Tag Archives: Nonfiction

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.

Getting Real About Decolonizing Travel Culture

Hey denizens of everywhere,

I wrote an essay on decolonizing travel culture as the introduction to Muchacha Fanzine’s Decolonize Travel issue and just published it on Medium. Give it a read, print it out and fold it into your passport books, critique and analyze it, share or shade it, or comment below. A slice:

How we move through the world, whether it’s how we or our ancestors came to be where we are now; a trip to the bodega as a visibly trans woman of color at night, or to countries we have no connections to but are guests in, varies phenomenally from person to person, but those journeys are all informed in some way by capitalist imperialist cishetpatriarchal white supremacy.

In “getting real” about this topic, I wanted to reiterate some points that I see getting lost in posts and such about “decolonizing travel” that are necessary to the discourse. I don’t want this to be some sort of trend or shorthand for “diversity.” Central to this is…

If communities don’t have sovereignty or the self-determination to shape how they want their cultures to be consumed or communicated, their economies to be governed and their environments to be treated, then tourism and travel culture are only a continuation of imperialist practices.

Read the essay in full here.

New Year, Who Dis? Updates, Round-Up & POC Travel Book Club!

People, I’m glad we could all put our differences aside for a moment to collectively say FUCK YOU to 2016. If only we had that kind of consensus on actual shit and not a 12-month span of time, but I digress. Before I go into a quick round-up of Shit That Did Not Suck For Me in 2016, I wanna announce January’s POC Travel Book Club pick, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele.  We’ll be discussing it on Sunday, February 5th at 1pm EST over Google Hangout. Sign up here if you haven’t already. Read or die! Now for a few things I accomplished in 2016:

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  • Having work published in Bitch Magazine, Apogee Journal and Archer Magazine
  • Speaking on panels at the Queens Book Festival, Comic Con NYC and reading at the Asian-American Writer’s Workshop
  • Meeting Edwidge Fucking Danticat, Jamaica Fucking Kincaid, and Dr. Sam Waymon, musician, composer, activist and Nina Simone’s brother
  • Being invited as a faculty assistant for VONA’s travel writing workshop for people of color and other travels

Here’s to a less shitty 2017!

The Least Convenient Truth: White Supremacy and Climate Change

If we’re going to protect the sacred and prepare for the worst, we must look at the environmental effects of white supremacy.

Real talk: it’s been a fucked up month in a fucked up year and I, like many of you, am afraid. Since November, I’ve been hibernating, maybe because I feel safe inside, also because the cold weather is racist, and have tripled down on reading and writing. A lot of that writing was published this week, notably my series on climate change and oppression for Bitch Magazine that accompanies my feature on “natural” disasters in their latest Chaos issue. I’ll be releasing one essay per week, starting with everyone’s favorite topics, white supremacy and climate change. Just some light holiday reading.

“Poor places experience forest-cover loss because they are exploited by wealthy places.” Historical context for current crises demands accountability from those wealthy places, and this is key if what we’re fighting for is environmental justice.

I lay out a brief history of the deforestation of Haiti by colonial and imperial powers that took place way before the current (white, Western) environmental narrative decided it was an issue. The takeaway here is that these wealthy countries have been using the climate to punish Haiti for resisting white supremacy ever since they dared to overthrow their slavers.

I get capitalism, but if your goal is long-term domination, wouldn’t you be in favor of environmental sustainability? Turns out: Nah. Because they knew in the end, people of color would be the ones paying the highest price for the environmental consequences of settler colonialism.

I blame the creation of the settler state, which is predicated upon the genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of people of African descent, for being a major contributor to our current climate crisis, and the settler colonialist framework many environmental groups rely on that stalls progress. I think it’s detrimental that people of color remain stewards of the land, because we historically know how to take care of it best.

Read the essay in its entirety here.

Thoughts? Cries for help? Totally panicking? Share your feels below.

Come See Me Read in NYC December 15th

Hey people, shit’s been quiet around here because I’ve been writing like a motherfucker. I’m excited to have a wealth of new pieces get published over the next few weeks and will share them all right here. If you’re in New York, stop by Apogee Journal’s eighth issue (which you can pre-order here) launch party at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop next Thursday, December 15th at 7pm to see me read a story of mine and say hey. If you weren’t supporting diverse publications and spaces like Apogee and AAWW (and the work of diverse oppressed peoples in general) before, you def should now, before El Cheeto-in-Chief exiles us all to an island somewhere.

In other news, the POC Travel Book Club’s talk on bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place this past Sunday was dope. We discussed running away and going home, searching for severed roots  and the trauma of displacement. We talked about our relationship to the land as people of color and the possibilities that come with staying put, of not traveling. Sign up here to join us for next month’s talk (book TBA).

Come See Me at NYC Comic Con!

Hey kids, I’ve been in my writing den for a minute but will emerge with more interviews, articles and projects soon. For now, if you’re in the NYC area, you can come see me speak on the We Need Diverse Books panel on working as writers of color in digital media at Comic Con next Thursday, October 6th! Deets here and Facebook event heredigital-media-nycc-file

If you come through make sure to say hi! I’ll also be at the opening party for the anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, in which I have an essay on #travelingwhiletrans, on October 10th. I’ll post about that next week. In the meantimes, just wanna shout out to all the new people reading this blog after this salty white dude wrote a whole essay calling me anti-fun, anti-sun, and, gasp, anti-colonialism, all while misgendering me the entire time. I’m officially a tourism killjoy. #StayMad

[Featured photo by Neha Gautam Photography]

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