The Human Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing personal reflective essays called Eleutheros. Each week students are asked to write a reflective essay that demonstrates their understanding of the themes from their coursework and effectively links these themes to their unique thoughts and experiences.  Enjoy reading these two articulate examples of how our students have deeply and personally engage with essential questions, important to their course of study at The Island School…

Prompt: What does it mean to have roots? How do roots and ancestry affect one’s understanding of self and others? How do they affect sense of belonging to a place?

Will Gold:  What it means to have roots can mean many things but what they all lead up to is today.  Roots are what give today integrity.  Your ancestry, where you’re from and how you came to be where you are today are all part of your roots.  Roots give you the strength to face tomorrow with the same sense of hope that you had for today. They create your worldview and who you are before you even know what hit you.

To some, having roots is to know and understand their family lineage.  Mr. Pinder (the man my group was assigned to interview on Settlement Day) would say,  “Roots are your father, your father’s father and your grandfather’s father and so on for as long as you can remember.”  When we asked how he thought this effected who he was today he said “It doesn’t affect who I am it only affects who you think I am.”  This implies that roots can be a way to stereotype people based on success and that society often judges people differently according to their roots. Is it an honor or prejudice to be standardized by your roots?  I suppose that all depends on where you came from.

In research class we explored the idea of shifting baselines. Shifting baselines is where your expectations are different due to history.  I think this term also shows relevance in family life and historical roots. Every family has its own view of what it means to be successful and what it means to fail.  What one family classifies as success, another classifies as failure. This affects individuals on how they view themselves. To Mr. Pinder this is what came to mind when confronted with his roots, but how can it not? In a world where success and happiness are thought to be closely intertwined, roots can be nothing more then a standard that you place on yourselves and others.

For me it is an honor, I am proud of my ancestral roots and if that means what they did, I could only hope to live up to that standard. My mom runs her own business and my dad is a mechanical engineer. Both of my grandfathers were very successful. My Grandpa Gold ran his own dentistry practice and Grandpa Willett is the president of a ski area. I think the standard set for me is high and as these being my superficial roots I hope I can meet the expectations that have been placed on me to succeed.

These roots are important to me and I plan on upholding them but what is even more important to me than what they did is how they did it.   My grandfathers and parents all operate with honesty and integrity.  They have lived their lives based on one fundamental principle: love.  This is what I most emulate about my roots.  In Omeros Walcott explains how his father’s and his will have fused together. “ I appeared to make your life’s choice, and the calling that you practice both reverses and honours mine from the moment it bent with yours”. (68) This is what Walcott’s father says and it shows how values can be passed down through roots at such a deep subconscious level that they can become “one voice”(68).

It is the morals that I have been taught by family and upbringing that have made the biggest impact on me.  That’s what I like to think of as my root system.  Though my earlier ancestors have an impact on me by influencing my grandparents, they are not as crucial to me and hold less direct value of who I am. I believe that the examples they have shown and the lessons they have taught me are a big part of who I am.  The more we talked to Mr. Pinder the clearer it became that he is the same way. His grandfather instilled a sense of hard work ethic that carried with him his entire life. After growing up in poverty and working hard every day just to get by, he continued to work hard and was able to support about twenty-one children and maintained his life goal of being self employed. My ancestors’ morals like treating people with respect, fairly and kindly have been passed on to me through exemplary actions.  For me it always means more to me as a lesson when you see people displaying the actions they preach to me when they don’t know I’m watching. I want to be most like my Grandpa Willett. He is the rare type of person where there is always a tint of love in his voice.    This is how my roots have shaped me to become who I am today and who I strive to be tomorrow.

I also feel deeply rooted in Montana.  What makes me feel so connected to Montana is that the majority of interaction with all the people I love is based around activities that immerse you in Montana’s most beautiful country.  Whether it’s hunting in the fall on horseback way up in the mountains with my father, fly-fishing throughout the rivers of Montana with my friends and family, eating home cooked meals in my grandparent’s homey lake side cabin, skiing my grandfathers local ski resort and literally having my whole family up there, running the bird dogs, or out at the lake with friends escaping the summer heat, it all strengthens my love for Montana.  In Omeros when Philoctete is trying to make peace between Hector and Achille he says “they had a common bond between them: the sea.”(47) He is saying that because they both are deeply rooted to the sea that they are more alike then they think.  Having a strong connection to a place binds us to it and one another creating a root system that becomes a part of who you are.

