Well, if the multitude of emails I’ve received from every section of the housing department here at W&L is anything to go by, I’d say it’s just about done. Once again, four of the most beautiful weeks of the year have come and passed and with it, one of the best academic experiences I’ve had at this school. I can’t begin to thank everyone on this trip enough for this opportunity and experience. I couldn’t have imagined a better group of people to go with or better pairing of professors.
As I look back on the experience, I’m glad that this Spring Term I was able to enrich my academic experience through traveling. It’s truly unique being able to literally talk to the people that are writing the things that we read in class. Getting the opportunity to visit and talk with so many Tohono O’odham places and people was amazing and really reinforced all the conversations we had in the classroom. Returning for next semester and having this not be the case is going to be rather difficult I anticipate.
After this experience, I realize just how hard it is to truly understand a topic if you’re only experiencing it in a classroom setting. While yes, a basic knowledge can be gathered through positive academic discussion and diligent classwork, a holistic understanding can only be gathered through actual experience. Sure it may have only been a little more than a week but I can’t overemphasize just how much the interactions we had supplemented my learning experience.
Well, that’s all from me. I wish everyone the best going into next semester and have a fantastic summer!
Prior to this trip, my experience with missionaries, particularly those located along the southern US border, was practically none. I pretty much had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into when I heard we were staying at the San Solano mission in Topawa so I was presently surprised when I arrived. Of all the experiences that I had over the trip, my stay at the mission was one of the most memorable.
Being that the housing available to us was split between a large living complex that housed eleven people and a small one-bedroom hut in the back of the property, we ended up having to be separated. Donnie, Pat, and I ended up being the odd ones out and had to live in the “off-site” house. Again though, not knowing exactly what I was getting into, I was pleasantly surprised to find the house a quaint little home with all the amenities of a normal living structure. Pat and Donnie obviously found it quite comfortable considering they fell asleep almost instantly as seen by the picture below.
With both Pat and Donnie asleep and there still being an hour or two until dinner, I decided to take a walk around the property. Other than the church, a few living areas, and classrooms, I didn’t expect there to be much else in the area. I was surprised then to find that the site had at least three basketball courts, multiple swing sets, and a plethora of assorted playground infrastructure strewn across the landscape. Overall, it was a very cool place to stay.
On Monday, we visited the Tohono O’odham Community College and met with several campus administration including the President of the college. It was fascinating to hear about the struggles that the Tohono O’odham have had with promoting higher education on the reservation. It was hard, however, to not feel confident moving forward due to all the efforts that TOCC is putting into fixing these issues. Their staff seems extremely dedicated, key educational indicator statistics are trending towards the positive, and there was even an active campus development project being undergone. (the amphitheater which surprisingly enough does not have an O’odham language word equivalent). All of these point towards a bright future.
I also was rather surprised to hear that the college has a rather successful basketball team. For a school attempting to establish a good reputation in both the local community and overall academic sphere, a good sports team is a huge aid. In addition to simply attracting constant media attention and supplying a sense of college pride, I also noticed that the team did bring in a decent amount of revenue via ticket and merchandise sales. Just an interesting side note to an overall enlightening experience.
Sunday morning brought us an early awakening and a trip to Suguaro National Park. Arriving shortly after the coming of the sun, our group sought to beat the heat as we walked the desert trails in search of expansive views and the chance at finding long lost petroglyphs. With the gravel crunching below our feet, we tracked through a dehydrated wash and across creature infested wasteland towards some ambiguous peak.
Hiking here was nothing like the Northeast. Not only did the ground actively attempt to shirk away from your feet as if you were running on the beach, but everything was seemingly out to get you. Although maybe slightly irrational, the entire hike I felt as if one misstep would take me to the front door of some venomous snake’s lair or directly into the indifferent pinch of a wild cactus. Regardless of this, though, the experience was incredible. I was a huge fan of being able to see a different landscape and escaping the familiarity of the urbanization of Tucson.
Just short of an hour drive from Tucson, deep in the Sonoran Desert one might not expect to find much more than some assorted cacti and annoying gnats. However, after following that exact path, we made it to what is known simply as the “Desert Museum,” and although the name may sound overly academic, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be essentially an expansive zoo.
In it, the curators of the area had encapsulated many of the wonders of the surrounding desert into one, easily accessible location. With a focus on preservation and education, the zoo provided us with an intriguing look into ecology of the area in which we would be staying for the next week. Not only were there plenty of local animals to be observed, but the Museum also had a plethora of flora and minerals on display. Overall, the stop was not only overwhelmingly enjoyable, but informational providing us with important information about the surrounding environment.
On Saturday we visited the mission at San Xavier and observed the beautiful Catholic Chapel established by Father Kino. Overlooking the church was a religious mound with a cross upon the top. It was here that we had the privilege of meeting with a prominent member of the Tohono O’odham tribe: Angelo Joaquin Jr. He gave us our first in-person experience of the culture of the tribe and advocated for a return to the traditional ways for his people.
Listening to him, it was hard to disagree with what he was saying. He cited multiple negatives that his tribe had experienced since their modernization. For example, diabetes is extremely prevalent, traditional ceremonies are becoming more and more infrequent, and the language is beginning to disappear. It struck me listening to him how many people he was talking for. It genuinely seemed like his only objective was improving the overall status of his tribe and his commitment was remarkable.
His talk and the whole of the experience at San Xavier was a fantastic introduction to the reservation and a great way to ease into the culture. I look forward to delving deeper into the lands and experiencing even more.
Visiting the museum at Pueblo Grande was a fantastic place to begin our Tohono O’odham excursion; I mean, what better place to start than the beginning? It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the life and culture surrounding the Hohokam tribe and to learn about their great successes and eventual decline. It was even more interesting being able to walk the same grounds upon which this historic civilization once lived. Seeing first hand the results of the hours upon hours of physical labor that the Hohokam people had to have put into their architecture, agriculture, and irrigation was truly remarkable and deserving of the utmost appreciation. However, even with the intrigue that comes from learning about these people, it was hard to avoid a certain sense of sadness seeing how marginalized the archaeological sight was.
What was once over one square mile of Hohokam lands was now reduced to one, undermanned museum area that stretched for barely a percent of what it once was. Where homes, burial sites, and trade centers of these historic people once stood now is the home of commercial buildings, highways, and antiquated railroads. It was nearly impossible to to look anywhere on the protected site without being reminded of the rapid urbanization that has covered most of the once nature-centered civilization. To me, visiting Pueblo Grande, while fascinating and worthwhile, was a reminder that urbanization is not always positive and that more effort has to be put into the conservation of our historic sites.