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This is not my land.

As I reflect on it, I suppose no land I’ve lived in has ever really been my land. But some of the places I’ve lived have felt a lot more like my land than this place does.

I’ve lived my whole life in New Spain, except for a couple of months when I lived in old Spain. I have had some extended visits to Columbia and to upper Louisiana, as well as a week in Virginia and a couple of weeks in non-Spanish Europe. Other than that, though, I’ve always lived in New Spain.

New Spain was, of course, not empty when the Spaniards arrived (though many of the portions where I have lived were nearly so). Beneath the Spanish stratum of the culture of New Spain, there always lies some other, earlier culture. Through most of my life, that earlier culture has been a variety of Uto-Aztecan.

Now things are different for me. The colonial stratum here is Russian rather than Spanish, and though I suspect its influence seems relatively insignificant to many people here, it seems somewhat prominent to me. I see Russian architecture, I hear Russian spoken, I see Russian fashions. There are advertisements for Russian cultural events, public displays of Russian-style religious devotion, and many people with continuing ties to Russia. And there’s a near-total absence of Spanish influence.

The native stratum here is also much larger and far more robust than it has been in most of the places I’ve lived. And it’s quite different from the native cultures I’m familiar with. The people here are at least Na-Dené, so they look like the Navajo, with whom I feel quite comfortable. But their culture is nothing like Navajo culture. It is completely alien to me.

I am neither Spanish nor Uto-Aztecan. But those cultures are familiar to me because I’ve lived among their influence throughout my life. In those lands, I feel I belong. Here I feel my foreignness acutely.