Julie Chang 0:04
You’re listening to the Created For podcast. We believe that everyone is created to make a unique impact in the world. Join us as we explore everyday lives and how they find their place and God’s story through calling and design. I’m your host, Julie Chang. Jessica Wiarda is an illustrator and designer. She is a registered matrilineal member of the Hopi tribe of the deer clan and Polacco, Arizona. Her work focuses on blending traditional Native American Hopi design with contemporary color palettes and design trends. Her apparel brand. Honovi features various forms of Hopi design apparel, including scarves and hats and can be found on Etsy. She and her husband reside in Salt Lake City, Utah. In this episode, Jessica shares about her recent journey of identity and belonging.
Welcome back. Today I have Jessica we Arda as our guest. I’m very excited. Jessica Welcome. Hi, how are you? Good. Jessica and I are both living in Utah and it’s storming outside and thunderous. If you guys hear some lightning and thunder, then you’ll know it’s actually quite nice because it’s been so smoky recently. So I’m really glad. Oh, yeah. Jessica, would you be willing to introduce yourself to our audience today?
Jessica Wiarda 1:32
Yeah, so my name is Jessica Wiarda. I’m an illustrator and muralist based here in Salt Lake City. And yeah, I’ve been doing art since I was young. And so I have a BFA from Utah Valley University in Oregon, and now I live in Salt Lake City.
Julie Chang 1:49
Awesome. I’m so glad that we’re so thankful that we have an artists like you here in Salt Lake City representing. I’ve seen your work and I think it’s just beautiful. But would would, would you be willing for our listeners who haven’t seen your art, tell us a little bit about about it?
Jessica Wiarda 2:07
Yeah, so my art is heavily based off my mixed race heritage. So I’m half white and half Hopi Native American and I’m a registered member of the Hopi tribe as well. So I feel like I have a lot of like the Hopi tribe was like a really private tribe. So a lot of my work is about like, kind of abstracting a lot of Hopi traditional symbols and shapes and making them and like, kind of like presenting them in a way that like both a white and indigenous artists could like appreciate, but I without appropriation or like the fear of appropriation, especially. So just kind of like respecting the culture, but also wanting to share it at the same time as a lot of what my work is about.
Julie Chang 2:50
That’s great. It’s such a big responsibility to think about the two worlds and how they collide and trying to make sure that things aren’t appropriated, as well as respecting the background and just who you are as a whole. Yeah. How does being hoppy influenced your artwork and the way you see yourself show up in the world?
Jessica Wiarda 3:10
I feel like a lot of Hopi culture is based off of like a lack of pride in a good way. I think a famous example of like a Hopi person is like Louis Tewanima. He was a silver medalist, he won silver in a run in the Olympics. And instead of and like there’s like a very famous picture of him, just like this kind of native guy in the middle of all these white bowler hat men and the black and white photo, I can’t remember it was like early 1900s. And instead of like, being really that was like his prime achievement in his life, he just lived the rest of his life on the mesa herding sheep. That was like is when I felt like he was truly happy on the mesa just living on his life. So I feel like a lot of that Hopi kind of being where you’re at, really influences a lot of what I do and when I go back to the reservation, a lot of a lot of my memories of my Hopi aunts are just like being really present and really caring and trying to take things slower and not as quickly and just take things as they are.
Julie Chang 4:16
I love that that’s beautiful. So beyond being where you’re at and beyond your art would you say was there would there be anything else that your ethnicity or your Hopi background what it means to you?
Jessica Wiarda 4:34
I feel like I’m like I think just being indigenous in general. There’s like that interesting dynamic of when I tell people that like, I’m a Christian, and I’m native, like a lot of a lot of indigenous activism is based off of like anti colonization and a big heavy part of colonization is the Christian worldview being forced upon Native Americans And so I have this interesting view of like as a and maybe not specifically Hopi, but just like as an indigenous person like this interesting, like, I do believe that Jesus like is redemptive and healing. But there’s also that part where colonization, it was forced on people and like people were forced to deny their culture without, like people just for some reason and colonization, there’s probably valid, there’s not valid reasons, but there’s reasons why. colonization, included removal of heritage, and it was for power, but I believe you can still be really in touch with like your non like, like I don’t, I’m kind of rambling a little bit. But I feel like in there’s a lot of Hopi religion, stuff that I don’t do. But I still appreciate and I do, but I feel like that wasn’t possible and colonization times, I feel like a lot of what my identity is, as a Christian is always conflicted. It’s always conflicted. It’s always me thinking, is this my colonised Christian self? Or is this my true Christian self? So I think a lot of my identity as an indigenous person is like, is this the colonized Christian? Or is this like the Jesus Christian? And I feel like those are two separate things.
