Toksha akhe, Pine Ridge

“This is what true revolutions are about. They are about redefining our relationships with one another, to the Earth and to the world; about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old; about hope, not despair; about saying yes to life and no to war; about finding the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families.” —Grace Lee Boggs

When I think of a revolution, I think of one of the fundamental tools of freedom that is ignored and keeps us disenfranchised: solidarity. When we unite, we are more powerful. Joe Feagin argues that alienating racist relations make it difficult for people of different races to recognize their commonalities, and to achieve solidarity in fighting broader patterns of inequality that affect the vast majority of people in society, regardless of their race. The history of the Native people is a perfect example of this power, as we have all ignored the damage we have inflicted.

The Native people have been oppressed and dehumanized since the founding of this great country, brutalized and tortured by pilgrims on the Mayflower and forced to erase much of their cultural history and richness. The Lakota, specifically, currently possess 5% of the land originally owed to them by numerous treaties (See Fort Laramie Treaty for the most famous one). Our federal government has broken every single treaty and seized all of the lands that are usable, confining the people to “utilize” the Badlands — land that is so destitute it struggles to grow grass. Aside from its terrain, the land is the burial ground of hundreds of their ancestors massacred in an attempt to protect their land and their people. Many residents say the spirits come alive at night and screaming and the sound of gunshots can be heard at Wounded Knee, the site of at least 300 murders of the Lakota people. They are forced to subsist on meager and unhealthy food rations provided by the federal government. Their original food source, the buffalo, was wiped out in an attempt at assimilation.

In March, myself and six others traveled 14 hours by van to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, home of the Lakota Sioux Reservation. This was my final trip, my final ABI at Loyola, and I was terrified that I was overstepping, entering a community where I was not wanted. Alternative Break Immersions, transformative and wonderful in their foundation, often struggle to maintain the ethical boundary between learning and “providing service” — often coming to communities who never asked for help in the first place. This trip is infamously one of the hardest — groups are intentionally made small to minimize the impact, and each group member should have a foundational understanding of the ABI pillars, even if they have not been on an ABI before. And for a generally welcoming group of people, they have been taken advantage of too many times to trust everyone.

The group researched, read, and educated themselves for a few months before attending this trip, and we all believed we were “prepared”: we had an idea of what the reservation is like. But what I saw, I could not have imagined.

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Driving through the Badlands, March 2017. Photo by Hannah Goheen

The first step in beginning a revolution is to become proximate. A famous quote by Max Warren states the important task in becoming proximate:

“Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”

AlJazeera states that “The US Census Bureau’s 2014 study found that more than 52 percent of residents in Oglala Lakota, the largest of Pine Ridge’s three counties, lived below the poverty line”. When looking at the news articles, the media, and often, the reservation itself, it seems that the Lakota people have everything stacked against them. “They are voiceless”, we often hear, “The Native people have not been able to recover”.

In many aspects, that is true. The Lakota people have suffered for years under the thumb of the Federal Government and the American people. Each vote for a President, whether it be Barack Obama or Donald Trump, is a vote against the well-being of all Native people in the United States. Every citizen who visits Mount Rushmore, who hikes a Black Hill, contributes to the history of oppression for the Native people. But what is important to note is that they are not voiceless — they have been speaking for generations, but no one has been willing to pass the microphone, to be proximate and hear their stories. I am, by no means, an expert on their story, but instead a messenger, an advocate for each individual to begin to listen to their stories.

The Lakhota (spelled in the Lakota language) consists of several tribes within a confederacy of three dialects: Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota. The Lakota is the largest and most Western of these groups and reside mostly in North and South Dakota. Historically, they should have more, their ancestral land spanning over four states. When Pine Ridge Reservation was initially created, the Lakota Sioux were given 140 acres and 3 cattle each, erasing their pivotal circular living arrangement and installing capitalistic values into a community. They were not allowed to leave the imaginary confines of the reservation and were forced to look at their sacred land, the Black Hills, for over 70 years, from their homes.They watched as their sacred Black Hills were torched and bombed to etch the faces of four presidents that aided in their torture and oppression. Any attempt to exit the reservation meant they could be arrested or killed. White people stole their land and any retaliation of defense would mean hundreds would be killed. Their children were kidnapped and placed in Catholic schools; beaten, dunked in vats of chemicals because Indians were considered “dirty”, hair shaved, and forced to speak English, not Lakota.

