Aug. 22, 2017
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The modern Native American experience is a struggle for identity—and justice.

July 16, 2008, 12:00 am

Rangel doesn’t know why her birth certificate says she’s white.
“On my birth certificate it also says that my mother is Maria Linda Cantu and my father is Geraldo Rangel, who works at El Sombrero Restaurant,” she says. “And yet everyone is marked ‘Caucasian.’’’

Rangel’s best researched guess is that she’s a combination of Apache, Navajo and Spanish, with perhaps a dash of German. Her great-grandfather on her mother’s side, the tales tell, was a Mescalero Apache. At 8 years old, the same age as Rangel’s son, he witnessed the murder of his family. Little Willito was captured and condemned to a boarding school until he escaped to Mexico. He became a migrant farmer and crossed back across the border to Texas, where he met and married Rangel’s great-grandmother, a Jicarilla Apache. They had a daughter who, in turn, married a Spanish refugee and gave birth to Rangel’s mother.

Her grandmother on her father’s side has a story just as harrowing and triumphant; as a Navajo child, her mother spirited her away from US soldiers, riding horseback down the Rio Grande, and left her to be raised by a Mexican family.  Rangel’s grandmother married a Spanish Mexican and together they produced the El Sombrero employee.

Jacobson’s heritage is vague. Raised in a foster home in Canada until she was adopted by white Baptists, she grew up with an undeniable Christian surname and three conflicting birth certificates. Years later, a reunification service helped her meet her biological mother and she confirmed that she was half-Inuit, half-Diné.

Jacobson’s journey to Santa Fe is just as epic as Rangel’s genealogy. A medicine man named Wandering Spirit became Jacobson’s father figure, teaching her about her native culture. From Spirit, Jacobson learned about natural symbology, how to keep an eagle eye trained for small details of meaning and moments of serendipity. There was the night of her pregnancy, when she waded through blood red waters from a hobbit-town hippie commune on Tofino Island to mainland British Columbia. There was the eagle she saw out the window of the Vancouver to Seattle bus. Then there was July 4, 1999, in New York City. Walking down the street, her eagle eyes spied a shoe box in a plastic bag by the side of a building. Inside the bag, beneath the box, she found a wad of bills in red elastic. The $2,500 got her and her daughter to Kauai.

Even though she was born in Canada, the date became her personal Independence Day.

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