Canyon Creek Hike

by Ben, Civic Semester Participant

On November 5th, we got up early, ate some breakfast, and drove to Arizona. The air was cool and crisp, and as our cars climbed into the mountains, it began to feel like fall again. Since coming further south, we’ve gotten accustomed to the earthy greens and browns of the desert, but seeing the vibrant reds and yellows of the leaves reminded us of Truchas, or even of home. As we stepped out, our hiking boots hitting the rocks and dust beneath our feet, we were hit by a wave of smells: sage, rosemary, mint, and pine. Birds were chirping in celebration of the new day and we started working our way up the trail in a loose single file.

This was our fourth hike we’ve done as a group, and our first in Arizona. During each trek, our conversations ebb and flow, constantly changing focus and character. One moment we’re joking about fake business ideas and the next we’re discussing the importance of mental health. Throughout the line, a chorus of conversations might occur, with different social atmospheres being formed based on who is in earshot. These tend to shift often, especially as we pause for water or break file to cross a river bed, leading to new combinations of people. Alternatively, sometimes there are no conversations. Instead, we climb meditatively, listening to our own breathing and the rustling of the leaves. It’s this variety that I think I love the most. In a group of 11 people, it can be difficult to find space for different kinds of interactions among ourselves. When we hike, connections are more fluid, and we can choose to focus on the whole group, a few people, one person, or just ourselves. Ultimately, despite any spoken words, we complete the climb together, and that creates a bond. This program is teaching me the importance of movement and the body not only for health, but for community as well. A relationship is created and felt when you push each other to reach a peak. There’s something special about that moment, about seeing ourselves clearly as a group.

November 5th also marked one month until the program ends, and nearly two months since it began. My perception of time is not the same here as it was in Truchas. Some of that is because we’re taking a different pace, but a lot of it is because I can feel the finish line approaching. As a result, I’ve been finding it difficult to stay completely present and engaged in the group and our visits.

But there are moments that pull me back and remind me why I’m here. Our hike was one of those. I’m so grateful for these moments and I have so much love for everyone in the cohort. Here’s to an amazing final month 🙂

Talk soon – Ben

Originally posted here.

Flowers and Bullets

by Biani, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

Greeting friends and family, we had our first organization visit in Tucson, Arizona and I will start by saying that it was truly inspiring!

On October 29th, we set off bright and early at 6 am for our long awaited visit with our first organization in Arizona called Flowers and Bullets (F&B)! Flowers and Bullets is a community-based organization in Barrio Centro/Julia Keen that focuses on counteracting the effects of systemic economic and environmental racism by creating healthy alternatives for the neighborhood, such as art, rain water harvesting, and farming.

The organization was started by Tito Romero and Jacob Robles after the Mexican American Studies department at a local high school in Tucson was shutdown for promoting “ethnic chauvanism” and “discrimination towards Americans of European descent.” After being exposed to youth organizing around the U.S, Jacob and Tito decided to create Flowers and Bullets, which started off as a T-shirt line. The name ‘Flowers and Bullets’ represents a push back against society as well as their upbringing in the community as it was both influenced by art, but also a struggle. A year later, the organization began to grow when Dora Martinez joined as they were able to incorporate gardening and farming into their work.

The farm space that they work out now (Midtown Farm) is an old elementary school that was shutdown by the city. This was heartbreaking for the community as the school was the heart of the neighborhood filled with celebrations, art and laughter. F&B is trying to fill that gap by bringing the community into the work that they do, through their BSA (Barrio Supported Agriculture) program, rainwater harvesting, and organizing neighborhood fiestas. Something great that they do in their BSA program is prioritizing locals, elders, and pregnant women for who gets to be selected to receive their fresh goods. They are also very involved in painting murals around the community because they understand the importance of creating a welcoming space, especially for people of color and so they try to incorporate black and brown faces into their art to represent the people in the community. Beyond growing fruits and vegetables, Midtown Farm also raises chickens and goats. Fun fact, the chicken coupe at the farm was actually built by high school students as a project. Flowers and Bullets truly prioritizes incorporating education into the work that they do and using things like farming and cooking as opportunities for learning. The organization has realized that there is a disconnect between consumers and the food industry, and are trying to bridge that gap through their farm, which I think is very admirable.

