ROOTalks – A blog series from Nova, IslandWood Graduate Student, Class of 2023

ROOTalks – A blog series from Nova, IslandWood Graduate Student, Class of 2023

 

Foto of me in my cabin during one of my 1st weeks at Islandwood wearing a ‘You are on Native Land’ beanie/hat.

Hola readers! (‘hola’ means ‘hello’ in Spanish). My name is Nova and you may use my name as my pronoun. Welcome to my blog, ROOTalks, which will focus on my experiences and reflections during my time as a 2022-2023 Islandwood Graduate student. Where I’m from, we introduce ourselves by sharing where we come from. So, indulge me as I share a little context about who I am and what I am for.

 

 

I am a Bronxite-raised and politicized community organizer, teacher and aspiring community healer. I also have roots in Brevard County, Florida, The Dominican Republic, and Paraguay.  I am here, on unceded Suquamish land in Turtle Island, in large part because of the havoc that U.S. colonial practices in Paraguay and the Dominican Republic created. The U.S. government’s support of Latin American dictators like Alfredo Stroessner, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, and Juan Bosch wreaked havoc and mass murders on the land and people. Since learning of my family’s journey in Latin America, to the United Snakes, and in the United Snakes, it is safe to share that everything I do and aspire to do is in service of the liberation of me and my people, across the Americas, and around the world.

 

With this as my inspiration, I decided to go to graduate school to learn more tools to add to my toolbox for this liberation work.  Since the onset of the pandemic, I had been teaching at the City University of New York and organizing around housing issues in The Bronx and across New York State. My organizing is fueled by the outrage I felt when learning the truth behind my family and community’s struggles here and in Latin America. It led me to work that helped us take back power- in the streets, in our homes, and in government.  Community Organizing is building collective power amongst people marginalized and oppressed to challenge and transform the systems, practices, laws, and cultures that harm us.

 

 

After the first year of the pandemic, I reached a point where I felt so disconnected from myself, students, and community in spite of all this ongoing work and attempts to remain close and focus on staying strong. Nothing seemed to click anymore and I was working more hours than sleeping- forgetting to sleep, rest, do anything that brought me joy because I didn’t want to lose any time in this struggle for our lives.  I only took a pause after I was trapped, assaulted, and arrested by the New York City Police Department on June 4, 2020, while protesting against police brutality in The Bronx. It was an attack gloated about by the Police Chief and Mayor. The assault left me silent and filled with bitterness, unable to comb my hair, hold a pen, or even type or text. I was plagued with flashbacks and the screams of my neighbors from that horrific night, along with an overwhelming fear every day, with pain and damage to my spine and nerves that continue to this day. It was my community that kept me together through their gifts from the land and their hearts, their prayers and well wishes, their visits, and voicemails.

 

Foto looking up towards the trees on a walk through IslandWood

Yet, I almost gave up, until I asked my sister and father to bring water- any water I told them. We went to a park by the river where I just sat and cried. The comfort it brought me is hard to explain- I opened up in a way that I hadn’t since the assault. I understood then that being close to nature revived me and helped me find ways to heal and reconnect with my family, friends and neighbors. I knew that I had changed profoundly – not just in my manera de ser (way of being) but also in how I wanted to do this liberation work.

 

And in late August of 2021 I decided to apply to graduate school outside of New York, in a place with mountains and lots of trees, by a body of water.  For weeks I had been searching for programs informal and formal that would honor my liberation work and values and provide a space where I could learn, debate, wrestle and practice new ways of teaching and learning, because education is an essential step to building power and transforming the systems of oppression that harm us all. We must understand how and why things have come to be- and this land on Earth and all of the resources that come with it including humans are important parts of understanding why systematic oppression exists. I also knew I wanted to go to a program that valued community- the relationships between plants, more than humans, the waters, and humans. I was interested in teaching and learning that was grounded in what we learn about ourselves and the world from the ecosystems in our backyards. What can I learn about knowledge, community, survival, healing, and relationships from the trees and bats, bunnies and coyotes, lichen and moss? What about the waters and the salmon, the flowers and the weeds? There is so much to learn whether I am on Lenape land in The Bronx amongst pine trees and concrete or here on Suquamish land in Bainbridge Island by marsh and Big Leaf Maples. I was being called to deepen how I navigate being a co-conspirator with the natural world and students of all ages, in order to strengthen our collective movement for liberation that transforms pain and oppression into joy and freedom. Self-reflection and education are core parts of organizing and require consistent practice in order to be sharp and to stay ready for taking action.

 

Thankfully it only took two weeks to find the IslandWood graduate program. I never thought that I would appreciate how algorithms find what I’m looking for! I learned about Islandwood via an Instagram ad and signed up for an info session right away.  I looked at the photos and videos on the website and knew right away this environment was exactly what I needed- it spoke to my soul. And after reading the list of required reading and some of the classes I knew this program was rooted in all of the topics and practices I wanted to learn more about and practice. The IslandWood graduate program expressed deep care about the ecosystem of people, more than humans, and the land; and it prioritized deepening these relationships by reconnecting with ancestral and Indigenous ways of knowing and being. A surprise was also being able to teach every other week as a way to practice the new tools I was deepening or learning about.

 

 

I believe if you can teach 4th-6th graders, you can teach anyone. This is the age group where you are challenged, inspired from their fresh outlooks on the world and invited to join them in reimagining how things can be. This was exactly what I had dreamed up in a grad program. And to be honest, every single person I’ve met since then has been so incredibly kind I have cried more than a few times just from gratitude at their help and attention- from the IT department at UW to the IslandWood graduate program staff. You’ll learn more soon about how Orientation and my first quarter of teaching and classes went but please know I’m pinching myself regularly to check if this is just a dream or reality.

 

As of today, it’s real life, friends.

 

 

In solidarity, nova

 

 

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