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Meet Teresa of The Regenerative Collective

Today we’d like to introduce you to Teresa.

Teresa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Saigon, Vietnam shortly after the war. When my mother was pregnant with me, my father, who had fought in the South Vietnamese Army, was taken to a reeducation camp where he spent nine years imprisoned in the northernmost jungles of Vietnam.

When I was two years old, my mother, brother and I fled Vietnam in a freight boat with over 2,500 refugees. Many people died on this journey. We hardly had any food or water.

After spending three and a half months in the open sea, our boat’s engine stopped working in Malaysian waters, and the Malaysian government wanted to tow our boat out to the open sea. After a United Nations investigation to confirm that our boat’s engine stopped working, several countries made resettlement arrangements for us.

My mother, brother and I arrived in the U.S. under political asylum and settled in Los Angeles and then Pasadena, California. After nine years, my father was released from prison and reunited with his family, and I saw him for the first time. He experienced severe PTSD.

After graduating from high school, I got my bachelor’s degree in philosophy and then my teaching credentials and started teaching English in Los Angeles Unified School District in 2006 and am currently teaching English at a public high school in the San Fernando Valley.

In the summer of 2011, I founded Shabda Press, a small poetry press, to publish strong poetic voices that are underrepresented and marginalized. In 2012, I received my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing (poetry). Poetry was my home and where I could be myself and express myself and tell my story.

What continued to be missing for me was a physical sense of home and land due to my family’s displacement. In 2016, when I began learning about native plants and began propagating and planting native plants to restore the habitat and bring back pollinators such as bees and butterflies, I began to connect with the land that I lived on since a small child – Tongva Land.

For the first time in my life, I felt connected with the land in a way that I had never before and felt a sense of home in a way that I never felt before. In connecting with the native plants, I connected with the native animals in my area as well – the mountain lion, the bears, the coyote, the bobcats, the hawks, the sparrow, the blue jay, etc. and learned to care for both the native plants, the mountains, the rivers and the animals.

I also began volunteering with Monday Night Mission feeding people experiencing houselessness on Skid Row and The Shower of Hope, a mobile shower for people experiencing houselessness. In addition, I joined the #SheDoes movement, a movement “promoting rapid sheltering of unsheltered & unprotected women.” http://shedoesmovement.org/

In 2017, my partner Joseph Dominguez and I founded The Regenerative Collective to regenerate land, culture/ceremony, language and history. One of our focuses is on planting native plants and regenerating the land. While gardening and planting native plants and growing food for the community, we also bring people of different backgrounds together to work on the common goal of caring for Tongva Land.

In addition, we work on addressing issues of houselessness and food need through mutual aid. On February 24, 2019, I completed my 40-Hour of Domestic Violence Advocate Training and am now a certified Domestic Violence Advocate and hope to use what I learned to help my students and community.

Has it been a smooth road?
Some struggles along the way include learning to believe in myself and learning to love myself. Due to my father’s PTSD after spending nine years in prison and the displacement of my family from our native land, I had to regain my self-confidence and self-worth, and that took a lot of learning and hard work.

Part of the work was forgiving my father who, due to his PTSD from the Vietnam War, brought a lot of violence and trauma to my childhood. I also did a lot of healing through writing poetry and giving voice to my story and the story of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Regenerative Collective – Los Angeles public high school English teacher story. Tell us more about the business.
I am both a high school English teacher at a public high school in Los Angeles and a co-founder of the Regenerative Collective. I am the Poet Laureate of Altadena, California, Editor-in-Chief (2018 to 2020).

As an English teacher, I strive to inspire my students to think, read and write critically and creatively. I engage my students in decolonizing literature and discussions. As a member of the Regenerative Collective, I work towards community engagement and mutual aid.

Our regenerative philosophy is based on the Peoplehood Matrix and the regeneration of land, culture/ceremony, language, and history. To read more about what we do, please visit our website: https://sites.google.com/view/regenerativecollective/philosophy?authuser=0

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In terms of my teaching, I think there is a movement towards community schools and more engagement of parents, students and community members in creating relevant and empowering curriculum and activities that address student cultural and social needs.

In terms of the Regenerative Collective, there is a movement towards regenerative and sustainable practices and mutual aid. Our current capitalistic system does not work. Due to gentrification and high rent prices, homelessness has increased, and it is increasingly difficult for people to survive in Los Angeles.

Natural land is also becoming more scarce due to development, and native plants and animals are endangered. We are at a point where we need to find solutions and ways to live more sustainably and ways to help each other through mutual aid.

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Image Credit:
Chadd Ferron

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