Musings Over Afternoon Coffee: Rain, Car Troubles, and Indian Fry Bread

It’s been raining nonstop in Southern California since Monday and yesterday, my car started making this whining sound plus I could smell something burning. This morning, it wasn’t any better and so after I dropped off Lil Dude at school, I took the car to the dealership.

My car is a sports model SUV and it’s ten years old. At 82k miles, I know it’s gonna have a few problems. Well, I didn’t expect the verdict to be the alternator which is a quick $1200 just for the parts and then there were a few spark plugs and a new battery. So two grand and two rides with UBER later (my first time to take an UBER since the dealership apparently no longer maintains a shuttle service AND turns out, I left the house without my wallet which meant I couldn’t sign for a loaner car either), the SUV is fixed and life is back to normal.

Well, kinda.

That’s because I need to change this normal to something better because that two grand set me back big time, considering it’s the first month of the year. It meant diving into whatever I had set aside for my book marketing for the next month or so… and then some.

But then, it could be worse, right?

While waiting for the car to get fixed, I went through stuff in the garage to give away. I should have been writing but that’s the life of someone easily distracted. In a way, I’m kinda dealing with things the Pomodoro method way where things are done in 15-minute increments. Write for 15 minutes, tidy up for 15 minutes, sort the laundry for 15 minutes. Go through stuff I haven’t used in 10 years for 15 minutes. Rinse and repeat it all over again.

Anyway, I found a few things I brought back with me from New Mexico during this garage adventure, including an old recipe book featuring Pueblo Cooking. It’s a blend of New Mexican and Native American cuisine and one of the recipes was Indian Fry Bread.

The first time I heard of Indian Fry Bread was during my first trip to Santa Fe with this boy I liked and he told me how Fry Bread came to be, that it’s basically a product of the Long Walk that most people outside of the Southwest know nothing about. It’s when the Navajo were uprooted from their lands and forced to walk over 300 miles to federally appointed reservations in New Mexico where they could no longer grow their own crops of vegetables and beans or raise their animals. To counter starvation, the US government gave them canned goods and sacks of flour, sugar, lard, and salt.

From the flour, salt, and lard came what we now know as Indian Fry Bread, a staple in almost every Native American gathering. Unfortunately, my friend added it’s also one of the reasons why there’s high rates of diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease in the reservations.

That was among the first of my introduction into Native American culture and history outside of the storybooks. The rest came from visiting places like Chaco Canyon and Taos Pueblo. In almost all the places I went to, I was always asked what tribe I belonged to, the default that they’d mention being Diné, another name used for the Navajo people.

When I took my husband to New Mexico after our wedding, he couldn’t figure out why people always asked me what tribe I belonged to. He thought it amusing at first. At one of the monuments, the park employee told me I should just say I’m Diné and save myself a few bucks for the entrance fee. But I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want to anger the Great Spirits and to this day, I still won’t.

At Taos Pueblo, during one of their ceremonies where all the shops had to close and we were filing out to the clearing to watch the ceremony, one of the elders tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was Diné. I said no.

Cherokee? he asked and I said no.

Apache? I shook my head.

Annoyed, he asked, then what are you?

I’m not Native American. I’m Filipino, I told him.

“Well, now you are one of us,” he said, taking my hand and pressing a smudge stick made of sagebrush in my palm. “Keep this and don’t forget that.”

My husband recounted that story last week when I found the old smudge stick in a plastic bag in a forgotten bin buried in the garage. To this day, almost ten years from the day the elder said those words to me, hubby is still awed by the whole encounter.

As for me, I’ve come to realize that things happen for a reason. Like why that moment happened so many years ago when I wasn’t quite ready for certain truths and why today, after finding more things from New Mexico just when I’m getting ready to return to it in my stories with Sarah and Benny, I feel I’m finally am.

It’s also a reminder that I need to be true to who I am because no one can else can be me—honorary Native American or not—but me.

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