The power of words, tone, and cadence

Having Ernestine Hayes read to us from her books was impactful. When I read her book years ago in New Mexico, I was floored by how much I could relate to her story, despite the generational age difference between us…the place was the same and so was the institution…the institution of racism, knowing your place, belonging, and being an outsider all at the same time. As a woman of color, a Kaagwaantaan, I grow in admiration of her every time she speaks because it is not just about her words, it is also about her delivery.

Ernestine is magic. She has a way of stringing her words together in a seamless fashion that sings to you and draws you into her story so that you might catch a glimpse of what she is trying to show you. I appreciate her honesty and frank wit, especially when she is reminding people of where they are. She is unapologetic for the feelings of others when she speaks on her experiences in her life, what has happened here, and how violence will continue to be perpetuated as long as people stand by and do nothing. The title of her book, Blonde Indian speaks to the power of assimilation that reminds me of books like The Bluest Eye and Black Alice. We need more verbal illustrators, perhaps we can encourage the growth of a few through our educational strategies.

“Do not be one of those teachers that goes into these communities and works for just a year. Do not separate yourself from the community and only spend time with other teachers. Be a part of the community. If you really want to make a difference, make sure you are a part of solution.”

6 thoughts on “The power of words, tone, and cadence”

  1. Thank you for writing this post, Cecilia. She hit right on the mark with what I think our class needs to hear–take a stand and stop perpetuating the colonialism and institutionalism that is still alive and affecting many people negatively. She spoke directly and powerfully to the root of what our roles are going to be going forward if indeed we are to truly make a change in our society. I wish she could come talk to our class again. I look forward to reading her work.

  2. I loved her words. I feel like we can all relate to her. I certainly could relate to her feelings of rejection and I am pretty white privileged. Most importantly though it is my hope that we can see that we are all blessed to be living and breathing in a world and a time that contains so much beauty.

  3. Agreed and agreed. This might have been one of my favorite times during the class. Her delivery was jaw dropping and you could truly feel what she was saying, it was some of the most eloquent and powerful honesty I’ve heard. Nothing gets better than that.

  4. I too was totally caught up in her words. Caught up because they were not merely words read from a page in a book ,but the true story of struggle in the face of a life filled with adversity. Her message is strong, clear, and empowering I am happy to be among people with the courage and determination to hush the naysayers.

  5. Cecelia, you choose words and place them so well together. I especially loved when you voiced a need for more “verbal illustrators” like that of Ernestine. Thanks for sharing and asking us to take the next crucial step.

  6. I agree, Ernestine has this magical ability to transform the reader; to let the reader see the world through her eyes. Sort of unrelated, but I recently read something that immediately made me think of Ernestine. I read about a story that Yup’ik people have about a scientist who predicted metal, long before the arrival of white people. The scientist would get up in the morning and drum all day long, when he stopped drumming, “he would reach a time when shiny material (metal) was beginning to be used” (Fienup-Riordon, 1996). Just as Ernestine explained -without the arrival of white people Alaska Natives would have all the technology they do today. Source: ‘Our Ways of Making Prayer Yup’ik Masks and the Stories They Tell’ (Fienup-Riordon, 1996).

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