Thursday, August 13, 2015

Andrew and The Pueblo Prince

If I could live half the year in New Mexico, I would.  I love Seattle and am not willing to give it up entirely (even though it's changing rapidly and starting to suck a little bit) but the lure of New Mexico is intoxicating.  There's something in the New Mexico air that feels like a hug, something in the ground that wafts up through the sagebrush, envelops me in its arms and rocks me like a tiny baby.

That sounds like the premise for a horror movie but I promise it's not scary.  It's more warm and cozy.  Yet wild and rugged.  The light is just different there.  Plus, enchiladas.

Taos, New Mexico is quite possibly the only place where I'm excited to enter a church...

...and equally as excited to stare at the back of the church.

We stayed with a family friend in Taos.
She has a home with expansive views of mountains and sky.
She is doing something right.

A sweet new low maintenance pet

Step off, what the hell is that.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I first visited the Taos Pueblo on a family vacation when I was 16 years old.  We met two young Native American men during that visit who have since held significant places in our family lore.

The first was someone I'll call "Andrew."  We met him at the Taos horse ranch where he led trail rides for out-of-towners.  Andrew was my age, maybe a year or two older.  He was confident, cocky, funny.  He told us he was content with his life because he had everything he needed to be happy -- a horse, a house, and a rifle.

"Andrew" circa 1991

Andrew for some reason decided my family knew a lot about horses.  The truth was we knew what horses were but beyond that our horse smarts were a little fuzzy.  Andrew nevertheless led us on a very challenging mountain ride; our horses ran up narrow paths and jumped dry creek beds and sagebrush.  I dropped my reins and clung to my horse's mane at one point, screaming with fear.  Those were good family times.

Andrew repeatedly looked over his shoulder and yelled at my mother to keep her horse moving.  Mom disrupted our ride with her inability to control her animal.  "Don't let her stop to eat!  Don't let her stop to eat!" Andrew yelled but Mom could only throw her hands up helplessly as her horse wandered off the path into the brush to eat as if her stomach had no end.  We could no longer see Mom but could hear her disembodied voice say things like, "Well come on now, horse, stop that."

What did he expect when he put my mother on a horse named "Grandma"?  Everybody knows grandmas don't listen and are quite ornery.

My sister visited the Taos Pueblo years later and found Andrew still at the horse ranch.  She recounted our family's experience years prior and he laughed, then took her and her British friend, who had never been on a horse in his life, on the same "advanced level" ride.  More running through mountains, more jumping, more screaming with a few very British hollered "Oh dear Lord"s thrown in for international flair.

The Taos Pueblo
A many centuries-old UNESCO beauty

It's been over 15 years since my sister's return visit but I was still hopeful I would find Andrew at the ranch.  I carried the above photograph of him on my tour of the pueblo but didn't need it -- as soon as I mentioned his name, people smiled.  He's well known, well liked, but no longer conducts trail rides at the horse ranch.  He's moved on to other things, like starting foundations and such.

I was happy to hear he was well but also crestfallen.  I would not go on another memorable horse ride with Andrew as my fun yet slightly irresponsible guide. It's probably in the best interest of my kids' safety my reunion hopes were snuffed.

My disappointment did not abate upon returning to Seattle.  On a whim I looked him up on Facebook and there he was. It was the same big enthusiastic smile but now he was surrounded by a large and equally enthusiastically smiley family.

I sent him a message.  He messaged me back.  He's happy with his life and happy to hear he gave my family such fond memories of our time in Taos.  Andrew and I are now Facebook friends and I've done some reading about the foundation he started, a foundation to preserve Native American languages and teach them to young people.  Great job, Andrew, but tell me, do you miss yelling at my mother?  You must.

There was a second significant man at the pueblo back in 1991.  We never caught his name but he was our tour guide. He was also young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, beautiful with long dark hair in a ponytail all the way down his back.  He was articulate, soft spoken yet passionate about the pueblo and his tribe.  His goal was to graduate college and study Indian Law.  I was so smitten.

