Priscilla Solis Ybarra: Good after­noon. I don’t have any slides. I’m com­ing to you from the text-based lit­er­ary world to talk to you about lit­er­a­ture. I’ve real­ly enjoyed every­thing today. Thank you to Damian and Paula for the invi­ta­tion. Tina for all the help with the coor­di­na­tion. I’m so hap­py to be here. I’ve been learn­ing so much already. 

What I want to take a clos­er look at here in our discussion…this is a pan­el that pro­pos­es to talk about lib­er­a­to­ry, joy­ful aes­thet­ics. And if you’ve tak­en the time to read the Green New Deal, it does­n’t real­ly take a lot of care to appeal to us in an aes­thet­ic way, right. It’s a bureau­crat­ic doc­u­ment. But we’re chal­lenged here to talk about cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and the Green New Deal, or what Damian said this morn­ing, how does that pol­i­tics feel and entice? So that’s what I want to address here through my field of exper­tise, which is Mexican American, Chicana fem­i­nist, Latinx lit­er­a­tures, nar­ra­tives, imaginaries.

So, two things that we can con­sid­er in this ques­tion is how to tell a good or appeal­ing sto­ry, right. How to recruit peo­ple into agree­ing that we should change things in a grand-scale kind of way, right, or in a big way. Maybe through small-scale things but we’re look­ing to change things in a big way, right. So how do we tell an appeal­ing sto­ry in order to recruit peo­ple to join us in that? 

And then, how do we tell a sto­ry that will cre­ate what we call a bet­ter future,” or a future that is dif­fer­ent from our present. Okay, so I’m just kind of reit­er­at­ing some of the goals that we’ve set for our­selves here. 

But there’s two aspects of this inquiry that I want to address a lit­tle fur­ther and push back on a lit­tle bit. And they’re aspects of this vision that I’ve learned about through think­ing about Latinx and indige­nous imaginaries. 

Okay. So when we pro­pose to tell an appeal­ing sto­ry, what do we attempt to appeal to? To what kind of struc­ture of feel­ing or affect are we hop­ing to appeal, what kind of affect do we hope to cre­ate? So I’ll say more about this when I give you—I’m going to talk to about three spe­cif­ic exam­ples from Mexican American and Chicana fem­i­nist imag­i­nar­ies, nar­ra­tives. But you know, these val­ues of sim­plic­i­ty and reci­procity, and not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­fort, as we heard about this morn­ing, right, are the things that these nar­ra­tives invite us to dwell in their space of sim­plic­i­ty and reci­procity and not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­fort. So, these are works that ask a us to spend time in that space so that we can become accus­tomed to those val­ues that are alter­na­tive to the racial cap­i­tal­ism that has cre­at­ed the world that we are accus­tomed to inhab­it­ing. So that’s one inquiry. 

And then, when we pro­pose to tell a sto­ry that will cre­ate a bet­ter future, to which tem­po­ral­i­ty do we refer? That’s my sec­ond ques­tion. So this ques­tion is designed to chal­lenge the idea that we have all been on the same jour­ney through time. I want to bring atten­tion to the fact that the time­line of the mod­ern Western val­ues that shape the pre­pon­der­ance of our dis­cus­sions about envi­ron­ment and cli­mate change are not com­mon to every­one. Other tem­po­ral­i­ties exist. Specifically, the tem­po­ral­i­ty expe­ri­enced by indige­nous peo­ples and peo­ple of col­or. The lit­er­ary crit­ic Mark Rifkin in his book Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination from 2017, with that book he inter­venes with the dom­i­nance of set­tler time and he sug­gests that we need to address the role of time (as nar­ra­tive, as expe­ri­ence, as imma­nent mate­ri­al­i­ty of con­ti­nu­ity and change) in strug­gles over Indigenous land­ed­ness gov­er­nance, and every­day social­i­ty.

I also fol­low the lead of philoso­pher Kyle Powys White in his essay Indigenous Science” and then he has fic­tion” in paren­the­ses—Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises. And this is an essay from 2018 that he pub­lished in the Journal Environment and Planning. And he argues that we exist today in the fan­ta­sy future of a set­tler colo­nial past. But for indige­nous peo­ples, the past 500 years has been a dystopia. There is no pend­ing cri­sis for indige­nous peo­ples, for peo­ples of col­or. We’ve been dwelling in the dystopia already for a very long time. So at least those two dif­fer­ent tem­po­ral­i­ties exist, so when we’re talk­ing about a future that we’re cre­at­ing in dis­tinc­tion to our present, who’s present are we talk­ing about, who’s future are we talk­ing about. 

So I want to show you the way that Latinx imag­i­nary helps us to appeal to par­tic­u­lar affects in our attempt to tell com­pelling sto­ries. And how the Latinx imag­i­nary helps chal­lenge set­tler colo­nial time, and ampli­fies oth­er tem­po­ral­i­ties for indige­nous peo­ples and peo­ples of col­or, right, how we have expe­ri­enced time. 

