EDITOR’S NOTE: Theresa (Bravo) Stewart, an expert recruiter, is sharing her story to celebrate November’s Native American Heritage Month.
When I was 10 years old, I came home from school one day and found my dad sitting on the stoop of my grandmother’s house. I noticed a look in his eyes I’d never seen before. I remember asking him if he was OK. Not saying a word, he shook his head. With a shameful sigh, he said “no.”
He began to tell me he had a very good job lined up that paid well. It would’ve been great for our family as we didn’t have much growing up. The manager of a small trucking company had offered him a job under one condition: He had to cut his long hair to shoulder length.
In many Native American tribes, hair length is a sense of identity. It signifies strength and courage. We will cut our hair to signify we’re in mourning the loss of a loved one. When my dad passed away five years ago, I cut my hair and haven’t cut it since.
My dad, knowing how important this job was for our family, cut his hair. He returned the next day to show the manager he was serious about that position only to be laughed at and told, “I didn’t think you’d really do it.” Even though he did it, he didn’t get the job.
My dad felt devastated, shocked and betrayed. He always believed a person was only as good as their word. He felt discriminated against because of how important long hair is to our culture.
Before this, I never knew we were different than other people. Growing up in a Native American culture, I had no idea that discrimination still existed and did so well into the early 1990s. This is one of the reasons I take so much pride in doing what I do for PG&E.
As a recruiter at PG&E, we ensure that our hiring leaders aren’t basing their decisions on stereotypes and assumptions my dad faced, such as race, color and religion.
It wasn’t until I was older that I learned of the prejudice and inequalities my dad faced daily. Some assumed he wasn’t well-educated, came from poverty or wouldn’t conform to today’s society. These prejudices stemmed from the violence and loss our tribes and ancestors faced in the past.
My dad stood 6-foot-2, had dark skin and sported numerous tattoos. Perhaps he looked intimidating to some, but many looked up to him. He helped a lot of people, was very caring and took a lot of pride in his family, friends and most importantly, his culture and where he came from.
Today, I have my dad to thank for teaching me so much about my culture and our traditions. I’m part Paiute (multiple tribes located in parts of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah) from his father’s side of the family and Mescalero Apache (south New Mexico) from his mother’s side.
I get very excited and take pride in explaining my cultural background and ethnicity. We have a cultural uniqueness that we continue to preserve to this day.
We’ve endured lifetimes of suffering but will continue to have a strong belief that all humans are inherently good people and should be respected. We have a duty to honor, care and preserve the land that once belonged to our ancestors. We have a strong connection with nature and all living things. And we continue to build our culture so we can show our children they have a voice, they’re seen and they have a place of belonging.
In Lakota we say, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which stands for “all my relations (or, we are all related).”
In loving memory of my father – Anthony Ray Bravo, Wakinyan Iyanka “Running Thunder”
April 19, 1961- July 5, 2018
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