The Real, Alaska Bush People
Tales from the Bush – the invisible unseen side of rural Alaska
Maria Garcia – An Outsider
As the school’s loudspeaker buzzed at 8:00am sharp, Maria was, as usual, already in her seat. Most other students had been in the gymnasium enjoying an indoor game of kickball as they would every morning before class. As the kids filtered into the classroom, faces full of disappointment, Maria sat up straight. She knew that her mother, Mrs. Garcia, would not tolerate her students slouching in class. Maria was never one to disappoint her teachers. She had the highest grade point average of any of the seventh graders, was never tardy, and took every opportunity at extra credit. She was a model student.
Today was the day of her big presentation. It was Columbus day, and she had planned a whole ten-minute lecture on his discovery of America. Her father, a 2nd Generation Spanish-American, and mother, a teacher born and raised in the Philippines, were immensely proud of Maria taking interest in her heritage. She poured her heart and soul into this presentation about her hero, one of the greatest explorers of the modern era, Cristoforo Colombo (she was insistent on referring to him by his non-anglicized name). She absolutely adored Columbus, a man who sought to prove what every explorer before him couldn’t – that the world indeed did not end west of Europe.
Maria sat at her desk quietly while the rest of the class was socializing. Mrs. Garcia was late – something incredibly out of character for her. She wondered what would compel her mother, a woman who harshly scolded tardiness, to be late on her big day of all days. Maria was furious, she should have been five minutes into her presentation by now. Her mom better have a good reason to keep her waiting. Then she heard a voice outside in the hall, one of her classmates exclaiming ‘Ow, ow, ow, ow, OW!’ It was Tulukaruq (whom she unaffectionately called Luke, because Tulukaruq was too hard for her to pronounce), being lead into the classroom by his earlobe by Mrs. Garcia. “Now you sit in your desk young man!” Mrs. Garcia exclaimed. “Truancy is against the law in the United States! Do you want your parents to pay for your irresponsible actions?” Tulukaruq let out a grunt and murmured something to himself before finding his seat in the back of the room. He was a troubled kid, Maria thought to herself, another village kid raised by people who had no business raising a child. He was the opposite of how Maria saw herself, an upstanding young American woman with a bright future in front of her. Tulukaruq on the other hand, probably wouldn’t make it past high school.
Caught up in her own thoughts, Maria didn’t hear Mrs. Garcia calling her name while taking attendance. “Maria!” her mother said a second time, clearly not pleased with having to repeat herself. Maria sheepishly raised her arm to signal her presence, hanging her head as to hide her shame as the class laughed at her moment of weakness. Maria’s embarrassment was apparent to Tulukaruq, who felt bad for the girl whose parents had forced her to move from the city. She clearly didn’t enjoy being in a secluded native community, and never would have found herself living here if it were not for her mother landing a teaching job to be closer to her father working on the north slope as a petroleum engineer. She isolated herself in her schoolwork and didn’t seek out friends, not because she was prejudiced, but because she felt like she didn’t belong.
By the time Mrs. Garcia finally calmed the class down, Maria was a shade of bright pink. Never one to waste time and already starting class fifteen minutes left, Mrs. Garcia went right into Columbus Day presentations and called Maria up to the front to start. Before she began, she took a deep breath and all the blush in her face had been flushed away -she was now ready to perform. “In 1492, Cristoforo Colombo, or as Americans know him Christopher Colombus..” The classroom let out a collective sigh as they’ve heard this story a million times before. “As I was saying,” Maria continued “Colombo is the man we credit for the discovery of America. He is a giant among men and brought civilization to the Americas.” Just then, as if she struck a nerve, Tulukaruq jumped out of his seat and exclaimed, “Columbus was a rapist and a fraud!” The class fell silent. Mrs. Garcia, after her initial shock, replied: “That language belongs nowhere in the classroom Luke! Don’t make me send you to the principal’s office!” Clearly, Tulukaruq had also struck a nerve in Maria who was quick to defend her childhood hero, “Be thankful that Christoforo Colombo discovered America or you might not have been born!” Neither statements seemed to deter Tulukaruq, who was now red in the face.“What do you mean by ‘discovered’ Maria?” he exclaimed. “You can’t discover a place where there are people there already!”
Mrs. Garcia intervened in the passionate debate between the two seventh graders, hoping to stop the argument before it got out of hand. “Children, you both obviously have strong opinions, but Maria is speaking. Please sit down Luke” This tipped Tulukaruq over the edge, he hated being referred to as Luke by Maria, but never by an adult. In a clearly annoyed and sarcastic manner, Tulukaruq cried out, “My name isn’t Luke Mrs. Garcia, it’s too-look-ah-rook! It’s a whole lot easier to say than ‘Chris-tow-fow-ro Co-lom-bo’. Maria wasn’t pleased with someone openly mocking her idol and yelled: “Well maybe if you Indians weren’t savages when we found you, maybe you could write your own history.”The class gasped. The only thing Tulukaruq hated more than being called a name that wasn’t his own, was using imposed words like ‘Indian’ and ‘Savage’. This was the last straw. Now, uncaring of any discipline that may result after this outburst, he lowered his voice and spoke calmly but with purpose: “Wow Maria, its no wonder you’re having a hard time making friends. I’m not going to sit here and listen to you white-wash OUR history, your mother does that enough already.”
He then began to march out of the room, only to be stopped in his tracks by the principal who was now standing at the door. Tulukaruq wasn’t sure how long the principal had been there, or how much he had heard. All he knew was now, standing in his path, was an elder in the community and an old friend of his late-grandfather. He truly respected him and was ashamed to think that he witnessed this heated argument. While the principal had heard the yelling from his office down the hall, he wasn’t there for discipline. “Tulukaruq,” he said in a calm and somber voice, “it’s your mother. I think you should come with me.”