Local Activism   |   Tucson, AZ

Interview with Jess Rite
The key to survival

December 2021​ | Interview by: Raye Winch | Photos by: Rachel Castillo

JessRite_15.jpg

PennElys Droz (she/her) stands near her home garden in South Tucson. Arizona. She talks about food growing as a key to sustainable living.

“I think that my biggest purpose is to help facilitate the connection and the reconnection of people with land.”  - PennElys 

 

Dr. PennElys Droz is an Anishnaabe mother of five and founding member of Sustainable Nations. She creates opportunities for people to connect with land through building with natural materials, growing food, and by attuning to the natural world around them. 

 

PennElys is a Program Officer for the NDN Collective, where she organizes for the return of land to indigenous people, #LandBack.

Links: 

The NDN Collective - link to website

Sustainable Nations -  link to website

Original music produced by Jaime J. Soto

JessRite_08.jpg

PennElys Droz (39) of the Anishnaabe First Nations Tribe, is an activist, mother, and partner.

Pennelys stands inside her hand-made adobe room. She and her family built the 7ft x14ft structure from recycled and natural building materials such as wood pallets, hay, cliche (hard clay like dirt, native to the surrounding area).  

Transcripts English

Intro:

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, mendor, and community organizer. He's queer as heck. She's black as heaven. They're a vibe called Jess Wright.

 

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 theritejessrite@gmail.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.

JessRite_13.jpg
JessRite_16.jpg
JessRite_14.jpg

PennElys playfully sits on a small patch of grass near her home garden. She jokingly tells us this her daughters' favorite place to sit and talk. Shaded by trees and just off the homemade swimming pond. PennElys tells us her backyard was a dirt lot when her family moved in 10 years ago - now it is a lush garden oasis.

Transcripciones Español

Introducción:

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.

 

Jess Rite: 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. 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.” [In Jess’ own voice]

 

Raye Winch: ¿Cómo llegaste a abrazar el arte y la herboristería?

 

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 quede 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, y ponmelo. Y luego, como más tarde, me habló sobre eso, me hizo escribir sobre eso. Como si fuera una maestra, una profesora. Ella sabía cómo enseñarme algo.

 

Raye: Sé que tienes mucha pasión por conectar a otras personas con las hierbas. ¿Podrías compartir más sobre eso?

 

Jess: Hago consultas de hierbas y brindo un espacio hermoso y seguro para todos. Sabes, quiero ser accesible y quiero difundir el conocimiento herbal que me ha sido 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 todos, 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 estan regresando a si mismos, y saben que no importa como se vean, ,  Saben que están volviendo en sí mismos y saben que se parece a mí y que no importa cómo se vean. Como si fuera un gran espejo ser un herbolario negro trans que te hace saber que esto también es parte de ti, quienquiera que seas.

 

 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: ¿Cómo se entrelaza tu trabajo narrativo con tu práctica de herbolaria?

 

Jess: La narración del conocimiento de las plantas ha sido la clave para la supervivencia de todos nosotros 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.

 

Raye: ¿Cómo puede la gente ponerse en contacto contigo?

 

Jess: Así que mi sitio web, www.jessrite.com. Me gusta tomar consultas de hierbas desde allí. También soy accesible a través de Instagram y mi correo electrónico es theritejessrite@gmail.com. Quiero decir, si te encuentras conmigo y tienes una pregunta, te digo que te daré el conocimiento que te pertenece si lo tengo. Así que esa es una promesa sagrada para la comunidad.

 

Rachel Castillo: Gracias por escuchar Amplificando Voces. Para ver la entrevista completa, fotos y más, visite www.peoplesparkingchange.org

 

Esta entrevista se grabó originalmente en inglés. Traducción de Raye Winch y Linus Arruda. Música de Jaime J Soto.

PennElys reminds us of the importance of slowing down. To spend our time on the essentials.

JessRite_09.jpg

Image Left: Behind the scenes image of Marcel, project audio technician, during the interview with Ernesto.

Image Center: Behind the scenes image of Rachel, project photographer, taking portraits of Ernesto outside of Pueblo High School.

Image Right: Behind the scenes image of Raye, project interviewer, inside the computer tech classroom at Pueblo High school.