Spotlight on Hana Saydek

Name: Hana Saydek

Pronouns: they/them/han/hana

Current Town: So-called Cavendish, VT, occupied Abenaki land

Cavendish is along Mkazatekw (the Black River), which heads east to the Kwenitekw (the Connecticut River) and is surrounded by Kaskadenak (‘a rocky place,’ Ascutney Mountain), Hawks Mountain, and the Okemo Valley.

Years in VT: My whole life, from being carried in my mom’s belly to now (about 27 years)

Industry: Community building, growing/tending, snow sliding, rest

Business name: Unlikely Riders

Business email and/or website: unlikelyriders@gmail.com // unlikelyriders.com

Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT.

This would be sharing about my ancestors and the generations before me. I would also like to begin this question addressing what it brings up in me, which is the assumption that we (folks of the global majority) aren’t from Vermont. As an East Asian person who grew up in VT, I want to lovingly and firmly state that there absolutely are BIPOC folks who have grown up here, and I am grateful to know folks in this community. It’s hard being invisibilized!

On my mom’s side, our ancestors came from Japan to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations and from Japan to Oregon to work in printing and in a mochi store. Those who resided in Oregon were incarcerated in the Japanese American internment camps, and after being released moved across the country to New York. My mom was born in New Jersey and dad in Pennsylvania. My parents met in Cambridge, MA and moved to Vermont in the 80’s because of my dad’s work in landscape architecture/ski area planning. My childhood memories are from growing up in Cavendish, of running through the woods, and of being with my mom at her carriage barn studio, heated with a woodstove with our dog curled at our feet, as she created arrangements of dried flowers in a space that smelled of clove and cinnamon.

What do you enjoy about being a business owner in VT?

This is a new concept to me and not something I truly identify with! Unlikely Riders was founded in October 2020 by Amanda Moran, with an initial organizing crew of Bettina Guevara (she/her), Abby Crisostomo (she/her), and myself. Unlikely Riders is a community of Black, Indigenous, People of Color based on the occupied Abenaki land that is so-called ‘Vermont,’ and our mission is to use snow sports as vehicles for radical conversations and movements while we acknowledge and reconnect to the land we ride on. It’s rooted in joy, fullness, culture creation, connection to mountains, land, snow, ice, and all that winter in ‘Vermont’ brings. I love that this work involves organizing in alignment with community I’ve wished for during my twenty three plus years in snow sports / skiing.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a VT business owner?

Creating boundaries, clearly articulating said boundaries, and ensuring folks honor and respect said boundaries, while moving at a pace that allows for rest, spaciousness, and joy. Because of settler colonization, white supremacy, capitalism, and the cisheteropatriarchy, the current reality of navigating snow spaces in ‘vermont’ requires engaging with whiteness and folks that are committed to upholding white structures/systems. Ensuring that our community is prioritized while engaging with this system, while maintaining boundaries for our individual and collective well-being, is the current reality of what I’m working on.

How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

By being surrounded by an incredible community of folks, by making sure I have food in my belly and I am hydrated before engaging with the work of the day, by listening to the Black and Audacious podcast by Katrina and Jabari, and by recognizing that joywork is deeply important and that this should be FUN.

What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future?

We would like to see a radical snow / ski / ride area stewarded by radical Black, Indigenous, and POC folks. The current snow/ski industry driven by capitalism is violently hypocritical and a future where we still have snow sliding is dependent on landback to Indigenous communities, Black liberation, and sovereignty and freedom for all oppressed peoples. Also, recognizing that while white ski culture has marketed itself and created itself to be an elite, exclusive activity, relationship with and movement on snow and ice is inherently not, and we want to continue decolonizing this space. This speaks to the connectedness of ski/snow culture to other community priorities, like access to safe and reliable transportation, universal healthcare, and community sharing of resources as we exist within abundance. This is all part of our vision for the future of snow sliding / snow culture.

In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC businesses?

From the state of VT: reparations for Black folks, land back to Indigenous communities, and prioritizing no-strings-attached money, accessible grants, and funding for the incredible BIPOC businesses and initiatives within the state of VT. Some businesses and organizations to support are Candace Taylor and Conscious Homestead, Kenya Lazuli and the Every Town Project, the Vermont Releaf Collective, Ferene Paris Meyer and All Heart Inspirations, and so many more.

What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT entrepreneurs/business owner?

I am grateful for the continued space and grace to find my/our way while being met with stoke and support. I continue to learn and unlearn when it comes to what I’ve been taught about business and the concept of ‘ownership,’ and I’m grateful to the folks who demonstrate there is more than one way to pursue this, and it does not require a sacrifice of self or identity. I’ll include this in here as it is a continual reminder to myself: there is no rush, there is space to breathe and take good care, scarcity is a myth, trust your gut, and please let it be joyful.

What do you wish others knew about living in VT?

That there is an incredible network of BIPOC folks living here. That you can find togetherness and community support from organizations like Unlikely Riders, The Releaf Collective, Conscious Homestead, Global Majority Healing Cooperative, SUSU Community Farm, VT PoC Network, and so many others.

Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?

Follow Unlikely Riders on instagram to stay engaged, and if you are a BIPOC ‘vermonter’ who would like to join our community, please visit unlikelyriders.com and click on the ‘join us’ button! Becoming a member is the best way to be informed on upcoming winter events / skill shares / opportunities.

Why are you a member of Vermont Professionals of Color Network?

Connectivity (breaking isolation). It’s a huge thing and I’m grateful for it.