Resist. Persist. Insist.

Invest. Nurture. Thrive.

Inform. Inspire. Act.

Activate. Educate. Legislate.

These are the words I read on large posters as I entered the Sonia Sotomayor room at the CH2M Hill Alumni center at Oregon State University. The buzz that filled the room was energizing as women and their allies gathered for a day centered around change making in many different forms. I entered the gathering hall. Although I was expecting for this day to be inspirational, I wasn’t prepared for was the power surge I received from the passion and force shared by the speakers throughout the day. Luckily, I was not alone on this adventure, one of my dear mentors and dance sister Antigone was there. We spent the past year working together with teen girls from high schools around using the healing art of tribal style belly dancing to facilitate discussion around body image, identity, earth stewardship and much more. Kristina, a fellow Environmental Arts and Humanities student, also shared this experience. We were amazed by the speakers’ courage and their stories. Their gentle and loving reminders for radical self-love and self-care spoke to my heart that day.

Corvallis Changemakers was a conference for women & their allies that was “[C]reated by a group of friends in Corvallis, Oregon who, inspired by the upsurge in activism in our community and our nation, seek fresh voices, ideas, and tools to effect change.”

I want to share a little bit about the keynote speaker, Walidah Imarisha and what she calls visionary fiction. Walidah is a writer, educator and poet. During her presentation, Dreaming New Just Worlds: Visionary Fiction and Organizing, Walidah walked through the importance of imaginative spaces, offered through visionary fiction for exploring contemporary and historical problems. In addition to inspiring and transforming the way we imagine and re-imagine the realities of the future. She emphasized the power of the of our imagination through creative outlets, such as writing, to decolonize our minds. Using fictional storytelling as a catalyst for change requires some clarification about what the goals are within this genre.

A few points about visionary fiction:

  •        It discusses current social issues
  •        It is conscious of identity and intersecting identities 
  •        It centers leadership around marginalized and most affected
  •        It is conscious of power inequalities
  •        It is realistic and hard but hopeful
  •        It is generative- creates options
  •        Change is grassroots
  •        It is nonlinear; dreams with past
  •        It is not neutral

The most powerful statement that I gathered from this presentation is that, “art either advances of regresses justice.”

Check out the anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements she coedited with Adrienne Maree Brown.

Goodness, what a hard act to follow, but all the speakers delivered. One common theme that echoed throughout the day was that sharing our stories is an act of resistance. It allows us to honor our multidimensionality and reclaim narratives that may be otherwise told for us. I believe this was a day dedicated to creating brave spaces and engaging in tough dialogue around the role of power and privilege regarding: gender, able-bodiedness, race, sexual orientation, etc., in the spaces we are hoping to transform.

I tried to capture more direct quotes from throughout the day, but it was nearly impossible. Have you ever had a time in your life when you wanted to capture every word that flowed from a person’s mouth. Try multiple people’s mouths during an all-day event. This exact feeling captivated me. So instead I will share a list of the panels I attended, along with the names of the speakers. Just in case any of you out there are interested in learning more about some of the amazing people who spoke that day. All of the conference speakers and their bios can be found at the Changemakers website.

Vulnerable Storytelling for Revolution

Panelists:  Trystan Reese, Mary Zelinka, Alejandra Campoverdi

Unleash Your Inner Changemaker Through Intentional Relationship Building

Panelists: Susana Rivera-Mills, Deborah Parker, Jazmin Roque

Personal Resilience: In it for the Long Haul

Panelists:  Rhonda Simpson, Lisa Wells, Stacey Rice

The diverse experiences and voices present created a dynamic program that required a lot of energy to remain mindful and engaged but also a fair amount of energizing reciprocated through activities and discussion. One of my favorite voices (and laughs) was a laughing activity shared by Traci McMerrit during the laughing labyrinth exercise. We used the healing aspect of laughter to create space in our heart center, relax, and build community.  Apparently laughing is a way our body copes with stress, so laughter is good medicine. Other speakers such as Rhonda Simpson and Lisa Wells lead us through activities such as heart-centered breathing, yoga stretches (and shaking), which complimented powerful testimonies about the crucial need to put ourselves first, and take care of ourselves during our journey as change-makers.

So to sum up the day, we breathed together, stretched together, laughed together, shook together, cried together, learned together, grew together, and dreamed together.  Not only was this a Sunday worth remembering and reflecting on through this blog, it was a day that contained golden nuggets of wisdom that I hope to come back to. I intended to focus on tools and solutions rather than problems, and to remember there is a vibrant and engaged community ready to serve as allies in a time of uncertainty. My only regret is not taking many pictures. So here is a link to the Corvallis Changemakers Instagram.