Mr. Pinder has left and come back to the Eleuthera many times due to his roots.  He was raised here and the island has become such a part his lifestyle that he always comes back.  “I like the island life its free-er.” He said this to us when he was talking about his childhood and all the things he loved about the island.  I feel that I will be like Mr. Pinder though I may leave Montana it will always be my home. Just like island life is apart of Mr. Pinder, Montana life is apart of me and will always be deeply rooted in my heart.

My roots are a spider web of people and place creating what I call home.  They help me understand who I am by giving me guidelines on morality that now lay intertwined within my own heart.  Montana life runs through my veins giving me a home to always fall back on.  It also teaches me about beauty and what’s important in life.  My roots that have become a part of who I am and give me the strength and confidence to reach my full potential for success and happiness tomorrow.

Francisco Diaz:  What does it mean to have roots? The first thing that comes to my mind are the roots of a tree and how similar they are to my idea of “roots”. Roots are a tree’s beginning and they provide everything it needs to survive; roots provide the tree with support, nutrients and stability. Much like the roots of a tree my “roots” or where I come from provide the foundation for who I am and all that I do. Roots can be my family history, where I come from or even the connection I have with the places I have lived in. Roots are essential to what a man can do in his time here on Earth, without roots you have no beginning and without a clear beginning reaching a goal is almost impossible. Roots also heavily influence your worldview and how you interact with the world. This sense of roots is what brought great people like Edrin or Marco back to their home even after having great opportunities elsewhere. In our interview process for settlement day we learnt many things about Bahamian culture but only Marco mentioned in detail what roots meant to him.

During our settlement day interviews Marco discussed this idea and expressed an opinion I strongly agree with. When asked about the importance of family, Marko gave a complex answer about the importance of not only his family members but his home town “I could do wondrous things out there in the world, but if don’t take care of my home-base it’s worth nothing.” This whole idea of giving back to where you come from gives to the importance of roots in, not only Marko’s, but my life as well. Marko has realized his goal by moving back to his place of birth and opening a small shop where kids from the area can come and buy whatever they want without having to go to a nightclub. I hope to one day be able to help my “home” community in the same way Marko has. I have struggled with this goal because I have trouble identifying one “home base” as Marko would put it. In my lifetime I have lived in 5 different countries and gone to over 11 different schools. This has led me to have a different opinion than most on where and what I consider my home.

This constant change of location let me, in a way, grow roots and become familiar with many different places. Having a sense of belonging to so many different places makes the whole idea of home very difficult to define. Although I have lived in many places I only call Colombiahome. I think this is because I have the strongest roots or connections with it. It is the country I have lived in for the longest, and although it is not where I was born, all of my family was. This is why when someone asks me where I’m from I say Colombia, and not New Jersey, Florida, Argentina, Missouri, Illinoisor Venezuela. I think this opinion of myself as Colombian not only influences my life’s goals but my worldview as well. Viewing Colombia, as my home is why I want to one-day return to do for my “home-base” what Marko has done for his. In Omeros Walcott represents the importance of family and ancestry for a person’s roots through Major Plunkett’s obsession with his family history. He paid so much attention to his history he even gave his family tree a name, “ances-tree” (Walcott, pg. 87).  Although my connections to places are strong, my connections to the people I love and value are much more important to me. I was reminded of this by seeing Ebrin’s master grafting techniques, when we visited his farm. The fact that you can take one plant’s roots and use it to grow another plant in a non-ideal environment amazed me.  It is also a perfect representation of how another place’s roots, the people, can be used to grow a strong “plant” in a new place.

Seeing life this way is what allowed me to easily adapt to living in all new places so many different times. I think this view that picking up and moving has completely changed the way I see physical places and the people I interact with as well. Now I see people more as small roots I hold all over the world, while I see places more like the soil that these roots are in. The soil or location is essential to the roots survival and in my case their importance. Now I realize that the more roots I have in one place the more I can identify with that place. My view of roots and their importance is very different from most peoples. This is why I hold the people I care about so dearly because in many ways they are what make up my home.

Without my ancestors or the important people in my life I would not have roots. Without roots I would have no beginning and ultimately no end goals. This realization is what makes me want to give back not to the pace I come from but the people I care about who would benefit from it. This why Ebrin returned home to farm in Eleuthera, even though he had a job as an artist for an advertisement agency in America. This is why Marko decided to come back to Eleuthera and not only start the first bio-diesel program in The Bahamas but create a safe place for kids in his home settlement. This is why I want to one day be able to give back to the people who in many ways shaped and formed me to be all that I am and will be.