Toi

Toi
the philosophactivist

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Moon Announcements

Hello Medicine Makers of all varieties: Liberators, Artists, Activists and all of the above!

A few important announcements:
1. The on-going self-paced version of Part 2 of the Herbal Freedom School begins in less than 2 weeks on March 6th. We'll connect with our ancestral healing traditions, discuss the importance of ceremony in our medicine making and medicine making as resistance. Then, we'll talk about individual, collective and historical trauma and strategize different ways to heal together.
There are only 10 seats available so apply now!
**Email herbalfreedomschool [at] gmail [dot] com if you’re interested in one of the 2 partial scholarships.


2. I’ve recently created facebook groups for BIPOC-identified folks for the Queering Herbalism page:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1208833482527978/
- BIPOC-identified folks who have taken the Herbal Freedom School program:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/586656141533797/
- and BIPOC-identified folks interested in the School of Liberation Healing and Medicine and its various programs and projects (Herbal Freedom School, Queering Herbalism, QTBIPOC Healing Legacies, Liberation Library, etc.).
https://www.facebook.com/groups/218236898644173/
3. We need your support. Support our School as we create new programs, course companions, zine series and a Liberation Library archive of POC-centered healing traditions and information. You can do so in a number of ways:
patreon.com/liberationhealing
- cash.me/$toi
- Paypal: queeringherbalism [at] gmail [dot] com

More exciting news to come soon about our all community-supported Herbal Freedom School and private group lessons (Freedom Sessions) in late Spring/Summer.

Healing, Liberation, and Transformation,
Toi

Monday, February 13, 2017

Where to go from here? Reflections on a decade of organizing and artivisting


So, here I am in the mountains of Puerto Rico reflecting on the last 10+ years of my life.

Thanks facebook memories!

I started the philosophactivist blog around this time back in 2011 (and the queerherbalism blog 4 years ago). Back then I barely even knew what a blog was and I just wanted to be able to express what I couldn't in classrooms and on campus, nearly all-white "radical" community meetings and other spaces. I wanted to have a voice and talk unapologetically about all that I was experiencing and what I saw happening around me as I organized and walked between all these worlds of grassroots/community organizing and academia and more recently, communities of healers and healing. Of course my thinking on the intersections of race, gender, and class and even my own gender and how I see myself has shifted many times in the last 6 years. And I've been skeptical about documenting every twist and turn so publicly to a mixed audience out in the internet ethers.

As I was looking at some of my social media posts from 5 and 6 years ago+, I started wondering what happened to all those folks that were exploding on the scene from about 2009- 2012 (and basically 2000 up to then). Poets, graphic artists, playwrights, bloggers etc. all talking about gender and race and class in different ways than before. Doing what I say is important healing work for our QTBIPOC communities. I looked them up and some of them are public speakers, some returned back to school, some have fallen off the face of the planet (some purposefully and others not-so-purposefully, I assume). Then it dawned on me how I was basically there for the building of the foundation of this newer wave that's taking place.

I've been seeing how some of the folks who are now in college and high school are experiencing a bit more freedom of expression and connecting the pieces that the amazing organizers and artivists I knew from the early "aughts" helped co-create. They helped to break through some major boundaries which opened the door for later millenials to have the platform for expression that they have today. And of course they were, in turn, influenced by those the decade before them and the decades and even centuries before them.

But here in the west, elders aren't always valued. In western society the youth hold the future and predecessors and elders are swept under the rug a lot of times. Nowadays what these elders have done just becomes some quote or meme. Something to romanticize and then move on with these "new ways" of doing things. We've forgotten how to truly honor those who pushed open doors before us. As I move through my 30s and watch folks in their late teens and early twenties learn lessons I learned- and they're learning with more technology and at a much faster rate (largely in part because of this access to technology), I know it's more important than ever that we have intergenerational spaces where we can share about our challenges, inspiration, and victories. Places where we can share our tools for individual and collective care, learn about our legacies of liberation and about our birthrights and inheritance.

