Ofelia Zepeda grew up in a small farming community in Stanfield, Arizona. Her parents being from Sonora, Mexico among others, were a group of people that settled outside a Reservation and so Ofelia grew up connected with a Indian tribal affiliation of O'odham and claims it to be her main language. Ofelia attended regular schools and eventually, the University of Arizona, Tucson where she received her Bachelor and Masters Degree, as well as her Ph.D. (in 1984). Zepeda's dissertation was on the topics of Papago Morphology and the main area of Zepeda's life work has been the O'odham language with a focus on preservation.
Ofelia's major accomplishments include: having been the Co-Founder of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), Co-Coordinator and faculty member in the AILDI Institute (a summer institute that offers courses to (potential) educators working with American Indian communities and working with the multicultural population across the United States). Teaching a survey course of American Indian language, and being awarded a $320,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her "singular work in advancing the field of native language scholarship positions." Zepeda is also a poet; she has published a great list of work, and is also co-author of several articles and the author of the single pedagogical textbook on the Tohono O'odham language A Papago Grammar.
Today, Zepeda teaches language classes at the University of Arizona where she has worked since 1979. She she also instructs under/graduate courses on the Tohono O'odham language structure. Ofelia is also the current editor of Sun Tracks, a Native American literary publication. She dedicates her work to the preservation, importance, and education of the Tohono O'odham language.
Ofelia Zepeda is a Native American poet who possesses a kind of double vision. She sees the contemporary world through her own highly observant eyes and, at the same time, through the eyes of her Tohono O'odham ancestors. Seeing this way infuses her poetry with a resonance and depth that makes it a delight to read--and re-read. Zepeda is as clear-eyed about the past as she is about the present. She recalls waiting for the school bus on a cold morning inside her father's truck, listening to the sounds of the engine, the windshield wipers, and the "soft rain on the hood." She remembers celebrating Mass on the "cold dirt floor of the Winter Solstice." In the present, she sees both the frustration and the humor in a woman she observes trying to eat pancakes with one hand while her other resides in a cast: "Watching her, I realize eating pancakes is a two-handed job." Whatever she sees, she filters through her second set of eyes, which keep the past always present. She tells of traveling to Waw Giwulig, the most sacred mountain of the Tohono O"odham, to ask for blessings and forgiveness. She writes that one should always bring music to the mountains, "so they are generous with the summer rains." And, still, "the scent of burning wood / holds the strongest memory. / Mesquite, cedar, pinon, juniper, . . . / we catch the scent of burning wood; / we are brought home." It is a joy to see the world fresh through her eyes.
The annual seasons and rhythms of the desert are a dance of clouds, wind, rain, and flood--water in it roles from bringer of food to destroyer of life. The critical importance of weather and climate to native desert peoples is reflected with grace and power in this personal collection of poems, the first written creative work by an individual in O'odham and a landmark in Native American literature. Poet Ofelia Zepeda centers these poems on her own experiences growing up in a Tohono O'odham family, where desert climate profoundly influenced daily life, and on her perceptions as a contemporary Tohono O'odham woman. One section of poems deals with contemporary life, personal history, and the meeting of old and new ways. Another section deals with winter and human responses to light and air. The final group of poems focuses on the nature of women, the ocean, and the way the past relationship of the O'odham with the ocean may still inform present day experience. These fine poems will give the outside reader a rich insight into the daily life of the Tohono O'odham people.
This first pedagogical grammar of the Papago language features twenty chapters on grammatical constructions and five sample dialogs--plus abbreviations, symbols, summary of grammatical elements, and two glossaries. Classroom-tested for teaching both native and non-native speakers, the text also offers linguists an overview of the Papago language not available elsewhere.