So, like most of the time in college, I am left with more questions than answers. But one question that is always worth exploring was presented by Rhonda Simpson during the final session, what makes your heart sing

From there the thread of connectivity became apparent in my mind.

Invest in it. Nurture it. Thrive.

Inform yourself. Inspire others. Act.

Activate forces that support it. Educate others about it. Legislate.

What does not support its liberation…

Resist. Persist. Insist on change.

We are the Change Makers.

May our power rise, may we liberate ourselves, and may our collective wisdom continue to blossom.

Last Saturday, I spent the day  out at the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest with members of the Environmental Arts and Humanities cohort and other enthusiastic volunteers for the fifth annual Get Outdoors Day. This event is hosted by the Oregon State University College of Forestry and Benton County extension and is a collective effort to connect families with the forest. It is also part of a larger initiative to create community and bring people to the forest who may not visit as often or it is their first time.

Our group was responsible for the community art booth. We concentrated on the central topic of the mycorrhizal network in the soil. We invited the community engage with us in a discussion and creative representation of this network and how it relates to ourselves in the community.

Some key messages we focused on throughout the day:

–          There is a connected world beneath our feet that facilitates the exchange of nutrients, water and information.

–          The network is connected via mycorrhizae, which facilitate symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi.

–          We want to consider how our community can be more connected like the mycorrhizae.

– How can we create communities that encourage compassion and supportive environments?

Photo credit: Samm Newton

The EAH group is always looking for creative outlets, thus it is natural that we would be attracted to the artistic side of a day in the forest. Sarah Kelly, a fellow EAH member set up the ground work and was the driving force behind organizing our booth.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

When I asked her what inspired her choice of topic, Sarah said “I spend a lot of time in my research and personal life thinking about interconnections. I love learning about how systems and individuals within systems are intertwined. When I heard about the mycorrhizal network a few months ago, I knew it was the perfect topic to inspire the community art project.”

“What better idea to embody, than a naturally occurring supportive community that humans don’t readily perceive? I thought it was an inspiring phenomenon to bring the community together, learn about ecology, and consider how they can help each other and our environment.”

What a creative process indeed. I was able to join Sarah and some other volunteers the first time we went out into the forest to collect materials for constructing the soon to be community sculpture. The entire process was engaging especially with Sarah encouraging us to share our ideas and creativity to shape the process. We did a test run of the branch sculpture prior to the event with a good-size group trouble shooting, learning about physics, balance, and communication during the process.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

On the day of the event several children and their families helped with the construction of the sculpture (pictured below) and adorned the community network with lovely notes.  Families were asked to reflect and respond to the following prompt: What kind of community do you want to live in? The rest was up to the families to decide how and what to express. Sweet messages related to nature and fun responses related to food, games, and other types of activities that make life enjoyable decorated the sculpture. Many families stopped to listen and learn about the network beneath our feet, but the magic occurred when we were all able to reflect and realize we can take a lesson from nature, and in fact already do at times when we interact with our families and community.

Check out the following links for more information on the incredible mycorrhizal network.

Maybe nature isn't so cutthroat and austere as "survival of the fittest" makes it out to be…

Posted by Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network – ASAN on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here are some photos from the day:

Photo credits: Samm Newton

I’ve been looking forward to this event all term. Finally, just like the sunshine, it arrived.

I woke up Friday morning bright and early to prepare my things for an overnight trip to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. There was something unique about this trip, unlike most of my experiences in nature and research settings. It was a time to reflect on my experience in one of my many identities, being a Latina.

I arrived at Ana’s house at 9 am, and we were soon joined by several families who would also be coming along for our adventure in the forest. After a 45-minute choreography of rearranging our bags, coolers, and children, all the while gracefully dancing to the duet of Spanish and English, it was time to go.

We arrived at the forest close to noon and unpacked the cars into the cabin. You wouldn’t believe that we were only staying for one night by the number of things we managed to pack into the cars including, but not limited to, rain gear, food, and musical instruments. After sharing some laughs and sandwiches, it was time for the first activity of the afternoon: the story circle.

There is something about sitting in a circle that reminds me of the power of this sacred geometry. Many life lessons come to mind, including childhood memories of my favorite film, The Lion King. The circle of life, unity, the cycles that guide natural laws, all becomes clearer when we watch, listen, and participate. What a special moment for us all, students, professors, and professionals coming together to share what Latinx identity means to each of us. The circle began with Ruth and continued as we organically decided the order. Each person shared their experiences as Latinos. There were distinct differences and similarities within these short testimonies. Our prompt was as follows: What does it mean to be Latino? And what aspect of being Latino, your race, ethnicity, or nationality would you like to elaborate on? The responses were heartfelt and included diverse identifiers such as, passion, food, emotions, language, family, music, education, and being proud of our experiences and of those before us. Latino experiences with roots from Mexico, United States, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Chile were represented, and the stories shared were full of emotion, felt by both the speaker and listener. The conversation was extended to include the spouses of Latinos and discuss the experience raising a multicultural and bilingual family. The young children, all proud Latinas, were also included in the conversation.Their energy made us laugh and smile throughout this experience.

