Isa Caliandro: Finding Hope in What We Can Create

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“If we lose faith in ourselves, we can in those moments forget ourselves and dwell on the future of the larger community, on the blessing of neighbors.” –Barry Lopez

Sitting below a massive deep purple sandstone wall, looking out between Navajo sandstone cliffs, past cottonwoods bright green with the freshness of spring, Katie, our instructor, asked us: “what gives you hope?”

There are many things that give me hope; my friends, my mother’s strength, big snowfalls in winter, the cultural awareness of my younger sister, heavy yellow mellow mornings, community gardens at the end of summer brimming with food. Yet, I can’t ignore the fact that I have been extremely fortunate on my path so far. Many others, even this landscape have had to endure great hardships greater than I will ever understand.

Continuing forward between canyons and now into the front country, I have been trying to gain more insight about hope in this landscape. Where have these cultures found it? How can we be hopeful as people of the world, in times where it is hard to ignore the glaringly real heartbreak of the world? On this section of the course I have been rolling the question over and over of: is my hope a sign of my privilege and my distance from these problems?

As the sun melted down the side of the opposing wall of the canyon, I felt the smile of the day warm my face. Sitting up, I looked down the canyon to the open expanse before me; a road snaking between easy hills, a raven flying overhead, all of it framed by pale sandstone cliffs. Off in the distance, the San Francisco Peaks provide depth and stand steady among the clouds and purple hazy hues of the early morning.

Down the ridge from where I sleep stand the bare bones of a sandstone-brick house now framed by half-standing walls and empty windows. This place is quiet and each nook marks a different stage of history and resilience. The broken pieces of pottery scattered and mixed in the soil of the garden we toiled mark at least three generations of artistic style. The gnarled fruit trees, growing out of sandy soil, mark the Spanish influence that at one time dominated agricultural influence. The rusted metal cans tucked between rocks and plastic bottles blown up against rocks mark a recent cultural influence of western culture and imposition of goods. Dorothy, our Hopi host, and her family, have cultivated these dips and ridges I am tucked between for at least a few hundred years. Throughout drought, cultural persecution, and pressures of imposing western cultures, Dorothy’s family has held strong here in their desert oasis.

It is easy to imagine that through all of their hardship the Hopi people would have at certain points given up. There was a period of time where the US government mandated that Hopi children be sent to federal run boarding schools where they were not allowed to practice their culture. The children’s hair, an important part of their cultural identity, to the Navajo representing their memories, was cut without explanation. This hair cutting represented a literal severing of ties from their families and homes.

When hearing these dark marks upon the history of our nation a sense of guilt fills my heart and mind. How is it that I am just learning of these people’s stories? How is it that even today they are under the weight of systemic oppression? How have they kept a forward momentum and maintained their culture? When in conversation, Dorothy explained that even if everything else in the world is falling apart her people will always have their culture. They will always have their ceremonies to keep in touch with their history and the land. She explained it is in their roots, their creation story. The Hopi people were told to keep going past the tempting lush land and they would find their land where they were made to farm. It was the land of sandy soil, mesas, spectrums of reds and oranges, where they were meant to live. This land is so “barren” that the U.S government didn’t even try to take it from the Hopi because they saw it as undesirable. Here the Hopi have rooted down in their dry farming techniques and culture.

He sat, one leg crossed over the other, long hair loose behind his shoulders, and he explained gently to us of his personal story of activism. He is Bucky, a tribal elder, and Hopi. The mining operations on the reservation have affected the aquifer levels as well as the water quality due to contamination. Bucky has been working as an activist for many years now, trying to bring light to the problems involving water on the Hopi reservation. As a tribal elder, he holds a leadership position within the community. Though, he explained to us not everyone in his tribe supports his actions. Even so he works tirelessly to protect his people’s land. He has run literally hundreds of miles to raise awareness; more recently he has organized the Water is Life run. This run is 50k and takes place on the reservation. Bucky has created a shift of energy that brings in room for a new kind of history. After hearing of his successes, trials, and goals I wonder again: Is my sense of hope in hearing this because it is something that is not a lived reality for me? What responsibility do I hold in the past events that have led to this point?

It was through reflection on my conversation with Dorothy, as well as an essay of Barry Lopez’s “The Rediscovery of North America” that I found my answer. Thinking back to the garden beds that we created, twelve inches deep, twelve feet long, with two feet between, I smile. Remembering the hundreds of miles Bucky has run, he has shaped history. It is important to acknowledge our dark history as a nation. It is important for me to recognize my positionality and privilege. It is important for me to know that I get to step away from these problems when I leave the course; but I can take this knowledge and try to make something from it. I can create new marks, take brighter steps, and leave behind a new kind of history. Stories of community, tolerance, creation, and hope that I can strive to better the colors of yesterday.
“We repudiate the greed. We recognize and condemn the evil. And we see how the harm has been perpetuated. But, five hundred years later, we intend to mean something else in the world.” – Barry Lopez

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