“Your language is valuable. Don’t ever forget that.” I just ended my speech to the Navajo language class at Navajo Pine High School. My own challenges as a child of immigrants are similar to ones Native youth in that classroom face. In general, one values what one doesn’t have. As a second generation American, I valued complete assimilation. I wanted to eat a pizza and chocolate milk from the lunch line, not spicy lamb rice prepared from home. I wanted to play soccer after school, not cricket as my cousins enjoyed. More importantly, while my parents talked in Urdu, I always responded to them in English. The same phenomenon could be said of the Navajo youth. The world barrages these students into believing their way of lives have nothing to offer. I was born and raised in the “modern world”, yet I learned an incredible amount with just a week in Navajo. I relearned the importance of my mother tongue, saw the Milky Way after years of living under light pollution, and chopped enough wood to always be grateful of central heating. I saw another way of life not better or worse than my own but simply different. This experience, sponsored through PBHA, gave me an experience that one always dreams of having in college. It surpassed all of my expectations.
In addition to working with students at Navajo Pine, we met the governor of the Pueblo of Isleta, Paul Torres. He showed us the pueblo and discussed the challenges affecting their community. The battle to keep the language in use also ranks as one of their primary concerns. Language conveys not just one’s thoughts, but history and a shared identity. It is the method by which stories pass on to the next generation about the land, the people, and the religion. However, the people of Isleta weren’t passively accepting this situation. They invested in education and language classes to keep their culture thriving into the next generation. The ways both of these groups faced their challenges inspired me to make an effort to use my own mother tongue with my family. Going on this public service trip helped me appreciate my language. I’m forever grateful.