He sits calmly, awaiting his afternoon interview, sporting his white Fudgesicle T-shirt, jeans, unlaced shoes and his plastic “I love boobies” bracelet. Dalton J. Torres who is known in exclusive social circles by the moniker of D.J. is quietly watching his fancy formal Chinese tea being prepared by an upperclassman named Mildred. There is a smell of sweet jasmine in the air.
Dalton is from San Ildefonso, a pueblo to the north of Santa Fe where he has lived for the entirety of his nineteen years, but don’t let his age fool you, beneath his easy going exterior and stay-cool countenance, lies the assurance and complexity of a fifty year old man. This young Native American is also a quick study. He looks around the dorm room, observes behavior and replicates it back to the people around him. Without missing a beat, Dalton reaches for his china cup that sits on a saucer while balancing a cookie in his hand, all the while answering a multitude of questions as if he’s been doing this all his life. This is the essence of D.J.
When asked what made him want to come to The Institute of American Indian Arts, D.J. tells that about two years ago he came to I.A. for a native youth summit. He thought that at that time, I.A. was a big high school. He procured information about the programs here when he was still a sophomore. Dalton’s parents wanted him to go to the University of New Mexico, due to the proximity of friends and family members, but he chose IAIA because of its focus in the arts, and as an artist, this appealed to him greatly and it just made sense to come here. He considered coming here a challenge in his own scope. He wanted to see if he had what it takes to handle college on his own, rather than playing it safe and being with friends and family at UNM. He looks around the room nodding his head as if to reconfirm his decision to himself and us.
He enjoys being here at I.A. because he likes his classes and states emphatically that his schedule works for him being that he is an evening person. Again, he nods heavily at this fact. When Dalton considers what class he likes the best he says that it is a tie between his First Year Seminar Class and Introduction to Digital Media class. Dalton offers up that he thought that college life was going to be different. He thought that student life was going to be a lot less than what it is, as far as activities and things to keep him busy and that the attendance factor was going to be a lot more flexible.
When asked what his art is to him, Dalton explains that expressing ones personality and living ones life day to day is what art is to him. Expressing that kind of stuff (on paper) therefore becomes a natural extension of this thing he calls art. He also prefers criticism rather that not, because of the teaching affects that critiques have. He hopes that people will get what he is trying to say with his art, but if they don’t, then that’s ok too. He tells how his uncle, Paul Torres, who is in the business of media, is his inspiration to go to college and do well. He is also inspired by the art of Walt Disney because he likes Disney’s cartoon ideas. He offers up that he likes cartoons, and cites Pinky and the Brain and Pixar Studios as a kind of touchstone in the realm of inspiration for him. He started out by drawing faces and then bodies and says that watching cartoons and the way they are animated is how he learns.
“I want to own my own animation studio similar to Pixar,” he says. He realizes possibly that it will take a lot of work to get there, but then lets out a deep breath and adds: “Yeah that’s what I wanna do!”
When asked to share his own creation story about the day he arrived here on campus on the first day of orientation, he thinks back, and steels himself and tells of how scared he was to come here. “On my way down here I asked my parents to stop the Suburban. I just needed to get out!” He says, with obvious signs of jitteriness and heavy drawn out breathes. Dalton is no longer calm, but rather intense and reflective. He stares downward from time to time. I get the feeling that Dalton is no longer in the room with us, but out on Highway 285 right now. He says that he needed to think about it for a moment and says that he got bad vibes. He wanted to be certain that his decision of going to college alone, right out of high school, was the right decision. He didn’t get back into the vehicle for about an hour. As I watch D.J. in this instance I can almost see the ubiquitous monsters he faced at that moment, however, I can also see the shiny armor that he had strapped on for himself, in order to get back into that vehicle whose destination was the Institute of American Indian Arts and a new life for him. It is worth noting, that Dalton and his family were one of the first families to arrive for orientation!