#CRC19 Tommy Orange: Welcome to Native America

Tonight, I remembered why I love book events. Tonight, I saw Tommy Orange speak as part of CSU Channel Islands’ Campus Reading Celebration 2019, and felt the tingles all over as he read an excerpt from his novel There, There, a girl’s experience growing up Native American in Oakland in the 1970s. This was a story that our country needed told, but especially CSUCI. 

The campus, originally an institute for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, was built in 1929 using Mission Revival Style architecture. Before that it was Chumash land. To witness the celebration of a Native American voice in a place that contributed to the erasure of their culture was both upsetting and uplifting. I felt guilty and ashamed of the pain and damage of the past, yet hopeful of the future, for forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity. When the Chumash leader who blessed the room with sage and sang, I nearly cried. He said, “We can’t live in the past, but the past lives in us.” Tommy Orange’s novel and talk worked to deepen that statement. Later Tommy said,  “Certain people carry the weight of their past, others float on top of it.” Both Tommy Orange and his novel There, There carried the weight of their past. 

Now, at this point I have to admit – I have not read the book. After listening to Tommy, I definitely am going to. His reading left me with so many questions. Did Native American people really live on Alcatraz? What happened to the mother in the novel? What happens to Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield? 

The Q & A only confirmed the itchiness to get my hands on a copy of There, There. Tommy Orange was humble, authentic, and funny. His shared his personal story with us, his path from roller hockey to music to books and his self-acceptance as biracial, Native American and White. It took him six years to write There, There. As he said, “My life is still messy and hard – even with the books success.” 

Tommy also spoke about his experience working at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, the shocking Native Youth suicide rates, and the Coalition to Stop Vionlence Against Native Women. It has become such an issue that there is now a hashtag #MMIW – missing and murdered indigenous women, and the Trump administration has launched a task force to “combat the epidemic”. 

Oh I can’t wait to get my hands on the book! I am so thankful for CSU Channel Islands for organizing the event, as well as my professor for strongly recommending I attend. 

As Tommy Orange said, stories are the “essential starting point” for healing intergenerational trauma. May this be the beginning of the healing.

Get your own copy of the book There, There ($25.95)