Students pay homage to Native American Heritage Month in cultural showcase

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Irving Cortes ’19 performs the Son Jarocho dance. Courtesy of Jason Benitez
Irving Cortes ’19 performs the Son Jarocho dance. Courtesy of Jason Benitez10

November is Native American Heritage Month, and Baahh-Nazoshnnii Brown-Almaweri ’17 had no intention to let it go unnoticed on campus. Brown-Almaweri joined forces with Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez to host the Native American Heritage Month Showcase event in Taylor Music Hall this past Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6 p.m. The Office of Multicultural Affairs sponsored the event.

Benitez opened the event with a presentation on Native American culture, displaying various symbols and forms of dress, such as masks, from all different tribes across the Americas. He elaborated on their cultural significance and respective origins before going on to introduce Brown-Almaweri as the event’s first performer for the night.

Brown-Almaweri, who has Navajo heritage, performed the Fancy Shawl Dance. Before she took to the stage, she described the subtle meanings behind the handcrafted purple shawl that was delicately draped over her shoulders. “Todichinii” (which translates to “Bitter Water Clan”) was sewn into the bottom of the fabric while small bears, representing Brown-Almaweri’s family, lined its sides. She then went on to perform the ritualistic dance. Music bounced wall-to-wall with strong, robust drumming driving the rhythm to the audience’s core.

Angel Flores ’20 delivered a presentation on the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians. He delved into the history of his heritage, explaining that they are descendents of warriors from Sonora, Mexico. The band’s warrior ancestors’ presence dated back to around the mid-1800s, but the state of Texas did not recognize the Texas Band Yaqui as Native American until 2015. This formal recognition provides the Texas Band Yaqui with international indigenous rights.

The final demonstration for the night came from Irving Cortes-Martinez ’19. Cortes, who is of mestizo (a mix of indigenous and Spanish heritage) descent, explained how several cultures can make up the Mexican identity, namely Spanish, indigenous American and African. He went on to demonstrate the Son Jarocho dance, a folkloric dance that he learned when he was a child. The San Jarocho dance originated from Veracruz, Mexico. A very lively dance, the Son Jarocho is oft seen at the likes of parties and festivals.

By the event’s conclusion, there was much more to take away than what was presented on stage. Benitez and Associate Professor Katherine Lynes built a dialogue around the rampant cultural appropriation of cultures worldwide during Halloween.

“Many people don’t understand the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation,” commented Brown-Almaweri. “It’s not appreciation to wear a headdress and other ‘Native-American inspired’ attire without being open to knowing the origins … they cannot all be summed into one costume.”

Insensitive costumes aside, there is widespread ignorance that students with indigenous heritage have to counter. “The only way to remove ignorance is through education,” proclaimed Cortez. And while ignorance covers society like a wet blanket, there is a distinct difference between ignorance and curiosity. To Brown-Almaweri, “… the line between ignorance and curiosity is when people have no intent to learn or to admit that they are out of line.”

The timing of the event was impeccable. The Native American perspective is becoming more vocal in the wake of current events such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests. Performers celebrating Native American Heritage Month demonstrated that Native American issues will not be sidelined or ignored.

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