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Culture here very different from the reservation

Immigrant StoriesGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Lance Tsosie
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When Lance Tsosie was 12, his mother loaded him and his brothers and sisters in the car and left the Navajo nation in search of a better life. During the next six years they worked hard to survive and thrive.This fall he is a freshman at the University of Denver, and planning a double major in political science and international studies. He has been recognized as an outstanding scholar with a scholarship from Daniels Foundation. Here he talks about leaving his homeland and his grandmother.Tsosie: My mom moved me and my brothers and sisters here to have a better education. My father left us when I was around 4 years old. It was very difficult, because when I first came here it was a very big culture shock. Everybody was just smarter than me, a lot more intelligent. Leaving the reservation was heart wrenching. I did not want to leave my relatives, my family, my grandparents.Gallacher: Could you describe the culture shock you experienced?Tsosie: It is very difficult to leave the place you were born and raised and enter a whole other culture where you have to work to raise your status. It is especially difficult at a very young age to be pulled away from them and come here where no one is like me and no one understands my culture. It is just different.Gallacher: What was the most difficult part of the adjustment to this culture? Tsosie: I am not sure. I think it was that all of these other students were expected to go to college. Adjusting to that was not difficult but yet different from me and my family. On the reservation, a lot of the students would graduate and not pursue a college education. And I am the first in my family to do so. It is very hard to get all of the stuff done to prepare for college. It is just a new experience for us. Gallacher: Talk about your mom.Tsosie: My mom works as a custodian. She raised four children her whole life by herself. She works very hard. She is the woman I look up to. She moved away from somewhere she was accustomed to her whole life to a brand new, whole different culture just to raise her children and to have a better future.On the reservation there are a lot of adults and children who accept defeat from alcohol, drug abuse, poverty. The list goes on. She just doesn’t want that for her children, and I don’t want that either, so I am taking advantage of what I have right now. Gallacher: Were you close to your grandparents?Tsosie: Yes, very close, from the time I was born till the time we left I was always near or around my grandparents. From the time I was able to walk I helped my grandma herd sheep, all summer until school came. We would start before the sun came up. Let the goats out and just … follow … hand in hand.She would talk about how we center our lives around the sheep. They provide us with wool, food, milk. All these great things that, in other great cultures, center around the buffalo. But we are centered around the goats and the sheep. So we have to protect them against coyotes and cougars. We just have to make sure they are safe. She taught me that. She taught me about how corn is our central vegetable source. She taught me that you have to respect your elders. No matter what they say, you have to assume that they are right because they know a lot more than you do and they have lived longer than you have. And that you can’t take anything they say for granted.Gallacher: Is it hard to stay true to your culture while you are living in this culture? Tsosie: No. I don’t think so. Because experiencing what I have with my grandmother, what she told me, what she instilled in me, is always in the back of my mind. Like, “I can’t do this” or “I can’t do that” because there is this blessed road in life that we lead. You can either go on to greatness or you can stumble off the trail into poverty or alcoholism or other bad things. So I tend to stay on the good side and try just not to fail, for myself and everyone who is looking up to me right now.


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