aggh! She's not! She just wants it!" "Well, you should tell can't just pretend that non-dairy, Mom." My Mom huffed at me and walked out of the kitchen with the cup of coffee with powdered milk already mixed in.

She turns to the nun and with a nice, big smile and hands her the cup of coffee.  The nun says, "Is this with non-dairy creamer?" my Mom immediately responds with, "Of course."

I choked back a laugh and ran to the kitchen.  "You guys... Mom just lied to a nun!"

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rosella's New Haircut

In honor of the recent scandal, I thought I'd revisit this note, which I originally posted in 2011. 


A few years back, I took my Mom to get a haircut.  Even though we were kinda in a hurry, she insisted we find a Beauty School, rather than a hair cut chain because "it's cheaper".  I asked her how much she was hoping to spend and she said, "Between 10 and 15 dollars... but I kinda want to be particular."

By particular, I thought she meant "frugal".  I'm thinking to myself, "Doesn't a $14 haircut at Supercuts qualify as 'between ten and fifteen dollars'?" Whatever.

I find a place, we get her signed in and we begin our half hour wait.  We're sitting there chatting for a bit as my Mom roots around in her purse.  Then I notice that she's staring at a small square of paper, clearly a cut-out from a magazine.  I assume it's a horoscope or something and don't pay too much attention to it until she says, "I hope they can do this."

"Do what?" I asked, half listening.

"This." She holds up the cut-out she was looking at.

Unable to contain my excitement I say, "YOU BROUGHT A PICTURE!?"

She gives me a suspicious and reluctant, "Yaaah." in her thick accent. 

Realizing that I'm on the verge of discouraging her from showing me, I bring down the excitement level a little and manage to say, "That's awesome! Lemme see...", she hands me the cut-out and watches me closely to see my reaction. "Oh wow, that's cute, Mom! I like the flip." I say with a big smile on my face. I hand her back the cut-out and she studies it closely.

"I know." she says as if somewhat disappointed, "I had a different picture, but I lost it."

"Well, this one is nice. I like it. It's old-school." I say, trying to be encouraging, because I honestly think it's a good look for her.  I've ALWAYS loved my Mom's 50's style hairdo's the best.
Still looking at the cut-out she says, "Yeah, but I really liked the other one...  I got it off a pie."

"A pie..?" I'm wondering if I heard her right... I have no idea what she's talking about.  I quickly try to think of what brands of pastries have women with reasonable haircuts on them.  All I can think of is Little Debbie, but she's a little girl... and isn't she wearing a hat in the picture?

I think maybe I must have misunderstood her, "What do you mean, 'a pie'? Like a pie from the store?  Like an apple pie or something?"

As if it's a perfectly normal thing for people to do, my mom says, "Yah, your Auntie brought home a pie and the box had a picture of a lady on it, so I kept the picture. I had it for a loooong time, but I lost it."

I'm still confused on what she means, but we've been getting along so far, so all I can muster is a "Bummer."

I turn my attention back to the salon and my mom dreamily says, "I knowwww... I really liked it. Her name was Paula something..."

Then it clicks, "PAULA DEAN!!??"

"YAH! PAULA DEAN!! THAT WAS HER NAME!" My mom is SO excited and we're basically yelling in this hair salon. 

I'm laughing and clapping my hands like an idiot, "ARE YOU SERIOUS!? THAT'S AWESOME!!"

She looks at me in surprise, "Why? Did you have that pie too!?"

"No, but she has her own show on the cooking channel, she's pretty famous." I say, still laughing. 

My Mom stares at me wide-eyed with wonder, as if we know Paula Deen personally, "Oh, I didn't know that! I liked her hair!" then, very seriously she says, "and that pie she made was really good."

A "Before Shot" of my Mom with the not-Paula-Dean-hair-example that she's been carrying around in her purse for a couple of months.
A front/back of the "After Shot". I have NO IDEA why her hair is showing up purple in this picture, it wasn't purple in the slightest (pre-smart-phone-crappy-cell-phone-picture). Coincidentally, after this picture we stopped off at Walmart for her black hair-dye.::wink:: By the way, I think her hair looked REALLY great.  It was such a cute haircut.  I think I'll show her these pictures and see if she needs a haircut soon. 

