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Gunn community reflects on American Indian heritage

Gunn community reflects on American Indian heritage
Senior Danny Cox
Senior Danny Cox

Born in Guatemala, senior Danny Cox moved to the U.S. at the age of 1 after being adopted. Since Cox remembers little of his time in Guatemala, he has had to work to stay connected to his Central American heritage.

鈥淢y cultural identity has been relatively impactful on my life,鈥 Cox said. 鈥淏ecause I live in the U.S., I feel as though it鈥檚 not as prominent as if I were living in a region (where it has) more influence.鈥

Cox is of Mayan descent. The Maya, an ethnic group made up of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, live principally in Southern Mexico, as well as parts of El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. Following the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, many Mayan refugees migrated to the U.S., settling in areas along the Sun Belt such as California and Florida. However, the U.S. did not 鈥 and still does not 鈥 officially recognize the Maya as a tribe. Cox thus has trouble identifying with the term 鈥淣ative American.鈥

鈥淚t felt improper to consider myself Native American without being a part of a federally recognized tribe,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 am glad that I am able to talk about it because I鈥檓 sure I am not the only one who feels as though they are in the gray area.鈥

But Cox keeps reminders of his heritage in his home,
including woven artifacts such as tapestries, to preserve tradition.

鈥淐ommunity and family are incredibly important within the culture and are often expressed as such in artwork,鈥 Cox said. 鈥淓ven though many, including myself, have had a disconnection with the deep-rooted traditional culture, there are still artifacts that remain and are so predominant.鈥

Cox is most interested in reconnecting with Mayan history. While visiting Ecuador this past summer, he was struck by the vibrant cultural connection and traditional practices of the area鈥檚 indigenous people, who speak a Quechuan dialect called Kichwa.

鈥淥ne thing that I am fascinated by is how tribes generally work,鈥 Cox said. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e part of a family, you learn your ancestral connections and there鈥檚 so much diversity among the tribes.鈥

Cox believes in the importance of embracing Native American voices both within and outside of tribes.

鈥淓verybody鈥檚 experiences are different,鈥 he said. 鈥淣obody can say what the predetermined Native American is, so I think that people should just ask to learn about different experiences.鈥

Social Studies Instructional Lead Jeff Patrick
Social Studies Instructional Lead Jeff Patrick

Every summer, Social Studies Instructional Lead Jeff Patrick and his family spend a few days in Alaska, where he and his wife grew up. They visit a small fishing village near Juneau, Alaska鈥檚 capital, where Patrick used to live and where his family still resides. These trips are a way for him to connect to his culture and for his kids to discover their heritage.

Patrick grew up in a mixed household: His mom was half-native Alaskan, and his dad was white. Growing up, he wasn鈥檛 connected to his native Alaskan side, but he acknowledges that his respect for nature stems from growing up around native Alaskan culture.

鈥淕rowing up in a partially native household really shows that kind of direct connection between people and the land,鈥 Patrick said. Patrick鈥檚 grandmother, who grew up in the 1930s, lived on the Aleutian Islands 鈥 a chain of 50 islands off Alaska鈥檚 coast.

During World War II, fearing its citizens would fraternize with the Russian and Japanese governments, the U.S. government moved Patrick鈥檚 grandmother to Alaska鈥檚 mainland. According to Patrick, his family lost much of his grandmother鈥檚 culture after the move.

鈥淢y grandmother, because she was one of the only Aleutians in this area, didn鈥檛 preserve much of that culture,鈥 Patrick said. 鈥淪o, growing up, (our family) was more familiar with what was going on (in Alaska), especially in terms of foods and such.鈥

As Patrick鈥檚 children discovered their heritage, he began to connect further with his culture.

鈥淭hey would ask some questions, and I wouldn鈥檛 actually know,鈥 he said. 鈥淪o then, we would reach out (to organizations).鈥

Patrick鈥檚 children applied for college scholarships through some of these organizations, requiring Patrick to research them. As a result, he learned more about local native Alaskan history and traditions.

These organizations also hold activities for families. Patrick has done weaving and moccasin-making projects with his daughter. Patrick has rekindled his familiarity with his culture through these family experiences.

鈥淚 try connecting my own children with their heritage, but Alaska has also been a learning experience for me,鈥 he said.

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