[Photo of a dashing black non-binary superqueero standing with a machete raised on a mountaintop appearing to slice the sky in Puerto Rico]

This morning I sat thinking about the things some of us need to do because we have to- and not because we can. I mean this in a lot of ways. Especially according to our physical abilities and economic situation. For instance, a friend of mine is beginning a QTPOC land project and it's not because he has the resources or the physical ability to farm- it's because this space is necessary for our survival. This makes me think of some of our BIPOC ancestors and the things they may have had to learn as maroons/cimarrones, immigrants and refugees in order to survive. The knowledge they had to share amongst themselves and across race and class divisions in order to ensure their survival and futures.


As I've done cross-issue organizing dealing with economic, food, health and environmental justice I've reflected on how the skills and knowledge our ancestors had, especially as it pertains to physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological health and well-being, was wrested from them, commodified and sold back to them at prices no one can afford. Like the price of their and their descendant and descendant's descendants lives.

I am talking about how we all came from ancestors who knew how to feed themselves whether hunting and gathering or farming, they knew how to build their own homes and helped each other build villages, they knew how to take care of their health and also had folks in the village who had specialized knowledge about other levels of health that needed to be taken care of for their whole well-being.

And then colonization and colonialism happened. Industrialization happened. We were intentionally made dependent on so many things. We've forgotten our survival skills or - more truthfully, they were taken from us, purposefully. I've been thinking on this for over a decade, returning over and over to how our communities can be more autonomous in these white supremacist, capitalist (and so on, and so on) systems. I've seen many models from marxism to the communal ways of some of our BIPOC ancestors. And now I try not to romanticize about our ancestors' ways. I leave room for the complexities of elitism, patriarchy and other types of oppression and exploitation that existed. Nevertheless, there are models of collectivism to look to and over the years, I realize how important they are for us.

I also realize now more than ever how important it is that we simultaneously work toward anti-colonial ways of knowing and being. This is multi-layered and involves decolonial perspectives on science, math, history...well, EVERYTHING. It involves healing from the traumas of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. Which also involves healing from our own internalized oppression and all its layers. It involves connecting with our ancestry and dealing with ancestral trauma. It also involves working with collective trauma for our communities and countries and hemispheres.


In short, it requires unlearning just about everything we have been taught. Everything we think we know or have come to value (whether we want to or not) in the western world and all continents affected by ANY colonization efforts. (And let's be clear about how not all efforts are/were European.)

It's interesting how we start out thinking about an issue and then we see how it branches or splinters out into so many issues and after time, we see the roots of the trunk and its branches as we step back time after time to reassess. Many folks take on these leaves and branches as causes, some go for the roots. I think all the work is necessary and should be coordinated and should be Pan-African, Pan-Indigenous, Pan-Asian...etc. And I still believe in cross-issue organizing and always will because we can learn so much from each other by showing up to each other's meetings, protests, and/or homes and other spaces for meals and conversations. See, that's when we get to see the roots of our oppression.

This makes me think about workshops and popular education. I'm hearing there's this movement away from "workshops". I definitely get it. Information should be shared however it can be. But I know for a fact that some of these workshops came from the conversations in peoples' living rooms. Others may be using this platform for more "legitimacy". Which could be argued for or against depending your stance. And still, others may just be doing workshops for workshops' sake- just like meetings. I have seriously sat in organizer meetings to plan meetings. Seriously.

We have to share information in whatever ways are accessible and conferences and workshops aren't always the most accessible (economically, physically, etc.) to everyone. Neither are everyone's living rooms for many reasons. For instance, because these spaces might not be accessible to those in wheelchairs or for those with anxiety or those with chemical sensitivities.

So- diversity of tactics I guess they call it.

Now, I'm reflecting on all this and mostly my place in these movements as I've moved from protest (through writing and in-person) to pushing for policy change to political organizing to specific "healing work" and organizing toward health and healing justice. Not that protest and policy change isn't healing work, folks! Because it is. And it's also important to acknowledge how all of these are interconnected and many folks work across/with all of these strategies, as I have.

