It’s customary that I introduce myself in my native language, so I’m gonna do that.
Shí‘taí k’an dé, nił’daagut’é. Shí Crisosto Apache húún’zhyé’. Shi Mashgalénde áan’sht’ííd.
So what I basically said is: Hello, my name is Crisosto Apache, and I’m Mescalero Apache and I’m 42. And I currently live in Denver, but I’m originally from the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico and I’m getting ready to move to an area near Albuquerque. Just sort of…going back home I guess, in a way.
I was born and raised on the Mescalero Apache reservation. I originally grew up with my father who was Diné Navajo. So when I was really younger I remember staying with him a little bit. He was from Tó hajííleehé , that’s formerly known as Cañoncito outside of Albuquerque. After awhile he ended up taking me back to my Mom’s in Mescalero. So I grew up on the Mescalero Apache reservation. On the reservation we sort of moved around a little bit, because there’s a lot of different, it’s really vast and huge. The area that I grew up in is like between 7 and 8,000 feet so its in the mountains. And that’s pretty much what I can remember growing up, is like wherever I went it was always…there was forest around and we used to run around and play in the forest. But growing upon the reservation I think, is sort of, it’s a very interesting experience and I think it’s taken me a long time to sort of realize the significance of being Native American, being Two Spirit, and also having an education, which, is really kind of unique to my family.
It was difficult, I mean growing up, cause my Mom had separated with my father and then remarried to my stepfather whose currently still in the house. And it was hard growing up. You know, we were sort of a poor family. My parents, meaning my Mom and my stepfather, the highest level of education they had was 10th grade, they’d both dropped out. My stepfather had some experience working trade, so whatever experience you can get as a tradesman is what he did. They both have a lot of experience in silversmith, so they made jewelry on the side to supplement the income. My mother worked as a dietician when I was a lot younger, but then because we moved around a lot ended up having to take care of us, so… My older brother is from a different parent, and then there’s me and my little brother we’re from my mom and my father, and then there’s two step sisters who were from my stepfather’s previous marriage, and then there’s my two sisters from their marriage now. So we kind of grew up, off and on with a huge family. So, there was a lot of us, so it was kind of interesting to just move around on the reservation. And I’m sure that was really hard to raise that many kids, you know, on the level of education that they had and for whatever jobs they could get. At the time I didn’t understand that, but now that I’m older and now that I have my nephews I start to realize what it takes to…to raise a family and to be financially responsible for them, to be emotionally responsible for them, and, you know, all of these things that parents go through I’ve sort of been thrown into that in under a year. But yet we grew up with very little money, but we managed.
I always knew my whole life that I was gay, from a very young age. I was very curious about it, but I didn’t understand it. And in the back of my mind I’ve always wondered if people were all like that, so all the friends that I had growing up in school, in the back of my mind I always wanted to ask them if they were the same way but I was always afraid. Because, I started to see that there was this sort of behavior that was happening where guys and girls got together and that was dating, but I never did see girls and girls or guys and guys. I didn’t see that in any of the relationships that I observed, on the reservation or off the reservation, in the schools or not in the schools.
However, you know, while I was growing up, I did remember seeing people that, some guys that would dress up as women on my reservation. And I knew who they were, and the community knew who they were. In fact me and my mom we talk about that all the time. In her experience too of growing up on the reservation she knows some people that were men that dressed as women, and you know that’s the way they presented themselves. There’s a heavy debate I think in Native American communities about how much of that is real and how much of that is cultural and how much of that, you know is part of our culture, or how much of that is just, you know… So I think from all the research that I’ve done in terms of two spirit people in reservation communities and all the different elders that I’ve talked to who are very traditional I’ve come to make the determination that culturally, that behavior was accepted within the community, because they had a function. There was a spiritual function, there was a community function, and there’s a lot of what we talk about that: we don’t disown our people, we don’t disown our families, and everybody has a purpose…are some of the basic teachings that we have within our culture, so within the culture itself these people are given responsibilities. They might not fit the responsibilities that straight people have such as procreation, providing for the family…but in terms of the way they operated within the community there was a purpose for them.
And in some societies and some cultures, because of how that balance is integrated within one person, a lot of these communities saw that as a gift. Because of how we describe the Universe around us. There’s a male universe and a female universe. And there’s a, a sense of balance that allows it to sort of interact with each other. Our seasons are male and female, our directions are male and female, our environments are male and female. Even to like the rain, there’s a male rain and there’s a female rain. You know, there’s a lot of different interactions in the cosmos that determines our identity within ourselves. So, you know, those are a lot of the things that I’ve been taught growing up in terms of who I was. Now, growing up, however, there has been this conflict, and I’ve sort of inherited that in terms of Western thought and Western religion, and how much guilt and shame that was pushed on a lot of people for practicing their culture and for participating in their culture. And I think, now that is something that I see a lot of people struggling with still. Is that integration of fundamental religion and how much damage that has, that continues to do to Native communities. I think in terms of the work that I do [with the Two Spirit National Cultural Exchange] that is some of the work that I integrate into some of the teachings that I have, and some of the things that we want to educate people about cultural sensitivity.
So, growing up, I did, we did identify that there are people that exist within our community that are able to express themselves the way they do. And there isn’t…there isn’t any shame…in presenting yourself that way. I remember that a lot of the interactions that I have had with my Mom, because my Mom comes from a fairly traditional background…she…continues to teach us that we are sort of in a greater community and we have to accept one another for who we are, and we have to teach each other that, and be there for one another. So, that’s what I was taught growing up, but I was still confused. I went to a public school off the reservation and I did my own research in terms of what I thought I was. I started hearing from other people, the way they talked, the derogatory terms. You know like: faggot, gay, sissy, you know all…what you hear. So I started looking those up in the dictionary. What does this mean, you homo? [laughter]. So I started looking at that, and I started finding out what these terms were, and that these terms were identifiable to an identity. But, I found out that they weren’t nice. So I started to internalize a lot of that. It was like who I am and what I am, I can’t tell anybody because it’s wrong, quote unquote. But what I should have done is: I should have talked to my mother early on. I didn’t know that she knew all this time. My aunts and my grandmothers they already knew. So, but I was the one that didn’t. I didn’t go and seek out the information like I should have.
This is an excerpt of Crisosto’s interview which took place at Crisosto’s home in Denver, CO on June 28, 2014.