Julie Chang 6:24
When you mentioned the example, like just your Hopi, like the Hopi religious background, what would an example be of that?
Jessica Wiarda 6:34
So I feel like a Hopi tradition would be to be initiated in the tribe. And so I feel like there’s something about that, that I was like, dang, I want to be a part of that. Like, I want to be like officially initiated in the tribe. But what does that really mean? does that really mean that I’m, like, supporting, like, another spiritual realm that I don’t want to touch? Like, or can I somehow get initiated? And do it like in a tradition sense, and not do that? So like, there’s lines that I feel like I can’t, I’m still figuring out. I don’t know if I can cross or not. So that’s like an example.
Julie Chang 7:10
Yeah, I totally resonate with that. I, Asian American, Chinese American and heritage wise, the Chinese have ancestral worship, and just honoring your ancestors. And I grew up being told that that’s idol worship. And yet, it’s just such a dynamic thing to live in the two worlds of is that idol worship, or is actually just honoring your elders? And figuring out what does it mean to be a Christian while having my own background and my own heritage and how that would collide?
Jessica Wiarda 7:47
Oh, yeah, I agree with you on that ancestors thing, too, because that’s very heavy on Native belief, as well as like ancestors, like your ancestors are living through you, and you do things for the ancestors. And so it’s like, I feel like I’m respecting my elders, but I’m like, Oh, I don’t necessarily do the, like pray to ancestors or summon ancestors. So yeah, I feel like that kind of tension with my beliefs as well. It’s like, like, I want to be traditional, but how, like, how far do I go?
Julie Chang 8:20
Right? I totally get it even. I mean, I was just watching Coco with my mother the other day, the movie Coco, the Disney movie, about the Day of the Dead and the ancestral ownership there so seems like there are many cultural backgrounds were honoring your heritage and your ancestors is a part of life and a part of the culture and the heritage. It is such attention to figure out who we are and our identity as me as an Asian American Christian and you as a Hopi Christian, indigenous Christian, so yeah, that is difficult. How where where are you in that? What What have you concluded Have you thought through like what could it be then?
Jessica Wiarda 9:12
Imagining like Christianity, like in a purely indigenous sense is quite a beautiful thing to me. Like at least a lot of what I feel like Christianity and Jesus is like all about is like Jesus. Healing a lot of riffs. I feel like a genocided at this that’s a strong word. I mean, I guess what it was so I use the word genocide of Native Americans is such a huge pain point like it’s like this deep gouge into like a relationship that should never like that. A rational person without the heart of grace would never even think of forgiving, you know, like it feels like such a deep wound that you understand when people don’t forgive, but it’s like an amazing like feat of forgive witness for that being in touch with pain, I feel like makes you a lot closer to Jesus. Not like as in suffering equals your close to Jesus. But I feel like that’s what Jesus is really great. Because he suffered so much. It’s like you can be like, yeah, it was unfair, like this thing happened and it was unfair, and it shouldn’t have happened and, but yet there’s redemption at the end of it. So I feel like that’s kind of how I come to terms with a lot of my, like how I try to separate my colonized my Christian mind, and my real Jesus mind is like, Well, Jesus is about healing and coming to him is an active, like, real trust that things will go well, even though your life is just horrible. Like, I don’t think native life is horrible, but you go on the reservation, we still have a really long way to go. It’s not anywhere near where it should be. And, like, there’s a lot of healing that needs to be done there. But it really starts with, like, I feel like Jesus really does heal, like the deepest wounds and the sense of like, you’re still aware that that pain is still there, like the paint never goes away. But there’s like hope. Despite that.
Julie Chang 11:18
I’m just curious about your experiences of the two, the two backgrounds of Hopi and being white and how your experience of growing up has influenced who you are and who you’re becoming.
