Patricia Dixon embodies change
Patricia Dixon knows many ways to say hello. Among them are, “Suláaqaxam! Súlulyexem! Páxam! Haáwka!” Those greetings in four Native American languages — Luiseño, Cupiño, Cahuilla and Kumeyaay — welcome visitors to her office at the American Indian Studies Department at Palomar College.
Forty-one years ago, when Dixon was a San Diego College for Women student, it was a decidedly different world.
“Sister (Alicia) Saare tutored us,” she recalls, speaking of the Spanish class she took to satisfy a foreign language requirement to enter a master’s program in history. “She was very stern and had high expectations. She worked us hard so we could pass the exams. Some of the male students, veterans who’d been to Vietnam, laughed. They thought we wouldn’t pass.”
Not only did Dixon pass, but that same determination, preparation and respect helped the 1971 and ‘75 (MA) alumna build and strengthen American Indian Studies (AIS) at the San Marcos, Calif.-based community college.
“When I began working here, there was skepticism about what American Indian Studies could really offer,” says Dixon, a Luiseño from the Pauma Band of Indians. “My colleagues and I made an important decision to teach in our original disciplines (history, sociology and anthropology) and evolve the courses with AIS as a foundation.”
Offerings included History of the Southwest, History of the Plains and American Indian History of the Frontier. “We didn’t go off on victimization,” she says. “It caught the attention of our colleagues because we taught from a discipline they understood and they saw how we evolved it. Showing we didn’t come here to create a division made a big difference.”
Aylekwi — Luiseño for knowledge-power, or giftedness within a person — is what she recalls of the advice her grandfather gave her when she was considering a teaching career. “You have to give back.”
Dixon, among the first American Indian graduates in the College for Women, embodies that notion. When she’s not teaching AIS or serving as department chair on campus, she coordinates satellite AIS courses at Camp Pendleton and the Pauma reservation. Last spring she assisted Joely Proudfit, a professor at California State University San Marcos, in landing a $50,000 grant from the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians for the creation of video game cartridges to help younger tribe members learn the Luiseño language. The grant covers language workshops run by Palomar’s AIS faculty.
“We’re very passionate about this project and its potential for finding a practical way to preserve the Luiseño language for future generations,” Dixon says.
These contributions made it easy for Ethnic Studies Assistant Professor and All Nations Institute for Com-munity Achievement (ANICA) Coordinator May Fu, PhD, alumna Perse Hooper ’09 (MA) and others to honor Dixon for USD’s California American Indian Day celebration last September. Family, friends, tribal members and members of the USD community, including USD Ethnic Studies Professor Michelle Jacob — an American Indian who Dixon encouraged to apply — attended.
“I was overwhelmed,” Dixon says. “It was very touching, very humbling.”