My family made merciless fun of me in the aftermath of that tour.  In retrospect, they were quite insensitive to the workings of the teenage heart.  I couldn't stop talking about him.  My family drove me back to the pueblo the following day in the hopes of seeing him again but he was not there.

Anyone seen this person?  
The Native American one, 
not the rest who can't take their eyes off his beauty 
while wearing their early-90s high-waisted pants.

My family and I began calling him "The Pueblo Prince."  The Pueblo Prince set my 16-year-old soul afire with injustice.  I returned home to Ohio after that trip and wrote letters to the editor of our local newspaper about the issues facing current day Native Americans -- sky high rates of alcoholism and unemployment, extreme poverty on many remote reservations where we forced them to live, a loss of sense of identity and high rates of depression and suicide for starters.

(I received some fan mail for those letters to the editor -- a few people thought it was great a sixteen-year-old cared about such things.)

The struggles of current day Native America continued as my theme throughout college.  I gave impassioned presentations to my less enthusiastic classmates.  I wrote intensely melodramatic pieces in creative writing but it's possible I laid it on too thick -- I remember one essay returned with "I'm rolling my eyes, MJ, give me a break" scrawled across the top in red pen.

That teacher probably celebrates the white man's triumph over Native Americans every night before he goes to bed.  If you don't give me an "A" you're part of the problem.

Upon graduation, I decided I wanted to do something different, something volunteer-oriented, before getting a "real" job.  Would I have thought that way if I had not been introduced to people screwing other people over at a young age?  I'll never know but I can guess.

I signed up with a volunteer organization.  I hoped to work at an AIDS clinic with Native Alaskans but that position was taken by the time they interviewed me.  Instead they asked me to move to Seattle to work with adults with developmental disabilities.

And the rest, as they say.....

the way we are
because Alaska just did not happen

that is a f*cking amazing church

I wish this next part was happier.  Unfortunately it ends the way I should have seen it ending.  I sent Andrew the above picture of the Pueblo Prince and asked him if he knew who he was.  He did, in fact they're good friends having grown up together on the reservation.  He told me his name.  It's weird he actually has a name.

I couldn't find the Pueblo Prince on Facebook so instead Googled him.  I wish I hadn't.  It became obvious very quickly The Prince has fallen prey to issues I used to expound upon in class presentations.  He didn't finish college.  He never came close to practicing Indian Law.  He is instead, from what I've read, a "well known alcoholic" in his tribe who's been regularly on the wrong side of the law.

I found a picture of him but I can't believe it.  There's no way he looks like that now yet at the same time there's little doubt.  It's him, and it's as heartbreaking to see as his beauty ever was.

It's cruel irony the man who inspired me to learn about issues facing current day Native Americans now suffers several of them.  I've asked Andrew to wish The Pueblo Prince well for me, and to tell him I remember him and he made an impact with his message.  Andrew has promised he'll pass my sentiments along next time he sees him.  I hope it makes The Pueblo Prince feel good, no matter how briefly.

Look at that.  Still no dog story.

But the dog did not happen in New Mexico.


  1. I wonder if you had ever heard about the United World College in Montezuma? Its an IB boarding school for international students with a mandatory wilderness requirement and volunteer work requirement. I think that you would love the place! I can imagine you as a kickass house mom/volunteer coordinator :-) Or, at the very least, sending your kids there one day and visiting them constantly

    1. I'd never heard of it but just did some reading -- what an incredible program! I would undoubtedly love the place. Thanks so much for telling me about it, it's certainly giving me some ideas already.

    2. Do get in touch if you ever want more info or an introduction to someone on campus. I am on the French National Committee and am always thrilled to get good people involved in UWC.

    3. Thank you, Nicole, for introducing me to such a cool organization. I will be in touch!

  2. mj this is by far one of your best humor balanced with heart and reality I am sorry for the Pueblo Prince too-life can hand you so curve balls and before you know it up is down and down is up....are you saying there is a part three with a dog coming up???

    1. Thanks, g. And yes, there is a part three (four now, actually). With a dog.

    2. well now you just made my week-YEE HA-

  3. I love these last couple of posts, MJ. It's so nice to hear about working for a good cause, and not just for money.
    And the kids are adorable as always!