To narrate the Lakota without highlighting their strength, resilience, and tenacity despite this oppression is a disservice to their narrative. The Lakota are not weak but are crippled by the actions of a federal government that have brutalized their people since the English arrival on the Mayflower. The people are not voiceless, but instead shut down and erased of any narrative other than one constructed by their oppressors.

After a Sunday service at the Oglala Catholic Church, a participant in our group asked a Lakota man how he feels about President Trump and the effect he could have on his community. His response was, “We have survived the last 44 presidents, we can survive this one”. Their survival is embedded, and necessary.

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“Death of the Whiteman”, White Clay, Nebraska. Photo by Hannah Goheen

For the majority of the week, Loyola worked in classrooms at Red Cloud Indian School (RCIS), a K-12 Roman Catholic private school located on the reservation. While our focus was to teach coping skills, we also had the privilege in observing a typical class within each grade level. RCIS is home to Catholic and Lakota teachings, including Lakota language and culture classes in order to revive the language. The majority of RCIS graduate with honors, attend four-year universities and often, return to the reservation. This return to make their own impact is uncommon, as the average amount of students who leave the rez do not return, causing an intellectual “brain-drain”.

After school, we often spoke with residents of the reservation to better understand the culture we had immersed ourselves in or traveled to locations surrounding the reservation. We met Sister Barb, a nun who travels hundreds of miles every Sunday to pick up Lakota elders to attend mass. Sometimes, only five attend mass, but Sr. Barb makes sure it continues. We met Linn Cross Dogg, a mechanic at Red Cloud Indian School that candidly spoke of alcoholism and the way it permeates the community; almost every individual has a personal connection to alcoholism. Our car drove past FEMA trailers in which families of 6 or more lived in. The trailers themselves were intended to be used for up to a year until the government built houses, but many families have been living in their trailers since 1999.

Many fear becoming proximate because it often exposes us more than we would like. In Holy Rosary Chapel, located at Red Cloud Indian School, there are fourteen stations of the Cross that depict Jesus as a Lakota man in Lakota garb. Contrary to other Stations of the Cross, the Roman Army is depicted as 7th Calvary (a United States cavalry army regiment headed by General Custer). White people. Systemic oppression thrives in these places, in our history, but also in complacency in the present. The very injustices occurring in the 21st century are the result of our ancestors. Individuals outside the reservation have the privilege to ignore the injustices that occur within the reservation. They ignore history, or worse, change it, in an attempt to justify and absolve themselves of guilt and pain. Unlike many acts of trauma in the United States history, all Americans are complacent in allowing Native people to live in these conditions. All individuals: young, old, Black, White, Asian, live on the land belonging to those confined to a few square acres. Mother Theresa said, “Forgive us, Lord, if we unwittingly share in the conditions or in a system that perpetuates injustice”. However, the only we can be forgiven is if we acknowledge and work to eradicate these systems.

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Chapel in Red Shirt

There is more I wish I could say, wish I could articulate. There is a reason it has taken me months to draft this post. For my group, there are often no words to describe the beauty, the pain, the reconciliation we experienced on our trip to Pine Ridge. Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka. The Sacred, the Divine, or the Great Mystery. Instead of our testimonies, we were given the tools to begin the process of healing, of forgiveness, and of social justice. Garrett Gundlach, SJ said that “Some things in life aren’t invitations to change, they are imperative to change”. It is no longer our choice to determine if we help others or, more importantly, fight with others. Solidarity is pivotal and preserves ourselves and this Earth.

For ways to get involved, check out these websites:

  • American Indian Association of Illinois: The American Indian Association of Illinois strives to transform American Indian education into an experience founded in native culture, language, and history fused with knowledge, excellence, and tribal values which will enhance tribal nations and urban native communities where American Indian families work, live, worship, attend school, care for their elders, and raise their children.

http://www.chicago-american-indian-edu.org/chicago-american-indian-university-education/About-American-Indian-Association-Illinois.html

  • D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies: Its goals are to encourage the use of the Newberry collections in these areas of study; improve the quality of what is written about American Indians and indigenous peoples; educate teachers about American Indian and indigenous cultures, histories, and literatures; assist American Indian tribal and indigenous historians in their research; and provide a meeting ground where scholars, teachers, tribal historians, and others can discuss their work with each other. Fellowships and programs are available.

https://www.newberry.org/darcy-mcnickle-center-american-indian-and-indigenous-studies

  • Stand With Standing Rock: The fight to clean water access still is not over. Stay up to date with information regarding the pipeline and ways you can help.

http://standwithstandingrock.net/category/news/

 

“I Am Light”

It’s hard to write a short and simple post on how much light LUCES brings into my life. Gratitude does not seem to suffice; when I think of LUCES, I think of warmth and light, as its name denotes, but love, compassion, strength, courage, happiness. Self-care.

