Sometimes I dream of you, a curious, playful child, vowing to take the world and turn it on its heels, to take what you can and build, grow, and change. I dream that your name will be unique, and you will wear it with pride, like an emblem on your chest. It will compliment your dark, brown skin, warm to the touch, and catch like the knots in your wild, curly hair.
I think of all the things that you can be. And I wonder if I will ever have the chance to meet you.
I wonder if I will see your name flash across the screen as you walk down the aisle to graduate, or flashed across the tv screen next to, Say Their Name. Will you make it to your 18th birthday? Or will you live forever, among the names of those who died before or after you?
What will you look like? Will you be brown, like me, or wish you were white? Will you wish to change the texture of your hair, or lighten your beautiful brown skin?
I wonder if you will come to me crying because your classmate called you a nigger. Will you wake up in the middle of the night screaming and scared because you are afraid that you will be hanged.
Will you be able to play outside, because it’s too hot in the wintertime? Will the trees have died, the soil turned to ash? Will I ever see your face turn up in delight as you taste dripping honey, or the laughter when a blueberry is smashed on your face?
I wonder if white supremacy will begin to be normalcy.
I wonder if you will become numb to pain, to be saturated in the hate that is this country. I wonder if it will pierce into your veins and you will feel nothing, see nothing when people like you drown in floods or cross a border.
I’m afraid the trauma of my own life will hurt you as my mother’s hurt me and her mother’s hurt her.
“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.
I remember how I felt when I first met you, how happy you made me feel, wanted. With all of me, I trusted you, blindly followed you, felt butterflies when you said I was beautiful.
Three years later, I’m shocked to see how our relationship has changed.
Three years later, I can still feel your arms as they press against mine, your hair roughly against my face. I feel your breath, the smell so foul with your stench, your body odor mixing with mine. I scrubbed myself for days to rid the stench, a mixture of you and what used to be me.
Three years later, I can still taste the way your mouth felt on mine. I brushed my teeth for hours, desperate to get the taste of you out of my mouth, enough scraping to make my mouth bleed.
Three years later, I can still hear myself and still can wake up in a sweat hearing your laugh in my ears. I still sink into myself, stare at myself with contempt, with guilt, shame, and attempt to hide it with false confidence and pride.
Three years later, I change my number, still shudder when I hear your name, when I think I catch a glimpse of that dark hair across a train platform. I still cry at the thought of another touching me, feeling dirty, tainted.
But three years later, I look at myself in the mirror and still find moments of beauty, in the curve of my smile and the wilderness in my hair. I see strength, wisdom, and great courage, to get up each day and defy you, to stand up for what you’ve done to me.
Three years later, I have forgiven myself, for the pain I have caused others because of my own. Three years later, I mourn those I have lost because you made lose myself.
I have not forgiven you, but I am learning. I am struggling to love myself, but I’ll get there. And I thank you for the pain, the resilience. It has made me a greater person than I ever thought possible.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Day, and the 2nd Presidential Debate, I felt that this was the best way to articulate how I feel in the midst of this election (mostly, I wish it would just end).
As an avid past watcher of the Apprentice and awareness of who Donald Trump was prior to the election, his comments do not surprise me. Frankly, they do not upset me either. They reveal a larger issue that people are only now discovering. This, I believe, is the bigger problem.
Sexual assault, why a seemingly trivial subject, is actually extremely important in a political process. Sexist remarks often become policies that determine how much women are paid, how much they get on maternity leave, whether they are required to carry a fetus to term. To ignore the comments reveals the character of that very person, the core values that take precedent over ones livelihood.
For as long as I can remember, I witnessed sexual exploitation and/or assault, from someone else, or on my own person. Movies I watched contained scenes of half-naked women being choked, smacked, kicked, raped, and it seemed normal. When I began to wear a bra, go through puberty, I was stared at, catcalled, gestured at, and even touched. At age 12, my mother yelled at two older men for whistling at me. At age 16, a man on the street asked me how I would like to be fucked. A man I was “talking to” at age 17 told me, “you look like you like to be choked”.
When I was 19 years old, a man I was dating raped me. I liked him a lot, and remember feeling butterflies when I spoke to him. I remember saying no, three times. I remember wearing a giant tan sweater, leggings, and Ugg boots. I remember feeling paralyzed, like I was in a dream. And I remembered his apology: “Well I am sorry you thought I did that to you, but you seemed to want it too, and it was the fault of both of us”.
Though many would find this shocking, its not. Women often are raped and sexually assaulted by people they know, quite well, which makes it harder to prove sexual assault: being in a relationship or talking to someone means they have jurisdiction over your body. I could not tell, not report what seemed consensual to others.
Donald Trump is also great at circumventing guilt.
In the 2nd Presidential Debate, when asked about the Access Hollywood BTS video, in which he told Bill Bush to grab a woman by the pussy, he responded:
“That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I’m not proud of it, but that was something that happened. If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse — mine are words; his was action. This is what he has done to women. Never been anybody in history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women, so you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.
Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them here tonight. … And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.”
I was 19 years old when I was raped, and because rhetoric is spoken like this daily, the rapist believes he did nothing wrong.
