Monday, April 10, 2017

Making a Difference

By Beth Sullivan
This is the fifth year that the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College has collaborated with Avalonia to provide students with first hand knowledge of how a land trust functions and to give Avalonia some much needed energy, assistance and strength.
In past years, one student has taken over writing the blog for me, as part of an outreach project and to introduce the students. This year no one decided to take me up on that, so I will be writing a few of these entries to describe what some of the teams have chosen as their projects.
The frontage was overwhelmed by brush and litter.

Ricardo Olea and Emilio Pallares recognized that our outreach efforts, publications and web photos were lacking in diversity. We discussed several ways to remedy this, and their goal will be to engage diverse students from New London schools near the College, get them outside at the Arboretum, and get some great photos for us to use to be more inclusive. They will promote the new Hike and Seek program and encourage city kids to venture out onto Avalonia trails not far from town for education, fun and, adventure. As they work toward this goal, Ricardo told me about his unique campus group: MEChA ( explanation coming shortly) which needed some community service time and offered to spend a Saturday morning with me, working at a preserve of my choosing.
Invasives were impenetrable behind the wall.

Collier Preserve Clean-up

Great. I never turn down strong young helpers, and it would give me a chance to talk a bit more with Ricardo about his project. We chose the Marjorie Stanton Middleton Collier Preserve, near the top of Quoketaug Hill on Pequot Trail. Over the winter a dedicated volunteer has hacked away at vines strangling the trees and covering the walls. (Thanks Jim.) There was so much dead wood, and dense invasive growth and brush, that the roadside walls were barely visible, and the frontage was a mess. The preserve was donated to Avalonia by the Collier family, one of the founding families living up on the hill far back in Stonington history.
A break of cookies and juice, and a therapy dog, was welcomed.
Ann Collier, art of the donor family, last visited about four years ago.

On a blustery Saturday, six students, including Ricardo, showed up to help fix up the walls. While none of us were stone workers by any stretch, with muscle and some good tools and team work, they were able to get fallen rocks lifted back onto the walls. Over decades these rocks had tumbled, then become grown over and buried. Now they are back out where they belong. The brush along the road and in a nice broad swath behind the walls has been cut down. It is more open and appealing. Litter was picked up by the bag-full, and the area is already drawing positive comments from the neighbors.
Big, fallen rocks were placed back on the walls.

The right tool and a great team made all the difference.

But now about MEChA. As I talked with Ricardo and his friends, they explained that their group was comprised of students of similar ethnic backgrounds going back to indigenous people in Mexico, before Spanish influence. I was intrigued. I will quote Ricardo here as he described his group:
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) is a student organization that promotes higher education, culture, and history. Each word in MEChA symbolizes a great concept in terms of la causa (the cause). Movimiento means that the organization is dedicated to the movement to gain self-determination for our people. Estudiantil, identifies the organization as a student group for we are part of our Raza's future. At the heart of the name is the use of the identity: Chicanx. At first seen as a negative word, now taken for a badge of honor. In adopting their new identity, students committed themselves to return to the barrios, colonias, or campos and together, struggle against the forces that oppress our people. Lastly, the affirmation that we are Indigenous people to this land by placing our movement in Aztlán, the homeland of all peoples from Anahuak.
The term Anahuak is more of a general term often used interchangeably with Valley of Mexico , and both Aztec and Mayan civilizations fall under the umberalla of Anahuak. It is the core of ancient Mexico. This is generally where Mexico City is located today. Essentially, it is where the indigenous peoples of Mexico are said to have originated from.”

What a change!
I found it refreshing to meet and learn about a group of young people who take pride in their heritage. They set great examples for others too as they support the greater community and promote diversity and understanding. Thanks for all the muscle too.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

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