Tag Archives: Latin America

Pray For [Blank]: Climate Disasters & The Narrative of Place

I can hear the water trickling back up through the pipes. It’s been off all day, probably ‘cause it rained like a motherfucker last night. They don’t call it a rain forest for nothing. We generally don’t realize how precious water is until our access to it gets interrupted, which brings me to today’s topic. My essay, A Country Within A Country: Climate Change, Privilege, and Disaster Survival was published in Bitch Magazine last year but I’m only now just getting around to sharing it with y’all, and, unfortunately, it’s relevance hasn’t waned in the slightest.  This Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of the major earthquake that devastated Ecuador last year, the event that sparked this series in the first place. It brought me to write this:

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina and its mismanagement were broadcast across international media for all to see, and while the hurricane took many lives and will impact the Gulf region for generations to come, the media spectacle showing the hurricane’s effects didn’t translate into solidarity. New Orleanians were abandoned, almost as an example for what we, the underprivileged in the most privileged place on the planet, have to look forward to.

With #45 and a bunch of dudes who get rich off of shit like this in office, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got a lot more Katrinas on the way. But the focus of this piece is how the narrative of climate disasters (and tragedies in general) shift based on where they happen and who they happen to, and particularly how this plays out on social and mainstream media. For example:

“If you turned down the sound on your television, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think it was Haiti or maybe one of those African countries.” – Soledad O’Brien’s reaction to Katrina on CNN. Then there’s Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine: “These things happened in Haiti, but not here.”

If Katrina taught us anything, it’s that those things do, in fact, happen here. They continue to happen and they will not stop. So can we retire this awful tendency of comparing tragedies on US soil to ones in “those African countries”? And what do they reveal to us about the myth of American exceptionalism? I turned to author Edwidge Danticat’s incredible essay, Another Country, to try to answer this. From her work:

“It’s hard for those of us from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, and those of us who are immigrants who still have relatives living in places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at times when an unimaginable disaster shows us exactly how much alike we are.” Let’s be real: This kind of rhetoric is a coded way of saying, “We deserve better. They don’t.”

Nope, the US isn’t disaster-proof, and being shocked that it isn’t operates from a flawed understanding of how shit works here. Because those folks in New Orleans probably have more in common with people in “those African countries” than they might with the wealthy hotel owners downtown in the French Quarter. Did we really believe that the resources the US has looted from the rest of the world, a primary driver of climate change, were equally distributed among the people of the US? That Tio Samuel is really gonna have our backs when disaster strikes?

I don’t think people like O’Brien or Gibbs consciously believe this, though. I think this is the message the United States sends to the rest of the world on a daily basis, from the events and ideals at its foundation, to its current foreign policies, to the way it treats migrants of all kinds right here in the god-blessed U.S. of A. I think people like O’Brien and Gibbs represent so many in the American public who feel the need to help craft a revisionist fairy tale about their country to boost its self-esteem and to swallow the reality that one in eight households here live in hunger (or “food insecurity”) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They treat the Story of America like a child crying home to his parents because the kids at school called him racist. The revisionist consoles the child, saying, “Now now, son, tell them you aren’t racist, you’re alt-right.”

Nothing will bring you back to your senses like a climate disaster. They lay bare the ugly reality of how things work here, and since we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these, we have to be real about who’s going to be hit the hardest, and why. (Hint: it’s race.) We’ll need more than Facebook filters that are usually reserved for majority-white victims of tragedies, more than a fake story about a shitty dream to unite us; more than a flag. Because what use is all of that when you don’t even have water?

Read the full essay here.

LISTEN: Traveling (and Eating) Better with Bani Amor

Hey people.

If you’ve yet to be blessed with the opportunity to hear my mousy voice chase an idea in circles in search of a point to make, then you’re in luck, ’cause the good folks of the Racist Sandwich podcast recently had me on their show to talk food, travel and power. For the uninitiated, the Racist Sandwich podcast is the best podcast, according to me (and many others). Hosted by journalist Zahir Janmohammed and chef Soleil Ho, both Portland-based POC, they tackle food, race, gender and class with guests doing dope shit in the food world, all while being cute, witty and smart. Listen to my episode here and if you’re down, back their Patreon here.

In other news, I’m officially one year older and am spending ~ me ~ time in Ecuador playing with kids and dogs, chillin’ with friends, cooking, and writing like a motherfucker. For those of you anxious about missing my birthday and scrambling to send me a belated fruit basket, step away from Amazon and put some change in my piggy bank instead. ‘Preesh!

I’ll check in with y’all next week with some more updates. In the meantime, make yourselves useful and punch some Nazis while I’m away.

 

Article 71: From Ecuador to Standing Rock, Water is Life

(Image of Nélida Ayay Chilón via Vimeo)

“Drop by drop, the world is ending.” While Indigenous water protectors were being attacked in Standing Rock Sioux territory from Spring into Winter, fighting to keep the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built through their lands, the folks at Apogee Journal were curating a folio of literary and visual artwork in solidarity and resistance. The result is a staggering compilation of over 20 voices (including mine) entitled #NoDAPL #StillHere: Native and Anti-Colonial Craft Against Dispossession. It is a must-read, a must-see and a must-share! And it is more timely than ever. An excerpt from my contribution, Article 71, on page 1:

I was hunched over a cup of instant coffee, half-awake after pulling a night shift at the hotel, when I saw half the street in front of the breakfast spot fill with protesters marching, mostly elder campesinxs, Pachakutik flags in hand. Most foreigners confuse them with gay pride flags, since they both weave together the colors of the rainbow, but they’re the flag of the left-wing political party that many Indigenous Ecuadorians see as sellouts, though they can still be seen waving triumphantly across the country. Perhaps this is an ode to the time Pachakutik rallied to change the constitution in 1998, making Ecuador the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature, or Pachamama, amongst other progressive wins. Being queer and mestizx, the Pachakutik flag hangs in my room as a testament to my both-and-neitherness.