We were lucky enough to spend the day with them. We started off the morning learning about the organization and taking a tour of the farm, where we got to hang out and pet the goats. Next, we started working on the farm and did a bunch of different jobs like raking, plucking green beans, and cutting corn stems. After that we took a lunch break and played with the goats some more (this time we got to feed them!). In the afternoon we began canvassing in groups of two or three and spread flyers that had to do with a Barrio Fiesta happening soon. We ended the day reflecting and sharing gratitude about the time we had spent with Tito, Jacob, Brandon, and Silvia and our overall thoughts on the neighborhood. Listening to the work that they do and the positive impact that they are having on Barrio Centro is motivating and inspiring because despite being such a small group, they are making great progress and creating a safe space for community members to turn to. The work that they are doing has encouraged me to stay motivated while community organizing and understand there are different ways to support a neighborhood and you do not only have to specialize in one area.

Thank you Flowers and Bullets for sharing your community with us, and we will be sure to take everything we have learned from you on community organizing back to Tufts!

Originally posted here.

Dreams, Soaked in Pink

by Empress, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

( based on experiences in Big Bend State Park)

If you lay on your back,

And throw your hands to the sky,

Between every finger is a star you can find!

If you close your eyes,

Just for a second,

You’ll find a place for your dreams to fly!

And when you choose,

To open your eyes,

Your visions will be met by the pink sky!

Deep in your being,

And deep in your mind,

You’ll find a view as sweet as pie,

You may find a world where your heart can thrive,

But you’ll always be grounded by the pink in the sky.

Originally posted here.

Casa Carmelita!

by Loey, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

On the 16th and 17th of October, we had the absolute privilege of spending our entire days learning from the founding and contributing members of an organization called “Casa Carmelita” based in El Paso, Texas. No more than 20 yards away from a primary entry point to the U.S.-Mexico border, Casa Carmelita can be described as a home and community for trans migrants who are in the process of becoming documented United States citizens. We were initially greeted by someone named Juan Ortiz, a founding member of the house who is heavily involved in direct action and community organizing. Juan talked with us for the entire day about issues relating to immigration and the carceral archipelago that causes nothing but pain for Black and Brown communities in America. As a group we learned about the extensive discrimination against trans and LGBTQ+ immigrants, with acts of trans abuse accounting for a majority of the violence within detention centers across our country. The suffering that the over militarization and policing in El Paso has caused was made abundantly clear to us, especially when we walked within a neighborhood where the border wall was quite literally the residents’ backyards. Juan also did not stop his teachings at the U.S. side of the border. We learned about a sister organization called “Casa de Colores” that is based in the city of Juarez, Mexico, founded by a collective of trans women which houses and provides resources for vulnerable migrants. U.S. intervention in Juarez has made the city an incredibly dangerous place to live, especially for trans women, so there is a large amount of work to be done in supporting the people of the area. Another person who worked with us was named Jennifer Apodaca, who explained with Juan that their organization is not there to judge whatever reasons or justifications people may have for immigration. Casa Carmelita operates under the belief that migration should be a human right, and especially based on skin color and gender identity, this right is disproportionately stripped from certain people. With the profound input from other speakers we met named Karina Brecera, Cami, and Sochil, our discussions with the staff of Casa Carmelita taught all of us the true importance of grassroots, intersectional, community engagement where the voices of those who are directly impacted are placed above all else.

When we weren’t having discussions and asking questions about the geopolitical, cultural realities of the Borderlands, we learned the specifics of how to mix paint from a man named Francisco “Frank” Delgado. We spent almost the entirety of Sunday working on murals and different painting projects around the house. This hands-on work highlighted for all of us, once again, how pivotal art can be in the process of social justice and revolution. Our days working with Casa Carmelita were filled will laughter, incredible insight, amazing food from local restaurants, therapeutic reflection through art, and obsessing over the house’s dog named “Frijol”.