Jessica Wiarda 11:32
Hmm It’s such an interesting dynamic in my family because I feel like my white dad’s like the whitest Dad, it’s hilarious I love him so much. And like a good way like in a healthy feel like a healthy white relationship with a native person could be. And I think that’s kind of how we got accepted into my Hopi side of my family a little easier is because my dad’s just very, like, I don’t know anything, I don’t claim to know anything. And so I saw a really healthy attitude of I don’t own any of this, like and I feel like that’s a good thing to be growing up with. And then my mother, seeing her try to raise us like she was trying to figure out how to raise us traditionally and Christian at the same time like she was also figuring that out like so she was like, she was debating should you get initiate you should maybe get initiated. And I was like, but mom that doesn’t sound very like, And she’s like, I know, I don’t know, either, but maybe you should, because she felt the pressure from her family. Like maybe Oh, she she she’s at the age. And so yeah, like, I think maybe I saw my own struggle within my mom of like, figuring that out. So it’s very interesting. Yeah, so that’s kind of me growing up. I was trying to figure it out. Like I still don’t quite feel fully native all the time. I still feel like a poser even though I’m like, my mom is 100% like my mom’s Hopi and like, it’s like legit and no one in my family thinks I’m not Hopi. Like it’s just me that feels that way. Because I feel like I don’t know enough.
Julie Chang 13:04
Tell me a little bit more. Can you expand on that? Tell me a little bit more of your bicultural background and feeling like a poser I’m sure there are many people in our audience who are also bicultural who probably resonate with what you just said.
Jessica Wiarda 13:18
I feel like a poser like all the time, the mind work has become more and heavily heavily focused on Hopi symbolism. And people come to me asking what does this mean and Hopi and I’m still like, I don’t know, it’s kind of what this art is about as I’m learning and you’re kind of learning with me. So I think that’s kind of how maybe my art was kind of a good escape from that. Like, how do I learn like, I feel like almost guilty like trying to learn about my culture. It’s like this guilt of like, I should know this already. But I feel like maybe because I grew up in the city. I grew up in a in a very predominantly white area, I feel more comfortable in white spaces and that there’s a guilt in that to where and I go to the reservation and I feel like this real sense of like, like I’m not I’m not Hopi enough, but they’re all like Hello, welcome. Let’s teach you all these cool things that we wouldn’t teach a white person and so I’m like, I am that like, so. It’s interesting.
Julie Chang 14:21
When would you know that you were Hopi enough? Like what would be your marker?
Jessica Wiarda 14:26
I had one where I brought my scarves on the rez like one time and the ants were like, Oh, this is so beautiful. Like all my Hopi ants were just like, this is gorgeous. Oh, I want one and that was when I felt pretty welcomed. Like I felt like okay, like I’m not. I’m not messing up. I’m not screwing him. When I felt like a sense of approval, and that’s kind of when I feel a sense of I’m doing I’m doing good work or that I’m Hopi is when someone who is Hopi doesn’t even think twice. I said I mixed and, and I think things that trigger me more is when I have like, like an old school like native elder. Be like you don’t even know what your reservation is if you even know your number and I like I like I don’t know, I don’t know. And so that’s when I started feeling horrible. But I don’t get that hardly as much I get actually a lot more acceptance. So I think that’s where in my journey, I’m like, I am a Hopi person. Not just like a mixed Hopi person as I am Hopi So, so I’m still figuring that out. But the more I have Hopi contact with Hopi people in like the reservation, or in like an art show, like a powwow, and they’re like, Oh, hey, your Hopi cool, and they don’t even question me. It’s like, that’s really nice.
Julie Chang 15:50
It just sounds like that would be a goal for you and your artwork is to continue to delve deeper into your identity as a as a Hopi. Yes. I’m curious, do you have a message you want to convey through your design and your artwork?
Jessica Wiarda 16:08
I feel like it’s like a cliche message. But like, indigenous people are like alive and thriving, like, like is the Hopi tribes actually not really well represented either because we’re very there’s like, even there’s a small tribe in Arizona, and in the four corners ish area, and we’re just like, chillin and yeah, I don’t know, I’m just like, trying to have the message of like Hopi people exist. And they are private. But they’re also very, it’s also a great culture to share with other people.
Julie Chang 16:47
It sounds like you’re the message you’re trying to convey is just the fact that Hopi culture does exist, and it matters is what I’m hearing from you. Is there anything else that you think when you when you do your art, I’ve seen your murals, and they’re beautiful. Jessica, by the way, I was watching a following on Instagram, and I was watching the progress and just the hard work that you put in. And I’m just curious, there are some murals with with birds and different representations. Is there something in it that you’re you want to you when you are drought, drawing and designing? Was there something that you had in mind as a message that you wanted to convey?
