Saturday, December 05, 2009

Beyond Skin Deep

So I had an extraordinary experience in a very ordinary place, yesterday: the grocery store. I have to preface this by saying that I have very pale, white skin, blue eyes, and long, curly brown hair. I'm mostly English, Scottish and Irish, with a strong dose of Navajo and a little Cherokee heritage thrown in from some great-grandparents. But when someone normally looks at me, the first thing that is generally noticed is "white girl" or "white woman."

Yesterday, someone looked deeper upon first glance and it sincerely awed me. A man whose ethnicity I was unsure of whether he was Native American or Asian walked up to me and asked me what my heritage was. I started to say the part about being Irish, English, etc... and he stopped me and said, no, that he meant what tribe was I from. When I said Navajo, he gave me the most welcoming smile and said that he, himself was Cherokee. I told him that I, too, had some Cherokee heritage, he smiled even wider. It was such an amazing experience to me. Afterward, he simply nodded and said that he thought so and wished me a very good day and went on his way.

While I have always been proud of my Native American heritage, I have never really felt included in that sense of tribe as I did yesterday in the bread aisle. This man could see that there was more to me than the color of my skin, and simply welcomed me as a part of his extended family. So while according to all the legal formalities, I am considered a white woman, that is only a part of who I am. I'm grateful to have been given this eye-opening experience.

I've always wanted to learn more about my Native American heritage, but I've never really known how to go about it and was a bit worried that I would be judged by how I look instead of what's inside me. And that may yet happen as I continue this journey of self-discovery. But if it does, I will always know that there is someone out there who accepts me as I am as a member of his tribe, and that simple smile and nod of acceptance will be with me to the end of my days.

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