I guess I've realized slowly over the years that finding our power meant knowing our history- meant knowing our traditions- meant knowing our medicine- meant finding our power.

Having our traditions suppressed or stripped away from us - there are no words that I can think of that are explicit enough in expressing the impact of this oppression.

Since most of my adult life has been devoted to learning about health and health justice (18 years since my first days of pre-med!) and then stumbling upon it's connection to economic justice and environmental justice and food justice- naturally, I'm at this point where I'm invested in helping our communities connect with liberation healing and their medicine so they can understand their power and be even more prepared to deal with the branches of the tree.

The colonizers knew the power our traditions and medicine held and we should know and understand this, too.

So where do we go from here? We look backward to go forward. We honor those before us and those walking with us today in resistance. We share our tools for not only healing and resistance, but also toward transformation so one day we don't have to continue to resist. We work toward true liberation, and realize it looks different for everyone. Not everyone is trying to burn shit down and overthrow things and some of us don't even realize our complacency (and how we're complicit in the oppression of others) or the need for dismantling of systems. So how do we come together so everyone can be healed and feel liberated? How do we address those whose sense of liberation is rooted in others oppression?

#Questionsthatneedanswers.

I bet the elders could (and would) tell us a thing or two.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Owning Orlando

We are all complicit in what is happening/has happened in Orlando and the numerous other meeting places of "marginalized" folks that have been targeted by law enforcement, disgruntled townspeople, terrorists, etc. The American people need to own Orlando. Own what it's really about. It's about the premises that this country rests upon. It's about the colonizer's legacy: White supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, war-mongering, genocide, etc. (And in saying this, let's acknowledge where the colonizers came from and that it's not just an "American" problem, as a significant portion of the world has been affected by colonization).

Many of us are broken and scarred, healed and healing, wounded healers, victims, perpetrators all at the same time. My questions will always be- what do communities of healing look like and how do we continue co-creating them in the face of trauma and tragedy? What does OUR healing look like when layers upon layers of genocide continue to happen? When our movements are rooted in centuries, millenia of injustice and barbarity. Yes, there is room for the therapy of acknowledging, talking, protesting and I wonder- who among us will co-create circles of healing, join together our healing super powers/ancestral inheritance (whatever they may look like- cooking for our families, energetic and/or or physical healing, going to the capitol, staying at home in bed and healing, reaching out to loved ones, writing articles, poetry, making street art, etc.) and form an even larger healing, liberatory network of folks resisting the narrative that we will always be wounded, marginalized, dependent on the dominant for our liberation (funding-loans, grants, land, health, etc.)

This is what I KNOW: my ancestors did not survive what they did for me to sit around complicit in any of this. It is an affront to all they endured and overcame. People may see my blackness, my queerness, my gender variance, my illness as marginalization but, in reality, those are my superpowers. It's why I connect with medicine making the way I do. Colonization, colonialism...the colonizers, those folks who are commemorated in statues, plaques, money, etc. ...they are the reason my superpowers are seen as weaknesses and reasons to be murdered. But my ancestors knew that people like me had healing powers and that our otherness was sacred. This knowledge is what I try to share with our queer communities (especially our QTIPOC) communities so they know the Truth about who we are and where we come from.

So,
Let's continue to address the ills and legacy of colonization in substantial ways. Let's continue to look at our place, the ways that we perpetuate patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. and what we're doing within our own families and communities to address this. And let's understand what we need to heal individually and collectively when these tragedies happen. How are we healing from historical trauma and present-day tragedy? Who is holding us? How do we need to be held? It is too much to handle alone..."self"-care here is not going to be enough.


