by Esmeralda Hic, September 2019
Poster hung up in the Menīkānaehkem Community Rebuilders community center within the Menominee Nation. This center is often used as an organizing space as well as a place for community. We were welcomed here by community members for the duration of our stay.
In November 2018 I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Wisconsin to join organizers from Santa Ana, Madison, Wisconsin, and the Menominee Nation at an encuentro. This encuentro was an opportunity for all of us to connect in our organizing work and in our own humanity. With the current state of the world, it is easy for us to get lost in our organizing, to get lost in the weight of it all. This weight, the weight of injustice, turmoil, and responsibility, can be exhausting. Often times I lose myself to the work and the despair and need help from those in my support system to ground myself. The pain and outrage can make me feel lost and many times I forget what I am fighting for only that I am fighting with everything I have. This experience was a breath of fresh air. It was a communal connection that I did not realize I needed. I had become so used to my burnout that I had forgotten that it wasn’t normal, that I shouldn’t feel like I have to fight all the time, that I deserve happiness and to enjoy moments in my life. This Encuentro was a reminder that I am worthy of human connection and community, regardless of the state of our society.
Me (Left) and Karen, another UCI student and member of the Community Resilience Cohort.
My time with folks from Santa Ana and the Menominee Nation helped ground me in our collective experience. On the surface we are fighting different battles, food insecurity, lack of resources, poverty, among others, but really we acknowledged that all of these issues are interconnected. I found myself deeply bonding over a mutual respect and love for our mother Earth and a mutual struggle to defend her from those who choose to exploit her. I have never been able to walk into a room and just grow. There was no need to explain the issues, we all already understood what was happening and what needed to be done, this was a space where I could connect with others through our experiences, regardless of how similar or different they were, and just grow. We spent our days discussing the issues that directly impact our communities and homes and then we spent the nights creating music, dancing, cooking food, exchanging culture and with it, love. The opportunity to be loved and welcomed for just existing was so beautiful and I have worked to make sure that every space that I help co-create embodies that same love and energy.
Coming from a desert town where there is no snow, I was awestruck by the beauty of the landscape. I was proud that I was able to endure the temperature, at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with some help from multiple clothing layers.
This was a reminder that a just transition is possible. That communal empowerment and love are key to this work and this transition. This was a reminder that I can’t do this work alone, that I shouldn’t, that I am not alone. Even more importantly, I was reminded that this work must always come from a place of love for each other and for ourselves. Like all growth spurts, this experience came with growing pains. These growing pains were in the form of conflicting thoughts about how to process this experience, some doubts on if I truly deserved to be in that space, and fears about what comes next, how do I allow myself to improve and transform after this encuentro? Eight months later… I am still trying to find answers to those same questions. However, I have learned that I don’t need to have those answers right now, that I actually shouldn’t have these answers yet because my transformation will be an ongoing process that I will work towards for the rest of my life. I do not know where my organizing journey will take me, for there is much to fight for in this world, what I do know is that I will continue to embrace and be grateful for every opportunity in which I am able to heal with others as we all continue our journey through life and our different fights. This encuentro also served as a reminder that there are folks fighting everywhere and that we all continue the fight of past generations and of our ancestors. That in itself is a beautiful gift, and an immense responsibility, but the good news is, we never carry it alone, there is always the possibility of togetherness.