American Perspectives: Texas Born, Cali Living, Navajo Proud

There are many faces to America. There is much history, diversity, resolutuon, and change. To get a sense of what lies at the core of this continent, while also trying to aquire an understanding about its drive and future, there is no better place to start than with its people. American Perspectives aims to oblige.

Meet Captain Sean Begaye of the U.S. Army

Sean Begaye

My name is Sean Alvin Begaye. I was born into the Sleep Rock People, and born for the Many Goats Clan; my maternal Grandfather’s Clan is Yucca Strung on the Line Clan, and my Nali’s clan is One Who Walks Around Clan. I currently live in Fort Irwin, California. I am currently a Captain in the United States Army working as a Assistant Operations Officer at the 11th Cavalry Regiment supporting the National Training Center.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in El Paso, Texas at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. I spent my first few years in El Paso, TX and moved to Fort Defiance, Arizona after my father was diagnosed with gastric carcinoma.

What is your first, most vivid memory, and what impact did it have on you?

My first vivid memory was the day my father coughed up some coffee like substance. I was sitting in my high chair and I remember him coughing, and the chaos that followed. I didn’t know it then but that single moment changed my life. My dad was retired from the Army and we moved to the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. The Navajo Reservation was certainly different, and the first day I got beat up by a bunch of the neighborhood kids.

Arizona Evening Sunset | Photo by Sean Begaye

What makes you most proud of being Navajo?

Knowing I come from a people who helped the United States defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. My grandfather Joe Shorty Yazzie was a Navajo Code Talker during the Marines’ Island Hopping Campaign.

Do you have a cherished tradition you and your family follow – if so, what is it?

My family has become synchronized with American and Christian beliefs. However there are some traditions such as celebrating a girl’s womanhood with the Kiinalda Ceremony and Prayer in the morning time. My family believes that we should pray with corn pollen or tobacco early in the morning.

What would you like people to understand about being Native American/Navajo (this can be a common misconception, or a chance to educate on issues etc)?

Well, the biggest misconception I’ve heard is Tipis (Tee Pees), no we do not live in Tipis – in fact most Native Americans did not live in Tipis, this was mostly a Plains Indian dwelling. The other one is free college, Native Americans do not get free college, and the third misconception is Native American people do not receive free money every month. We work just like anyone else. What makes this more difficult is there is little infrastructure on Native Reservations so Native American people have to work off the reservations to make a living.

Horse Sketch | Art by Sean Begaye

You served as a U.S. Marine, what made you decide to serve in the military, and what experience really stands out for you?

Well, I did serve as a US Marine for 10 years from 1998 to 2008. After the Marines I went to college and participated in Reserved Officer Training Corps. at Arizona State University, upon completion I was a commissioned Army Officer. I currently am a Captain with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. I joined the military initially to serve my country and I wanted to be a Marine after my older cousin became a Marine. I watched his graduation and some how made up my mind to be one. After I graduated high school I ended up in the U.S. Marines.

The best experience I had was as a Scout Platoon Leader in 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. It was the best job I ever had while in the military. I will never forget the Soldiers who served under me. I stay in contact with most of them. For some the Army is a memory.

What changes would you like to see in the United States (this can be political – policies etc, attitudes or opportunities, or on a personal level)?

Well, I think the Military should focus on the looming threat of potential home grown terrorism. Right now we are focusing on a region that has proven to be untenable.

Mojave Desert, California | Photo by Sean Begaye

To connect with Sean, and see more of his photography and artwork, follow him on Instagram

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