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Tribal News | Friday, November 22

Navajos in China

Mother and son travel in China in cultural exchange

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
The Navajo Times

Charlotte Kahn, 45, and her son, James Foguth, 11, visited China in September for 28 days.

James Foguth, 11, center, wearing traditional Navajo
attire, and his mother, Charlotte Kahn, back, poses
with a class of Chinese students for whom they made cultural presentation. The two, on a trip sponsored
by the Native American Ba'ha'i Institute, traveled to
China in September to share the Navajo culture.
(Courtesy photo)

Their purpose was to share the Navajo culture and to stress the importance of cultural identity to Chinese students.

Kahn is Tóhadleenii born for Bit'ahnii. Her parents are Annie and Chester Kahn. Chester Kahn painted the "Circle of Light" mural displayed at Ellis Tanner's in Gallup, N.M. She works with the Native American Baha'i Institute in Burntwater, Ariz.

Foguth is Tóhadleenii born for Tachii'nii. His parents are Kahn and John Foguth. He is in the sixth grade but for the semester he is being home-schooled because he was traveling in China.

In China, their appearance in traditional clothing attracted the attention of the curious in and out of classrooms.

"The Chinese people are small. I couldn't believe how small they are," Charlotte Kahn said. "I'm big compared to them."

Kahn said she stood tall over some of the people and long hair was unusual for the people of China.

"They were really approaching James. They thought he was a girl because of his long hair," she chuckled. Foguth dressed traditionally with his hair tied in a bun.

When they took bus trips, people spoke to them in Chinese.

"They thought that we were from a different province," Kahn said. "We tried to tell them that we were Americans then finally someone who spoke English translated for us.

Children are prized (sub)

"When they found out that we were Americans they were really happy to meet us," she said.

"It's a huge country," she said. "The people are really nice and very, very hospitable. They wouldn't let us lift a finger. They insisted on doing things for us."

"There is a lot of people. I mean there is about a fourth of the world's population right there," she said. "The city was huge, apartments stacked on top of one another."

In China a married couple is only allowed to have one child by law.

"There is a lot of young people. They really prize their children. During the day the grandparents would take care of the children while the parents worked. That went on until they were old enough to go to school," Kahn said.

"You can really see the love they have for their children," she said.

"There is a lot of compassion. The people laughed a lot. They are happy people," she said.

Visits to schools (sub)

Kahn and Foguth visited over 20 different classes, from elementary to university level.

"The children were really receptive of the things we were telling them," she said. "We told them about the importance of language. We also told them about the code talkers and how the language helped in creating an unbreakable code.

"A lot of them of them are ashamed to be Chinese," she said. "They're all learning the English language and learning about the Western world."

"They're learning not just the English language but some of the good things from the history of the English language," she added.

Kahn said most people are adapting to trends coming from the Western world, like music, clothing and lifestyles.

Government policies (sub)

However, the reach of the government was ever present. Kahn said she spoke to a student who excelled on the soccer field.

"This guy was a soccer player and he wanted to go play professionally but he can't," she said. "The government already had chosen his profession. They have him going to school to become an engineer."

"They don't have the freedom to choose," she added. "He wasn't very happy about that."

"I just encouraged him to see it out and maybe sometime in the future things could change," she said.

Kahn said she is not sure as to how their future is chosen by the government but a lot of the people are not happy.

"The government is strict," she said.

Kahn said students who want to come to the United States for academic purposes are granted permission from the Chinese government and they make sure that the students return.

"The people out there are getting restless by doing the same thing day to day," she said.

"They are not encouraged in what to do," she said. "A lot of them feel trapped. There is an empty space inside them because they are unsure of what to do."

" Some of them would come up and tell me about their situation asking for advice," she said. "A lot of the things we take for granted here is helpful for them."

Remembering history (sub)

In many different Native American nations, Native teachings include philosophies of appreciation, strength and courage and she used that to encourage Chinese children to remember their history.

"We encouraged them to remember who they are," she said. "A lot of them didn't know their history or traditions. I asked some of the students and they gave me their perspectives on certain things they did know."

"I told them about how the government and Spaniards came and killed off many different members of tribal nations. A lot of them were in tears hearing about our history from genocide," she said.

"I also told them that the Navajo culture and language is being taught in schools because the Navajo government saw how important it is for our people."

Kahn and her son took turns with the presentations. Each presentation was changed for each grade level of the classes they visited.

"The (Chinese) kids start school at the age of three," she said.

"They were all typical children, too," she said in comparison to children here on the reservation. "There were some naughty ones."

Navajo culture (sub)

Children were impressed with Foguth and some of the things he talked about, she said.

Their presentations included the creation story, the four sacred mountains, clan system, hair-tying demonstration and the story of Changing Woman.

She said the children were receptive of the lessons and asked questions.

James even sang a round dance song with a hand drum as well as the four-direction song.

Kahn said she was taught many things from her parents.

She admits that she does not know everything about the Navajo culture.

"With the little that you know of your culture and tradition, it is enough to inspire other people to learn of theirs," Kahn said.

Appreciating being Navajo (sub)

China is an accomplished nation because of the material things the country produces, Kahn said.

"The material things they make is only a small part of what the country can do. You can feel it. What we're going to see is something big. I hope I'm still living when that happens," Kahn said.

"It was really inspiring. We came back with the conviction of appreciation that we are Navajo," Kahn said.

Kahn and Foguth's trip was sponsored by the Native American Ba'ha'i Institute.

©Copyright 2002, Navajo Times (Window Rock, AZ)

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