Checking the Right Box


Last updated 6/3/2019 at 2:15pm

Joanna Nix

Raymond, you're not white. You shouldn't mark that box," one of my coaches told me in front of the whole team.

I was quite embarrassed and very angry when I went home. My mom had always told me that when I was asked or had to fill out any papers, I needed to check the box that said I was white because I was Caucasian.

When I got home that day, I asked my mom why she had me mark the box "white" when I really wasn't white. My mother finally told me the truth. "You are Hopi and Navajo." She went on to explain that she didn't want for me to live with prejudice and rejection. She wanted me to have a fair chance of a job or a promotion and really just being treated fairly in life.

In other words, my family was ashamed to be Indian. In fact, my mom wrote "Caucasian" on my birth certificate.

When my grandparents relocated to Southern California and as I grew up, I was told that I was white. We lived in an area where there were many white people and in many cases I was the only one with dark skin. But I never thought anything of it and felt like I was just one of them. I continued to live with this understanding that I was white until I got to junior high age.

What really hurt me was for the first time in my life, I began being ashamed for being a Native American. My mom and dad and my grandparents didn't feel it was good to be Indian, so I felt that maybe a mistake was made somehow. That troubled me in my teenage years. I continued through my teen years and finally graduated from high school, still somewhat confused, thinking that I wasn't good enough.

As I continued experiencing confusion while growing up, one of the things that added to that confusion in a very big way was the fact that I was sexually molested as a young boy. When I was abused by a couple of different men, it began to confuse me as to why that happened. Many feelings were going through my mind.

When I became a teenager, I even began to question my sexuality. I was confused when it came to girls and I was confused when it came to other boys.

I had heard people talk about homosexuality. I was confused and thought that if I was touched that way by these men then maybe that meant that I was homosexual. I was scared because when I heard people talk about homosexuals, it was in an unkind way. And so that caused me to become sexually involved with girls more to prove that I wasn't a homosexual.

These types of confusing thoughts ran through my mind on a daily basis, thoughts that I couldn't share with anybody and it made me feel even lonelier. So, I didn't experience a lot of peace or a lot of joy when I was growing up because of these different things that I experienced.

One of the other ways I tried to deal with the shame and embarrassment was to drink alcohol because when I drank alcohol, I didn't have to feel the pain or shame. My father was an alcoholic and he would treat all of us very poorly. It seemed like he picked on me more than the other kids and that only added to my shame and confusion.

I found out later that at the time my mom was pregnant with me, my dad wanted her to have an abortion. So as a teenager living with that understanding, I felt even more so that I was a mistake and that I wasn't wanted even by my own family.

One time my dad and I were having an argument and he told me I was so crazy that I would end up committing suicide. That really scared me and I didn't know what to think of that so I didn't say anything. But my dad continued to yell at me. "You want to know the funny thing about it?" he said. How can there be a funny part of suicide? I thought to myself. "I'm the one who's going to hand you the gun," he replied.

From then on, I was very fearful of my dad and fearful of guns. I lived the rest of my teenage years in confusion and fear always wondering when my father's "prophecy" would come true.

I finally graduated and left home but I still had those thoughts running through my head. I continued to use alcohol even though I saw how it ruined my family. It was the only time I found any type of relief from the fear, thinking that I might kill myself because I was crazy. It eventually caught up with me-this whole use of alcohol, drugs and immorality.

I had to spend some time in the Los Angeles county jail and while I was there, I got to thinking about a lot of things. I was just thinking about life in general and it really wasn't pleasant. It seemed hopeless and very lonely. I really had more questions in my head than answers and that frightened me.

So, I started thinking about why I was in jail. I really didn't blame anybody else for my being there because I knew I was there because of choices I'd made. Nobody forced me to make the choices I made in life. I did them on my own.

Toward the end of my jail term, the thought came to me that maybe what I needed was God. I didn't grow up understanding the traditions and the religion of my people-the Hopi people and the Navajo people. Nor did I grow up in a home that practiced any type of religion. So, I didn't know where to look for God. I knew where to find alcohol, drugs and sex but I didn't know where to find God.

When the time came for me to leave jail, I got an apartment. My roommate who was originally from Minnesota, had just come home from a job trip and he wanted to share some exciting news with me. He told me that while he was in northern California, he met some people who talked to him about God. He said they shared with him how he could have God in his life and that he now had a relationship with God.

"Tell me," I replied with a sense of jealousy in my voice. "Tell me how I can have God in my life because I need changes."

My roommate shared with me what I needed to do to have God in my life. When it came time for me to pray to receive God's plan for my life through His Son, Jesus, I said to my roommate, "I can't do that now. I can't pray that now."

"Why not, Raymond?" my roommate asked.

"You don't understand. There are lots of things in my life that I need to fix first. I need to stop drinking and doing drugs. I need to stop messing around with girls. I need to clean up my life before I'm ready for God."

My roommate looked at me and said, "Raymond, you're the one that doesn't understand. You just need to be willing to accept Jesus and come on board His boat and allow God to sail new life for you."

"I like that. I like that plan," I told him.

I prayed at that moment and invited God into my life. I began to realize and truly understand that I was not a mistake. God knew before all of creation that I was going to be born Indian. He knew before He created the world that I would go through pain and confusion.

His plan is a good and perfect plan, He is a good God, a caring, loving God. Then I began to understand that God didn't make a mistake when He made me Native American.

He made me Indian because He's proud of me and wants me to stay Native. And He's glad now that I am His child. I have received His Son into my life and become part of His family. God is happy and pleased when Native people come to Him for help.


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