Aug. 18, 2017
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The modern Native American experience is a struggle for identity—and justice.

July 16, 2008, 12:00 am

“My faith in law enforcement has been restored!” Jacobson announces in an interview a few weeks later.

As if her legal situation isn’t difficult enough, a thief stole her bicycle, her only means of transportation, right from the courthouse during her last status hearing. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputies were all over it; they reviewed the surveillance tape, identified the perp and tracked her bike to Santa Rosa. She picked it up this morning.

She sits cross-legged with her daughter in a comfy nook of blankets and pillows on the floor of her new apartment, obtained with the assistance of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The condo may be bare of furniture, but she has all her memories and property around her.

The walls are lined with boxes, the TV stand with DVDs, including Kauai By Air, and the kitchen bar is cluttered with bric-a-brac. A plastic box of bundled sage sits on the floor, a box set of Smashing Pumpkins CDs on the shelf above it. That’s hers, not her daughter’s. Gabriella prefers Slipknot.

Gabriella is 13 years old and says Santa Fe is “cool” before flip-flopping and adding that “it kinda sucks, too.” Jacobson would love to return to Hawaii when this case is over with—especially if she receives an expected windfall inheritance from her Canadian tribe’s oil and gas rights. Gabriella, on the hand, would rather stay with her friends and hang at Warehouse 21. Gabriella gives her mom the puke-face when she’s told that, if worse comes to worst and the judge upholds the sentence, she can expect to spend a month in Rio Rancho.
“Rio Rancho? Ugh,” Gabriella whines. “Rio Rancho sucks.”

Gabriella hasn’t attended most of her mother’s court dates, simply because she’s scared to see Medrano in person. She screws up her face when she describes his “wild eyes” the nights that the police had to come out, first when she was 9 and again when she was 12.

Jacobson says she is suffering from post-traumatic stress. While her daughter sleeps, she’s up at 4 am every morning with anxiety about her case and the eventual possibility of imprisonment.

“When I went to jail the first time, I felt like it killed a part of my spirit,” she says. “I think a month or a year in jail would hurt me more than the typical person.”

Gabriella thinks its “cool” her mom is speaking publicly about the situation. Of course, she’s got to play cool about it herself.

“If anybody laughs at my picture in the newspaper,” she threatens with a smile, “You tell them, I’m gonna come  after them.”

While Jacobson settles into her new apartment, a few miles away Rangel prepares to leave her house and the hogan of sticks Alcion is building in the backyard. Since losing her job, she’s been rationing her tax refund to pay the rent. If she doesn’t find work by the end of July, she will probably move back to Albuquerque where there are more jobs and the housing is cheaper.

Of course, the trade-off is that Santa Fe is more convenient for people suffering from extreme food allergies.

“What color do you pick?” Alcion suddenly asks, dropping a multi-colored assortment of tiny plastic train cars on the table.

“No, we’re not going to play a game,” she tells him in a voice lower and quieter than it was three weeks earlier. “He wants to play this train game. Let me answer these questions, OK.”

The house is dedicated to Alcion. Items around the house are labeled with small slips of paper to help with his sight-reading. An easel mounted with paper stands in the corner, displaying Alcion’s spelling and penmanship exercises. Being unemployed has been very good for their relationship.

It’s not that other jobs haven’t been offered to Rangel. The problem is that the jobs she has been offered require field work and her health just won’t permit it. The doctor’s theorize that the latest development, her vocal distortion, might be a side effect of her medications. But, if her voice doesn’t return in the next month or two, they’ll order a biopsy to rule out cancer.

“I feel bad declining these jobs, but I’m just not up for the fight with my health,” she says. “I’ve got to have an employer who is going to be understanding if I’m sick because I had chemo. Can I continue to work at home and get what I need to do done? I need an employer who is going to be a little more reasonable about my circumstances. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but that’s what I’m hoping to find.”

When the interview ends, Rangel sits with her son on the floor with the train game. Alcion has it all set up. The board is a map of industrial era North America, with train routes and destinations that players need to link with tiny plastic cars. Drawing cards from a deck is also somehow involved. Rangel bends the rules to expedite a win because, she knows, he’ll be bored with it before they’re even halfway through.

The board fills up with the primary colored train cars, from Vancouver to New York to San Francisco and even Santa Fe, until, finally, the plastic pieces are strung like beaded jewelry across the neck of the continent.

This game is over; but there are many miles left in the greater journey.

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