A matter of pride

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

June 20, 2013

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F or minorities, intolerance and ignorance could be words in our country song.

When we bay to the moon, stories of racist experiences would pepper our lyrics. Of course, this is nothing new to any of us especially those who lived through the 60s and 70s and the racial wars of those controversial times.

In high school I wore a red headband over my long hair. At the induction ceremony for the honor society, our sponsor, an otherwise sweet lady, threw my hand away as I reached to shake hers after the ceremony. At the prom, a teammate pointedly and huffily said his father would never allow him to wear a headband to a formal event.

Fortunately, humans and humor go hand-in-hand and this is reflected in people's perceptions. When I was a member of a Forest Service crew, we stopped at a Denny's in Prescott, Ariz. Afterwards I stood outside waiting for the others. An elderly Anglo man walked by and gave me a few dollars apparently assuming I was looking for a handout because why else would a long-haired Indian be standing outside a restaurant?

Most often intolerance and racism begin with ignorance. However harmless or trivial, the lack of knowledge can lead to silly assumptions. For example, years ago I was hitch-hiking on I-40 and my ride passed the neat rows of ammunition bunkers at the Ft. Wingate Army Depot. The lady, an Anglo from back east, commented, "My, the Indians are so orderly out here."

I quickly explained what the bunkers were and she apologized but I had to chuckle. It was a small opportunity to clear up a misconception.

How people think and perceive took the national stage during the NBA Finals. On June 11 in Game 3 of the series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, a young Mexican-American boy wearing a mariachi outfit sang the national anthem at AT&T Center in San Antonio.

The reaction on Twitter was quick.

"Why they got a Mexican kid singing the national anthem?" asked one person.

"How you singing the national anthem looking like an illegal immigrant?" asked another.

"Why is a foreigner singing the national anthem?" said another. "I realize that's San Antonio but that still ain't Mexico."

CNN ran the story under the headline "Mexican-American's anthem sparks racist rants."

The singer, Sebastien de la Cruz, 11, showed a lot of class in the face of the criticism.

"For those that said something bad about me, I understand it's your opinion," he is quoted as saying. "I'm a proud American and live in a free country. It's not hurting me. It's just your opinion."

"That little singer has more talent and grace than the combined racist pig idiots on Twitter," said one person, joining a large number of people who blasted the criticism of the boy.

The national anthem has been performed by singers of all races at basketball games in our area. Many Navajo singers, wearing traditional clothing, sing the anthem in the Navajo language at major events such as the high school state basketball tournament at the University of New Mexico Pit.

What would these people who posted racist comments about a Mexican-American boy say about that?

The Navajo language helped win World War II and it is common knowledge that Native Americans have enlisted to serve in the military in more numbers per capita than any other ethnic group.

Would these critics of the Mexican-American boy prefer that Iwo Jima had fallen to the enemy?

Radmilla Cody, who served as Miss Navajo Nation in 1997-98 and who is half Navajo and half African-American, sings the national anthem in the Navajo language.

In response to the hoopla over de la Cruz's performance, she said, "This is a country with a wonderful diversity of languages and cultures, i.e., the melting pot.

"I am in full support of this young man performing the national anthem, which he sang beautifully," she said.

"As someone who has proudly performed the national anthem in my traditional attire and in my Diné language, I see no problem with this young American wearing his traditional attire and honoring all veterans."

Performing the anthem honors the United States and its diversity, she said, especially those who gave all in their service to the country.

"In this 21st century, it is disheartening to know racial ignorance still prevails in some," Cody said.

Indeed, it is an honor for the Navajo people when any of our singers performs the anthem in Diné or in English. It underlines our pride as Diné and as Americans.

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