Rust Rorschach, Timothy Embertson
“You are excused. If you don’t know certain things, I know you are not from around here,” Dementria Martinez told the man politely.
She could tell by the odd expression on his face that something, probably her first name, had gotten his attention, probably confused him. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last time.
“Sorry, I’m terrible with names, and I don’t know much Spanish. I’d like you to write it down, if you don’t mind.”
“Got it. I’ve seen “Martinez” before.”
But isn’t it “Demetrio” or “Demetria” in Spanish? Sounds like ‘dementia.’ No, I won’t ask; I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.
Ah. That name.
“We have come to register the birth of our daughter.”
“When and where was she born?”
“And you are just now registering her birth?”
“We live far from any town or road.”
“Yes, but every baby needs a birth certificate, and a Social Security card, as soon as possible. Where did you live?”
“We brought her in as soon as possible. We live near Den-Na-Zin.”
The clerk now wished he hadn’t asked.
“I’ve never seen it spelled.”
“Is it Spanish?”
“No, it’s Dineh.”
Coming to work in the McKinley County records department can be quite a culture shock to outsiders.
“Manuela,” the man calls out, “do you know how to spell ‘den-na-zin?”
“No. But in Spanish we would spell it D-E-N-A-Z-I-N. Ask Roy? He’s Navajo.”
“Close enough. Do you have idea where this place is?”
“But you’re from here.”
Turning to the couple and their daughter, the clerk asks the couple,
“And what is her first name?”
“Manuela, can you help me for a minute?”
A thick, short dark-skinned woman with long black hair and dark eyes approaches and starts to fill in the record form.
“There you go. Wanna prove check it before you send it into the state?”
“Looks okay. I’ll send this to Santa Fe. Mailing address?”
“Can’t we just come back here at the end of the summer to get it?”
“That is highly irregular.”
“Not around here.”
“Who was the doctor or nurse who delivered the baby?”
“A local woman assisted.”
“You could call her that.”
“Not around here.”
“Okay, I’ll put our address down as our office.”
“We are here now because we are moving our sheep. In the fall, we will be coming back here.”
“You’re in luck. It probably will get here by then.”
“If not, we can pick it up next spring.”
After the family leaves, Greg turns to Manuela.
“So, how do you distinguish your people from these people? You’re not Navaja, right?”
“No one is ‘navaja’; that means ‘straight razor’ in Spanish; navajo is invariable.”
“Back to my question.”
“We know who we are. They know who they are.”
“Well, I know who I am. But I have a hell of time figuring who everyone else is around here.”
“Do we all look the same to you?”
And thus, because an Anglo clerk misrecorded the name on her birth certificate, and a Hispanic clerk did not check it closely, a Navajo baby became Dementria Martinez (a family member would give her the nickname “Awee’ ba’glohasin” or “crazy baby”). Not the first time something like this happened around here. Good thing the clerk didn’t misrecord the baby’s sex on the birth certificate. Once your birth certificate is issued, your sex, male or female, is a legally-binding fact, even if it is not true. “Other” is still not a choice, even around here.
About the Author
Jack Davis · University of Cambridge
Jonathan “Jack” Davis is a senior majoring in Creative Writing and French. A native Southwesterner who has traveled the world, he loves the diversity of landscapes, cultures, histories and prehistories in the Land of Enchantment. His poetry has appeared in the March 2021 Las Cruces Big Read and is forthcoming in The Edmonds (WA) News‘ Poet’s Corner. This piece first appeared in Crimson Thread.
About the Artist
Timothy Embertson · Hope College
Timothy Embertson grew up in Lake City Michigan, and he is a dual major in Art and Psychology with a minor in Theatre at Hope College. “Rust Rorschach” first appeared in Opus.