We need collective healing and collective liberation.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Liberatory Medicine, QTPOC Healing Histories, and Online Knowledge Shares

**Cross-post from QueerHerbalism blog**


May has been a busy month. I returned from a few weeks in Puerto Rico building with some amazing co-visionaries: Maria Reinat-Pumarejo (Colectivo Ile- Africa en mi piel, Africa en mi ser), a phenomenal organizer and Raul Quinones Rosado (C-Integral), a liberation psychologist. Both do anti-racist trainings with PISAB and also facilitate Latino Challenges Toward Racial Justice workshops. We talked about anti-racism, liberation, colonialism in PR, decolonization, psychology, organizing, health and healing, and so much more. So needed and nourishing! I also got to spend some time with brilliant herbalist, organizer, and author Maria Benedetti of Botanicultura (FINALLY!) We ate and sang and she discussed her new novel, Dolores y Milagros. I also went to Finca FlamboyanT, a queer land project in Sabana Grande. It is a sanctuary, artist retreat and home with so many fruit trees and medicinal plants. Speaking of retreat- I stayed with Michelle of the Nietas de Nono in Patio Taller- another amazing artist retreat space (and space for youth organizing and so much other amazing work) with a beautiful herb garden and fruit trees. Hers is located in Carolina. We shared such insightful conversation about community, organizing, art, herbs, you name it. I also hung out with some created family members who really helped me out when I was living in PR last year. Without them I would not have survived. En serio. I restocked my zines and added some new ones at La Chiwinha, a fair trade ecotienda in Rio Piedras. And last but not least, I revisited Casa Mucaro high in the mountains of Las Marias. This communal land houses musicians, puppeteers, and artists of many persuasions. I stayed there in 2014 and was able to really focus on the Queering Herbalism Encyclopedia and I did a talk for the Sistah Vegan Conference (organized by genius, diversity strategist, scholar and critical theorist Dr. Breeze Harper) "The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter" entitled Transvisibility, Survival and Solidarity which was part of a joint talk “ALL Black Lives Matter: Exposing and Dismantling Transphobia and Heteronormativity in Mainstream Black ‘Conscious’.



Yes! My trip ...no...journey...was as inspiring as it sounds. I am so grateful for the amazing people in my life who are doing such tremendous work. My heart was so full. I was so nourished during my journey this month.

When I returned I began working on two new zines and I put together the Liberatory Medicine Collection which contains the 4 second edition volumes of your decolonial herbal favorites: Queering Herbalism 1, Herbal Freedom School 1 and 2, and the new Partnering with Plants guide. Through this Sunday 5/29 the collection which has a $40 value is $25.

You can purchase here:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/281840666/liberatory-medicine-collection

Partnering with Plants is also only $5 through Sunday 5/29. Use the code: PWP2016. <3
https://www.etsy.com/listing/290061139/partnering-with-plants


You can email me at queeringherbalism@gmail.com for sliding scale discounts on the collection or to barter/trade medicine, knowledge, techy skills, etc, etc...I really need help designing flyers, websites and online courses and on making audio and video courses more accessible to those with different abilities.

In June I will be at the Philly Trans Health Conference sharing on QTPOC healing histories and your purchases will partially go toward making that happen.

So what's this about online knowledge shares? Well, after much ado and some folks asking to be my "students" I decided to finally put together a little something online to see how it goes. A couple prototypes if you will. I won't reveal too much yet but I will say that one accompanies the Partnering with Plants guide and will be 4-6 weeks long and is a mini-program of sorts, while the other online knowledge share is a longer course- a full 3 month program- that explores all the volumes of the Queering Herbalism Encyclopedia. Ok. Cats out the bag. Hold me accountable to rolling these out this summer. Send me some messages and emails letting me know of your interest so I know all this hard work is going to resonate with some of you out there.

Well- I guess that's "it" for now. Be on the lookout this month for the mini-program/online knowledge share. I'm working on the flyer as we "speak". The registration page will be up soon.

Healing and Justice,


Toi

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Not Really Creating Change

So...

Creating Change recently canceled a discussion with ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) officials because of pushback from organizations like Not1More, Familia: the Trans and Queer Liberation Movement, the Transgender Law Center, GetEqual and the TransLatin@ Coalition in Florida. A petition and hashtag (#IceOutOfCC) were created. It has since been shared through social media 2,600 times. It seems just a few days was enough time to put pressure onto the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force that hosts the yearly event.

