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  • Writer's pictureTSANGE' Magazine

Melisa Aleman | Interview - Issue #4

- Melisa Aleman -

34 - Native American Yaqui & Cherokee

Which culture or sub-culture did you grow up in? More Traditional Indigenous, Traditional Mexican, Chicano/Lowrider, Reservation, or More American-esque? Or a different culture/sub-culture?

Urban American Indian Community

What are your favorite parts of that culture and community?

My favorite part of my culture and community is that we are a big family. Many of our community members come from different tribes all over the United States and have resided in San Diego as a community we bring in members and over years everyone is a big family. I love to travel to powwows, being around the drum is healing, being a Southern Traditional cloth dancer has connect me to my culture and allows me to express myself through my regalia and the style of dance is graceful the traditional category is an essential tenant of the modern powwows, and a very honoring dance to participate in.

How did growing up in that culture effect your current style, and point of view of life?

When I was younger I dressed pretty casual and didn't really add my culture into my style. Most of my style came in waves, usually what was in style at the time. When I got older, when I started working more within my community, I started incorporating more Native American jewelry or added a native influence into my outfits. I love having a new ribbon skirt for holidays and for special occasions. I have my go-to seamstress, Donda Begay, I love her work, she always puts my vision together in my regalia or ribbon skirts, etc. From time to time, you'll see me at powwows and conferences looking for jewelry or earrings to add to my collection. Having these pieces are part of me, it shows who I am.

As an adult now, have you learned about other Indigenous or Mexican sub-cultures?

I've had the honor to continue learning about other cultures and tribes since living in the San Diego urban area, each tribe does things differently, whether it is at a community meeting or in the powwow arena.

What are your favorite parts of that culture and community?

My favorite part of being part of my community is the leadership and mentors that allowed me to be where I am today. I'm blessed to have elders and mentors guiding me and still guiding me today, it has been a blessing. With the knowledge they have given me, my goal is to be that person in my community, to give back and be a positive role model to my community. Passing the knowledge, our stories, and teaching of our culture to keep the community going that's what I love watching, the youth achieve their goals and making to to college so they can come and be advocate for their people.

How has it effected your style and point of view of life now?

I come from a line of strong Native American Women and ancestors, and most of my style incorporated a lot of my traditional jewelry with many of my outfits. I have a collection of ribbon skirts made by Donda Begay which I wear at powwows and special events. Being a strong Yaqui, Cherokee woman wearing my Native American Attire has grounded me and has given me a connection to my people.

As an indigenous woman, do you mind sharing what tribe(s) you are part of? Did you grow up on the reservation or outside of it?

Yaqui and Cherokee. I grew up outside the reservation in National City (California).

How did growing up on or off the reservation impact your relationship with your indigenous roots/culture?

Growing I grew up off the reservation, living in the urban community impacted my life, I have been connect not only to my roots but to other tribes as well. Living in the urban area you are taught everyone's way of their culture. I have some connections to the tribal members on the reservations here in San Diego and had the privilege to work with them. One of my first mentors was the late, Jane Dumas, she taught me the Kumeyaay way of life. I will always carry that knowledge from her. Everyday I am learning about everyone's cultures.

Please tell us about the work that you do within your culture(s)'s community. Or the work that you are doing to continue educating yourself or others about your culture(s).

I started off as a mentor in the community at 15 years old, and at 18 years old, and currently, I have been a mentor for my Powwow dance group founded by my grandma, Vickie Gambala - Soaring Eagles Dance Group of San Diego. After her retirement, I have become the director of the dance group. Our group travels from powwow to powwow, we do special events, conferences, and school assemblies all year long which allow us to continue to share our culture. I have worked in several Native Programs for most of my career. I have had the privilege to work with urban and reservation communities. Over my life time, I have met so many people from different backgrounds. Learning from them has helped me and paved the way for me, I am truly blessed by their teachings. I am currently attending SDSU to continue my higher education, finishing my Master's in Social work, in direct practice for Indian Child Welfare. My goal is to continue helping and healing my community by being an advocate for families who need services to thrive. My visions after my Master's Program is to build a program that will bridge out culture and teachings between youth and elders. As an adult, we should be learning from our youth and elders hearing their needs, and advocating for them.

@_missy.mel @soaring.eagles.sandiego MUA: Victoria Gates - @elev8te_makeup Ribbon Skirts: Donda Begay - @weeheart74 Regalia: The Late Lupe O'Brian - Jacome


Purchase the full magazine here:



Model and Interviewee - Melisa Aleman | @_missy.mel Dance Group - Soaring Eagles Dance Group | @soaring.eagles.sandiego

MUA - Victoria Gates | @elev8te_makeup Ribbon Skirts - Donda Begay | @weeheart74

Regalia: The Late Lupe O'Brian-Jacome Editor in Chief - Alvinita Gonzales Production Assistant - Berlinda Gomez Photography and Videography - Alvinita Gonzales

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