I’m just as surprised to be writing about you too. You haven’t been in my life for an entire year, but living here has taught me more about myself then I have learned in 23 years. While you are still not my favorite place to be, I can only be grateful for the lessons you’ve given me.
When I first visited you in June, there was nothing about you that caught my eye or struck me. I didn’t experience love at first sight. I didn’t find anything negative about you, but I struggled to discover the positive aspects that would make me feel at home. I ate your food, explored your neighborhoods, but nothing drew my heart closer to you.
Desperate to branch out of my comfort zone and experience life beyond what I had known it to be, I was eager to move. I was excited about the prospects you would reveal behind your brown pollution cloud and rich American history. And you haven’t disappointed. By next semester, I will be filled with knowledge that couldn’t be learned anywhere else but here.
Though it is filled with critiques, I am attending one of the best social work programs in the nation. I have been supported by professors and administrators alike who have provided me with opportunities to expand my knowledge. I have been offered an internship that has taught me the power of boundaries. I am challenged, not with curriculum, but the way that I think about things, about what I choose to believe. I have created connections I would not have made anywhere else. I am able to experience an education that will undoubtedly impact my social work career for years to come.
Pittsburgh, you had given me the gift of solitude when I didn’t realize it was necessary. To live outside your comfort zone is vastly different than experiencing short-term. For the past four years, I was surrounded by love and support in the form of my Chicago family. I left this support, this community, to live in solitude. This has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. With only two people I knew in the entire state, I have been forced to put myself out there and seek relationships that will provide meaning in my short time here in Pittsburgh. Admittedly, this has been difficult. The moments I usually fill with people, I’ve had the opportunity to be with myself.
Solitude has changed my outlook on life. I value myself more, am grateful for the quiet moments. Before you, Pittsburgh, I would cry softly to make sure that no roommate could hear me. Now, I weep at every moment and feel no shame in doing so. I dance loudly to music on Saturdays, when I should be cleaning. I take off my pants when I enter my home. When I write in my journal, I write with more honesty. No one is watching. I dance with more passion because no one can judge. I am more me than I ever was, and my solitude has made me unapologetic for the Hannah I’ve become. No matter where I am, I can find a home, and it is now within myself, not in others.
I still don’t like you very much and will be excited when I get to leave you permanently. But who knows — you may teach me something in 2018 I am unprepared for, and then, maybe, just maybe…you’ll have my heart forever.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever taken a bite out of a meal, whether it be your mom’s home cooking or the fanciest restaurant you’ve ever been to, and thought, “This is the best thing I have ever eaten. I could die, and be content, because this will have been the last thing I have eaten.”
Try to go through that emotional reaction every meal, every day, for four months.
As a lover of food of all kinds, I was most excited for the food and the wine in Italy: every type of pasta, pizza, cheese would be at arm’s reach, ready to be savored, worshipped. I had no clue that there would be foods I never even thought of tasting would be tried, and loved.
My first meal in Rome, I had Carbonara, a signature Italian dish. It is spaghetti, cooked with eggs, and either complemented with jowl or pancetta (bacon). Jowl is the traditional meat. It’s an incredibly delicious meal, and seems strange to foreigners: it’s like a breakfast pasta, but tastes nothing of the sort.
We also had bruschette (made with the -ca sound, which is contrary to popular belief) with bacon fat on the top. How delicious?! Bacon fat? I knew from that moment on I would come back to Rome at least 10 pounds heavier. Afterwards, a delcious homemade tiramisu was served, which is automatically delicious.
Needless to say, my love for la cittá eterna would not be as vast without its delicious food. What made the food even better was the company that came with it: the three hour dinners, bottles upon bottles of wine…a connection is made with food, and people often take the beauty of it for granted.
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.
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.
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.
My whole life, I have been non-committed to romantic relationships. I am committed to my family, friends, my passions, sure. Partners? Relationships? No thank you. I love to hook-up, to meet and talk to different people.
Despite this lifelong belief, I have been in a on/off relationship for about a year, something I NEVER thought I would say.
We have spent the majority of our time apart from each other, and it has been an extremely difficult process. We have had more than our fair share of trials and tribulations, each different than the last. But we have matured greatly and our love for each other grows with each day we are apart.
This time around, the problem is where I am: I have spent the last four months in Italy, and he has stayed in Chicago, working. Living in Italy by myself has more than boosted my independence: I have grown to be a much more confident person, both in daily life choices and my future career goals and relationships. I have also learned that one of the things I value most is my need for space, to be myself and process.
What is the balance? When do you become too independent for your partner?
I know that my partner and I often clash because one of us needs more attention that we simply cannot give at the time. Lately, my partner has been seeking attention that I not only can’t give, but also don’t seem to want to. I am here for one more week; I am trying to make the most of my experience before I am forced to go back home (I say forced because I never want to leave Europe). Am I selfish for wanting my space? Am I a terrible partner because I want to do my own thing, have my own space, and that is something I inherently value? When does compromising come in?
All these questions I feel I cannot answer by myself. I only hope that the pieces fall where they may. I love the kid, I do. I just love my space too.
In the beginning of my semester here in Rome, on a beach in Campania (surreal, right?) we were asked to write a letter to ourselves. In it, we were told to:
1) List a “Moment of Awe”, or two/three things that we MUST DO by the end of the semester.
2) Personal Growth: something we want to strengthen or deepen, improve, etc.
3) Spiritual Life
Here is my letter:
Before leaving Europe, you must see/do/have:
1. The Coliseum
2. The Palace of Versailles
3. Find a Boccacchio
4. The best meal of your life
I really want to improve on accepting myself and not feeling the need to constantly adapt to other people’s expectations. I know who/what I am, and the most important thing is to accept it, and then love it, and then share that love with others, especially new people. I can’t let people effect how I feel personally so much.
I hope to improve on my Daily Examen. I want to reflect on the positives and negatives on every aspect of my life and be able to understand and embrace how this is making me evolve. Every moment here is a moment I want to remember forever, the good and the bad.
How funny I was.
My letter to myself clearly was not ready for all the changes I experienced in the last four months.
1) For starters, I was unable to see the Palace of Versailles. In fact, I was never able to get Paris. Sure, Paris will always be there. I was a little sad, but when I realized that I have been to so many incredible places: Barcelona, Budapest, Amsterdam, Venice, Florence…the list goes on. Paris will always be there. And I will have the chance to eat as many macaroons I want one day.
– As for the Boccacchio…no such luck. That is my great-grandmother’s maiden name, but Florence (Firenze in beautiful italiano) is much bigger than I ever thought it would/could be. Also, I didn’t try all that hard.
– Every meal I’ve eaten here? Best meal of my life. Food in Italy is made so well…there is so much love and care that goes behind it, a rich history of family recipes tweaked and altered to make the most perfect dish on earth. Even the appearance is incredible.
Everything about food in Rome is incredible. So can scratch that off.
2) When I came to Rome, everyone told me I would come back a new person. I had the decency to ignore their warnings completely. They were completely right. My whole life has changed. Though I am still a work in progress, I am proud of who I become. I am proud of the traits that make me different, because they make and have made me who I am today. I am strong, passionate, confident, dedicated, loyal, adventurous, stubborn, and I have learned to be patient and take in the beauty all around me. But I am only 20. I still have a ways to go.
3) Still working on it. Being in Catholic Italy has been quite the interesting experience. For example, many churches in Rome (and Europe) are made for ANYONE who seeks meditation or prayer of some sort; that is the effect they want to give to you. The churches are ornate, highly decorative, and massive in size: this is to feel the magnitude of a higher being, no matter what you believe in.