Monique Byro

Monique Byro

Tuesday, 30 July 2019 20:17

Hasta La Próxima

Today is my last day at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. This summer has been very enriching and eye opening in a way that I could never have expected.

I’ve learned many lessons while being in Charleston. On the actual educational side, I’ve learned a lot about the Civil War, about slavery, and about how South Carolina got to being the great state that it is. I’ve learned about ecosystems and animals, and how every creature works to better the life of another on this planet. I’ve learned about birds! So many of them! All the same yet very different. But aside from the educational, I’ve grown a lot emotionally. 

My favorite thing to learn about during my internship was people. The people I come from, the people I work with, the people around me; they all influence my life in so many ways. At the beginning of my internship I struggled a lot with finding my place here. I couldn’t see how I fit in and I felt as though I didn’t belong. But as time has gone by, I’ve begun to like it more and more. I feel like I can really make changes here. 

It is with a heavy heart that I am returning to Florida, because I’ve grown to really enjoy my job and the people that I work with. They have taught me a great deal about friendship, leadership, and compassion. When I arrived, they welcomed me with open arms. When I felt discouraged about the impact I could make, they encouraged me all the way through my projects. I thought that coming here I would change the lives of a few people on staff because I thought I could teach them something about kindness or inclusion, but I hadn't considered that the staff here might change mine. 

As I close out my internship I have a new understanding of what diversity is. I see now that opening your life and your heart to others is just the beginning. At Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park I’ve acquired a new lens to which I can look through at my surroundings. There is so much beauty and kindness in the world. Although at times it may seem as though the odds are against you, there is always someone with an outstretched hand waiting for you to reach out for help. I am glad to know that the park here is filled with many of those outstretched hands making a difference in their community, and the communities of all those who they touch.  

I would like to thank the staff of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site for allowing me to experience the world through their eyes this summer. Every single one of them has impacted me in some way. They are exceptionally wonderful people, and although I know I seem to find many small treasures in Charleston, they are the most priceless of their kind. I am forever changed by them, and they inspire me to continue fighting for the things I believe in. I have no doubt in my mind that interpreters, rangers, and maintenance staff, park law enforcement, and even Eastern National employees are the unsung heroes of our country. Thank you for all that you do. 

 

Monday, 29 July 2019 16:10

Almost Time to Go!

The past month has been both very challenging and rewarding. Most of my projects throughout the course of my internship were lined up for mid-July, and so I've been able to do a large variety of things. 

For Latino Conservation Week, I set up a bilingual nature walk in conjunction with Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission. Led by NPS ranger Matt (see Reconstructions of Diversity blog!) and Allyssa, a great Stewardship Aide over at CCPRC, we had a small turnout which was so nice because we were able to tailor the walk to be more personal and detailed based on our audience. We talked about the misconceptions around “spooky” animals like snakes, spiders, and gators, and we went over proper procedure for interacting (or not interacting) with these animals. 

The following day, I went over to a local community center for kids called Beyond Our Walls and I gave a program on birds and the connections between diversity and migration patterns. I also taught the kids how to use binoculars, which was really exciting and sweet. We did many activities such as making bird masks, playing bird habitat bingo, and even doing a binocular bird search outside. It was so filling to see their little faces light up as we talked about how the things that make birds different are very similar to the things that make people different, although we all need the same basic necessities to live.

Later that week, I was able to participate in a beach clean up with Allyssa (from CCPRC who helped with our nature walk!). It was wonderful to partner with her on doing something good for our environment. I was able to meet different people with the same values in mind and it also gave me the chance to explore a new area of South Carolina that I had not previously seen. 

The following day, I planned a kayaking trip with Outdoor Afro. They launched from our dock at Fort Moultrie and paddled along the Intracoastal! It was really nice to have them at my site, being that it was the first time one of my events was held at Fort Moultrie. It was refreshing to hear what their experiences have been like being minorities in Charleston, as we were able to relate to each other in a way that I have not been able to do with many people here.

Tomorrow, with the help of the fantastic folks over at Congaree National Park and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, I’ll have my last event over at Congaree National Park, a canoe program with an emphasis on Spanish history and involvements with the land!

As my time here at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park comes to a close, everything is seemingly starting to come together! It seems as though all of my projects are beginning to come to fruition as I am wrapping up, which is a bit sad because I would love to see the fruits of my work, but I’m also glad to be leaving my footprint at the park. As a result of my different programs, I leave Fort Moultrie a partnership with Outdoor Afro where they will hopefully participate in kayaking programs at our site on a monthly basis! I’ve also outlined a bilingual bird walk to be held towards the end of September targeted towards children with a local bilingual birder. All the puzzle pieces are melding together nicely here, and its way too exciting!