So the first exam­ple that I want to talk to you about is from Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. She was an exten­sion agent for the state of New Mexico in the 1930s and 40s. She went to New Mexico…I think it was New Mexico State University when she was a young woman. So, you think about a young Mexican American woman in New Mexico get­ting a col­lege degree, work­ing for for the state as an exten­sion agent, her job was to go into these lit­tle vil­lages in New Mexico and talk to the women about their homes, about their kitchens, and teach them how to keep a bet­ter home, right, with the mod­ern lessons that she learned. 

How do you think that that might have gone for her? With las seño­ras in their kitchens, this young woman from the city telling them what to do. Well, I don’t know what hap­pened in those kitchens and she does­n’t tell us that. But the texts that she pro­duces, she wrote a mem­oir about grow­ing up on the Llano Estacado in east­ern New Mexico, and she pub­lished two cook­books. But those cook­books tell me that she learned a lot from being in those kitchens with those seño­ras and that she asked them ques­tions rather than telling them what to do giv­ing them lessons. 

So her cook­book that was pub­lished in 1949, the same year that Aldo Leopold pub­lished A Sand County Almanac—I like to put those tem­po­ral­i­ties next to each oth­er to show that Mexican Americans were mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the way we think about the human rela­tion­ship to the envi­ron­ment at the same time that the bible of the con­tem­po­rary US con­ser­va­tion move­ment was being pub­lished. In The Good Life she writes a lit­tle bit about her fam­i­ly’s expe­ri­ence grow­ing up on the Llano Estacado. And she inhab­its these val­ues of and she a paints a pic­ture of these val­ues of sim­plic­i­ty, endur­ing difficulties. 

And a quote from that, which is where I got the the title for my first book which is just called Writing the Goodlife, which is a his­to­ry of 150 years of Mexican American writ­ing about the envi­ron­ment. She says, Life as I grew up and as I knew it as a home econ­o­mist was rich but sim­ple. People drew sus­te­nance from the soil and from the spir­it. Life was good but not always easy. And that’s a real­ly impor­tant quote to me because she empha­sizes sim­plic­i­ty, reci­procity, but not ease. And it real­ly res­onates with the move­ments in Latin America, South America, indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, of buen vivir you know, good liv­ing, good life, and the good way, sumak kawsay in Quechua. 

And I already addressed how she also presents us with anoth­er tem­po­ral­i­ty just by pub­lish­ing that book at the same time that Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac was pub­lished. And I have oth­er work in which I’m chal­leng­ing the nar­ra­tive of Aldo Leopold—or enhanc­ing our sto­ry of Aldo Leopold as…the Sand County activism that he did in Wisconsin was real­ly also a Mexican American project because he met and mar­ried his wife in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And they had five chil­dren, and that’s a Mexican American fam­i­ly that was restor­ing the shack there in Wisconsin. But we don’t real­ly think about it as a Mexican American fam­i­ly, we think about it as a kind of indi­vid­u­al­ist endeav­or of Leopold’s but it was very much a fam­i­ly endeavor. 

The sec­ond work that I want to talk to you about, and I know I’m get­ting a lit­tle close to my time but. The sec­ond work is a play—actually the next two are both plays. This is from 1992, a play by Cherríe Moraga, a long-time San Francisco-based play­wright, a Chicana fem­i­nist. Her play Heroes and Saints is about farm­work­ers, pes­ti­cide contamination—some of you are prob­a­bly famil­iar with it; about this very vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion, and I want to talk to you in par­tic­u­lar about two char­ac­ters. There’s an envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice activist whose name is Amparo, and then the cen­tral char­ac­ter, her name is Cerezita. 

And Moraga presents the audi­ence with a real­ly tough sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief chal­lenge because Cerezita is born only as a human head, to sym­bol­ize a lot of the birth defects that occur as a result of pes­ti­cide con­t­a­m­i­na­tion in the Central Valley in California. But you’re con­stant­ly faced, you know, as an audi­ence mem­ber, from the stage with a human that is just a human head. The affect that this play presents us with is an affect of com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tion, it res­onates with Cabeza de Baca’s Good Life val­ues: it’s not always easy but it’s good. 

And at a clean water ral­ly, Amparo gives a speech to the com­mu­ni­ty about how they need to reject con­sumerist, mate­ri­al­ist, Anglo-American cap­i­tal­ist def­i­n­i­tions of what is good, and remem­ber where they came from. She argues that the com­mu­ni­ty has been duped by the lure of mate­r­i­al com­forts, homes that have become pris­ons, and water that pours from the sink that gots to be boiled three times before it pass­es your chil­dren’s lips. She makes the case that they had it bet­ter before the sign­ing of con­tracts and the accu­mu­la­tion of goods. There’s a part of the play that shows that they’re liv­ing where they’re liv­ing where every­thing is con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed because they were giv­en these homes but clear­ly it was a con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed area. When they were free to live sleep­ing under the stars—that was the time before, right—back home and breath­ing clean air. Reaching the pin­na­cle of her speech she asks, Que sig­nifi­ca que the three things in life—el aire, el agua, y la tier­ra—que we always had enough of, even in our puebli­tos en México, ya no ten­emos? Si, parece que ten­emos all we need. Pero es men­ti­ra.