Jessica Wiarda 17:27
Think with that most recent mural at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, those three animals, those are some clans in Hopi culture, there’s like a ton of Clans, we have a lot of them that are objects, not just animals. But I picked three animals to do a race. And it was like, representing like that we’re all kind of in this. We’re all in this together. Like a very, very basic, like we’re racing and trying to do our darndest to make it you know, and I think and my clan was the deer clan. So that’s why it’s a head it’s not that my clients better I just wanted it to win their clan is deer clans. I was just kind of like oh yeah, well, I’ve created the videos, I can also worked with the composition. So I put the deer in the front.
Julie Chang 18:13
So are the other clans and the representations of them.
Jessica Wiarda 18:16
So road runners at the bottom. And that was the one I think that was that people were like, Is it a chicken? Is it um, I know it’s a road runner. And so yeah, that one was, I think a little more abstracted. And then I had a bear. So there’s the bear clan, deer clan and road runner. And so yeah, so that’s what we Yeah, and I think that was it was mostly a really light hearted mural and they gave us a really open like, they’re like, yeah, just make what you want. And I was like, Okay, I’ll make this so and
Julie Chang 18:46
so fun. It has a little bit of humor of just the different we’re all in this together. It’s a race as well. Well in our work for Created For we’re hoping that people find their place in God’s story. Jessica, does that resonate with you?
Jessica Wiarda 18:59
I think I think it does. Because Yeah, like thinking of a narrative. Like me being part of a narrative in God’s story is very comforting. And I think indigenous people usually are left out of the narrative, whether it’s intention or its intention with colonization, but whether it was intention by everyday people that just don’t know better because of like, our education system, and they wouldn’t expect it and I feel like indigenous people forgiving their oppressors is such a huge ask that you that the oppressor cannot ask of the oppressed. It’s like could you forgive me it’s more of like a gift of like, yes like I am not giving you power but I can’t move on with this pain in this regret and this like, there’s a lot that needs to be done. But yeah.
Julie Chang 19:55
I do you know who Mark Charles is Mark Charles No, I do not he is an indigenous American, I want to say his background is Navajo, he ran for president in the latest election. But he also got he’s a Christian. And he, he gives these talks. And I remember listening to him, and he talked about trauma and just the concept of the oppressors also experiencing trauma and how sort of how the oppressors haven’t had any, any chance to repent, or very little chance or not chance, but have little practice and repenting or identifying that because of a denial of what the trauma is. But he was talking about how sin affects all people, whether or not you’re the one who is sinned against, or you’re the one who’s committing the sin. And yeah, it passes down through generation to generation, just the consequences of oppression and sin. And if we’re not able to ask for have forgiveness, have release, experienced God’s grace, then the trauma and the oppression will still be in our epigenetics and still be within ourself in our systems. Yeah. That’s so beautiful, when you said. When you talked about how it you can’t just say, Hey, will you forgive me for all of all of this background, but it’s up to you, the person who has power would be the indigenous American who has the power to forgive and to release?
Jessica Wiarda 21:41
Yeah, it’s like a huge thing, but it’s like a healing. It’s like a very healing thing that I think a lot of indigenous people still, and I think Jesus is the answer. That was like, I think that is the answer. It’s like, it’s not going back to, like, there’s all these people. It’s like their home now. And it wasn’t meant to be their home, but it is their home now. And it’s like, we have all this, like, I’m white. So it’s like, obviously, I’m like, Yeah, I lived in suburbia. And I’m on someone’s land, like I’m on a, Yeah. And I don’t even know, like, I’m indigenous. And I don’t even know whose land I’m originally on. And so it’s like, there’s so much that, that Jesus can do in that space of, like, clean slate. But that’s not something that the oppressor can ask the oppressed, like, oh, could you clean slate this for us? And we can continue? It’s not that way. It’s like, No, you really need to, I think there’s a healthy sobering that Yeah, like Americans haven’t had and I attributed it that we’ve just won two world wars. And our egos are just so big. We haven’t been humbled at all by another. We don’t we’re not like Germany, where they had like this huge humbling, like, decades of just like, man, we really messed up. I don’t think America has really had that. So we need to have something like that. And that would really help us out on that journey of reconciliation.
