By Lynn Hallarman
Ana Hozyainova’s house in Port Jefferson village sits nestled among the native garden she has been coaxing into maturity. The garden reimagines a former suburban lawn, once jammed with ornamental flowers and bushes meant for show. She points to a thicket along the perimeter. “You see that shrub, it doesn’t belong here, and its berries are junk food for birds — they have no nutrition,” she tells me on a walk around her property.
I met Hozyainova about two years ago, shortly after her failed bid to become a Port Jefferson Village trustee. After hearing her speak at a campaign debate, I was impressed with her approach to village issues and wanted to get to know her. We met for coffee and talked. As it turned out, this first meeting began a series of conversations between us about her vision of the village as part of, not instead of, the surrounding natural world. “When you talk with people about the natural landscape, it is difficult to turn the thinking away from the land as a commodity from which wealth is to be extracted,” she said. She wants to help people get out of their heads to connect with others and nature.
Her campaign platform for village trustee translated this vision into a practical plan — she wanted sidewalks, lots of them, in smartly configured networks. She wanted to redesign village roads to heal a long-standing safety problem with speeding vehicles. She wanted, in other words, for the village to slow down.
Hozyainova, 43, seems taller than her 5-foot-6-inch frame, with lanky arms and legs and shoulder-length blond hair, almost always tied with a scrunchy. She is the kind of person who prefers to walk barefoot. She has, it seems, an encyclopedic knowledge of local flora and fauna. Ask her about her choice of plantings for her garden, and she will tell you it is designed to be undisturbed and native, producing some food but “mainly functioning as a sanctuary for insects, birds and small mammals.” She offered me a starter planting for my garden.
Hozyainova emigrated to the United States 20 years ago to attend the Columbia School of Social Work, where she graduated with a master’s degree. Sometime after, she met her now-spouse, and they moved to Port Jefferson for her to pursue a career as a clinical social worker. She is fluent in five languages: English, Russian, Farsi, Uzbek and Kyrgyz — the native language of Kyrgyzstan, where she was born. Some describe her vocal cadence as a calming balm when speaking at contentious village meetings. She never voices an opinion without doing her homework and brings data into any discussion to back up her arguments.
This quality of critical thinking impressed her neighbors. So much so that Michael Mart and Myrna Gordon, longtime residents and regular village government gadflies, volunteered to help her with her trustee campaign. They were drawn to her ability to think beyond the immediate issue to see a solution in a broader context. “She can think forward and not accept, without questioning, unexplained government actions,” Mart said.
Hozyainova, about a year ago, brought the long-dormant Port Jefferson Civic Association back to life. I asked her, on another walk, why she wanted to restart the group. She paused momentarily to pull out an invasive weed, seemingly contemplative. The civic association, she tells me, is her attempt to do what other actions have failed to produce for resident engagement — consensus building around local issues of concern.
“I wanted people in the village to believe again that they have a say in how the government conducts itself,” she said.
The group is growing, even attracting younger people and recent village transplants. Almost everyone showing up will tell you Hozyainova is bringing them. “We shall see if the civic takes hold,” she tells me. The group, she muses, still needs its walking legs.
For her dedicated work in building the Port Jefferson Civic Association and for environmental preservation, TBR News Media makes Ana Hozyainova a 2023 Person of the Year.