Cultural values and a fountain pen: My life in two worlds

A member of the Bitter Water Clan of the Navajo Nation, Christy Hanson is an intern at Alaska Pacific University through the First Alaskans Institute summer program. Hanson holds a bachelor of arts degree in English from New Mexico State University Las Cruces, Class of 2012.

Christy HansonBy Christy Hanson, APU intern
First Alaskans Institute

I want to share a story of inspiration.

Since before I was born, my parents have been confident in my ability to learn, to create my own path in life. They both grew up with Navajo as their primary language, muscling through many challenges in life on and off the reservation.

Born into poverty and raised away from home in boarding schools, they survived. My mom became an elementary school teacher, and my dad worked in the uranium mines for a few years before becoming a stay-at-home parent to me and my sister.

I grew up around books and became a proficient reader and writer as time went by. I had excellent grades throughout school. Ms. Begay, our language arts teacher at Tohatchi Middle School, had just graduated from college, ready to infuse our minds with her knowledge of Shakespeare, her strongest interest.

Ms. Begay continued to stress the importance of the Navajo cultural values, our native language, and ceremony in our lives. She taught us to value education and not only the importance of acquiring knowledge for success in the world outside the Navajo Nation.

Ms. Begay possessed a strong self-image and identity as a Native American. I could see us begin to develop faith in ourselves. We saw her as a role model because she was a Navajo who knew the way to success. She gave us information on colleges, college courses, and shared personal experiences as a college student, forming a window for us to view the world from.

It was a small view, but many of us glimpsed the possibilities. Her own dream was to become a professor of Shakespeare at Oxford University. Upon hearing it, everyone in the classroom sat daunted; to us, her vision sounded like a formidable task for a junior high teacher in a town that takes one minute to drive past. Every day after that Ms. Begay wanted us to go home knowing that no dream sounded ridiculous or impossible. I always came away with a refreshed mind and confidence in myself every time she gave us those talks.

Two years later, Ms. Begay gave me a fountain pen and a copy of Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter.” Inside the cover, my teacher wrote: “You should become a writer.”

To this day I still think about her words. The fountain pen no longer works properly as I have used it on quite a few journals, but it fueled my passion for self-expression and making connections to others. If my Navajo language arts teacher could work toward her vision of becoming a Shakespeare professor, I could strive as well.

I’m inspired by Ms. Begay’s  drive to make the best of an opportune moment. I am willing to do the same.