Thursday, 18 July 2019 13:17

Home Is Where the Tea Is

Every year for as long as I can remember I’ve watched the same Independence Day fireworks display at the same park, with the same loved ones. This was my first 4th of July away from home. Fortunately, my coworkers made some holiday plans and invited me along for the ride. We watched fireworks from the platform at Liberty Square, right next to the South Carolina Aquarium, where we would normally board the ferry to head to Fort Sumter. Everyone piled in and lined up by the water, waiting for the first crackles and pops of the fireworks to kickoff. It was beautiful to watch hundreds of different people celebrate their country. 

I reflected on what kind of a home the US is for different people. For some like me, it might be the only home they’ve ever known. For others, like my parents, it is a place they chose to make their home because of the freedom and room for growth they would have here. It is also a prospective home to some. And to others, it is a home away from home. While I sat with my coworkers watching the fireworks, I had a thought. All of my peers are from different states, none originally from South Carolina. They come from places like Texas, New York, Indiana, Florida, Maryland, and a few others in between. They left their homes to make new ones for themselves. And as I stopped to think about where everyone came from and where they are going, I realized that I am growing. 

As I get older, I’ll begin to experience things alone, or with different people, and my expectations of what I perceive to be home will change. I’m beginning to see that “home” is wherever I am comfortable with myself. It is more of a feeling than a concrete place. Through my internship position I am learning about placements, and displacements, and the impacts that I have on the world around me. On that platform we sat, a ragtag family, enjoying something that many of us had only ever enjoyed with our real families. And it was still equally as spectacular. I had been afraid that it wouldn’t be enjoyable because I was not in my comfort zone, but what I hadn’t realized is that although it was a new experience, it had the potential to be just as beautiful, despite it being different. 

The following week I was able to go to the Charleston Tea Plantation. It is the only large scale tea production plantation in North America. While I was there they talked about a scary looking green machine they have that combs through the fields and collects the tea leaves quickly and efficiently, grooming its parent plant so that very little manual labor is involved in that portion of the tea making process. The machine they use is a combination of a bunch of other machines they found fitting, and so it is the only one of its kind. They believed the different components of the variety of machines worked best together rather than separately to get the job done.

Because we are so different, we all have something unique to offer to make our spaces and communities thrive. Much like the green machine, when we work together we preserve the fundamental qualities of our home by approaching change and progress with our hallmarks. That is what makes this country a home.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019 15:59

Reconstructions of Diversity

Last Wednesday I was able to visit Reconstruction Era National Historical Park with my wonderful coworker, Matt. Located in Beaufort, South Carolina, the park deals with different facets of the integration of the previously enslaved peoples into society during the Reconstruction Era. The park is spread out over a few different sites that we were fortunate enough to see. The spaces were extremely powerful. We visited sites where Martin Luther King Jr. planned the March on Washington, we saw the burial ground of Robert Smalls, and we looked upon buildings that had fingerprints of the enslaved embedded into their bricks. 

While we were on the trip I thought a lot about my place as a Latina woman in this world, specifically in South Carolina at the moment. I grapple with what story to tell about my people as the current climate proves that tensions are high when topics of diversity or inclusion are mentioned. This is especially pressing in my planning of Latino Conservation Week events. However, if there’s one thing I’ve come to grips with in my time here at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park it is that as a collective society, we are drastically different although we are all a part of the same family. And that is okay. In fact it is widely encouraged, because it is what makes us beautiful. 

Rather than focus on our differences, we tend to focus on our similarities sometimes because we are afraid of the things we don’t understand about one another. But when we focus solely on our similarities, we neglect the diversity that makes us unique. My time here has taught me that everyone has a story worth listening to. Putting ourselves in someone else's shoes opens doors unknown to us on the basis of compassion and empathy. Visiting Reconstruction Era National Historical Park put a new spin on diversity for me because it showed me that even those who had suffered so deeply and were discriminated against were able to rise and exude power, love, and confidence. It was an amazing site to experience, another of South Carolina's treasures.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019 14:22

Goin' with the Flow!

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to participate in a kayak trip along the Intracoastal Waterway behind Fort Moultrie.

I thought it was fantastic that my job for the day was simply to paddle along. That's something I can definitely get used to!

It was a really exciting trip to be a part of because I was able to see a variety of wildlife that was different from what I would normally encounter walking around the fort, mainly because of the location and the time we went out. We saw a multitude of fish, birds, and even a few people out in the marshes! 

