To Be Heard and be seen

Ginger Dunnill  Image by Anne Stavely

Ginger Dunnill

Image by Anne Stavely

I was living between worlds from my earliest memories — living between cultures, living between societal expectations, and living a journey for self-identification within an always changing landscape of peers.

My story is complex, but only as all of ours are, and I am grateful for my path.

My life is a series of developing and overlapping journeys. I am from Hawai'i, where my father and much of my family still live, but my mother moved to New Mexico when I was 2 years old. As many young people in my generation (I was born in 1980), I grew up with separated parents, and I was living between worlds from my earliest days. There are so many beacons that I can claim as signposts for the way my journey went, the turning points, or the guides to what led me to be who I am now. But in reality, it is all relative and there is truly not one moment or path or singular experience that has led me to this point — and I acknowledge I have so much further to go.

Through this multifaceted tide of me in the world, my greatest journey is to continue to honor the importance of engaging with others in a whole-system approach, to continue to let go of patriarchal, colonial, and capitalistic narratives that continue to silence us or take our stories. Because our stories as women and those identifying as female are complex and many of us with mixed, lost or stolen heritages do not have safe space to exist. But we as human beings have the capacity for deep compassion, and if we take time for each other we can create an existence from a feminine or, even better yet, non-binary center, and I feel like the time is now. This journey is all of ours together, and I am with you all! 

Five years ago I had my first son, 'io Kahoku Lahuikoa, and two years after that I had a second son, Tsesa Tsoki. These moments changed me forever. Now I am a caretaker of human beings, and my role in life is to show them the beauty in the world, but also prepare them for the work that has to be done to heal humanity and the planet. Becoming a mother changed my life, but not in a way that shifted my purpose as a whole. I continue to create and manage my art and projects in a whole-system way as I raise the boys at home. I show them the value of life and how every action we do impacts a community (our family), how work must be done to survive, and help in that work is necessary to maintain a healthy community. My life changed because I see that the work I am doing is something I will never benefit from personally, that the work is for them and for their children. They showed me that humanity has forgotten to look further than the present, and because of that we are destroying everything for instant gratification. My children remind me every day that I am doing very important work that I will never reap the benefits of, and they remind me to be grateful for this opportunity. Choosing to live for your children does not mean changing your life to center around them and lose yourself; it means to change your perspective on where you stand, identifying with yourself in relationship to the planet and then teaching them this early on.

One of my main guides in life was my godmother, Rebecca Silva. After living back and forth year to year from Hawai'i to New Mexico through the entirety of my schooling, when I graduated high school I was uncertain about so many points of life, questioning gender identity, colonialism, and wondering how to create space for activism and art in communities like my own, that had historically been stripped of voice. At 18, I was ready to give up on humanity in so many ways, after being stifled creatively through America's systematic and oppressive approach to education. I was done. My godmother took me in, gave me a place to stay in a trailer behind the family's home in Santa Barbara, California, and took me in as a daughter. She reminded me of self-love and of nurturing free thought. I will never be able to repay her for her kindness. She saved my life, and being in that household for several years showed me the power of chosen family and how we can heal and soar with unconditional love on our side. I wish for everyone who needs guidance in life to find an elder to remind them of their shine, and really allow themselves to heal. It doesn't take much, but one person reaching out, making space, and caring can truly have a huge impact on a young person's life.

One of the current projects I am working on is the "Broken Boxes" podcast, which I host and produce out of my home in New Mexico. I interview artists and activists from across the world who are affecting change with their work. I provide a platform for folks to speak about their practice in a very organic way, with no time limitations or imposed narratives. I do this work because I think it is important to make space for each other's stories, but I also recognize it is very important to allow the space to unfold the many layers of our existence, the complex and radical and otherwise unavailable narratives that can provide connection, in today's fetish culture. This work pushes back on the trauma in relationship to mixed and unknown portions of my own history. My journey continues with every encounter I have across the world, through interviewing my peers on the podcast and also through the other varying artistic practices I work in, including organizing, sound composition, film, and performance art. 

It's a challenging question, to think of what would be my words of wisdom or words of inspiration for other women or girls or femme-identifying along their own journeys, a version of which I often ask the folks I interview on my podcast. When I think of what I needed to hear, say, 10 years ago, it was not to hear anything from anyone necessarily, but to be heard and to be seen. So the advice I would give is to find people who listen to you, who respect and appreciate your words and vision, and then cultivate those relationships. I would say to let go of people who are vampiric and take without giving back to your spirit, and to listen to your gut always. Seek out those people who shine you up, but do not take without returning that same energy, listen to your elders with whom you align, and always help out even when it does not directly benefit you. In the art world (which is my main playing field) I see how small the circles are, how overlapping connections are, and how when you are aligning on your path, you find your allies. 

This earth is built on cycles and systems of sharing. We as humans are not separate from that; we must remember our power and our privilege and use it for healing where we are able. It is not about us, here, now. The journey is nowhere close to being done. We are in the middle of a tale that our great-great-grandchildren will tell; let our future generations tell tales of our awakening back to the planet and to each other. 

Ginger Dunnill is an artist, activist, DJ, and mother. She collaborates with artists globally, creating and performing work that inspires human connection and speaks on social justice. She is the visual arts director for the AHA Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is the creator and voice of Broken Boxes Podcast. Ginger also is part of Winter Count, a collective of artists who are cultivating awareness, respect, honor, and protection for land and water, most recently in relationship to Standing Rock, North Dakota, and surrounding areas.  

Words: Ginger Dunnill