From the petition page:

Is Creating Change a safe haven for all of the LGBTQ community or isn’t it? 
That’s the question we are left asking when we saw that representatives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement were invited to hold a caucus at the conference. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the agency that oversees the detention centers where 1 in 5 trans detainees will experience sexual assault and is in charge of deporting us to our potential deaths. Our families and community continue to be terrorized, deported, and separated by ICE, just this month ICE raided many homes and deported over 100 Central American children and women.
But right now that same agency is an invited presenter at Creating Change. 
ICE has no place at a conference that, at its basic principle, should be about providing a safe home for all LGBTQ people. 
The National LGBTQ Task Force fails in providing that sanctuary if it provides a platform to the agency that allows the physical and sexual abuse of trans undocumented women inside detention and at the same time refuses to meet with trans undocumented organizers to hear from the most impacted. 
Our families and community face ICE’s terror on a daily basis, we shouldn’t also have to face it at the conference where we come together to create change. 

Please join Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, GetEQUAL, Not1More, the Transgender Law Center, and the TransLatin@ Coalition/Florida in demanding the National LGBTQ Task Force and Creating Change affirm that the conference is a sanctuary for all LGBTQ people by denying ICE entry and a platform and for ICE to instead meet with trans undocumented women and grassroots organizations off-site to discuss how to make real change and end the inhumane detention and deportation of LGBTQ people

Here is the response from the Task Force:

"Sue Hyde here. I am the director of the Creating Change Conference. In early Fall, we received and reviewed a proposal from three ICE officials to convene a caucus for the purpose of engaging attendees about ICE detention policies. As we reviewed the proposal, we perceived that ICE officials would get important and critical feedback and input that might lead to improving policies on detention of LGBTQ people in ICE facilities. Creating Change seemed an important gathering for ICE officials to hear from advocates on these matters. Then came the recent wave of deportation raids. We took action to cancel the session, which was completed today, Monday 1/11/16. I apologize for the original error of accepting the session. We should not have done that. The presence of ICE officials, whether uniformed or not, poses a threat to undocumented attendees at Creating Change. I have heard, loud and clear, that this was a breach of trust and one that I very much regret."

Why they can miss me with all of this

I'm perplexed. They have so much whitesplaining to do...

Unless ICE is planning to completely put an end to deportation and detention centers completely and not just get ideas for how to better detain Queer and LGBT people (of color!)- I'm not really sure why a conversation is necessary. What dialogue is there to be had in a space that's supposed to be safe for the very folks they are hoping to "engage with". Of course they want to "engage" with the immigrant activists at the conference to get some ideas to take back to headquarters. Why this was acceptable is beyond me. This was a huge misstep that deserves some accountability. Someone on one of the discussion forums mentioned they should have a panel on why this happened. I agree. Obviously folks are out of the loop on the realities of immigration and detention and also on what it means to be a safe space for those undocumented folks in our community. This eminds me of the collaboration with police in Austin for QueerBomb and the fallout around that. Just because law enforcement doesn't pose a threat to you as a privileged white person of middle class standing doesn't mean that everyone has that experience. If you are going to say you are a safe space for "The LGBT Community" you have to think about these things. There are no excuses. And saying "Well we've learned from this now" is not enough. You've violated a lot of folks trust. If you had more undocumented immigrants and folks of color in your organization or organizing your conferences, perhaps this debacle would not have happened.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

New Beginnings, Same Old Struggle for Existence

Here I am, sitting in my new place in the DMV (DC/MD/VA) thinking of how I got to this place after all these years. Six months ago I was in Puerto Rico living a life of struggle but trusting that the ancestors would give relief. And they did. I spent the latter part of the spring and most of the summer back in Austin recuperating from all I witnessed and experienced in la isla del encanto. I was disenchanted with many ways that things transpired over in that colony but so appreciative of the friends that were there to help me when I needed them most.