On our paddle trip, I got to see the backside of Sullivan’s Island and learn a bit more about the general facts of the area. I discovered that here in Charleston we have a resident dolphin population that is learning how to ‘beg’ for food. The dolphins do so because they are regularly fed by tourists. This affects their desire to hunt, and leaves them susceptible to being injured. Mother dolphins do not teach their young to search for food themselves because these ‘easy’ meals seem indefinitely attainable, which becomes detrimental to their health and well-being. Additionally, because the dolphins are now accustomed to approaching humans for their food, they risk being hit by propellers on boats, or getting stuck in fishing nets and lines. 

I learned that it is really important to educate on the subject of behaviors to be followed around wildlife for their well-being and ours. Sometimes steps to be taken in these kinds of situations can be confusing or unclear, as we may think we are helping the animal when really we are hurting it and causing ecological damage. I was really moved by the impact that we collectively have on our ecosystems, and I hope to help in the education process to positively impact our environment. 

One of my goals for this summer is to help plan a ranger led program on the different animals that inhabit the general Charleston area for Latino Conservation Week, and my kayaking experience was definitely a catalyst for some great ideas. 

Keep checking in for updates on where my project ideas will go!

Hasta la proxima!

Thursday, 27 June 2019 17:37

Goin' with the Flow!

Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to participate in a kayak trip along the Intracoastal Waterway behind Fort Moultrie.  I thought it was fantastic that my job for the day was simply to paddle along. That's something I can definitely get used to!  It was a really exciting trip to be a part of because I was able to see a variety of wildlife that was different from what I would normally encounter walking around the fort, mainly because of the location and the time we went out. We saw a multitude of fish, birds, and even a few people out in the marshes! 

On our paddle trip, I got to see the backside of Sullivan’s Island and learn a bit more about the general facts of the area. I discovered that here in Charleston we have a resident dolphin population that is learning how to ‘beg’ for food. The dolphins do so because they are regularly fed by tourists. This affects their desire to hunt, and leaves them susceptible to being injured. Mother dolphins do not teach their young to search for food themselves because these ‘easy’ meals seem indefinitely attainable, which becomes detrimental to their health and well-being. Additionally, because the dolphins are now accustomed to approaching humans for their food, they risk being hit by propellers on boats, or getting stuck in fishing nets and lines. 

I learned that it is really important to educate on the subject of behaviors to be followed around wildlife for their well-being and ours. Sometimes steps to be taken in these kinds of situations can be confusing or unclear, as we may think we are helping the animal when really we are hurting it and causing ecological damage. I was really moved by the impact that we collectively have on our ecosystems, and I hope to help in the education process to positively impact our environment. 

One of my goals for this summer is to help plan a ranger led program on the different animals that inhabit the general Charleston area for Latino Conservation Week, and my kayaking experience was definitely a catalyst for some great ideas. 

Keep checking in for updates on where my project ideas will go!

Hasta la proxima!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 16:39

Sullivan's Island, the Real Treasure!

I, having just left the University of Florida after pursuing a bachelor's degree in English, love all things story related. I especially love a good spooky story. 

For this internship I was to move to Charleston to work for and through the community (which I am finding completely gratifying and wonderful). I did a bit of research about what the community would be like moving into town, but I had not researched who exactly had impacted Charleston in its previous history. 

On my first day of work, I discovered that not only did Edgar Allan Poe, a classic American author known for his macabre content, spend a brief period of his life in South Carolina, he also lived and was stationed at Fort Moultrie, where I work for the better part of my week! 

One of his popular stories The Gold Bug is centered around Sullivan’s Island, the island I work on. He mentions walks along the beach and other specific sites that I have been able to visit. I find it incredible that someone who shaped literature so much woke up to the same scenery that I get the pleasure of experiencing every day. 

Poe was known for being vague with settings in his stories, and so I find it highly intriguing that he was so explicit in laying out specifics about Sullivan’s Island in The Gold Bug.  Everything about it leads me to believe there’s something magical about this island. The island is breathtaking in a way that is universal and timeless. I think Poe knew he had landed on treasure, which led him to incorporate it into his story. 

¡Hasta la proxima!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 15:23

Teamwork Time!

Although I’ve always had to plan events for smaller groups of people throughout college because of my various work environments, I’ve always done so alone.

Recently, in preparation for Latino Conservation Week and the Annual Sweetgrass Basket Festival in Mount Pleasant, I and the rest of the team here at Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter have had our hands and calendars full.  In the past three days I’ve had five meetings with completely different entities. It has been so interesting to see what the decision making process is like for planning larger events. The level of collaboration and efficiency that goes on behind the scenes is extremely impressive. It has been very humbling to be able to watch these groups of people have their own distinct visions for what they would like an event to be, come together and combine forces to make sure that the final product is a combination of all of the best ideas for the project to then come to fruition.