When I entered Loyola, nothing could prepare me. As an 18 year old, I truly believed I was ready for the world, and these four years were simply another barrier to that. My first year felt like the end of the world. I was desperate for a community, for a purpose. I joined dozens of organizations, tried desperately to make friends, develop relationships, but I never felt sufficient.

LUCES taught me bravery. From the beginning, LUCES was there, but my first gathering left me intimidated and nervous. These women were self-loving, compassionate, driven individuals; didn’t seem to make the mark. It was bravery and courage that allowed me to continue attending, to discover that the space was welcoming, safe, and inclusive.

LUCES Gala

LUCES has the ability to show and teach every individual who enters the space what it means to be a leader and to combat the imposter syndrome that prevents us from being strong, and brave. LUCES speaks on identities and encourages you to embrace them so that you can use them as tools of strength, rather than as debilitating. When it came to my racial identity, I thought I knew exactly who I was entering Loyola. For the first time, I was able to find the word that defined who I felt I was: multiracial. I didn’t have to pick one identity and leave the rest at the door. When I questioned my sexuality, LUCES held examples of what it meant to be queer as well as a woman of color, identities that are often mutually exclusive. I felt the courage and the strength to embrace my identities, even if the world around me didn’t.

LUCES also taught me that the identities you did or did not grow up in do not define who you are. Identities are fluid, they constantly change, and I learned to ride the tide of those identities. And with those tides of identities comes radical self-love.

To love yourself each and everyday is a daily challenge, and there are days you will no doubt feel hatred, guilt, or shame about yourself. But with the support of my LUCES cohort, I know that I can do anything. Though I have only one more year with LUCES, I know that it will forever be in my heart, and the women always there to support, nurture, and care for me. Thank you, LUCES, for my strength.

“You Are My Person”

It’s difficult to begin a blog post with Grey’s Anatomy, my least favorite show, but the quote, spoken by Christina Yang, is the greatest way to describe a particular person in only four words.

What does it mean to be someone’s person?

Steven Anthony Vigil-Roach and I have known each other for over 7 years at this point, and been friends for about 6 (he claims to have been friends with me before but I don’t recall), and my person before I was even aware of it.

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I am convinced that God has connected our souls. When he is upset, I feel it in my heart, even 1,000+ miles away. Even when we don’t talk for days, a text or a call from him brings me a sense of calm, a sense of peace, realization…I am often not aware that I needed to hear his voice before it happens. He is my piece of home, reminder of the things that bring me happiness, but also remind me that I am not missing much (family drama never truly disappears, even thousands of miles away).

He is the embodiment of strength, facing adversity in aspects I will never understand, and taught me the importance of allyship, of solidarity. It may not be the same struggle, but struggle nonetheless.

He is my anger when I feel calm, my calm when I feel anger. He understands, a trait that many believe they possess but are usually wrong. And when he doesn’t, he is honest, but ensures that he can learn to understand.

I could go on and on about Steven, but there is one instance I recall that consistently reminds me of the gratitude I feel knowing he is in my life. In my second semester of my first year of Loyola, I experienced many moments of trauma that I felt I could not heal from. I was ready to transfer, to drop out and “figure it all out later”.

I walked into my building, and there he was, standing there, his face asking “where have you been?” Every fear, every ounce of sadness, was drained in that very moment. Only God could interfere in an instance such as that. In a way, I should thank God too, for allowing us to be so aware of each other in a way I am with very, very few people.

Not often do we meet people whose mere presence is a comfort. His greatest sin is that he is too good of a listener. He has the ability to heal my emotional wounds that I thought could never heal, and remind me of the strength I possess to keep going, to keep trucking along.

Thanks for being my person. I can’t wait to grow old with you and bitch about our husbands over red wine.

Challenging Love

There is not much I can say about Romell that won’t seem super cheesy, as well as extremely personal, and I usually strive to keep my relationship private,  but this post serves as a platform for all the things I say in my journal but hardly to you, Romell, and I admit, I should say them more.