"and that pie she made was really good."  I don't know if my Mom imagined THE Paula Deen, individually, hand-making her pie and putting it in a box with her own picture on it... but I like to think that's what my mom would imagine.  Also, this haircut is NOT the haircut from the pie-box.  I searched everywhere for that picture and my Mom would turn her nose up at my computer and say, "That's not it." as if offended that I would suggest a different hairstyle to her.  
*In reference to the "Scandal" - I was of course referring to Paula Deen admitting to dropping the N-word more than she drops her biscuits.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

(Unintentionally) Disrespectful Art

I just sent the following email to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) regarding the Art Work by the 1-10/Prince Exit in Tucson:

I drive past the new section of the freeway by I-10 and Prince every morning, on my way to work.  I'm Tohono O'odham and I was very interested to see that there is what I thought was a Tohono O'odham Basket Dancer, but which is listed as a Basket Weaver on the ADOT website. Aside from it deviating from the theme of the other panels (a folklorico dancer, a mariachi musician and a ceremonial, Yaqui deer dancer) I've spotted a very, very, embarrassing issue that I hope can be immediately addressed. 

The Basket Weaver's image is larger than the other panels, and there is a drainage pipe placed very unfortunately between the woman's thighs.  It is clearly visible from the freeway, and as soon as the monsoons come and there is an actual NEED for the drainage pipe due to rainwater, I believe that it will appear that this woman is peeing. 

I am assuming that the image of the basket weaver was chosen to honor the Tohono O'odham people, so I am sure that you will be as horrified as I am, knowing that the elder in the image is unintentionally being disrespected. 

I am requesting that you either move the drainage pipe off the woman's image or you replace the image accordingly. 

Thank you.

-------------- (End of Email to ADOT) ------------------

My thoughts:

At first, I thought this was a basketdancer, which fit into a theme that I thought was music and dancing, but their website listed this image as "Basket Woman" but is described in text above the image as "a Tohono O'odham basket weaver".  In the picture, she is clearly using both hands to hold the basket, and isn't in the act of weaving.

You can view all four of the images that will be used in this project at:

Do you remember the song from Sesame Street about things that "aren't like the others"

"One of these things is not like the other,
one of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which this is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?"

Sesame Street used to use shapes or colors.  ADOT used an image of a woman who looks sad to even be there. 

 Photo taken from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) website:

ADOT says they had an Open to the Public meeting where these images were presented and supported. However, if you are using the representation of a specific people or tribe, how much effort is made to ensure that it is culturally appropriate? Were Tribal members specifically invited to this meeting? Or was it simply a roomful of people who didn't have anything better to do that day and honestly, could have been choosing between cacti and coyotes.

I think if you're using people, especially images that represent an entire tribe or group of people, an extra effort needs to be made.

Aren't there cultural consultants? In a state where there are 21 federally recognized tribes, where 27% of Arizona lands are considered "Indian Lands", isn't there a dude somewhere who calls people up and says, "Hey, we're thinking of using this piece of art in our next project, it's of an O'odham basket weaver, can I email you the photo so you can tell me what you think?"

The Tohono O'odham Nation is just a phone call away.

Map of Arizona Tribal Lands
 Map taken from United States Environmental Protection Agency website
Arizona Tribal Lands and Reservations
Also, didn't the contruction workers who installed the drainage pipe realize it was inappropriately placed?  Did they find it funny? 
The more I think about this, the angrier I get. 
If any tribal members have an opinon about this project, want to send ADOT an email, make a phone call or have more information about the image being used? Does anyone know who the woman in the image is? Please let me know. 

If you're interested in contacting ADOT to share your opinions (even if they differ from mine), here is a link to their contact page:
You can also sign up for "weekly updates", which I already have, just in case they want to have another meeting where they have out-of-state retirees are choosing what the rest of the United States sees as they zoom through our state. 

----UPDATE: ----
I received these responses yesterday:
ADOT Response: Gabriella, The project team for the I-10 Ruthrauff Road to Prince Road project will patch up the area and paint it accordingly to match the design by end of day Friday, June 21. The location of the weep hole in each wall is at a specified spacing and the one for this particular wall was purely accidental. 
6/20/2013 2:06:34 PM
ADOT Response: Gabriella, The project team for the I-10 Ruthrauff Road to Prince Road project will patch up the area and paint it accordingly to match the design by end of day Friday, June 21. The location of the weep hole in each wall is at a specified spacing and the one for this particular wall was purely accidental. 
6/20/2013 2:05:52 PM
ADOT Response: Gabriella, Thank you for contacting the Arizona Department of Transportation. Your inquiry concerning the artwork and drainage pipe has been forwarded to the project team. We very much appreciate you taking the time to keep us informed. I will contact you with any information I receive. Regards, Rusty Crerand Constituent Services Officer ADOT Communications 
6/20/2013 11:26:14 AM

By 4pm, that same day, this issue was taken care of. 

I would like to thank the Arizona Department of Transportation for their prompt and swift actions and I hope in the future we can avoid any embarassing conversations like these.

