On Friday, Nov. 6 Professor Luci Tapahonso, an accomplished author and Professor at the University of Arizona, delivered the final Convocation speech for the 2009 fall academic term.
Tapahonso was introduced by Brianne Wooldridge, a senior psychology major and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Tapahonso shared poetry reflecting her experiences as a Navajo woman, including the mixed feeling of horror and strength that the American Flag gives to the Navajo people.
Born to a family of ten children, on a farm in Shiprock, N.M., Tapahonso earned her BA and MA from the University of New Mexico. She has taught English at the University of New Mexico, the University of Kansas, and the University of Arizona at Tuscon. She has also authored seven books, many of which are collections of original poems.
Tapahonso grew up immersed in the Navajo culture. She began by indicating how grateful she was for the new morning in her culture it is thought that the holy ones come every morning and bring sunlight with them therefore a new day is something that should be appreciated.
Tapahonso then greeted the audience in a Navajo traditional manner, explaining that her words meant that “you are your mother” and that you are of your father’s lineage. She then went on to thank her family for all they have invested in her over the years
For her presentation she read a series of her poems, addressing various issues. One of her first poems was entitled “Old Salt Women” from her book A Radiant Curve. It described her culture’s tradition of celebrating the first laughter of babies. The poem explained that at the beginning of Navaho time, the first human was a child that the spirits found on a cloud on a hill. This child’s first laugh was seen as her departure from the spirit world and her arrival into the human world. Thus, in Navajo culture a baby’s first laugh is celebrated with a huge party.
Because it is also believed that the child embodies a holy person, the baby not only receives gifts but also gives them. People line up and ask the baby for the things they want, but they have to say it backward.
Her poem “That American Flag” from her book A Radiant Curve depicted the complicated feelings that the American flag evokes for the Navajo people.
Her poem “Festival of the Onion” drew comparisons between the Navajo and Italian cultures. She explained the Italian festival of Onions was “like a miniature Shiprock festival.”
She ended with “Afternoon in Sante Fe,” a poem describing a comforting and joyous afternoon singing and lounging on a sofa with her mother.
In all her poems, it was apparent that Tapahonso finds great pride in her Navajo culture.