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Single Mom On Navajo Nation Describes How Her Worries Will Shape Her Vote


As this Democratic Party convention has been going this week, we've been focusing on how politics is really personal. It's not just about speeches, it's about your lives and how your experiences and fears shape your votes. Politics is so personal for a woman we met when we visited the Navajo Nation in Arizona last week.

Debbie (ph), I'm David.


GREENE: Nice to meet you.

VERES: Nice to meet you, too.

GREENE: Did your kids set up this whole canopy, everything?

VERES: Yes. Aren't they sweet? Come on over (unintelligible).

GREENE: Oh, that was really nice.

We really needed some cover from the sun because it was a scorcher when we met with Deborah Veres. We were at her home in Fort Defiance, Ariz. We set up under a tarp canopy in the backyard - both of us with our masks on at a distance, right in earshot of the air conditioner unit that was cooling her home. Deborah had just come home from the middle school down the road where she teaches social studies.

VERES: But I'm back at work now for the last two weeks. I've had two weeks on now, maybe three. We're temperature checked every day, no children in the school, trying to scramble to find a way to teach.

GREENE: When you first meet Deborah, you'd never know how tough she's had it. She lived in foster homes as a child. She's overcome poverty. She's a recovering alcoholic. But none of this got the best of her. She's now a single mom to six kids. And she's always been determined to break free from the struggles, the stereotypes and the racism she has faced all her life.

VERES: I was often called a stupid Indian. Sometimes that was said under their breath or muttered. Other times it was said quite clearly. But I always knew where I stood. And so at a very young age, you know, I was reading and trying to not be a stupid Indian.

GREENE: The story of Indigenous communities like hers is riddled with trauma - forced relocations, forced sterilizations, nuclear waste dumped on their lands. And now Indigenous communities have been hit especially hard by this pandemic. But Deborah didn't bring any of this stuff up when I asked her the question we've been asking all the voters we meet - what keeps you up at night?

VERES: The thing that keeps me up most at night is my kids. And I'm telling you what really scares me is since we've been home, I've really got a chance to see what they watch. And I'm afraid. And I see Trump and all of the things that are happening in our world, in our communities and our nation and the conspiracy theories. What keeps me up at night is that people are going to be ignorant and dumb and have weird beliefs.

GREENE: But thinking about her kids and their future does make Deborah reflect on her own journey. She had accepted that things would never change for underrepresented groups, certainly not in her lifetime.

VERES: I had come to this space in my life where I believed that I was going to die and nothing would be changed. And then the (crying) - George Floyd got killed, murdered, and it was so heartbreaking. I still haven't watched the whole video. I just can't. And I saw those folks just start to come out into the streets. And I started - this is so bizarre, and it's probably going to be so bizarre to your listeners. But in the midst of a pandemic, I felt hope (crying) that somehow my children's life was going to be different. And I started to see that we're turning a corner. And I'm seeing all these white people in D.C. and Atlanta and LA. And just as many white people were protesting with Black Lives Matter as Black people.

GREENE: Do you still feel that hope today compared to...

VERES: Then I started feeling kind of depressed for a while because I want to be a part of it. There are some of us who've been doing this for a long time and waiting for this moment. But I'm 56, and I don't want to catch COVID. And I have a lot of responsibility. I'm a really important person. I'm an Indigenous woman who has survived this, who has gotten educated, who is taking care of her kids. I have to survive this pandemic.

GREENE: ...What role does President Trump play in everything you're talking about?

VERES: Oh, my gosh. I think that our general community, not just Native, not just Black, but our general community has kind of really seen how - what gaslighting is. I used to talk about racism, and nobody believed me until they saw George Floyd get a knee in the neck till he died for eight minutes. You guys are seeing that, too. We've always known that this nation has some really deep sins that nobody ever wanted to talk about. And those are being unearthed.

His sickness and his lies and his awfulness has made people say, oh, my God, how could I have had my head in the ground for so long? Why didn't I notice this before? And what are we going to do about it? And they're doing something. Voter after voter, you know, is going in there and they're voting for progressive people. They're voting for justice Democrats. Do I believe in the Democratic Party? No. I am Indigenous. I am not along the net. There is no politician or no party who has ever given a [expletive] about us. But if this country as a whole does better, we do better.

GREENE: And what do you think about Joe Biden?

VERES: I don't really like Joe Biden, but I'm going to vote for Joe Biden.

GREENE: What don't you like about Biden?

VERES: I think he's very, very white man. He lives with a really whole lot of white privilege. He doesn't see it. He doesn't experience it that way. I think he knows it intellectually. And I think he understands intellectually. I'm just not sure that he feels that.

GREENE: It's almost like you never would have asked for all of this, but now that it's happening, you feel...

VERES: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Like we're living through something important.

VERES: You know what? I'm going to something that is so controversial. But it's the same thing that happened at Sept. 11. Like, I was here. I was up at my mom's place, and I was watching Sept. 11. And the first thing that came to many of our mouths was, now they know. They know what it's like to be terrorized. Now they know. It's not that I didn't feel grief. Oh, my God, I would see those signs on the buildings - have you seen my son? - with those pictures. Can you imagine coming from a space where your family has 500 years of pictures? You know, I don't think you guys understand.

GREENE: But you see that may be changing now?

VERES: I see in our communities, maybe in this country, maybe even if it's just between Navajo and Navajo, maybe Black people and Black people, maybe Natives. Like, we've made a lot of friends (laughter), you know. We made a lot of connections. Like, we saw our power. You know our power now. That's important. You never knew our power before. We have power. We are somebody.


GREENE: Debbie, thank you for talking to us.

VERES: You got it.

GREENE: That's - thank you.

VERES: No, thank you.

GREENE: That was Deborah Veres of Fort Defiance, Ariz.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "HAKEA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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