Housing insecurity has been something I have been coping with for the last few years and it is definitely not a big secret that many folks of color, especially queer and disabled folks of color, deal with this frequently. So- now I'm sitting in an apartment in the DMV grateful for shelter though largely disappointed in the management company hopefully is not preying upon low income folks by offering subpar housing to those of us who have no other choice because we don't have the best credit due to our economic insecurity. Our survival is of no consequence to many management companies. We are just a piece of another fat paycheck.

I'm sitting here freezing in my living room where the heat doesn't work and during late summer, the cold air wouldn't circulate. They just had to knock down a part of the wall to fix the piping that was leaking and had the wall rotting. And don't even get me into other aspects of this place. We spent the first month and a half of living here with maintenance in and out of our apartment for repairs that should have been done before we moved in.  Lots of times management companies expect us to appreciate that because at least it is semi-affordable and they accept section 8 and guarantors. These are some of the only apartments that seem to have open doors to us low-income folks, so those of us without many choices must put up with it. I've been in conversations over the past month with different managers and higher ups and I will write about that soon- especially about the issue of my limited ability as a person with chemical sensitivities and an autoimmune disorder and their blatantly misleading residents to believe they are a smoke-free community. Disability injustice. (**update: though management says they sent out a notice to everyone about not smoking in common areas, we didn't receive one in our mailbox and there are no signs to indicate that there are smoke free areas or that this quadrant is smoke-free, which I discussed over a month ago with the manager).

Folks, be careful when you are apartment hunting and you find apartments that seem to be a steal. I will keep you updated on the saga and be looking out for an article on housing justice and the experiences of our community and similar situations in a few media sources.

In other news,

I have been writing a zine entitled Survival and Sustainability as required reading for the Food and Urban Change class at the University of Texas at Austin and I am really loving doing research for new essays. This weekend I am finishing up the last of the essays. One is entitled TransVisibility, Survival and Solidarity and speaks about economic insecurity and food insecurity within Queer and Trans communities. The other is entitled Sankofa, Survival and Sustainability and speaks mostly about the African diaspora, our agricultural legacy and white supremacy within the sustainability movement (especially the food justice movement). It has felt amazing to be writing again after so many months of struggling to survive. My job right now is pretty soul sucking but it is paying the bills and I have shelter which allows me to focus a bit more on writing about the injustices black and brown and QTPOC communities face. Being here so close to the capitol (and cradle of colonialism) just deepens my commitment to voicing the Truth about what we deal with day to day. Finding a job that sustains me here in this astronomically priced place has been sobering. I've been so close to being hired and I can't help but wonder if my trans identity, or my natural hair, or my blackness, or my resume with so many organizing jobs is what keeps me from having a paycheck that actually signifies my true worth. Or is it...here $11 an hour is what they think I'm worth?

I'm working at this job where I get misgendered and called by my birth name all day every day, which is violent. I'm being subjected to air fresheners and toxic cleaners even though I've said I have chemical sensitivities. I sit for sometimes 12 hours a day with no true breaks, though this is against labor laws and I have talked to my supervisor about my limited ability due to my lupus diagnosis. This is America folks. The marginalized have fewer choices every day. I could choose to be housing insecure again. I could choose to only write and do what I believe in...but that would also be choosing to struggle to pay for my life-sustaining medicine and to feed myself food that won't exacerbate my autoimmune disorder, like I had to do in Puerto Rico.

Every day I wonder if there is a better way. If I am doing something wrong. And every day, the answer is still the same...I was born brown and gender non-conforming in a white supremacist, homophobic and transphobic country. My ancestors were the first capital in this capitalistic nation. My marginalized life does not matter and my existence is inconsequential to the running of this country. Audre Lorde said that we were not meant to survive and every day that I had to eat only one meal or lived near a grocery store with food I couldn't afford or a clinic I didn't have access to, I felt her words. Every time I go for a job interview, I know the deal. I know what it means to not be a good "cultural fit" for these non-profits, and NGOs. I know there can only be one token and I'm tired of fighting other trans folks for the few trans jobs where I can be all of me. And they keep encouraging women and QTPOC to apply for these jobs, yet expecting all these years of experience and master's degrees or doctorates, even. It's a joke. They don't really want us. They want the thought of us so they can appear "progressive". They want our voice only if we are saying what they want us to say and if we can get our communities to nod their heads along to their agendas.

