Local Activism | Tucson, AZ
Interview with Jess Rite -
The key to survival
December 2021 | Interview by: Raye Winch | Photos by: Rachel Castillo
Jess Rite (they/he/she) pauses for a moment of contemplation
"I want to spread the herbal knowledge that has been given to me. I feel honored to be able to give it back to people who it belongs to. Sometimes it blows my mind when I think about people, instead of seeing it as just what belongs to all of us, they're seeing it as something that I have that I can give them a little bit of. And that makes me so sad because I can give you everything, but it's not mine to give. It's yours."
Jess Rite (they/he/she) is a creative storyteller, poet, mender, and community organizer. In this interview, they share their passion for herbalism, their love of sharing herbal knowledge with others, personal stories of their family and the people who have shaped them in this journey, and a taste of their poetry as well.
Jess Rite Website - link to website
Original music produced by Jaime J. Soto
Jess Rite stands in their apothecary, surrounded by herbal tinctures.
Jess uses a mortar and pestle to grind herbs for plant medicine.
Welcome to Amplifying Voices, where we share the stories of people sparking change in our communities. We center the voices of people who are LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Today, we have the gift of speaking with Jess Rite, a creative storyteller, poet, mender, and community organizer. He's queer as heck. She's black as heaven. They're a vibe called Jess Rite.
Jess Rite: Thank you, Raye. That introduction feels very validating. I wanna tell you a little bit about myself in a rhyme that I say often. Yá'át'ééh ałní'íní. Oh, she speak Diné? English is for mind control, got language in my veins. Calmate, Sientate. Escuchame. I'm Black. I'm Mexican. I'm African. Indigenous. These the facts. Existential and terrestrial. I'm on a higher plane. I know who created you, but you say yo no sé.
Raye Winch: How did you come to embracing art and herbalism?
Jess: My earliest memory is my grandma grabbing what looked like grass and spitting on it because I got stung by a bee, and then putting it on my arm. And I was, was like, eww stop <laugh>. And I was like, throwing it off my arm. And she's like, baby, I'm trying to help you. This is medicine. And I'm just like, I'm not that stupid. Like you cannot just like spit on some grass and put it on me. And she was just like, you know, she was always so patient and talked to me like, you know, gave me so much credit. And she's like, no, this I'm telling you the truth. This is plant medicine, and put it on me. And then like later on, talked to me about it, would have me write about it. Like she was a teacher, a professor. She knew how to teach me something.
Raye: I know you have a lot of passion for connecting other people with herbs. Could you share more about that?
Jess: I am doing herbal consults and providing a beautiful, safe space for anyone. You know, I wanna be accessible and I want to spread the herbal knowledge that has been given to me. I feel honored to be able to give it back to people who it belongs to. Sometimes it blows my mind when I think about people, instead of seeing it as just what belongs to all of us, they're seeing it as something that I have that I can give them a little bit of. And that makes me so sad because I can give you everything, but it's not mine to give. It's yours. People come to me in an existential crisis because they know they're coming back to the earth. They know they're coming to their self and they know it looks like me and that it doesn't matter what they look like. Like it's a hell of a mirror to be a trans black herbalist that's letting you know that this is a part of you, too, whoever you are.
Raye: How does your storytelling work weave into your practice of herbalism?
Jess: The storytelling of the plant knowledge has been the key to survival for all of us and the relationship with plants, which is herbalism at its core, has been what has kept us on this planet for as long as we've been around. When I do herbal consults, people come to me and they tell a story and it's their personal story. And that's woven into the next person and the next person and generations of survival on this planet.
Raye: How can people get in touch with you?
Jess: So my website, www.jessrite.com. I like to take herbal consults from there, but really I'm accessible through Instagram. My email is email@example.com. I mean, if you see me bump into me and you got a question, I'm telling you that I will give you the knowledge that belongs to you if I have it. So that's a sacred promise to community.
Rachel Castillo: Thanks for listening to Amplifying Voices. For the full interview, photos and more visit www.peoplesparkingchange.org. Music by Jaime J Soto.