I know for most, I am preaching to the choir. For most, no one knows about my sexual assault. It has been something shameful that I have battled since, it completely changed the way I see myself, see others. I feel the trauma daily, every time I see a woman raped on-screen, every time I hear a politician advocate for a rapist’s acquittal. I identify with the trauma of African-American, Latina, Asian, White women who are raped on college campuses, by bosses, in their homes.
Equally unfortunate is the narrative of toxic masculinity, that promotes a rape culture for both men and women. Men are raped daily and are told they cannot reveal this, as it makes them less of a man. They are told to “take” virginity, to give it to her rough, for fear of being gay, of being a pussy. Aggression is required in order to have a healthy relationship.
Sexual assault is also often racist. I recall the case of a police officer who raped a multitude of poor, Black women, targeting them specifically because “no one would believe them if they reported it”. Muslim women cannot share that they have been raped because they would be shunned from their communities. Latina and Asian women are either sexual deviants or fetishized virgins. There is no in-between.
I have family members who plan to vote for Trump. Who do not see the correlation between Trump and the marginalization of thousands of people. Who only see their future and not the future of their children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.
I am not here to teach, or promote, or highlight Trump’s comments anymore than they already have. I am not here to overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton with open arms. I only came to share what is already known. The hate rhetoric Trump spews is acknowledged and welcomed by a vast majority of this country. His racist comments are the same. Be aware of those that say them in your own circles, in your own homes. They are not here for you, for me. “Something that happened” continues to impact people daily, and it is important that it is discovered, addressed, and dismantled.
I think you still love me because you answered my phone call today, and asked what I needed.
I think you still love me because you snap at me when I check up on you but are mad when I ask you what’s wrong. I think you want me to care.
I think you still love me because my pictures are still featured on your Facebook and Instagram (and please, don’t ever take them down).
I think you still love me because we spent too much time in each other’s arms whispering all of our secrets.
I think you still love me because you haven’t shut me down and out. You could’ve said that you didn’t love me, but you didn’t. You could have ignored my numerous texts, but you didn’t. You could have said to not contact you, but you said “I’ll always be here”.
I think I still love you.
I think I still love you because you are still the last person I think of before I fall asleep (if I sleep) and the first person I think about every morning. I can still feel your breath in my ear as you sleep and hear your voice in my head.
I think I still love you because I pray for you every night.
I think I still love you because as much as I want us to be together, I know that what you need or want does not coincide with me.
I think I still love you because our breakup was not rough, but the thought of us not being together was the tough part.
I think I still love you because I hurt when I know you’re hurting, and I hurt when I know you are pretending to not hurt.
I think I still love you because you are doing something that makes YOU happy, and I want nothing more than to see you be happy.
I think I still love you, because I have hope for us in the future. Though you may get married, and I get married, and have a bunch of kids and are long time friends, I still hope that you are the person I get to say my vow to, to raise children with, and to grow old together.
Shame is one of the most powerful weapons in this universe. It has the ability to shut people up, to close in on themselves, to fester in it, to think about those things over and over, and continue to feel that shame over and over again. After reading about the negative effects of shame in Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, I came to a sudden clarifying conclusion that quite honestly, overwhelmed me. Shame is something that controls many aspects of my life.
Shame thrives when it is not shared when it is hidden and closed off. There are a number things I can feel ashamed of, feel bad, but it is time that I take the first step to loving myself again, to sharing that shame so that it cannot survive. My actions and behavior have no doubt brought shame and guilt, but the power of forgiveness is infinite, and it takes courage to share that shame and ask for forgiveness. I will use this blog to continue to speak about the things in my life that I find gratitude in, but I will also share the things that keep me from getting out of bed, for fighting for things I believe him. This is not a how-to or a post that says “this is how I overcame it”. I am using this as a tool to resist, release, and transcend.
2016 has been a rough year. I have made more mistakes than I would care to count, I have hurt people unintentionally and well as intentionally. I have pushed down so much stress that it often feels like I am drowning, and it has caused me to direct my pain toward others who didn’t deserve it. This year has also brought pain, and injustice, in personal and societal ways that felt unfair. I often pray, but it felt like I was asking God “why?” rather than thanking them.
I try my best to be optimistic. But today, I cannot. Today, it feels impossible to look on the bright side. And, in remembering a book, called Just Mercy, I came across this quote:
“I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy”
Embracing my brokenness means that I am giving myself mercy, rather than continuing to punish. I cannot be good for others unless I am good to myself. I cannot heal unless I feel the pain associated. I cannot forgive myself until I acknowledge the mistakes I have made. I cannot stop being angry until I acknowledge that every person’s decision is not as a result of me.
So, this is the first post on my brand new blog. You are probably thinking, “Hannah. Why did you decide to start writing a blog two weeks before you are leaving to go back to America after spending a WONDERFUL four months in Rome, Italy?!”
Good question. I couldn’t very well tell you myself, except that I feel my adventure in Rome was only the beginning. Sure, I could have bragged about my amazing trips to Budapest, Croatia, Barcelona, Tuscany, blah blah blah…but no one cares about all that anyway. I realized that my journey is only just beginning. I am a new person, and I need a platform to write about.
So here I am.
What can you expect here? Sporadic thoughts, vent sessions, outpouring of love of all aspects. I love life, and the people in it, so you will get a lot of it. You’ll also get some laughs, maybe some tears, who knows, I don’t know you. All I know is, you are getting a close glimpse into my life, and that is more than enough reason to keep reading.