Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A California man, wearing a bear suit of his own creation, has captured the attention of Navajo Nation residents as his cross-country walk to heighten awareness and raise money for five causes traverses tribal land.

Meet Bearsun, a Japanese anime-style teddy bear created by Jessy Larios, who is using the character to spotlight various charities that center on mental health, autism, cancer, disabled community and the environment.

Bearsun is tan with a cream-colored belly, red cheeks and rounded tail, ears and arms. Larios, 33, has worn the suit throughout his walk.

So far, his walk from Los Angeles to New York City has generated donations but his presence in communities on the Navajo Nation has delighted tribal members and residents. They've taken to social media to follow his official accounts and to share their photos, videos and encounters.

“I decided to create his persona in the real world, as to what other animators do when they create a story. They usually write it on paper first,” Larios said in an interview last week with the Farmington Daily Times at Veterans Memorial Park in Window Rock, Arizona.

“This is my paper — the world. It’s a giant piece of canvas. This is how I’m writing this story for Bearsun,” he added.

After his initial plan to follow the path of historic Route 66 was hampered because it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along interstate highways, he retooled his path and followed an eastward course that has taken him through several communities on the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation.

Larios was less than two miles away from entering New Mexico when he wrote on the Bearsun Instagram account that the character “decided to spit me out” for a personal day on Aug. 7, keeping him in the tribal capital.

When he resumed walking Aug. 8, he entered New Mexico at about 8 a.m.

He said the walk across the Navajo Nation has been “amazing” and a “learning experience.”

Tribal members have lined up for hours to meet him at stops along the way and have presented him with items like a pair of moccasins and a T-shirt that displayed the Navajo language.

He sported the moccasins from the western side of the reservation to Window Rock and he wore a hole in the left sole.

As Larios completed the miles, he heard personal stories about adversity, resilience and hope from tribal members.

“A lot of emotions,” he said adding several stories center on post-traumatic stress disorder, especially from older men.

“Sometimes I think it’s hard for them to talk about it because they have to be the strong ones, but it’s nice to hear them, talk with them,” Larios said. “Even if someone looks tough, they still have something inside, so don’t judge them. Don’t make them feel like they have to be tough. It’s OK to talk about it.”

That point of view was one reason Steven Thompson, from Fort Defiance, Arizona, wanted to meet Larios during a small gathering at the Window Rock formation.

“It’s good because people don’t talk enough about mental health,” Thompson said. “It’s extremely important and a lot of people are not able to speak out loud about it and this puts it out there.”

He added that Bearsun has brought together the Navajo Nation, especially after a difficult year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It brought us all together, weirdly enough. A guy in a bear suit, walking across the country brought Natives together, Navajos together. It’s pretty amazing,” Thompson said.

Phoenix resident Janice Taliman is part of an impromptu group of walkers who joined Larios in Greasewood, Arizona.

They have helped him stay safe as he moves along roads that have narrow shoulders and coordinated meals and places for him to stay — otherwise he uses the tent he carries with him.

Taliman, who is originally from Cornfields, Arizona, has a son who is about the same age as Larios and if her son embarked on a journey like Larios, she would want people to respond in the same manner.

“As a mother, that’s what you want for your child. I told him in Navajo, ‘you’re my yázhí, so I want to make sure that you’re OK,’” she said.

Yázhí is a term of endearment in the Navajo language and means “little one,” according to the website, Navajo Word of the Day.

“He’s inspired me,” Taliman said.

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This article was published by the Associated Press