Guarina Lopez is a storyteller who uses not only words but also images to share stories of the land and indigenous communities. A member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Tucson, AZ, she currently resides on the present and ancestral lands of the Piscataway and Nacotchtank in Washington, D.C. She’s a runner; the founder of Native Women Ride; a writer, photographer and filmmaker; and our guest on today’s episode.
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“There’s always storytelling; it’s all over, you just have to listen for it.”
As Guarina explains, “we come from storytelling traditions because a lot of times our languages weren’t translated into English for the wider populace.” When she wanted information about her heritage, she had to ask somebody, and then, she says, “I never just got an answer, I got a story.”
Her father was a great storyteller, which, she believes, “really kind of broadened the way that I heard the words. So when I think of storytelling and language, before I write things down, oftentimes on my run I will hear the way words sound, like these words sound beautiful together, or it’ll just appear in my mind.”
“I think that I was photographing a lot of things I was trying to understand, or things that I was passionate about.”
Guarina was already drawing and writing stories as a child, and then at age 12, she picked up a camera. Her mother was homeless for a long time, and she began taking pictures of unhoused people, “capturing stories that I was trying to figure out that ended up being related to my life.”
She started by shooting in 35mm, but eventually switched to a heavier, medium format camera. Photographing people was harder, and she had to think about composition in a different way, so she started to photograph the land. A pivotal moment occurred when she was on a road trip through the Pacific Northwest.
“That’s when I really made the shift of the way that I think about land, and how we use it and how we see it and perceive it is different.”
While driving through Oregon, she pulled over and “there was an abandoned lumberyard and it almost brought me to tears because I I saw all of these trees that had been killed for nothing, but they were stacked up in all these beautiful, like modern kinds of ways, just slats over slat over slat. And so there were all these gorgeous lines. And so I was at once mesmerized by the beauty of the natural shapes, and then angered, because why would you do this?”
“It just stopped me in my tracks and I thought, this is the land fighting back. These are the trees saying, you know, ‘this is our place.’”
Guarina moved to Washington, D.C. and was overwhelmed by the greenery and the resurgence of life of the plants there. When she goes running and comes across a tree breaking through the sidewalk, she says, “I’m just like, ‘yes!’ because that is what you do’” – even though she knows it will probably trip her up on her next run. In her daily life, she tries to create a relationship, “whether it’s with the land, or the waters, or the animals.”
“You can’t just completely erase everything. That’s not how Mother Nature works.”
The U.S. and much of the world has become accustomed to extracting as much as possible from the earth. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, believe that you “only take what you need, and then you see the natural resurgence and natural growth processes of animals and plants and the entire ecosystem.”
“I want to tell stories and I think the stories that need to be told are the ones that have never been told.”
Stories are told about people who have done amazing things, but as Guarina says, “if that’s the only person that’s representing their particular community, it’s really not representative.” We need to recognize that everyone has a unique story, that “we’re all just ordinary people, but you never know what stories people have.” It’s worthwhile to learn them. That, she says, “is where you’ll find the thing you don’t know.”
Guarina finds much of her inspiration when she’s out for a run. After the first two miles or so, she says, “stories come to mind. I start thinking about what I want to teach, what I want to write about, what I don’t know about.”
“Nature will always provide no matter where you are, and nature will never fail. You know, I will never know enough. I will never know it all. And it changes from day to day. And so my process when I go out there and run is to think about how can I make my day better, and the run, the run itself always does that for me.”
Guarina’s Instagram accounts:
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“Thank you” to Guarina. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.