Nicole Merton | Interview - Issue #5
- Nicole Merton -
37 - Native American & Hispanic & Caucasian
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?
I was more American-esque while growing up. I always knew I was of Indigenous and Latinx decent but we never lived on a reservation or had those traditions. I was raised in the suburbs of Orange County and lived with my mother who for a while was a single mother, but we always stuck together.
What are your favorite parts of that culture and community?
We always were raised to remember where we came from, and to always, no matter what to be respectful and kind. My mother and my family always reminded me that family and your surrounding community always supports you when you need it the most and when you least expect it. I still carry that with me today.
How did growing up in that culture effect your current style, and point of view of life?
When I was little, I was told by my mother that I was indigenous but she was not sure of which tribe of territory I was from. It was not till I was a young adult when I did the research and found that the ancestors on my father's side where from the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. Since finding out where I was from, I now look at my life and I feel blessed to be able to be free to be who I am and not feel judged, my family supports me always. I look at life at a point where we only have one life and how we pursue it is up to us but we need to understand that creator and our ancestors have plans for us and they always send signs to guide us on the path of where we are suppose to be heading. Cherish what you are regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc.. Love you for you, hold your head high.
As an adult now, have you learned about other Indigenous or Mexican sub-cultures?
Since researching and finding my roots I have gained an exceptional amount of knowledge and experience within the indigenous culture and now instill that into my daily life. I have made many connections and have gained many friends and family, and now they share their traditions with me. For example some are indigenous and Chicano, some are indigenous and Filipino, or afro-indigenous, and each have their own traditions and it's amazing how we all connect to each other in some way or another.
What are your favorite parts of that culture and community?
My favorite parts are that we all share experiences and stories through dance and songs but also sharing amongst each other with jewelry, clothing, certain foods, etc.. For example some make fry bread and some make stew, but other might make salmon and blue corn muffins, it's so exciting to see the cast variation in ceah community.
How has it effected your style and point of view of life now?
I see life as a gift, we need to value ourselves and our children to the highest point and make sure that we are okay and that our family is taken care of, and that also goes for our community. We each depend on each other for help and guidance.
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?
I'm a descendant of the Isleta Pueblo Indians. I grew up on the outside of the reservation. I have never been to the reservation but plan to visit soon.
How did growing up on or off the reservation impact your relationship with your indigenous roots/culture?
I grew up not really knowing too much about my culture but now as an adult, I have gained so much knowledge, and have experienced so much that I feel that connecting with your roots at any age is so beneficial because you start to incorporate all the traditions into your daily life and you feel confident. I feel that I am who I am and that's so amazing!
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 am a MMIW/MMIP advocate and strive to connect and support the indigenous community any way that I can. The work that we do, is to help bring the ongoing injustice in the community to light and start to give a platform for the community to have so they can have a voice. I try to provide sessions of healing for the ones who need it, and also just need to talk about things, listening goes a long way. All of this work amplifies the history all the way to the present on what is going on in the native community, as well as other communities in the United States and Canada. As well as, Mexico and South America.
Please tell us about your MMIP project and the process that goes into it.
I started the "Here, Our Voices: Our MMIP Movement" project 2 years ago. I travel with my family to various tribal areas and some non-tribal areas throughout the United States to listen to families of loved ones who are no longer here, but also listen and support survivors as well. I listen to their stories, feel their pain, and comfort them, I have connected with some of the strongest people I've ever met during this journey. Each portrait I capture I want to encapsulate the emotion they are feeling in that moment because this is a time of reflecting, healing, and sometimes a moment for mourning. My artwork also involves more than just taking pictures, it is a time where we come together and share experiences, embrace each other's energy and spirit. These remarkable people stand and pay tribute to the ones who are no longer here, but also stand for themselves to show that they are still here and will not be forgotten. While having these photographic sessions, I place a handprint over their mouth, some use red, while other's might use black, each stand for something different. Red is for solidarity and the bold symbol that they will not be silenced. Black is for strength, warrior, survivor, and some wear it for masculinity (if someone lost a father, brother, uncle, etc.), but it also depends on how you interpret it. I let them choose what they want it to stand for. While we are doing the shoot and placing the hand print, I play music in the background, there are different cords that change emotions and help with the process of healing as well. This is how I get the raw images I am striving for. After our time together, I have each person write a handwritten statement which reflects what they were feeling during our session and why they stepped forward to do this project .They share their stories, memories, and connections to MMIP. My family is one the biggest parts of my journey, I have my two boys, which I want to have experience that I'm doing so that they can grow up to be strong, compassionate men. My 12yr old son, Adam, is my assistant, and my 6yr old, Joshua, is my official hugger and always takes pictures as well with his tablet, (behind-the-scene photo taker). My husband is also my strongest support, he is there for myself and my children, but also for the families and friends who also need support as well!
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