Theresa Gregor, a descendant of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and Yaqui Nation, is an assistant professor in American Indian Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West event that asked “How Can Humans Coexist With Monster Wildfires,” Gregor visited the virtual Green Room to chat about the wild parrots of Los Angeles County, drawing inspiration from her kids, and why life is like cleaning your house.
What do you wake up to?
I usually set an alarm, but lately, I’ve been waking up with the sunlight and the birds. We have a lot of scrub jays and woodpeckers but in Los Angeles County, there are also wild parrots. So, sometimes, I wake up to the parrots talking.
What’s your hidden talent?
My hidden talent, my kids would tell you, is that I’m an interpretive dancer. It’s kind of just silly because I can’t karaoke, so I’m the backup dancer. I do interpretive dancing to their karaoke songs.
What’s your favorite household chore?
I like my kitchen counters and my cabinets really, really clean. I have nice gray granite countertops and white cabinets. I love wiping them down. It’s soothing when I walk in and see them sparkling.
Where do you go to be alone?
I hike and walk almost every day, anywhere from five miles to eight miles. In my neighborhood, I go on trails, but then we also have pathways that I go up into the foothills to Angeles National Forest. I’m usually by myself with my dog and my EarPods. And I do listen to music on my hikes. I’m not alone, alone, but I’m alone in my own head.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
I grew up on a really rural Indian reservation in San Diego County, and we didn’t have a lot of anything. And so sometimes I have to wake up and pinch myself and be like, you know I did get my PhD, and I am in a tenure-track job, and I live in Los Angeles. It feels a little surreal. But I know all the hard work I put into it. So I’m just excited to be in the place where I am with my children and my work. In some ways, it’s realizing that the goals have been accomplished. It’s surprising but not surprising at the same time.
What relaxes you?
The hiking. Cooking also relaxes me. Having a good glass of wine. And reading a good book—having my hour of reading before bedtime—that definitely relaxes me. Right now, I’m re-reading Leslie Silko's Almanac of the Dead, because I feel like we’re in apocalyptic times.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It’s from an undergraduate mentor. She told me that our life is always like cleaning your house. You can’t always clean all at once. There are certain rooms that are untidy and need attention. But you go through it. Through the weeks, through the months, through the seasons. If you can plan your life, your priorities, in a way where you don’t feel overwhelmed and that you have to get it done all at once, you can tackle things. That helped me multi-task without feeling like I was dropping the ball, or I wasn’t doing a very good job. She knew I liked to clean, too, so she used that metaphor for me. You don’t have to do it all at once: One room on Monday, one room on Tuesday.
What’s the last thing that inspired you?
I would have to say I’m always inspired by my kids. When I moved them to Los Angeles four years ago, we left a very small, close-knit community, close to our reservation community and our family. They had never lived in the city before, and they both just blossomed and are thriving. Their resilience and their confidence to put themselves out there was inspirational to me to be like, OK, I made the right decision; I’m on the right path, not only for myself but for my kids.
My daughter was in Spain when COVID hit, so she had to come home. My son was in his first musical in school which he didn’t get to perform in. They’re just troopers. They’re just like, Oh well, I’ll get to go back. Oh well, I’ll do it another time. They’re just taking it all in stride.