Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 29, 2000 - Issue 15

Meet the Teacher

Delphine Saraficio Tohono O'odham language and culture instructor
by M. Scot Skinner Arizona Daily Star

"Many times I feel like I'm drowning.
Coming here and teaching these kids is like my anchor.
It keeps me from drifting away."

The language part doesn't always go over real well, she says.

"The kids say it sounds stupid, and they don't plan on using it, so why should they learn it? They say that nobody will understand them anyway, so why should they bother?"

Saraficio, who teaches third- through sixth-graders, tries to get the students to understand that their language is part of who they are.

"Each bird has its own tune, and this is what's given to us,'' she tells them. "We can speak English, and we can live with Anglos, and act like Anglos, but we will never be Anglos."

Saraficio, 47, was born on the reservation, and until recently the single mother lived with her five children in Santa Rosa Village, a two-hour drive from Tucson.

"Our house there still doesn't have electricity or running water. That's why we wanted to move to Tucson.''

But life in Tucson has its own challenges, she says.

Her van was stolen from her South Side home two weeks ago, and since then she's been getting around on Sun Tran. Police found the vehicle, but it will take $1,000 to fix it.

"Many times I feel like I'm drowning,'' she says. "Coming here and teaching these kids is like my anchor. It keeps me from drifting away."

Saraficio, a basket maker who sometimes gives demonstrations for schoolchildren, says she isn't a professional teacher. An administrator encouraged her to apply to be a teacher four years ago.

"I was in a classroom (on the reservation) a week later, with 30 little faces looking at me,'' she says. "I was so full of panic, but I just took it one day at a time. I realized that I knew more than I thought I knew."

The kids she teaches are so much smarter than she was at their age, she says.

"When I was little, our world was very small. We hauled water and looked for wood and did chores all the time. We didn't have books. Today, the kids have television and they are learning all the time. Their horizons are stretched so wide."

It touches her when she helps instill cultural pride in them.

"I feel like a tiny thread connected to the past,'' she said. "These kids are the new generation. Maybe when I'm gone they'll remember some of what I taught them. In this way, I'm extending the Tohono O'odham lifeline.''

Tohono O'odham

Tohono O'odham (Papago) Literature



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