I often joke with Romell that the Universe was trying to tell us something when he put us both on the trajectory to meet each other. We are completely opposite people with completely different paths, so I can only thank the universe for deciding that we needed to be in each others’ lives in some way. We both have some of the strongest personalities that are often hard to miss. We come from different backgrounds. We don’t even like the same foods. Our first interaction wasn’t smooth; I yelled at him over politics and vowed never to speak to him again. And here we are, just over two years later…I never thought that I would ever get here, and yet I now can’t imagine my life without you in it, Ro.

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Romell, you are the most selfless person I’ve met. You’d give your shoes to a stranger if they needed them. And you have used that selflessness on me and on our relationship. Even when I felt like I didn’t deserve it, you made sure that I knew I was worth it, deserving of that love and generosity (and let’s be honest, sometimes I really don’t deserve it). You never stop pushing me, and I will never stop pushing you. You are so hard-working — one of the hardest working people I know, and your determination to fulfill each and every one of your goals, as well as the patience to fully achieve those goals is inspiring. That commitment is in yourself, but in our relationship too. You possess the potential to become an even greater version of yourself, and it has been a gift to watch you discover it, as well as begin to embrace it. Even in those moments of insecurity, of uncertainty, I see a light in you that has been present since I met you, and serves as a reminder of why I love you.

As my partner, you are my #1 support. You have an innate ability to make me feel like the most treasured person on this Earth, whether that is rubbing my back when I’m sick to making me laugh uncontrollably when I am feeling sad. Even when you don’t have the right words to say, you make me feel better in other ways, in ways I never thought would work. You challenge me to understand love not as self-sacrificing, but as a team effort. You taught me compromise, and patience, and you taught me how to not only understand those who think differently than me, but to accept it. You are a physical depiction of my opposite, and that is what makes us so strong. You challenge me physically, emotionally, and mentally, questioning my every belief, my every habit. That cannot be replaced.

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In a way, love can be selfish, and this letter of gratitude has definitely proved it: The things that you do for me and the way that you have affected me are significant. However, what has been most surprising, and yet challenging, is my growing ability to be selfless for you. You have made me a kinder, softer person. You have made me realize that I don’t have to do everything by myself, that it is okay to ask for help, to ask for time to take self-care. You remind me that having fun is OKAY, that I don’t always have to take life so seriously and work all the time. You have challenged my concept of love and what that means for you. You challenge me. And I will forever be thankful for that.

There is so much more I have to be grateful for when it comes to you, but I’ll keep this short. I love you so much Romell and can’t wait to see where our next journey takes us (Loyola!). I am so grateful to be your crazy partner in this crazy world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5,280 feet

Day 2! This day serves as a letter to my beautiful home, Denver, Colorado.

Dear Colorado,

You may seem like a strange place to represent, but I am forever grateful to call Denver, Colorado my home. When I tell people of you, they often mention skiing, or legalizing weed, but there is so much more to you. I think of our small, but high skyline that seems to touch the always blue sky, or the beautiful, dense, Rocky Mountains, which hide away memories of my childhood.

Every happy memory that has kept me focused and grounded in the beautiful state of Illinois is a product of Colorado living. Chicago is a bustling, diverse city, with unlimited amounts of things to do on any given day. But nothing beats you, Colorado, with miles of lush, green forest, and high, rushing rivers with children diving headfirst. In many ways, Colorado is a branch of a simpler life. As a child, it pushed me to look for “bigger” things, but it now serves as a reminder of balance: I can seek ambition while also focus on my self-care and happiness. Colorado is a consistent reminder of that. And, as cliché as it might sound, I have never felt more of God’s presence than when I am overlooking what seems like thousands of miles of country, so high that one step will send you crashing back to Earth. You lift your arms and feel like you can squeeze a cloud, feel the heat of the sun. I’ve never been anywhere else that evokes the same feeling.

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La Loma, one of my favorite restaurants.

And for anyone who knows me, they know that food is a prominent facet of my life and is a true representation of my mood and my personality. No one can do Mexican food like Colorado. It’s spicy, flavorful, and the restaurants have been around for ages. Waiters and owners remember my face from when I was a baby. From the chilaquiles to the enchiladas with mounds of cheese and chili…sorry Chicago. No one does Mexican food like Colorado.

Colorado has gifted me with people I treasure most in this world. Though I have made great memories and friends here in Chicago, nothing replaces the people back at home. They are there for late-night phone calls, for every cry of homesickness, and as a reminder that they will all be there when I get back. Most of my family is there as well, and knowing that I always have a place to go is a comforting reminder.

Shout out to the 303!

