Amber: Currently, I work for University of Arizona, I teach Nutrition Education to various organizations within the Salt River Reservation, basically I tell kids and adults to eat their fruits and veggies whether it’s through healthy food demonstrations or me dressing up as a strawberry. I’m waiting for the program to order an apple costume so I can be “Amber the Apple.” Gotta love that alliteration. Also, my second job, well to me it’s not really a job, it’s something I love to do, is making the Native Zinestress/Native American Feminist Musings Zine with my zine husband, Melanie.
Paths that led me to my current job and projects, mmmm let’s see, I would have to say it started when I transferred to Arizona State University and when Melanie and I were roommates for a couple years. I had just returned from study abroad in England and I decided to take a break from school. Melanie needed a roommate, from there I remember her introducing me to Sherman Alexie and other Native writers which sparked my interest in writing. When I transferred to ASU, I took an American Indian Studies class and everything just started falling into place. I finally started to understand the world around me such as the anger, sadness and confusion I felt growing up in a racist bordertown (Flagstaff). Eventually, I finished school, majoring in Political Science and minoring in American Indian Studies. From there, I moved back to Flagstaff, worked at a Native American non-profit for a couple years and realized I wanted to work with Indigenous communities for the rest of my life. Backpacked Asia for a bit, moved back to Phoenix and here I am. :)
Amber: Does blasting music on the freeway count? Other creative outlets would be water coloring, traveling and working on my social (lack thereof) skills. I can’t draw so I feel a little closer to art when I water color plus it just makes me extremely happy and calm. I love to travel, although my first traveling experience to England was a bit of a bust, but my second traveling experience made up for it. I spent a couple months in West Africa (Ghana). I took a summer class and had an internship there and man, it made me want to travel the world, learn about different cultures, taste new foods, meet lovely people I could laugh with and sit on the beach for the rest of my life. I love traveling but I have to do it in smaller increments these days.
Lastly, my social skills help me to be more creative because they help with my communication skills, learning to talk to people about my zine and being inspired to expand the zine (i.e. topics, interviews, collaborations, etc.). From this I have been able to meet other inspiring and talented artists/writers/feminists/zinesters. Growing up I was very shy and awkward and suffered from low esteem but as I have gotten older I have learned to be the person I would have wanted to talk to when I didn’t know how to socialize (somewhat engaging and approachable). These influence and affect my main work because these are passions of mine. I incorporate water coloring in my zine for backgrounds or watercolor fruit for the kids I work with.
Through traveling, I have shared stories in The Nizhoni Beat zine about my adventures and encouragement of telling other Native girls to go and travel the world because there is a lot of love out there. This has influenced my main job in many ways, I can tell kids or adults about eating mangoes the size of their heads every morning before going to my internship in West Africa. Plus, it sparks the little ones’ interest about how there is a bigger world out there. At a former job, a little Navajo girl that is very smart always used to tell her mom “When I grow up, I want to go to college and go to all the weird places like Amber!” Her mom and I always smile when she tells me this story because we know she sees all the opportunities that are out there. My main work has helped me a lot with my social skills in the professional environment which has helped me so much when it comes to the zine. I worked in retail from ages 16-24, I never realized how much those computer and video customer service orientations would be such an important skill not only in my professional life but my personal life and creative/artistic life, which is weird to say, haha.
Amber: For me my biggest challenge is always trying to find that balance in life, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.
Amber: Oh man, I’ve failed so many times, I have so many embarrassing moments flying through my head right now (falling off A mountain in Tempe, ripping the back of my pants and walking into poles) but a particular time I bounced back from failure would have to be my sophomore year of college. I moved to England for study abroad. I was certain this was my ticket out of small town life, I was hoping to leave and not look back. Once I got to England, it was not what I expected at all. It was cold and cloudy all the time. Plus, I was in the North, so the racism was just as bad as Flagstaff, people didn’t know I was Native American but still treated me as the “Bad Brown Person.” It was funny, going half way across the world and I still found the same old shit I was running from. Anywho, I was pretty miserable and depressed during this time, I missed my family like crazy and cried almost every day the first two weeks. Although it was a really shitty time for me, it made me realized how grateful I was for my family, culture and the land I come from (Northern Arizona). This moment made me realize I was taking a lot of things for granted back home. Every day, I wanted to go home but I knew I needed to finish my semester but all I thought about was the 12 hour plane trip back home to the mountains, desert, Arizona sunsets, my grandma, burritos and TACOS. I ended up failing half my classes then returned home with my tail between my legs. Afterwards, I took a break from school for a couple years before figuring out what I was doing with my life. However, from this and my break from school, I realized many things, mainly how important my family, home and culture were to me. At the time, I was devastated by it all but now that I look back, I’m grateful this happened because it made me realize how resilient I am and that my family always has my back.
Amber: What makes me really proud is getting feedback from Native girls around the country and world telling Melanie and I how much they enjoy and relate to the writings in the zines. Nice reviews from academia are always great and all but the ones that really hit me and make me remember why I write is when Native girls tell me the zines sound like something their sister or cousin would write. When we get compliments or comments like this, this is when I know we are on the right path in terms of the zine’s objective.
Amber: The biggest misconception about feminism is that we are man haters. I love being a Native woman and coming from a matrilineal society (Diné), all the women in my family are very close and supporting of one another, this is something that I’ve always known. However, I’ve always had a very complicated relationship with the Native men in my life, my dad and brother. As I have gotten older and become a feminist, I think it scared them at first because of the stereotypes behind feminism (angry, man hating women). But through feminism, it taught me to speak my mind and learn to finally address the issues I used to keep bottled up about my dad and brother. At first it was very intense but as we put everything out in the open (with the help of a therapist), we opened up and finally learned to talk to one another. Through this, this has brought my brother, my dad and I closer. We talk every day and I try to tell them I love them as much as I can. Through feminism, I learned to voice my hurt and silence to them and they listened, stepped up and I feel loved and protected by them every day. In result, I hope I am able to reciprocate to this to them as well. This has broadened my understanding and I hope others understanding about feminism, it’s not about hating men but letting men know we want to be heard and respected.
Amber: As a youngin, I wasn’t popular, I was mainly close with a small handful of nerdy, goofy girls and the women in my family. I didn’t encounter jealousy and the “mean girl syndrome” until I was in my mid-twenties, so the thought of bringing down women is new to me. But for me, I think we need to stop this thing called jealousy and girl hate. There’s this meme, quote or whatever they’re called that says “Another girl being smart does not mean I’m not smart. Another girl being pretty does not make me ugly. Another girl being liked does not mean I am unliked. Girl competition needs to stop and self-love needs to start.” Which I totally agree with, there are so many awesome women out there and we need to encourage and help other women that are trying to do good in the world rather than bring them down. Like M.I.A. says “Pull up the people!” We need to pull up the women!
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?
Amber: This may sound SUPER cheesy but follow your heart then the rest will fall into place. Also, don’t be afraid when you are new to something. We all have started from a place that was unfamiliar to us but don’t let fear or inexperience hold you back.
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