Voices Behind the Vote - Part 3: Defying Stereotypes
We've been profiling New Mexican families in KUNM's Voices Behind the Vote series. We're asking people to speak frankly about the political issues they care most about this year.
Wahlesah Dick is nearly 30 and a single mom. Her daughter, Macy Ridge, is 9 and she’s really into art. So much so, the two often spend Sunday afternoons between catechism class and 5 o'clock mass at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in downtown Santa Fe. If Macy had her way she'd take home a multimedia painting by Debra Yepa-Pappan, one called Hello Kitty Teepee. "It has a pink and red and purplish TeePee with hello kitty on it," she describes," and a girl that has a traditional dress on."
Wahlesah points to the next piece and explains how it blends a stereotypical Native American image with modern art history. It's an obvious shout-out to surrealist Renee Magritte's well known painting of a pipe. But this one features a photograph of a Native American woman in traditional dress with a French inscription- Ceci n'est pas une indienne- this is not an Indian.
"I think people try to tell us who we are through what they've been exposed to in mass media," Wahlesah says. "People will tell me how I should dress or how I should act and what I should do. But I know what I am, I know where I come from, that's within me."
This shrugging off of expectations and assumptions translates for Wahlesah's political identity just as it does for her culture. She's a Republican while all of her family, members of the United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, are Democrats. In the two years since she and Macy moved to Santa Fe, Wahlesah says she's been fairly comfortable in the minority here where the district is solid blue.
After we’re done at the museum, we walk across the street to the St. Francis Cathedral prayer garden to talk some more. "Everyone knows I'm a Republican," Wahlesah explains, "I get a lot of people coming up to me and telling me, 'Oh, how can you be a Republican and be Native American? I'm going to change you, Wahlesah.' I'll sit down and say, you won't change me, but we can talk and discuss."
Wahlesah has no doubt, she'll vote Republican again this year. She says she's a huge fan of Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "I love Mitt Romney. He just really spoke to me about individuals, supporting the individual and how can we best do that."
Wahlesah is an administrator for a behavioral health company. She believes tax breaks will make it possible for businesses to create jobs. And while a safety net is important, she says it can also be oppressive. "I've seen people within my own tribe and even my own family members who become dependent upon the government to do things, and I want them to take their power back, to say, 'No, I can do these things, I want to do these things.'" She thinks that's what American society needs to do.
Wahlesah worries about her daughter's future under a Democratic leader. She doesn't like how President Obama's administration is spending money, and she winces when she writes her income tax check each year. But the polarization of voters in the U.S. is something Wahlesah sees as a big problem. "Us not willing to get into conversations with each other," she laments, "not being willing to move on our viewpoints. I believe that we can learn from each other and when necessary we can work together and we should."
All this time, as I'm talking to her mom, Macy is hopping around in her silver sequin boots and black leggings. She seems perfectly content to stomp on fallen crab apples and do pirouettes under the fluttering aspen trees.
Raising Macy has made Wahlesah even more pro-life than she was when she first voted at 18. It's part of why she calls herself a hard core Republican, and she says she's taken Macy to register voters. Her faith in individualism extends to everyone and she stresses she'll be fine with whatever voice her daughter uses when she’s old enough to vote.
I asked if it would be ok if Macy chose to be a Democrat. She answered without hesitation, "Absolutely, it would. I told her, when you get old enough and you want to decide, you can become whatever you want. If you want to be a Democrat, you can become a Democrat."
Wahlesah says she just wants Macy do her research on the candidates and vote with what her heart tells her.