Julie Chang 23:08
I’m curious about how you started to recognize as Jesus being the one that you need in life.
Jessica Wiarda 23:16
I think just like the depth of what people can do within my own country, maybe realize how much we needed Jesus, like how, like, just looking at boarding schools in general, was proof to me that, like, we need a redemptive force, like the outside of ourselves, like you if you ever go to like there’s like a museum in Arizona, they have a really great like, boarding school museum section. And it’s so sobering and it there’s no music and it’s very dystopian, almost, there’s just like this deep scar that’s just been covered by like, like, America is just kind of like, Oh, yeah, don’t just we’re the best country in the world. But don’t forget that we destroyed this group of people to get there. I think that to me is like sin. It’s like the ultimate sin for me is like that sin doesn’t exist. I’m trying to like process where Jesus fits. Because like the way that I i’ve been recently struggling with like, Jesus, in the sense of like, how, how do I get people to see him? Like, how do I get people to see that? He’s what we need. And I don’t know what the answer to that. So I don’t know. I see myself as such a bad person all the time. Like in an unhealthy sense, like there’s like sinful. I think there’s a natural, I think there’s a very healthy way you can view your sin, but I definitely view myself as the worst and I think with my recent diagnosis, like I So I didn’t mention this before, but I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar two, I’ve been medicated now for a few months now, bipolar two A lot of it’s like bipolar, but you get a lot more depressive episodes. And so mine were so bad like I recently my room most recent one, I wanted to, like die like I was really ideating it like really hard. And that was really scary for me. And that led me to get help. I found Jesus in those dark places. Like I would always turn to Jesus when I was really depressed. And and now I’m like, medicated, and now I’m thinking, seeing things so clearly. And I’m just like, man, like, I lived in such darkness with just with my brain telling me how much a loser I was. And I still feel like I need the gospel. Because it’s the only it’s the only answer I found in my darkest places is like, like, just like, I think just the need for healing. It’s only comes from not you, it can’t come from you, it can’t come from within yourself. Like I just look at all these other places, I would try to find other places to find meaning and I just couldn’t.
Julie Chang 26:18
It’s beautiful and sad at the same time. Yeah.
Jessica Wiarda 26:24
That’s my existence. I feel like I’m like, it’s like, I think because of my bipolar too. And maybe because maybe that’s why it seeps into my work. It’s like, and Ecclesiastes is like, my favorite book in the Bible, because it’s like, all about like, everything’s meaningless. But God means stuff. And that whole book, like I just I, unlike most people wouldn’t, wouldn’t go to Ecclesiastes for, like, their hope. But I go to that book, because it’s, it shows like, and I’m like crying a little bit, because it shows how much I I am very aware of, like, the suffering that goes around. But I’m also like, aware that there is redemption, that it’s possible. So it’s like, I’m, like, hyper aware of like, the suffering around and like genocide and all that, like all these big words that people don’t use in their everyday vocabulary. And I’m just like, yeah, that’s really suffering. Yeah, suffering is really everywhere. And people are like, Why are you so happy about that? I’m like, I’m not happy about it. It’s just I have a reason outside of this world to actually hope for something. So yeah, like, I feel like that’s my personality is like, I’m both like, really intense and like, dark. But I’m also like, really light and hopeful and finding joy in like, the tiniest things. And that’s kind of like who I am in general.
Julie Chang 27:48
I, it is just, especially with what’s going on politically in our world, and global warming and the fires that are taking place, and just a recent news and about Afghanistan. It’s really difficult to find hope. And you’re so right, we can’t find hope within ourselves in any kind of just easy solution it has to come outside of ourselves and God’s Spirit. Jessica, thanks so much for your time. Thank you for sharing about where you are in your journey about who you’re becoming about your art and your design, and your calling. Appreciate your time. Thank you. Where do you find help and forgiveness in the midst of deep suffering? In this episode, Jessica reflects on the cultural, historical, and spiritual tensions that she lives in as she identifies herself as a bicultural, indigenous Christian. How do the cultural tensions that you live in shape your perspective on God, self, others, and life? Where do you find peace and power in those tensions. Created Cor us hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, then subscribe, rate or review us wherever you’re listening. For more resources to explore your calling and find your place in God’s story, check out the show notes on our website at cru.org/createdfor and follow us on Instagram @_createdfor.