Our people: Cartooning for awareness

Jacob Lee grew up on the Ramon Navajo Reservation in Western New Mexico. Lee said growing up he did not have many of the luxuries his counterparts in other U.S. cities and towns had.

Courtesy photo: Jacob Lee

Jacob Lee at age 22 during his campaign for Eastern New Mexico University homecoming king in the 2012 fall semester.

His cartoons of Native Americans have garnered attention from students, faculty and staff around the ENMU campus. His paintings are often purchased by order.

Lee started a clothing line in 2010 at ENMU. His clothing line specializes in T-shirts which feature art designs that strive to convey a special meaning. Lee said his "Jacob Lee Clothing" brand shirts usually sell quickly. He is also working on putting together a scholarship for youth in his native community to give back.

Lee received a full academic scholarship to attend ENMU about four years ago after being nominated by his high school's student body president. He received the scholarship for maintaining an A and B average throughout his high school career.

Lee wants his cartoons and artwork to convey the strength and presence of the Native American population and inspire all U.S. citizens to capitalize on their dreams.

What is your purpose in drawing these "Indian Burn" Native American cartoons?

I am Native American. My culture has always seemed to be riddled by misconceptions, stereotypes and image. My title itself-many know as twisting the arm until it grows the color "Red". I want my cartoons to make an even deeper impression on my audience. "Indian Burn" is entertaining and promotes multicultural awareness. It depicts everyday life situations in which most of us just need to simply smile, laugh or snort about. I believe "Indian Burn" is a new door not only for the Native American population but for all individuals of different backgrounds to enjoy.

When I was younger I never saw Native Americans on TV. When I got to Eastern there were even a couple of people who thought Native Americans didn't even exist anymore. It just motivated me even more to want to be somebody someday, to let everybody know that Native Americans are still here and we're thriving. Maybe we can even become leaders of this country, of a country we knew even before the government was established. That's just something I want to portray in my work. Above everything else I want to stress that if you have dreams never let them go. To do all these great things that I'm doing, it all started from a dream and just having a little faith and not taking no for an answer.

What do you hope to do with your cartoons?

I would love to have my cartoons printed in a major newspaper for people of all backgrounds to see. (I would love to have at least one in the CNJ or PNT). I have just gotten them printed in the campus newspaper on Tuesdays. I want my cartoons to inspire not only the Native population but I want all individuals to understand with hard work dreams will come true.

How did you become a cartoonist?

I began cartooning a little bit in high school, just to pass time in math class. (laughing) I also would steal some of my older brother's art work to trace because he has always been a fantastic artist. "Indian Burn" came about when a presenter visited Eastern. We quickly became good friends. Ricardo Cate is the author of "Without Reservations" and has his cartoons in the Santa Fe New Mexican. He liked my ideas and cartoons. Cate quickly encouraged me to venture and I began "Indian Burn".

Do you do other kinds of cartoons that follow a theme and other types of art?

"Indian Burn" is the only cartoon I really ever sat down and drew but I was mainly inspired by Ricardo Cate's work. I also do paintings and have my own T-shirt clothing line called "Jacob Lee Clothing". I've also drawn logos for companies and offices.

What inspired you to major in public relations? What are your future career goals?

I originally came to Eastern for a political science degree and later switched to early childhood education. I liked both but the director of multicultural affairs saw I had public relations written all over me. I took Diana Cordova's advice and quickly fell in love with public relations. I just want to someday inspire others to live their dreams and promote higher education. I could remember dreaming of college and someday having my name as big as Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream while on the reservation. Right now I am just living the dream and trying to help others reach theirs.

Do you have other hobbies?

I love to play guitar and sing. I play the acoustic guitar. I picked up guitar from my older brother Gary Kniffin when I was about 13 years old. I actually played a lot heavy metal. It went from country to heavy metal and Johnny Cash was the man. I tried to learn as many songs as I could from him. When I got to Portales I really got into Texas country. Recently I've been doing a lot of covers for the Randy Rogers Band and the band Old Crow Medicine Show. I think my singing voice is a baritone.

Tell me about your scholarship fund.

I can remember not having much money when I first arrived at Eastern, so I figured to help others out I could try to raise funds for those in my community seeking higher education. I am working on a scholarship for students at my old high school. The scholarship is called the "Jacob Lee Clothing Scholarship Fund". It will promote higher education for all seniors at Ramah High School who have been accepted to a trade school or university. If the Jacob Lee Clothing Scholarship Fund becomes a success I would love to help other schools.

What do you like most about Eastern New Mexico? What do you like most about New Mexico?

It was hard at first to find things I liked about Eastern but once I found how loving the community was and how the university family is willing to help anyone who would like to succeed Eastern became my home. New Mexico will always be my home. I love the sunsets and open places.

What is one of the most unusual situations you've found yourself in? How did you get yourself out of that situation?

I once caught myself in a tornado warning here in Portales. I almost called home crying but I had to put my warrior face on and pretend I was not scared.

How do you like to cheer yourself up when you are feeling down?

I like to pray and listen to Taylor Swift really loud and sing along to her songs. Don't judge. That's no joke. I wanted to marry her in high school (laughing).

— Compiled by CMI staff writer Benna Sayyed

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