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


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.