“Every Day Is a Good Day” excerpt
June 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Every Day is a Good Day is one of my favorite books, and it was also part of the reason why I was so interested in working for a press like Fulcrum. Although my father is Native, My mother is not, so the first time I was aware of being part of a community of Native women was when I was taking dreaded Zuni language classes after middle school, on the days when I didn’t also have Hebrew school.
With every fiber of my 13-year-old being, I despised having to go to even more school after what was already a torturous middle school experience, and it wasn’t until I was a couple years older that I appreciated and understood what the women teachers and older students shared with me on those afternoons in the spaces between the lesson activities—a shared experience of what is to be a Native and a woman in America today. It was the lessons I learned in the whispers, passed notes, and preclass chatter that helped me remain proud and connected to my people through activism, once I set out into the world on my own and faced marginalization, tokenism, and erasure.
Upon hearing that I work for Fulcrum, most of the Native women that I have met tell me that they own a copy of the original edition of this book, dog-eared with favorite passages underlined and commented on in the margins. I think we all feel that this book belongs to us and that we’re a part of it, because although we’re not part of the list of contributors, our common experiences are printed on the pages. My favorite passage, by Angela Gonzales, in the “Context Is Everything” chapter, touches on pretendians, moving between cultures, and the issues of affirming an identity that outsiders see as performative or part of a romantic past.
Some people want to emulate what they perceive to be Native American culture because they believe they have no culture of their own. [. . . ]
In Western culture, a college degree, especially from Harvard, confers social status on people. It is very hierarchical. It doesn’t really matter where you get your degree from, what matters is what you do with it. I realize that my being able to get into a place like Harvard was a bit of sentimental tokenism. But once I got in, I had to really work hard. What I found at Hopi is that the degrees may close doors instead of open doors. Western education teaches you to argue, to evaluate, and to insist upon the rightness of your perspective. I don’t think I have to unlearn all these things; I just need to learn to adapt them to situations at home. It is a tough balancing act.
There are a lot of questions about Indian identity in urban areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area where I used to live. As a consequence, I don’t display my college degree on my office wall. Instead I display my certificate of tribal enrollment, because I have been challenged about my tribal identity. That was really a new experience for me. In an urban context, “Indian-ness” is defined by whether you are part of the Indian community. I have this sense of who I am as Hopi, and yet that identity was being denied because I didn’t meet this other person’s criteria for what an Indian is.
I am really opposed to this idea of being either a.) Indian or b.) non-Indian. I think that it can always be a blending of the two cultures. You take what is good from both cultures and it makes you a better person.
The memorial edition of Every Day is a Good Day is available for purchase right now. A foundation has been set up in Wilma Mankiller’s name, and the book is also available on the foundation’s webpage.