Top: Jess stands with items of significance to them, including tarot cards, dried flowers, a plant, a wood carving, and a mineral formation.
Bottom: Jess poses during a photo shoot before our interview in the Splinter Collective Arts Warehouse.
Bienvenides a Amplificando Voces: Personas Impulsando Cambio. Hoy tenemos el don de hablar con Jess Rite, une narradore creative, poeta, mentore y organizadore comunitarie. Es raro como los diablos. Es negra como el cielo. Es una vibra llamada Jess Rite. Esta entrevista se grabó originalmente en inglés. Traducción de Linus Arruda.
Gracias, Raye. Esa introducción me representa muy bien. Quiero contarles un poco sobre mí en una rima que digo a menudo. “Yá'át'ééh ałní'íní. Oh, she speak Diné? English is for mind control, got language in my veins. Cálmate, Siéntate. Escúchame. I'm Black. I'm Mexican. I'm African. Indigenous. These the facts. Existential and terrestrial. I'm on a higher plane. I know who created you, but you say yo no sé.” [In Jess’ own voice]
¿Jess, cómo te involucraste con el arte y la herbología?
Jess: Mi primer recuerdo es mi abuela agarrando lo que parecía hierba y escupiéndola porque me picó una abeja, y luego me la puso en el brazo. Y yo estaba, estaba como, eww! para! <risa>. Y yo estaba, tirándolo de mi brazo. Y ella me dijo, bebé, estoy tratando de ayudarte. Esto es medicina. Y me quedé como, no soy tan estúpide. No puedes simplemente escupir un poco de hierba y ponérmela encima. Y siempre fue muy paciente y me dijo “te estoy diciendo la verdad.” Esto es medicina vegetal.
Sé que tienes mucha pasión por conectar a otras personas con las hierbas. ¿Podrías compartir más sobre eso?
Hago consultas de hierbas y brindo un espacio hermoso y seguro para todes. Sabes, quiero ser accesible y quiero difundir el conocimiento herbal que se me ha dado. Me siento honrade de poder devolverlo a las personas a las que pertenece. A veces me sorprende cuando pienso en las personas, en lugar de verlo como algo que nos pertenece a todes, lo ven como algo que yo tengo y de lo que puedo darles un poco. Y eso me entristece mucho porque puedo darte todo, pero no es mío para dar. Es tuyo. La gente viene a mí con una crisis existencial porque sabe que va a conectarse con la tierra. Saben que están regresando a sí mismos, y que se parece a mí, no importa cómo se vean. Como si fuera un gran espejo ser un herbolario negre trans que te hace saber que esto también es parte de ti, quienquiera que seas.
¿Cómo se entrelaza tu trabajo narrativo con tu práctica de la herbología?
La narración del conocimiento de las plantas ha sido la clave para la supervivencia de todes nosotres y la relación con las plantas, que es la herbolaria en su esencia, ha sido lo que nos ha mantenido en este planeta durante todo el tiempo que hemos existido. Cuando hago consultas de hierbas, la gente viene a mí y me cuenta una historia, y es su historia personal. Y eso está entretejido en la próxima persona y la próxima persona y generaciones de supervivencia en este planeta.
¿Jess, Cómo puede la gente ponerse en contacto contigo?
Así que mi sitio web, www.jessrite.com. Me gusta tomar consultas de hierbas desde allí.
Gracias por escuchar Amplificando Voces. Para ver la entrevista completa, fotos y más, visite www.peoplesparkingchange.org.
Música de Jaime J Soto.
Image Top: Jess wears boxing gloves and hat with the word "Autistic".
Bottom images: Jess posing for the camera while they work out in their home-gym in Tucson, AZ
Image Left: Behind the scenes image of Jess and Raye recording interview in studio at the Splinter Collective Arts Warehouse.
Image Center: Jess shares a story while recording interview (product placement unintentional)
Image Right: Behind the scenes image of Jess and Rachel, project photographer.