After much consideration I decided to start this blog. Since I was a little girl my mom always bought me journals and I’d be so eager to fill them. To this day I have piles of journals, encrypted with the details of my life. I always doubted my writing because, well I thought I had nothing interesting to say. What is so interesting about a girl from Monument Valley, Utah? Well, as I’d soon learn- everything.
My name is Shandiin Herrera and I reside in a rural community on the Navajo reservation, of which has transformed into a tourist hub. If you have not been to Monument Valley yet, I’m positive you have seen our beautiful land in almost any Western film. I was born to a beautiful Navajo woman and a kind-hearted Spanish man. Unfortunately, I entered the world after my paternal grandparents had left along with my maternal grandfather. But, I carry the stories that have been passed down to me. I knew my maternal grandmother for eleven years, before she left to the spirit world. She was a timid, kind Navajo rug weaver. Her rugs have been sold to many tourists lucky enough to have met her. I miss her dearly.
My mother spent the first seven years of her life on our land where she lived in a traditional Navajo Hogan with my grandparents. Her childhood was cut short when she was sent to boarding school, as were all Native American children. She bounced around the four corners (Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico) before moving to Oregon with a foster family where she would graduate from high school. After a very rough education experience, my mother graduated with her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. A token, not only of her intelligence and work ethic, but a symbol of her resilience. Soon after she would meet my father.
My father was a coal miner in Utah, where his family resided. He would see my mother for the first time on a bus in rural Utah. As she was on her way back to school in Salt Lake City, and he on his way to work, their paths crossed. From her memory, he was a random guy on a bus that asked too many questions. But, from his perspective, there sat the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. From his memory, there sat his future wife. My dad, the hopeless romantic he is, was determined to convince her of his idea that they were perfect for each other. Finally, my mom had reached her stop and said goodbye to this man. She was too timid to admit he was very handsome, but lucky her-he wouldn’t let her go without first getting her phone number.
I don’t know if my mom was just very determined to finish school without any distractions, or she was just trying to blow of the stranger from the bus. But, she told him she was not looking for anything or anybody because she was starting her Master’s program and did not have the time nor energy. So what would any hopeless romantic do in this situation? He waited. Two years later he contacted her, and well I assume they fell in love and everything was rainbows and butterflies. To this day he has never left her side, and he has lived on the Navajo reservation for almost 30 years. That’s their story, one day I hope to have one nearly as romantic as theirs.
For now, I like to think I am following in my mother’s footsteps; pursuing my education, traveling, and enjoying my youth. My childhood on the reservation was filled with cultural teachings, all of which has shaped the person I am today. We didn’t have much, but I would not have traded my childhood on the “rez” for anything. I loved playing outside on the open lands, breathing the clean air, and being surrounded by our four sacred mountains of which we fought so hard to preserve. My ambitions led me to always have an itch for learning all that I could in school. I had dreams bigger than my reservation. Dreams my parents could have never wished for.
I am now 20 years old, and I will soon be entering my junior year at Duke University, where I am studying Public Policy. It has been such a blessing to be at a renowned institution, where I study alongside some of the brightest students in the nation. There are only a handful of Native American students there, but I like to think of the Native nations that are represented, and in that, we are many. My time at Duke thus far has been a challenge I never knew I would encounter. But, the reservation raised me to be tough, and that I am. Duke has given me opportunities that my mother gasps at, and my father asks me to repeat.
Currently I am in Cuzco, Peru where I am spending nine weeks of my summer. Duke has a program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called Dukeengage, that allows students to travel all over the world to expand their learning through service learning projects. I was selected to participate in this program, of which has been fully funded. After receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship in high school I did not think the Gates family could do more for me. I was wrong. This trip has been amazing! I still have 3 weeks left in this beautiful country, but I know they will flash by. I am living with a host family and working in a home for teenage mothers and their children. The focus has been on helping the indigenous population. As a Native of North America, I was excited to learn the culture and lifestyle of our brothers and sisters in the South. They have welcomed me with open arms and curious minds. I know this trip is one I will always cherish. The children I work with remind me of the beautiful children across the reservation, and for that I am humbled and appreciative of this amazing experience.
When I think of the journey I have been, I always remember where it began. On a dirt road winding through healing land, to the opening doors of classrooms thousands of miles away; I have the experience of two colliding worlds. But for now I have found my balance. In this world of chaos and doubt, I walk boldly as my ancestors did, and I smile at the new challenges I am faced with.