Article 71 focuses on Indigenous water struggles in Ecuador and throughout the Andes, my personal experiences with water and some film critique on the issue. Apogee gave me the freedom to transgress genre a bit and I’m honored to have the piece included among so much vital and powerful work, mostly by Indigenous artists. Know that the struggle at Standing Rock is not over. Know that water is life, and must be protected at all costs.

LISTEN: Unnatural Disasters, Climate Change, Ecuador and Beyoncé

Hey people. So while I was in Ecuador this summer writing about the earthquake in Ecuador this spring, an earthquake hit. I was fine, but it exacerbated the urgency I felt in writing about disasters brought about by climate change and how they affect the most marginalized among us who don’t usually benefit from aid, but instead are all the more oppressed by the disaster capitalism that props up in the aftermath. I talked about all of this and more on Bitch Magazine’s Popaganda podcast. Listen below.

Subscribers to Bitch can look out for my essay Unnatural Disasters in the Chaos issue while the rest of y’all can just chill ’til it goes live online or hits newsstands over the next few weeks.

How to Help Haiti, Not Disaster Capitalists

Back in April, when the initial 7.8 earthquake hit Ecuador, I was running around trying to get folks to, first of all, know that we exist, second of all, care, third, care enough to donate for the relief, and fourth, to donate to activist organizations for marginalized folks and families instead of charities, foreign-run NGOs and a host of shady savior campaigns. Now that Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti at unthinkable proportions, I’m at least glad that the ‘international community’ is way more aware of what’s at stake, maybe having learned something from the 2010 earthquake (though not many are talking about how the Clintons looted Haiti, but I digress.)

My next feature for Bitch Magazine is actually about all this – what we really mean when we invoke the term ‘natural disaster,’ how they disproportionately affect the marginalized, and what the earthquake did to Ecuador. So, you know, just some light reading.

I’m sharing this list of organizations that you can feel more secure in donating to, in that they’re actually going to those in need and not lining some opportunist’s pockets. This comes from France Francois of the blog First Class is a Lesson:

“I’ve been getting a lot of messages from well-meaning individuals collecting goods to send to Haiti. Let me reiterate: Please DO NOT collect items to send to Haiti. Both the Haitian gov and Haitian orgs have made it clear that this actually hinders rather than helps relief efforts. Anything you can buy in the U.S., you can buy in Port-au-Prince so unnecessary goods end up 1. creating a backlog in customs that prevent emergency relief items, medical supplies, and construction materials from getting in 2. undermining the local economy and putting Haitians out of business by flooding Haiti with free stuff. We are trying not to repeat the mistakes of the earthquake response, well-meaning or not. Instead, please donate money to local organizations already responding to the disaster.”

Konbit Mizik
Haiti Communitere
Sakala Haiti
Fondation Aquin Solidarité
Volontariat pour le Développement d’Haïti
Lambi Fund
MADRE
Sowaseed
Haitian American Caucus
Art Creation Foundation for Children
Prodev Haiti
SOIL

Non-Haitian Orgs with proven track records in Haiti:
Doctors Without Borders
Roots of Development
Partners in Health
Nova Hope for Haiti

Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity

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hey people, I have an essay on traveling through place and gender in bklyn boihood’s long-awaited anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity! Published by Riverdale Ave Books, edited by Morgan Mo Willis (of bklyn boihood) with an intro by Toshi Reagon + cover art by Mickalene Thomas, OTXY is filled with stories, confessions, essays, poetry and letters from QTPOCs around the world for whom masculinity has played a role in shaping their lived identities.

My story, called Low Visibility, starts out like this:

In the morning, our plane began to curl downward like a rebellious strand of hair gone straight. I looked out over the cloudscape, a heavy swell of shadows that had been sucked up into the sky, swirling with the corals and blues of the sunrise, and wondered about the other side of turbulence. Having passed through the dysphoria of landing, where your belly’s lost in some buoyant limbo, what would touchdown finally feel like? I wanted to skip alla that. I wanted to be someone, somewhere –clearly defined.

Yes, traveling as a non-cisgender person is some shit. Purchase the book here and support QTPOC writers!

LISTEN: What Does It Mean to Decolonize Travel Culture?

hey people. I hope you’re enjoying your summers as much as possible because #2k16Problems are real as fuck. I especially hope that, if you’re non-Black like me, you’re working on ensuring that #BlackLivesMatter in terms of your actions, projects, organizing, art, community engagement, interpersonal relationships, volunteer work, putting your money where your mouth is, etc. Let’s get our shit together.

With regards to that, I’m working on some BLM-related projects in Ecuador, so stay tooned. But for now, I’m sharing this talk I had* with the ever-dope Amy of Bitch Magazine on their Popaganda podcast about issues around tourism and power, the colonial tradition of travel writing and my feature essay Spend and Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism that’s in their latest issue. Your engagement here and elsewhere on social media is always welcome (unless it’s a racist diatribe, of course) as are your shares and donations. Don’t forget, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign to help meet my survival needs while I work on multimedia community projects over the summer. Check out the teaser for a documentary about how traveling as a QTPOC writer led me to ask the questions I do in my work, then donate!

*My gender pronouns have changed since the podcast, where I’m referred to as she/her instead of they/them