I am glad that the basketweaver's image has been restored to its intended form. 

I also want to clarify that I am glad that Tohono O'odham imagery was used for public art. I always appreciate the acknowledgement and celebration of our people on none reservation land.  The O'odham have noticed and we're talking about it.  It means something to us.  It's special. 

My main issue was the unfortunate and unintended placing of the weep hole.

I would like to think the image is simply mislabeled on the ADOT website, and that this isn't just a weaver, but a basket dancer, (of course, I've never seen the original image the art was based on) but it fits the theme that I felt they were going for, either intentionally or unintentionally so I'll just let that woman dance with her basket, inside my head. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Swimming in the Desert and other Childhood Adventures

When I was a little girl I really, really, REALLY wanted to swim in a cool, clean, swimming pool with clear blue water like you see in the movies. 

Unfortunately for me, the closest swimming pool to my village was an hour away in either direction and the closest "swimming hole" I later found out were reservoirs intended for the open range cattle that wandered in the desert.  I didn't know an English word for them until I was an adult, we called them, a "wo'o" or THE wo'o, because there was really only one nearby. 

Sometimes my brothers, sister, cousins and I would walk the three or four miles through the desert for a swim in the wo'o.  We didn't have flip flops, bathing suits and bright beach towels, we didn't even own that kind of thing.  We just went in whatever rummage sale clothes we had.  The water was muddy and we'd always leave with bits of wood, leaves and mud, stuck to our skin.  It was an exhausting walk there and an exhausting walk back.  Once I lost my footing in the mud and went under, I flailed about for a few seconds, panicking and swallowing brown water before one of my brother's realized I wasn't coming back up and jumped in after me.  He was annoyed that I went under the water and STILL claims I overreacted.  Brothers, ya know?  I was always reluctant to go after that.  

Sometimes we'd get my mom to take us to the nearest town to swim at the public pool. Actually, she'd go there for groceries or something else and she'd let us tag along if we could convince our grandmother to give us spending money. For most of my childhood we didn't have a car, when we did, we didn't always have gas money to go anywhere, so if we were lucky enough to be dropped off in the "big town of Sells", which is not technically a town with its one grocery store, two gas stations, countless tribal government offices and one public swimming pool, believe me, it was a treat.

We paid .50 cents for a glorious half day of swimming.  Actually, it was more like we paid to bump into other people and get splashed in the face by the few who were actually able to get some kicking action going.  It was honestly standing room only, but we were desperate.  We swam until our eyes were so cloudy we could hardly see and our big toes raw from all the non-swimming we did.  We didn't get to go often, but it was one of my favorite things to do.

 Once my brother, cousins and I decided to dig a hole in our yard and make our own swimming pool.  We said we were going to make it deep enough for us to be completely immersed in water, but we got tired after the first foot and a half and decided it was deep enough for at least one of us to lay in it and maybe float.  We borrowed my Uncle Vinny's blue tarp, expecting it to keep out all the mud and dirt and of course, it was a pretty blue.  Perfect.

We filled the hole with a hose and despite all our best efforts, the water turned muddy brown anyway.

We enjoyed it for a full half an hour.

After hours and hours of hunting for shovels, digging and shaping a hole, quietly sneaking the tarp, adjusting it to perfection, then filling the hole with precious water, we were busted after half an hour of taking turns laying in just a few inches of water.

My Hu'uli came out yelling and swatting at us.  She stood there and watched, yelling for us to work faster,  as we bailed out the water, little by little in discarded containers we found laying around in the yard.  She wanted the tarp folded back up and put away nicely before Uncle Vinny saw it being mistreated.

We watched as our precious swimming pool got muddier and muddier from the negligent bailing of water.  We knew we were lucky that we didn't get spanked for adding to Hu'uli's water bill (a common complaint anytime anyone washed their hands or took a shower) and for making a big, huge mess.

I thought the tarp looked exactly like it did before we used it, I even thought we did a better job of folding it than Uncle Vinny had in the first place.

Now that I'm an adult, I have a pool in my backyard.  It wasn't a dream of mine or anything, it just kind of worked out that way.  Every time I swim in the cool, clear, blue water, I think about all the times I've swum in dirty, brown water and I think to myself, "What a silly thing swimming is."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Mom, Flying and Jetlagged Ramblings

I found myself sitting at a table with my Mom and one of my Aunties recently, having a conversation about flying.  I was slightly complaining about an upcoming work trip.  I told them how I liked to travel, but I really disliked the whole flying process.

