Wednesday, October 19, 2011

what it means to be proud

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What It Means To Be Proud

To say that T.J. Warren is proud of his Native American heritage is an understatement. When I first sat down to interview T.J., I wasn’t sure what to expect. He is a medium sized man with dark eyes and long black braided hair. With his hat turned around backwards, T.J. sat with his arms folded as I began the interview.

T.J. was born in Red Mesa, Arizona. He was the second to the youngest of five children. His siblings include one brother and three sisters who all got along great and found strength in each other. His parents were most influential in his life. Everything they had in life they built on their own. It was their belief that you had to work hard for what you want out of life.

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As a child growing up on the reservation, T.J. learned to be adventurous. One winter, he and his brother made a sled and found the biggest hill around. “It was the best snow ever,” T.J. said with a grin. Although he knew he shouldn’t attempt the hill, he did anyway. That hill turned out to be a broken foot for T.J. and a hard lesson learned.

T.J. often found himself unwilling to listen to his elders, including his grandparents. They were traditional people with a deep spiritual faith. His grandparents believed in teaching the culture to the younger generation. They often corrected T.J. on the ways of their culture. Years later, his grandparents developed Alzheimer’s and did not even remember him at all. When they passed away, T.J. found it hard to handle. He never understood death or the actual loss. He regretted terribly all the years he had wasted. T.J. wished that he had paid more attention to the teachings of his grandparents in his early childhood.

Failure for T.J. is unacceptable. He believes that failure itself is a challenge. T.J. has always feared, not being portrayed as a traditional or well-respected person. He always strives to be the best he can be so that his elders will be proud of him.

It wasn’t until T.J. was pushed into traveling with the Native American tribes, that his elders would truly test him. The tribe’s travels took T.J. to places one could only hope to visit in a lifetime. Some of the places the tribe traveled to were Russia, Tokyo, Hungary, Japan and other various countries in the world. The Native American tribe was the first to be invited to Austria to meet with European kids. There they performed and explored the different cultures, as well as talked about world issues.

T.J. also had the opportunity to work for Disney and ABC. It was there in Hollywood that he recalls one of his most embarrassing moments. As he begins to tell the story, color fills his cheeks and he laughs. T.J. was working on a Hollywood flick one day when he and some other cast members decided to go to lunch. He was still in his costume, a breechcloth. A breechcloth is what Native American men wore in the old days. It is simply a long piece of material that is passed through the legs and secured to the body by a belt. The vehicle T.J. was riding in, decided to leave him behind. He ended up chasing the car down the block with only his breechcloth on. It was a moment he will never forget.

Speaking of unforgettable moments, it was in 00 that T.J. got the thrill of a lifetime. He was invited to perform in the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was another great experience made possible by his Native American heritage. T.J. had many wonderful experiences that he would later have to share with his children in the years to come.

“There’s a reason for everything,” T.J. states with a twinkle in his eye. He began to understand what his heritage really meant to him. T.J. believes it is important for Native American children to keep the culture alive. They should be encouraged to learn the lessons from their elders and seek their education to be successful in life. That’s what T.J. is doing.

One of his goals in life is to be a role model for the younger generation. One of his hopes is to share his talent and teachings so that one day his children will know about his heritage. T.J. believes that the wisdom his elders shared helped him learn who he was. For T.J., it was the Great Chiefs of all Native American tribes that would define for him a hero. “They fought for what they believed in, opening new doors for others and leaving a legacy behind,” he gently says with a proud voice.

T.J. has allowed me to experience another culture through different eyes. He has shown me what it means to be proud of where you come from and what it means to respect others for who they are. His voice is gentle and his eyes kind. When asked, “What do you want to become in the future? He simply replies, “ A respecting person.”

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