Terra Trevor is a woman with varied and knotted roots. With Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca, and German ancestors all occupying a place in her tangled family tree, Terra often felt that she fit in everywhere but also nowhere. Self described as a “rough around the edges mixed blood,” she lacked a neatly packaged identity, which eternally relegated her to a class of “outsider.” And like many of mixed descent but light skin, she grew up encouraged to “wear the face of a woman with light-skin privilege,” and blend in as best she could. However, Terra Trevor is not most people. Instead of complacently relying on her “light-skin privilege,” she embraced her outsider status. And with it, she discovered a gift – her ability to diffuse through cultural barriers. That gift informed her career as an author – she seeks out deep connections with other people and explores race, ethnicity, and Native American culture in many of her works.
Terra grew up in Southeast Los Angeles, near the rough areas of Paramount and South Downey, where mixed-race working class families surrounded her. Childhood friends who were half-Japanese, Mexican and of mixed ethnic heritage fill her memories. Many were poor, some struggling to afford food for the table, and they all were part of her community. Interestingly, when asked what were her dreams as a child, her response was that she did not have any; her only goal was to “experience a multiplicity and diversity of experiences.” After meeting and marrying her husband, Terra moved to Santa Barbara in 1978 and started a family and her career. Her drive to simply experience life was what eventually led Terra to my mother, Heewon Azad, and then to me.
When I first met Terra, she had just placed herself in a long line for tea. She paused, looked over at me, and swiftly removed herself from the line – she was eager for conversation. We sat down outside on the balcony of the café, and I gazed across the table at a pair of youthful, bright eyes delicately encased in wrinkles. California sunbeams streamed into our vicinity, but the Santa Barbara resident of forty years came prepared, slipping on a pair of dark, black sunglasses. She began speaking about my mother, and the clever mention of a mutual connection released any remaining tension in the air.
While she was a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), my mother taught Korean language classes at a local church. Sometime after my mother started teaching, Terra signed up for one of those classes. After having her first child, Terra and her husband, Gary, adopted a one-year old boy from Korea. Thus began their journey of raising a Native American-Caucasian-Korean interracial family. Later they welcomed a 10-year old girl, also adopted from Korea.
Terra wove thick strands of Korean culture into the already multi-colored fabric of her life so that her own children would have the opportunity to discover their individual identity as she did. Terra hosted potlucks, welcoming Korean students from UCSB to her home, where plates of pungent kimchi abutted bowls of potato salad. She took those students on family camping trips. She joined a local Korean church. Terra did not just try to learn about Korean culture; she dove head first into the deep end, intertwining her life with the lives of those she met.
In addition to immersing herself in Korean culture, Terra remained connected to her own Native American community and gave her children the chance to connect with it as well. After moving to Santa Barbara she began making friendships within the Chumash community, a Native American tribe indigenous to Santa Barbara and the region of Southern California.
Like all things Terra, her connections to the Chumash grew beyond surface roots. A recent piece of Terra’s, Tomol Evening: California’s Indigenous People, poetically describes her witnessing an ancient Chumash tradition in which a crew of paddlers make an arduous journey across the sea aboard a handmade tomol. Chumash friends had extended her an invitation to the annual channel crossing in which the paddlers departed the California mainland before dawn on an intense passage to Santa Cruz Island. At the island, Terra anxiously waited with the welcoming party – she had known two of the paddlers since they were small children. And when the tomol kissed the shore, she was not simply witnessing an event – she was part of the community and its release of emotion. These are the type of experiences we strive for in life, where there is a coming together for a momentous, shared caused, where difference in background is ignored, and where we are “ageless and timeless and feel the welcome arms of the ancestors.”
To learn more about Terra, visit her website @ www.terratrevorauthor.com