El Jardín Curativo: outreach and extension of community
By Beatriz Lima Ribeiro, member of the Healing Garden
Indiana University turned 200 years old in 2020. During this period of time, it expanded immensely, changing Bloomington’s layout. Since then, the city landscape was moved around the university’s influence, where some neighborhoods disappeared and others were created. The castle-like buildings made of the widely found Indiana Limestone adds to the vibe of a well organized amusement park. Everything has its place, it's in control and can be well predicted. Likewise, every castle has fortresses and IU does not fall out of this pattern.
The fortress is one that is both metaphorical and literal. Metaphorical because the university is the source of recognized formal knowledge, and may exclude other perspectives and ways of relating to the world, building walls around what it means to know. Literal because it is a main creator of gentrification in the city, moving around pieces and displacing communities in order to expand its castles.
As an ongoing process of reflection and action, part of the Healing Garden goals is to create a bridge between the university space and the communities that exist in Bloomington. Well, as students constructing the project we are part of the Bloomington community. However, many of us who are organizing and managing the Healing Garden on a daily basis are POC, or international students, yet there is a sense of unstable temporality: we come here to study, we create a life at the University and then we leave. The attempt of constructing a bridge is to the ones that stay, the people that have established life in Bloomington, and may share feelings of amusement or longing.
But who stays in Bloomington? Moreover, what about the ones that do not fit the overall demographics of Indiana? What about the non-white townies? Indiana is a state known for its overbearing homogeneity, over 80% of its population is white. Reflecting on all these questions, the Latinx Outreach at the Healing Garden, is looking for creating events and bringing together latinx communities around Bloomington, and there are not necessarily part of an academic setting. The idea revolved around bringing together different knowledge and stories about plants and cuisine from different latinx families around town. It was a result of a broader process that started during summer in constructing networks of cooperation with El Centro Comunal Latino, the Colombian Association and Hola Bloomington (a radio broadcasting program in Spanish targeted to Latinx audiences). With the help of the Hola Bloomington crew, Margarita describes the door-to-door system carried out in cooperation with them to start gather people for this further event that happened during this Fall:
"We went to Latinx neighborhoods in Bloomington to share information about our project and to share some plants meaningful for Latin Americans (epazote and chipilín). We asked people who opened the door for us and who showed some interest in the project, to fill out a survey about what kind of events or activities they’d like to do in the garden. Then, we established connections with El Centro Comunal Latino, and we participated as volunteers in some of their activities. There, while volunteering with them, we shared information about our project, we asked people to fill out the survey and we shared Francisco’s art prints as a gift”.
At first, since it was a new project and idea, we were not sure how many people would come over and who would come. If families would show up, if people would be willing to take their resting time during Sunday to leave their homes and visit this new place. When Margarita started reaching out and communicating with these different people, one thing that she would hear most was about how having access to a space like the garden was to relax and slow pace after a busy week. A form was sent after getting the contacts door-to-door, asking if there was interest in activities in the garden:
“We asked people who opened the door for us and who showed some interest in the project, to fill out a survey about what kind of events or activities they’d like to do in the garden.”
Margarita highlighted the shared construction of community she felt in meeting new people and collaborating with other groups interested in this type of outreach:
“I think that the principle that has guided our activity during these months has been that of service. [...] More than promoting our project, our goal was to put ourselves at the services of the needs of El Centro Comunal and offer the garden as a space of communal encounter, kindness, and storytelling.”
Liliana is another person part of the organization and brainstorm for the event. She is also a student at IU, artist and part of the Colombian Association at the university. She also kindly shared some reflections of the event for this blog post :
“I think these kinds of events are important and are meaningful for this community in particular because there is a separation from IU and the rest of the community. So building those bridges between two types of community, enhancing the community as a whole. It is important to let people express their own personal profound and ancestral knowledge. That knowledge that we get from our parents''.
During the event for one of the activities, storytelling came along also through a body figure designed in a big paper card and with art materials offered, people were asked to bring their own knowledge and paint plants that they related to cure the body. The result was a beautiful and colorful drawing.
People were also welcome to just enjoy the space, know Hilltop as a whole, and identify some of the plants, as well as try and smell new ingredients. Some had more experience with plants than others but everyone had a story to tell. Keitlyn reminded the event through eyes of enjoyment and how it was a richful experience of hearing peoples’ stories:
“People would get really excited about seeing certain ingredients, especially when they would start to smell them or taste them. Some people knew about plants, talking with us about what they grew. There were also people who didn't really know about plants but they just liked the idea of being reminded about something that someone else in their family does, having a Tia that has a patio full of plants and then seeing the plants with us helped them remind of that. Overall it was really fulfilling to witness people’s stories, and it felt like people had fun sharing who they are, and looking for people who understand that or who are curious about it, so we don't need to do more than just make space for listening.”
In a sense, the event provided a crossover between these different projects with similar objectives of connection, community building and new relationships with Bloomington as a broader space. For Margarita, it was a way to also communicate the concerns about her home country's political turmoil, Colombia, and relate to different stories of resilience from people from different places and experiences:
“Though we cannot solve the structural problems of inequality and violence of Latinx communities in Bloomington, we can offer a space for telling, valuing, and cherishing their own particular life experiences and stories, for meeting other members of the community, and for connecting with their homelands through plants. Having worked in collaboration with the Colombian Association at IU was also very meaningful to me. It was a space that, to me, allowed me to heal and connect with values of solidarity and community amidst the stress of the current social conflict in Colombia”.
Memory and relationship with longing were then also part of a dynamic and dialectic relationship in community building. We may affect people providing moments and spaces such as the garden and at the same time, these people touch us. Community has a capacity to, if not heal, to a multiple layer reflection. Keitlyn, also shares this feeling of rootedness in those encounters, remembering her family in Mexico:
“The Latinx Outreach for me is just fun and I liked to see people who remind me of my family and my Community in Mexico. Also to talk to people who also are feeling a little bit homesick or just trying to find a way to fit in Bloomington as well. And there are so many different stories, it is just fun to talk to people.”
Liliana also described the type of connections she saw in the space and their importance, majorly between tree branches: tangible or material connection, intangible or spiritual connection and interpersonal connection.
“The connections were, from what I could see, physical connections through texture and smell, visual memory. Connection with the material, with the senses. A physical, tangible connection. But it was also a connection with their personal stories, you can call it intangible, spiritual and probably emotional connection to the plants. And probably there also was an interpersonal connection when we realized what we had in common. Sharing stories and coming to similar or different approaches to plants, for example.”
Having a place to share and experience together things that are familiar to you or others, may also bring nostalgia, part of rootedness when away from home. At the same time, it may bring excitement exactly through sharing those stories. This nostalgia, as Liliana posed, comes "from recipes their mom made, they felt nostalgia about the plants and in the type of moments their shared around those plants"
The inspiration in pursuing something as the Latinx Outreach then is not with a specific product in mind, as Keitlyn puts it:
" It is trying to connect people even if it's just for an afternoon and give them a space to share who they are and make connection with someone."