Words by Jolie Varela
Cover photo by the talented Alex Aristei
When I was twenty-six, I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to meet my then boyfriend's family. I think after that I knew that we could never work. It's not that his family wasn't welcoming, they were fine. We watched slide shows of his family vacations to Mexico, bike rides through the Grand Canyon, and holidays at their home in Mt. Hood.
His reality was so different from mine. I grew up on the Rez, in Bishop, California. My family only had one house, a mobile home that would later be repossessed. There were no family vacations, no camping trips, no slide shows. My favorite memories are my cousin's and I cramming in the camper (the one my parents scored from the dump) with uncontrollable laughter on our way to Church in Big Pine. My favorite thing about Natives – when we laugh we really laugh – All hard. If you're Native, you feel me.
We visited friends of his family's and I will never forget what this woman said to me. I told her after minutes of chatting that I was Native American. She replied with,
"Oh, I knew there was something interesting about you.”
It startled me a bit and at the time I couldn't figure out why it cut me so deep. I had told my boyfriend and I remember the look on his face. Blank. I saw that look often when trying to confront him with my feelings or emotions.
It's really sad that somehow this can overshadow most of the beautiful memories we had because there were a lot. Sometimes I can feel anger rising up in me, but then I remember that we did love each other – we just didn't understand one another and we both knew that.
When I fall in love again I want this person to listen to my sadness, to understand it, to laugh – to laugh like Natives laugh. I don't want his family or friends to treat me like a novelty.
I want his blood memory to remember me.
I want him to know what home is. I want him to carry the love of his ancestors always with him because he knows the miracle he is, the miracle that I am.
Above left: The author and her previous boyfriend. Above right: Varela beams as she stands on top of Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park. Photos courtesy of Jolie Varela.