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Valerie Rangel and her son, Alcion, struggle to make ends meet after she was fired from her job with the City of Santa Fe.


The modern Native American experience is a struggle for identity—and justice.

July 16, 2008, 12:00 am


On her first day at Lubbock High School in Texas, circa 1992, Valerie Rangel’s sass landed her in the principal’s office. The receptionist handed her a form that instructed her to check a box to identify her race. She checked three boxes: Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian.


The principal told her she needed to pick a box—and that the school received federal funding when it identified the ethnicity of its “problem population.”

Rangel took back the form. This time, the smartass checked Caucasian. The principal was not amused, but there wasn’t a thing he could do. After all, that’s what Rangel’s birth certificate says.

Despite her birth certificate, Rangel identifies as Native American. But it wasn’t until she moved to New Mexico that she was able to do so without feeling ostracized.

“I was telling my Lubbock High friends that I find the most peace here,” she tells SFR. “I find a lot of comfort here, because I am allowed to be who I am and people don’t lock their doors when they see me coming down the street.”
In Lubbock, she says, people sneered at her on the street. Security guards followed her around stores. Boyfriends wouldn’t bring her home to meet their parents.

Rangel’s life story reflects, in many ways, the modern Native American experience; after years of living in the diaspora, she finally returned to a place connected to her roots, where she feels a sense of homecoming. At the same time, as a single mother with health issues who was recently fired by the City of Santa Fe, Rangel’s life has included the same confrontations with poverty and desperation as her ancestors’.

There are marked similarities between Rangel’s journey and that of Kathleen Jacobson, a Canadian-born Diné, who traveled coast to coast before settling in Santa Fe as a dual citizen. Like Rangel, she has found a sense of home here. But she also faces losing that home as she battles against the criminal justice system and faces jail.

These women have more in common than heritage, single motherhood, economic status and the fact that both criss-crossed the continent before returning to their ancestral lands. Though their stories are unique, they also betray the frustration common to disadvantaged people when they are defeated by a system that doesn’t always recognize who they are.

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