top of page

Using their voice:
Bonn Baudelaire on life, 'Resilience' and fighting for justice
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When Bonn Baudelaire talks about the word resilience, it’s in the context of the outdoors.

“As an indigenous person who was taken away from their homeland, land means so much to me. I am Cucapá, we are The River People. In my homeland of Mexicali, the Colorado River no longer flows because of the construction of dams,” Baudelaire, who identifies as gender non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, said, referencing the continued damming of the Colorado River since the early 1900s.

“I am so grateful that I get to live and be so close to this river. To be outside near and around [it] has healed me more than any therapy, more than any yoga practice, more than any meditation. My intimate relationship to land is the greatest source of my resilience.”

Baudelaire, an avid hiker and runner among other things, is one of 21 women and non-binary people featured in Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present. Among those in the exhibit—which details the lives of each subject, their impact on Flagstaff and how they’ve navigated struggle—Baudelaire is one of the youngest.

Front and center on their panel in Resilience is a photo taken in Mexico in 1992. A young Baudelaire looks at the camera from their mother’s arms, just an infant at the time.

Not long after the photo was taken, Baudelaire’s mother was deported from Tucson and sent to Mexico. Later, their father committed suicide and a 10-year-old Baudelaire was placed into Arizona’s foster care system.

According to Court Appointed Special Advocates of Arizona (CASA), Arizona has approximately 14,500 children and youth currently in the foster care system, a number that rose by about 1,000 over a six-month period last year. The nationwide number hovers around 440,000 kids in the system, many of whom experience constant movement, chronic health problems, poor education, neglect and abuse.

It’s in part for these reasons that Baudelaire maintains a commitment to telling their story, both in the exhibit and in daily life.

“It is not difficult to share about my trauma,” they said. “What people really need to start realizing is that traumatic events do not happen in a vacuum. Typically, when one traumatic experience happens, it is likely that many others will follow.”

Though Baudelaire represents one of the youngest honored in Resilience, the community organizer, hiker, runner and avid cook has experienced what seems like many lifetimes, both in the foster care system and throughout group homes in Phoenix. While sleeping on a friend’s couch in high school, the friends’ father sexually assaulted Baudelaire more than once. Many of the homes they stayed in were more than an hour away from their high school, and Baudelaire recalls the many city buses it took to get to school every day.

“It was important to share my experience about being separated from my mother because I would not have experienced sexual assault had I not been separated from her and placed in foster care,” they said. “Look at what is happening now—the refugee children currently kept in cages are also being sexually assaulted by ICE perpetrators.” 

According to a New York Times report, as of February 2019, almost 5,000 cases of child sexual abuse had been reported to the federal government over the last four years—with several cases going unreported. Records do not detail the outcome of every complaint, but show that many accusations didn’t result in any punitive action for the perpetrator.

Baudelaire’s is a familiar face to those active in issues of immigration, missing and murdered indigenous women, and environmental justice campaigns in Flagstaff and northern Arizona. They also work as a community outreach coordinator for First Things First, an organization that works to prevent child abuse. 

“What keeps me motivated in doing activism work is directly related to surviving my own traumas. When I look at the world around me, I see so many people experiencing the same trauma that fall through the cracks,” Baudelaire said. “The science behind resilience is still somewhat unknown. We do know that what happens in the first five years paves the way for one’s ability to prevail trauma later on, but the point is to prevent any trauma from happening in the first place. If there is anything I can do to prevent the traumas that happened to me from happening to anyone else, then I will do everything I can to achieve that.”

As high school graduation loomed for Baudelaire, they began applying to colleges around the state, eager to get out of Phoenix and a system that had long been failing them.

“I knew I had to do something because once you turn 18, you ‘age out’ of the foster care system. This is where many young adults end up unsheltered and on the streets,” they said.

They applied to “every single state school,” getting into each, and settling on Northern Arizona University, primarily because of its geographical distance from the cities in which they’d experienced trauma. Baudelaire settled in, and would end up finding a great deal of friend- and mentorship during and after their time at NAU. Baudelaire mentions the important role one professor in particular, Dr. Gioia Woods—who teaches classes in environmental humanities, race, ethnicity, and gender and cultural studies—had in their college career.

“It was crazy to see my panel,” Baudelaire said of Resilience. “I struggle so much with giving myself the recognition I deserve, so to be recognized by others is even more nerve wracking. I didn’t think I was going to cry, but when I saw [Gioia], I couldn’t hold back the tears. I don’t know if she realizes the impact she had on me in my life… She, and many of my professors, mentored me in ways that I had never experienced before as someone who lived in so many different homes and moved around so much. To have gone 19 to 21 years without the mentorship, or the feeling of being cared for, really, that she and other professors provided me really meant the world to me.”

A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

This column is the ninth in a 10-part series on the exhibit “Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present.” The exhibit was created by the Martin-Springer Institute and the Arizona Historical Society, with students from Northern Arizona University. It features 21 women and non-binary people who, despite adversity in their lives, contributed to the community. The exhibit team includes students Mary Burke, Holly Filsinger, Rachel Lauver, Hana Lipke, Martha Martinez, Marley Oakes, Savannah Penick, Avi Penner and Tristan Triebe, and mentors Melissa Cohen, Björn Krondorfer, William Peterson and Sacha Siskonen. ”Resilience” will be displayed at various venues and is also installed at Flagstaff’s Pioneer Museum. Currently it can be viewed in the Coconino Community College commons, 2800 S. Lone Tree Rd. 

bottom of page