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Shaniya Smith


"Don't carry anything you bought from the store in your purse."


I cannot describe what that quote did to me as I stood in Shima's kitchen. With practiced hands, she slapped dough back and forth before placing it on the hot skillet. Returning from a grocery run, I told her about the protest taking place in town, and she spoke of her experience with racism. I have always seen my family being mistreated at the bordertowns, those cities, and towns bordering the Navajo Nation, but they rarely speak about their experiences.


"Only one time has it really bothered me," Shima said as she flipped a tortilla over in a quick, measured movement. "I was with my grandma."


A fond memory I have of my great-grandma is of her standing to introduce herself at a gathering. Her ruffled dress matched her button-up long sleeve shirt, and her headscarf covered her cloud-white hair. She stood as tall as her age-stooping height would allow as she rapped her chest saying, Tod7ch'77'ii. Grandma was a strong, proud Bitter Water matriarch.


"We went to a store, and I noticed this man and woman following us. I ignored them. Then I saw them as we checked out, with a security guard-"


One of the last memories I have of Grandma was at another gathering. I sat next to her, enjoying the food placed in front of us. Several people tried to talk to Grandma, but she ignored them. One aunt yelled out, she can't hear, she is deaf. When no one was looking, Grandma leaned over to me and whispered in my ear. I am only deaf in this one, she tapped a finger to her left ear, but this one hears just fine. We laughed unnoticed, together in peace.


"They called the police when she refused to go to the back of the store. She kept saying, 'I didn't do anything.'"


My heart pounded in my tight chest, knowing as Shima's voice quivered, what she was going to relay. It was Orajel, Grandma had a toothache for over a week. The woman saw Grandma use the remedy, bought the week before, then place it back in her purse. Although it was clearly used, she was accused of stealing the product. I don't need to speak about the humiliation and abuse which followed because it is a story of police brutality, sadly similar to the stories we hear about daily. I cannot begin to know how to communicate the ways this story hurt me or how to convey such lament and sorrow.

"Don't carry anything you bought from the store in your purse." Grandma said, trying to protect her granddaughter from experiencing similar trauma.


"Please. Don't ever-"


You ask how I am, and I answer: tired. I don't mind that I have inherited generations of weariness, for I am uniquely formed by it, but I am ready for people of color to be safe. I am ready for the deep-weary to end and for restoration to begin.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020