Student Spotlight: Alfredo Quintana

Alfredo Quintana, River of Words 2018 Poetry FinalistAlfredo teaches Navajo cultural dance, drumming, singing, language arts, and helps students with their homework at an after school program for Native American students. He grew up dancing in his Navajo Pow Wow community, and has been teaching cultural dance arts since he was twelve years old. Alfredo looks forward to continuing to share his Native American legacy through dancing and writing, and is thinking to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Meet Alfredo:

Q: How old are you? What is your current age?

I am 18 years old.


Q: Tell me a little bit about how you got into writing.

This was actually my very first experience writing, and my mom helped me out with starting to write poetry. She really helped me and inspired me to get into this poem that I wrote. This is actually very new for me, but I’m very glad that I did it.


Q: What was it like to work with your mom writing poetry?

My mom writes a lot of poems, and it was hard to work together at first, but when we started to piece everything together we both really got into it. I wanted this poem to be about my culture, it is one of the main reasons I wrote this poem, and she actually helped me out a lot.


Q: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

What I like the most about writing is the multiple meanings that words can have. In poetry, each word is art, specially if know what you’re talking about and you can share it with others, which is why I chose to talk about my culture. I feel like this is what motivated my writing the most.


Q: Tell me a little bit about your culture and how it motivated you to write this piece.

As a Native American kid, I feel like I am living in two worlds. Writing this poem made it easier for me to piece these two worlds together. Speaking about what my culture is like and about how I grew up was nice because other people got to know about my experience, which I feel is different from the average person.


Q: Let’s talk about your piece “Sacred Elements,” what was your inspiration from this poem?

What inspired me to do it was my sister’s program, Running Strong, which encourages Native American students to express themselves and show their culture. My poem helped out because it inspired other Native American students to write more.  


"Sacred Elements" by Alfredo Quintana; River of Words 2018-19 Poetry Finalist.


Q: I’m really interested about the program, can you tell me a little more about it?

My sister, Tinisha Quintana, was a Running Strong 2017 applicant and she was one out of ten students who obtained a nation-wide grant to help Native American Students.


Q: In the poem, the speaker talks about different important mile stones in a young man’s life. Can you tell us a little bit about your choice to include those?

The reason I chose these moments is because they are the most important moments of my life. I think this is true for most Native Americans, and that we consider these moments to be sacred. I wanted people to know how sacred these moments are to me.


Q: How did you find out about River of Words?

I found out about River of Words through my sister’s Running Strong program and through our Title VI Indian Education Program.


Q: What role has River of Words played in your life?

River of Words played a big role because it encouraged me to write this poem. It is also keeping me more in check with the environment. I feel that I learned a lot from this experience and I want to keep working for the environment.


Q: Here at River of Words we talk a lot about Watersheds [*]: about getting to know them, observing them and conserving them. Is there a Watershed that means a lot to you?

We actually have Utah Lake a couple of miles away from here, and I visit it some times.


Q: We call someone who explores their watershed and the environment they live in a Watershed Explorer. Do you consider yourself a watershed explorer? Why?

I consider myself a watershed explorer. As Native Americans, we like to keep water sacred in our tradition. Water is important to Navajos because not a lot of Navajos have access to clean water in our Navajo Reservations. We conserve water because we need it to survive. I notice it when I visit my family at the reservation, they don’t have a lot of water. They don’t have water or electricity in their hogan, so they conserve their water. They are very careful with it. It is a hard way of life, but it keeps them humble and connected and grateful for what they have, for that water. That’s why water is sacred to us.


Q: Would you say that seeing your family experience the hardships of not having access to water makes you appreciate it more? Is that what you are talking about when you say that you feel like you are living in two different worlds?

Yes. I know for a fact that the use of water is small and conservative in my Navajo reservation. We don’t have a lot of it, and we have to haul the water to our hogan. We have to get it from a different place and bring it back to our home. I feel like in the neighborhood where I am now, water is easy to get. We can just turn on the sink and get it easily. It’s accessible here, whereas it is hard to get in the Navajo reservation.


Q: What is some advice you’d give another young person about writing or creating art?

For me, I feel like this is my first time writing and I got a really good experience out of it. I want to say that if you are just starting to write you should just go for it. There is nothing to lose and you can gain a lot from it.


Q: What is your advice for a young person who wants to be more involved in taking care of their environment or get to know their local watershed?

I would tell them to take care of their environment. Our environment is a teacher, it can teach us a lot about ourselves. The environment is a teacher that we need to learn from and we need to take care of it.  


"Sacred Elements" by Alfredo Quintana

Mother Earth and Father Sky created by air, wind, water, sun and land.

Where I go sacred elements surround and protect me from birth to death.

Tribal teachings, natural surroundings and wildlife guide and mold me.

Salt offerings were given by my family when I vocalized my first laugh.

As a child, I was taught to race the sun before dawn,

Teaching discipline and reverence for the order in our constellation.

I bathed in cold streams to purify and wake -up my senses to face another day.

I celebrated my rite of passage into manhood, within a sweat-lodge when my voice changed.

Each winter with the first snowfall, I welcomed and gave thanks for

much needed moisture with a traditional snow bath.

Now as a young man I prepare for a future Sun-dance under summer heat,

enduring four days without food and water in vision quest for life's meaning.

These Ute and Navajo traditional teachings ingrain traits of

humility, gratitude and resilience within me.

I am indigenous to this land.

I am from the Nearwater Dine’/Navajo clan

Born for the Northern Ute people

My maternal grandfather is from the Edgewater clan

My paternal grandfather is from the Spanish people of Sante Fe.

I live in a contemporary world, but I choose to keep my ancestors teachings ALIVE.

Where I go sacred elements surround and protect me.

Alfredo Quintana, age 17

Spanish Fork, UT. United States

Nebo Title VI Indian Edu.

Teacher: Eileen Quintana

2019 River of Words Finalist