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.”