Carmelita Torres was a Mexican woman from Juarez born in 1900 who would cross the border every day in order to work as a maid in El Paso. Tired of the constant humiliation and perverse “cleaning” treatments with pesticides and gasoline from border patrol, she one day refused the abuse and incited what is now known as the El Paso Bath Wars. Casa Carmelita is named after this brave woman, who was 17 at the time, in order to recognize and share her story of civil defiance. Carmelita is a representation of the fight against injustice and oppression that is still needed to this day, and we are all so thankful to have helped continue her story.

Originally posted here.

Moving Arts Española

by Biani, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

For the past four weeks the Tufts Civic Semester cohort has been taking Mexican baile folklórico (folkloric dance) every Monday at Moving Arts in the city of Española. Moving Arts is an organization dedicated to building community and cultivating leaders through art and the preservation of culture. Our dance classes were instructed by Salvador Ruiz-Esquivel, who is the executive/school director and co-founder of the organization. Every class we switch from our trainers and crocs into our dance shoes with metal soles, which has been very exciting as they only elevate the performance with their sound. Traditionally, men do the dance with machetes while women wear long, brightly colored skirts. Fortunately, we have been able to play with the role of gender by not separating our group into two and all dancing together with machetes or in skirts.

As Moving Arts deals with much more than dance, we were also able to take a cooking class there with Laura where we made vegetarian Mexican pozole, blue cornmeal muffins, and vegan buckeyes. The meal was absolutely delicious! Dancing with Salvador has been such a wonderful experience as he has been able to share a part of his culture with us. Our last class was truly emotional for all of us, as we are grateful for the organization Moving Arts, and inspired by all the community work that they are able to achieve through the visual, graphic, and culinary arts. We are also super grateful to have worked with Salvador and truly appreciate his patience and kind words throughout our lessons. We are sad to be leaving Truchas and the surrounding communities, and hope to learn from organizations just as amazing and community-oriented as Moving Arts.

Originally posted here .

Seeds are the Future

by Biani, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

On Friday the 24th of September, the Tufts Civic Semester cohort visited the Tesuque Pueblo Farm on our quest to learn more about seed sovereignty and agriculture. Tesuque (also known as Taytsúgeh Oweengeh in Tewa) is the southernmost Tewa Pueblo. We spent a lot of our time learning from Emigdio Ballón, one of the leaders at the farm. Emigdio is originally from Cochabamba, Bolivia and has been running the farm in New Mexico for about 15 years. While talking with Emigdio we got to learn a lot about Seed Banks as well as look through the Seed Bank that the farm had. It was fascinating to see the variety of melon, quinoa, cucumber, and corn seeds that were being held at the farm. It was also nice to know that anyone in the Pueblo was allowed to use the seeds for their own personal benefit.

While discussing the importance of conserving seed, as “Seeds are the Future,” Emigdio also talked a lot about health in general and the importance of eating well because “Your Food is Your Medicine.” Sometimes we forget how sacred our bodies are and the importance of treating and feeding ourselves well in order to successfully turn outwards and engage with our community. After all, how you take care of yourself is how you take care of the environment.

After doing a lot of reflection and discussing with Emigdio, we were able to get our hands dirty and help out with the farming. We used hoes to dig holes around fruit trees in the orchards so that the holes could be filled with compost and manure to help the trees grow.

The visit to the Tesuque Farms was like that of no other. It caused us to think more critically about the way in which we take care of our bodies, as they are precious and deserve to be treated as such. Moreover, the physical labor that we did allowed us to have a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for all the difficult work that farmers do in order to grow crops. We are definitely looking forward to returning to the farm and doing some more work to support the Tesuque farmers in any way we can.

Originally posted here.