She asks what does it mean when the three ele­ments of life—air, water, and earth—that they always enjoyed plen­ty, even in Mexico, is no longer avail­able to them. She states that it appears that they have all they need, but then she emphat­i­cal­ly tells them that it is all a lie. The lure of mate­r­i­al con­ve­niences has left them vul­ner­a­ble to the val­ues and prac­tices that attempt to defy death, and in the mean­time the farm­work­ers them­selves have become the can­non fod­der in this bat­tle. They fall on the front­lines of this attempt to defeat death, with all oth­ers ben­e­fit­ing from their sacrifice. 

So, that play’s an invi­ta­tion to inhab­it this affec­tive com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tion. This play also chal­lenges tem­po­ral­i­ty. Cerezita, as we come to be more famil­iar with her in the play, we learn that she’s a fan­ta­sy future of a set­tler colo­nial past. How is that? She’s a com­plete­ly dis­pos­able body that sat­is­fies the exter­nal­iza­tion of death and con­t­a­m­i­na­tion from white pop­u­la­tions onto pop­u­la­tions of peo­ples of col­or, sat­is­fy­ing a fetishiza­tion of life. And I oppose this to the Mexican American cel­e­bra­tion days of the dead, right, as an recog­ni­tion of death as part of the life cycle. 

I’ll move on to my last exam­ple, which is a very con­tem­po­rary play. It was first staged in 2018 in Dallas where I’m from. Cara Mía Theatre is a Mexican American the­ater com­pa­ny. And three women of col­or col­lab­o­rat­ed to write this play. And this is my exam­ple of a future. It’s set a thou­sand years in the future. And it’s titled [Where] Earth Meets the Sky. And it’s writ­ten by the three women who wrote it—Edyka Chilomé, Ariana Cook,
and Vanessa Mercado-Taylor. It is set in the future after a cat­a­stro­phe that ren­ders Earth unin­hab­it­able by humans. There are peo­ple that are called Sky People who have been orbit­ing the Earth for a thou­sand years but their life-sustaining sys­tems, you know, the tech­nolo­gies that they have on the space­ships, are fail­ing so they decide that they have to return to Earth and see if it’s inhab­it­able after a thou­sand years with­out them destroy­ing it, right. 

So they send an envoy down, and the play is about the encounter of the sky per­son with the Earth peo­ple because it turns out that some peo­ple man­aged to sur­vive and have cre­at­ed a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent cul­ture. So it’s a real­ly rad­i­cal imag­in­ing. I don’t know if I would say a utopi­an imag­in­ing but an imag­in­ing of a dif­fer­ent kind of culture. 

So this encounter between the Earth peo­ple and the Sky People, the Earth peo­ple devel­op a way to live that tran­scends bina­ries and bound­aries that we’re begin­ning to ques­tion today but we’re still gen­er­al­ly ruled and struc­tured by. Things like gen­der, the human pri­or­i­ty over ani­mals. The Earth peo­ple are led by elders asso­ci­at­ed with the fem­i­nine, with the moth­er­ly. Earth peo­ple are able to com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cal­ly. They meld forms with trees and com­mu­ni­cate through roots in the soil. And this is all done on the stage, but I’m so excit­ed for them to get a con­tract to make this into a TV minis­eries or some­thing; it would be real­ly pow­er­ful visu­al­ly. They com­mu­ni­cate through roots in the soil and they meld forms with ani­mals. They shift between gen­ders. They live organ­i­cal­ly with no fos­sil fuel ener­gies, that kind of thing. 

So any­way, a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent imag­i­nary for the future. So this is dis­rupt­ing our tem­po­ral­i­ty. And obvi­ous­ly they also chal­lenge set­tler time by imag­in­ing this rad­i­cal fan­ta­sy future that real­ly encom­pass­es black indige­nous peo­ple of col­or because those are the ones that were left behind. In the space­ship there’s a dichoto­my between the white-hairs and the dark-hairs. So I won’t tell you what hap­pens in the play because I want you to see if it comes your way, but also if it comes out as a movie or a miniseries. 

And so I just want­ed want­ed to talk a lit­tle bit about you know, very briefly tell you how Latinx imag­i­nar­ies can help us both appeal to these affects that we need to start think­ing about, and we can inhab­it that with­in works of lit­er­a­ture. And we also need to dis­rupt the idea that we’re all on one temporal…you know, in the same lane of tem­po­ral­i­ty because there’s many dif­fer­ent ones. So if we’re going to get any­where with this dis­cus­sion we def­i­nite­ly need to inte­grate alter­na­tive tem­po­ral­i­ties. Thank you.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page