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Featured Photo Courtesy of http://www.socialventurepartners.org/denver/

Toni Morrison & Colorism

Have you listened to the most recent interview with Toni Morrison on NPR? If not, PLEASE look. The link is at the bottom of this post.

Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve only read one novel of hers, Beloved. She is a woman that is EXTREMELY important, not only in literature, but for African-American women everywhere. Her new book, God Help the Child, is a topic that I have only recently delved into but has left me drowning.

Growing up, I lived with my grandparents, my sister, and my dog, in Conifer, Colorado, a small little town up in the mountains. I later moved to Lakewood, a larger suburb about 15 minutes from Denver. My grandmother is mixed, and my grandpa (not biologically), is white.

We are a happy little mixed family, and just like Toni Morrison, I felt like the whole world was like my world: a world where race didn’t seem to matter, everyone was nice, and all families were as diverse as mine. My great grandmother made greens and enchiladas for every holiday; we had cookouts with ribs and bbq.

The Fam (minus my sister)

 

Sure, I had some race encounters in high school, but they were easily squashed by my grandma’s kind words and my grandpa’s defiant tone, telling me that those people never mattered in the first place if they feel the need to comment on who you are.

When I arrived at Loyola University Chicago in the fall of 2013, I was so excited to sign up for our Black Cultural Center (our student union) and meet other African-Americans who shared the same passion as I did. The first day, after speaking my mind at a meeting (about something that felt so insignificant), a person turned to me and said, “You are so lightskinned.”

I can honestly say that I had no clue what they were talking about. I had never been called “light-skinned” in my life, but I had heard the term before: my grandma would often tell my sister and I stories of not feeling black or white enough for any aspect of society, and the lack of acceptance she often felt. She strived to remove any feeling of that sort in my childhood.

After the meeting, I remember calling my grandma crying, not understanding why I didn’t fit in with a group of students I identified with. As a kid, I wasn’t black enough – I didn’t know stereotypical racist elements like gang signs, the newest rap music –  and now I’m too light-skinned, not light enough, talk white.

And though I felt objectified for the color of my skin, I know that this is a rare moment, that most often, the target of abuse is directed toward my beautiful, darker-skinned sisters. My mixed-race identity has given me an automatic pass in life at times: I am immediately considered attractive, exotic, etc. As a kid, I had family members that were darker and lighter, and I admired the beauty in every single one of them. But, as in the case with most things, society does not see them in that way.

Colorism is a problem in our society that is often never mentioned. Racism is discussed in the traditional sense, but the nuances are not there to tell the real story.

Toni Morrison’s new book provides a deep reflection of what it means to be ostracized because you are darker. It provides another layer to the problem of being black itself, and it is a continual problem that we must address.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links:

http://www.npr.org/2015/04/20/400394947/i-regret-everything-toni-morrison-looks-back-on-her-personal-life?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150420

 

Things I’ll Miss About Rome: Part 1

So, because I have insane jetlag and intense Rome-sickness, I felt the need to share the things I miss the most about la cittá eterna. I was definitely not expecting to miss it, considering I was so excited to be home! SO, for the next few posts, expect a lot of Rome.

One of the biggest things I will miss about Rome is the history of this city, so well blended with its modern touches.

Photo by Hannah Goheen
Monti Neighborhood Photo by Hannah Goheen

Though often times it seemed touristy, there is so much history EVERYWHERE. Art, architecture, people…even food has a bit of history thrown in there. Four months is not enough; I only made it through a layer. There is a saying in Italian about discovering Rome: “Una vita non basta Roma”, which means, A lifetime is not enough for Rome. It’s one of the most truthful things I’ve ever heard. Even leaving, I never got the chance to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica. There is so much of Rome left to see, and I can’t wait to go back and experience it.

One of my favorite pieces of history in Rome was (obviously) the Colosseum. It was built in 70-80 AD, and is still the largest amphitheatre in the entire world. It is partially ruined due to earthquakes and people not caring that it is an incredible slice of history, but it is the iconic image of Roma. When you think of the city, you think Il Colosseo.

Picture by Hannah Goheen
Picture by Hannah Goheen

People used to watch games and performances there. People just like us, engaging in community and social events, in such a vast, spacious arena.

The history is also vastly extensive, compared to America’s. In Italian times, America is a little baby. Though they have not been unified for long, Roman history has lasted since the beginning of civilization — Roman times even correspond to the birth and death of Jesus Christ.

How grateful am I to have seen one of the most influential dynasties and its work before my very eyes.

Ci vediamo,

Hannah