My Mom quickly agreed that she didn't like being on airplanes either.  Although I knew off the top of my head that she had once taken a trip to Minneapolis for a work conference, when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I couldn't think of another time that I knew of when my Mom had flown.  That one trip must have been at least 20 years ago.   

A few years back, she had talked about wanting to visit my brother, who was living in Chicago at the time.  I remember being surprised when she asked me if I knew how to buy a plane ticket.  My Mom doesn't know how to work a computer, let alone get on the internet, so I remember wondering at the time, if you could just walk into the airport and pay cash for a ticket, like they do in old movies.  Can you? How do people without computers buy airline tickets? I have no idea.  I flew with Southwest Airlines and they have the computerized kiosks where you just enter your confirmation number.  I'm "old fashioned", I print out my confirmation, but really, it's there on my phone. I can pull up my gmail from my iphone. 

My mom thinks that if you turn off your cell phone, the phone company won't charge you for those minutes. 


She ended up not going, but my sister and I were left to talk about the what-if's.  "Do you seriously want to just send Mom on a plane? What if she gets lost?" "She's a grown woman." "Gabby, I panic when I lose her in the grocery store." "Alright, chill out, I get your point." "Seriously though, what if she missed her flight... do you think she'd know what to do?" "Someone is going to have to go with her."

My mom grew up without a lot of modern conveniences and has just never caught up to the times. 

She barely knows how to use a telephone.  Sometimes it's just easier for me to dial the phone for her.   

I couldn't imagine my Mom flying.  I couldn't imagine her organizing a trip, knowing where to go, I couldn't even imagine her figuring out her seatbelt on the airplane. 

Over the years, I've heard her talk about her trip to "Minneapolis, Minnesota", in quotes because she never simply said, "Minneapolis" or "Minnesota" and would correct anyone who tried to shorten the location. 

Turns out, it had been the only time she had ever been on a plane. 

I sat there, listeinign to my Mom and tried to imagine her on an airplane.  The closest I could imagine was remembering my Mom's panic as she tried to exit the freeway during rush hour when we made a trip into town.  She would scream at us, "HELP ME!!" while waving her arms as cars zoomed past us and other honket at her.  She would turn off the radio and simply scream because she was so overwhelmed.  We would sit in the car, trying to keep ourselves from giggling so we could announce an opportune time for her to lurch the car forward.  "CLEAR! Mom, it's clear! GO, GO, GO!!

I looked at my Mom as she was talking about how awful airplane rides are and I asked her, "Mom... when you went on your trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota... did you scream on the plane?"

She looked at me, surprised and shook her curly head in shame. 

"You did!? You screamed!?"
"When we took off.  I was soooo scared."
"What did they do? Did the stewardesses hear you?"
"Yah, they came running over to me and tried to get me to quiet down."
"Weren't you sitting with your coworkers?"
"Yah, but they couldn't calm me down."
"They tried!?"
"Yah, then the stewardesses came over and tried to calm me down. Oh BOY, I was SCARED."
"Aww... really?"
"Yah, and I was CRYING. The stewardess kept saying, 'Ma'am, you're upsetting the other passengers.' but I couldn't help it."
"What about the ride back? Did you cry again when you took off on the flight home?"
"No. I was scared...but I wanted to come home.  And I kind of knew what to expect."

Today I thought a lot about that conversation. 

I thought about my Mom today as I made my way across the country.  I thought of her as I stood in line at a computerized kiosk and entered in my confirmation numbers to print my boarding passes, flashing my driver's license at the agent who barely made eye contact with me. I took off my shoes and removed my laptop from its bag and placed it in a separate bin before TSA Officials asked me to.  I walked through the metal detector hoping I wouldn't need to get patted down or have to go through the full body scanner again.  I thought of her as I found my gates and lined myself up according to my boarding number, only pausing to hear the confirmation beep as the flight attendant scanned my boarding pass.  I thought of my Mom as I buckled myself into the plane, stowed my purse beneath my feet and adjusted the air vents.  I only half-listened to the instructions in the event of an emergency water landing. 

My sister was right, I have no idea how she'd be able to manage a flight all by herself. 

I felt like complaining a lot today, but I remembered that flying used to be a big deal.  Flying used to be special and exciting and suddenly, it's become a chore.  We're annoyed by the lines and the waiting and not getting the seats we want.  It's very easy to be annoyed and short tempered when traveling.  I tend to get nauseous (thought I've never thrown up) and I always have a hard time sleeping once I reach my destination.  I'll also admit that I panic a little during take-offs and landings too, but really, flying isn't so bad. 

Thinking about my Mom screaming on a plane kept a smile on my face today.

Then of course, smiling in the airport just made me look like some kind of weirdo. 

Ah well, who cares.