I’m starting to see that there is an immense level of planning and attention to detail behind many of the events that I had never given much thought to. It's pretty spectacular.

I’ve also been able to converse with different people through these meetings that really represent the community in ways I have not been able to engage with yet.

The engines are turning and I’m very excited to share my final project plans with you guys once things are finalized!

¡Hasta la proxima!

Monday, 10 June 2019 15:22

America's Teaching Garden

Buenas,

This past week I had the opportunity to engage in different cultural events around my park and was able to participate in applied, hands-on work. To kick off the weekend, my wonderful supervisor and I spent our Thursday morning clearing a space that will hopefully become a teaching garden in the next few months beside Fort Sumter. It was cathartic to watch a patch of land overrun by weeds become more and more uncluttered. I definitely enjoyed the tactile aspect of it. Being able not only to envision what we wanted the garden to be, but to then set out to make that vision a reality was very rewarding.  

Later that afternoon, I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum in downtown Charleston. I was taken aback by how little I actually knew of the slave trade. 40% of all US slaves passed through Charleston, right through the land that I now work on. All of the information presented to me made me question my place as a Latino woman in this new city, and what kind of change I would like to make here. Being a minority in the general populace can, at times, be very discouraging, although it should not be so. I began to doubt what kind of an impact I could make, solely because I felt as though injustice was to be rivaled by a larger group of people, rather than a small, 21 year old, me. Visiting the museum was a large catalyst in my project planning because it set into motion a passion to rally for change and inclusion.

Sunday afternoon, I went to a poetry reading at Mcleod Plantation. It was a part of a longer series of African American poetry readings that would be taking place on land where many African Americans had once been enslaved, abused, and killed. It was extremely powerful. I heard poet Roger Reeves, who works as a university professor in African American Literature, read his work. In the last poem he read aloud, titled “Children Listen”, the closing lines read “Children / You were never meant to be human / You must be the grass / You must grow wildly over the graves”. Reeves’ poem helped me to see that a general healing is in order.

Through several projects that focus on resource education that I plan on holding this summer, I hope to establish a stronger presence of inclusion for all that choose to partake. I will hold what I learned in the past few days close to my heart and keep in mind that the beauty of America is its people, diverse and equal. We are all the flowers of America’s garden and we must learn to bloom and grow side by side, wildly with fervor. We are the teaching garden.

Hasta la próxima.

Friday, 07 June 2019 22:00

Murals at Fort Moultrie

This past weekend I had the privilege of joining some folks from the South Carolina Audubon on a bird walk. We walked a good bit around my current project site (Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park, specifically Fort Moultrie) and saw species of birds that I had never given much thought to. We made our rounds across the fort, then walked through a nature trail, walked a bit of the beach, and made our way back to a fishing pier on Fort Moultrie’s property.

On our walk, we were all very focused on finding one bird, the Painted Bunting. Normally heard before it is seen, the male Painted Bunting will sing its song, from inside a heavily foliaged area, back and forth between itself and the other males surrounding it. It is particularly pleasing to catch a glimpse of because of its beautiful colors, a combination of different reds, blues, and greens. Sightings are declining as the years go by. We do know that the migratory songbirds like to spend their winters in caribbean islands and parts of South America. While we were searching for them, I thought it was pretty cool that if we did see one, it might have spent its last Christmas visiting my family in Panama or Jamaica.

I learned on our walk that birds have a kind of SOS or warning call that they do to let others know that danger is near. Different species might drop in to make sure that the bird that made the call is safe, and they will all retreat into hiding. Even if the birds checking in are predatory, in times of danger, for the most part, the different species will band together for safety.

After our walk, I thought about how like birds, the people in the community I have moved into are all very diverse and beautiful. Although I have not seen a lot of co-mingling since I’ve arrived, I do know this. In times of trouble, or in times of need, it has been proven over and over again that this community bands together. Most people love and want to be loved. Although this is not always apparent, I believe that there is a communication lacking within the populace, and it is preventing people from sharing that love of life with each other. I am taking it upon myself this summer to bring our community together as much as I can through events at my site. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short time here, it is that the resources at our national parks are meant to be enjoyed by all. Each park has a story to teach us, and each story is as unique to the individual as the individual themself.

A group of Painted Buntings is known as a “mural”. A mosaic of a community, the people of South Carolina are similar to something like a mural (of the best kind) in their hometown.

I’m really liking it here.

¡Hasta la próxima!

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