After our sincere conversation, there was some time to enjoy the beautiful weekend with which we had been blessed. Walking along Discovery Trail allowed us to reflect on our connection to nature. There is something about being in the presence of green giants that humbles the spirit. The group was amazed by the canopy structure and the strength of the river. After capturing a few beautiful nature photos, we began to discuss lessons that can be learned from nature.  Winter, one of the most difficult times for all life, is the most important season for renewal. It is the time where the rivers cleanse and prepare for the spring. It also a time to condition and test the resilience of creatures, humans and others.  Winter can be a time to test our persistence, molding us into all that we are.

Ivan reminded us that, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” As we headed back toward the cabin we reflected on our place in nature, the spiral of life and the universe, and about how we can start to bring other students with different experiences and backgrounds into the conversation.  We crossed over a small stream, and our memories from this visit to the HJ Andrews trickled into the water, down to the river, flowing outward. It was a time for cleansing, but we knew our stories would be preserved from that moment in time and continue cycling.

The rest of the evening we gathered around a large table with bowls full hot sancocho Colombiano. As the food simmered we shared some time together with a music session and dance party. I appreciated that we weren’t expected to leave the creative aspects of ourselves out of the conversation, it was encouraged. Conducting ecological research is often associated with being the quiet observer, allowing the environment to reveal secrets through careful measurement. Our interaction with the forest was different, it was a time for the celebration of who we are, our experiences, and an opportunity to create a living memory with nature.

We wrapped up the long day gathered around the campfire. We made smores and continued to sing into the night, our songs and carried by the green giants and the night breeze. We had our fair share of laughs, as the children shared their spooky/comical stories with us. Wise words that resonated with all of us came in the form of song by Facundo Cabral, Argentinian poet and composer- also recognized by UNESCO in 1996 as the Messenger of Peace and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, shared a moment with the group as we chorused to the following lyrics (rough English translation included):

No soy de aquí ni soy de allá

I am not from here nor from there

“No tengo edad, ni porvenir “

I have no age, nor future

“Y ser feliz es mi color de identidad”

And to be happy is my color of identity.

As I reflect on the discussion of identity in the forest, I realize it was really a discussion about humanity and our connection to the world around us. A time to honor the winter, and a time to celebrate the sunshine of spring.

Juntos began back in 2007 as an OSU Open Campus initiative to increase Latino representation in Higher Education.  This program prepares students through a college readiness program that includes helping students navigate the steps toward entering and succeeding in college. Please visit the webpage to learn more and consider supporting if you feel inclined:

https://create.osufoundation.org/project/5826

Photo credits to our wonderful film crew: Rick Henry and Drew Olson

Participants: Ana Gomez-Diazgranados, Paul Navarra, Ruth Jones, Brooke Penaluna, Ivan Arismendi, Megan Patton-Lopez, Daniel Fernando Lopez-Cevallos-Ana Lu Fonseca, Carlos Fajardo, Natalia Maria Fernandez, and four beautiful and entertaining little girls (Hazel, Amaia, Chloe, Eva Lu)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading by Kristin Berger and Scot Siegel from their new books How Light Reaches Us and Constellation of Extinct Stars.

Photo by Samm Newton
Photo by Samm Newton

During this intimate event at Grass Roots Books & Music bookstore,  the poets took the audience on a journey through time and place.  Each poem was carefully crafted and read with striking emotion. This collaboration shared a special theme, OR-7, or as we have come to affectionately know him, Journey. Journey is the first wolf seen in Western Oregon since the 40’s and Northern California since the 20’s.  During this adventure, Journey shares his perspective on things such as snow, humans, and love, which was spiritedly read by Scot. Kirsten complimented this poem through the eyes of Journey’s mother. The opportunity to animate this realm provided the perspective not only of a wolf but a mother.

The poets also provided the opportunity to explore landscapes,seasons, nature and the elements. I connected with references to the desert South West and a description of how drought begins. The audience also confirmed their interest with subtle expressions throughout the reading and a warm applause at the end. The audience was attentive and engaged during the Q & A session.

This unique collaboration reminded me of the strength found while working with others. They shared some of the benefits of their partnership, such as offering edits and approval. Kristen and Scot provided a great example of collaboration and offered a creative space to tune into the senses during their poetry reading.  Now as we move into the rainy season here in Corvallis I will remember that poetry has the power to transcend time and seasons, perspective and place. A tool that will help this desert gal see the rainbows at the end of countless rain showers.