Caring about sustainability in the face of not being able to survive or exist- you have to laugh. I have so much more to say. So much more to get off my chest. But, be on the lookout for a few new zines over fall and winter for those words.

And check out Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom Schools. I've got a few new volumes coming out soon.

Healing and Justice,

AGQ


**Update 10/27/15**

I spoke with some folks in management and admin. They came to our apartment and heard us out and promised to fix what needed to be repaired- starting with the AC unit. For the past few weeks they have repaired things little by little as we have had to coordinate schedules. It is unfortunate that we spent the first month dealing with repair after repair but we are glad that management has taken notice and this is being taken seriously. The heat is working (though the vents make a weird noise and my vent is still not fixed) and there are some seriously drafty windows in my room that, I kid you not, make it 10 degrees cooler in my room than the rest of the house. I have two quilts on my bed now to deal with it on the colder nights. We are waiting to hear back on scheduling the last of the repairs (a few not mentioned here) and on the rent situation. We haven't seemed to hear back on the latter, though we were told that the situation would be taken care of. I guess we need to wait for November's statement to confirm that they've kept their word on the decrease. I'll keep you posted. I hope to collect some feedback from a few residents. One of my lyft drives was lamenting about living here when he came to pick me up and my co-worker shook her head when I mentioned that I lived here...we had a long conversation about the experiences of her friends living in this complex.

Once again, a housing justice article has been in the works for a few online media sources!

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Struggle in Paradise

True, transitions are rarely easy. At least in my case, they haven't been. People don't normally associate an island full of sea, sand and sun with the other S- word, struggle. When people think of Puerto Rico, they think- tourism. Salsaing on the sand. Eating fried foods from the kiosks and drinking creamy pina coladas and watching the sunset. Relaxing. Hiking in the rainforest, etc. People (other than Puerto Ricans) rarely think of this little isle (actually an archipelago) of paradise- La Isla de Encanto- as a colony. An actual colony with pseudo-autonomy, political prisoners, a tragic history of quelled resistance, racism, colorism, U.S. dominated commerce affecting everything from agricultural export and imports to the cost of shipping or if a businesses will even ship to you because you live in a " U.S. territory." Hmph. I learned this the hard way. Associated free state?

The struggle for basic needs- like affordable fresh food not from China and other countries thousands of miles away, land to grow said food, a decent education, decent housing- and most of all EMPLOYMENT are so very real. The U.S.' dominance, paternalism (or is it imperialism...), and control under the guise of pseudo-autonomy is much of the reason for the strife here. "Manifest Destiny" has shown itself to be a sentence of poverty for those colonized by the decree.

Many of us know how expensive it is to be poor. Creditors prey upon you, making their money off your struggle. You pay more for interest on your house, credit cards and other loans. You pay more for gas in your neighborhood due to lenders charging more to gas stations because it is a higher risk area. And here in this particular colony, since 90% of food is imported- the cost of shipping is shouldered by the consumer, seriously affecting those living in poverty. With so much being imported, things are really expensive. Folks pay a lot due to monopolies on gas, electricity, water.

There are many who talk negatively about the number of Puerto Ricans on the island receiving public assistance. Those who do, fail to see that a)the percentage is not correct b)systemic causes c) classism. classism. classism. (which is closely tied to colorism/skin color here.)

My Struggle in Paradise

I got here fully aware of many of the circumstances. I knew of the economic struggle and colorism and in just 2 months my awareness deepened. It started when I got sick with the chikungunya virus. Then when I tried to shop for healthy food and when I tried to get holistic medicine and later when I tried to get medicine shipped to me from online since it was difficult to access.  Then there was the inefficient transportation. I heard the U.S. actually tore up the tracks to a train that used to connect major cities all around the island so it could build highways and later, tollroads.

My biggest struggles have been with health issues, access to healthy, affordable food and have housing security-- the struggle of many folks of color, especially queer folks of color. I've been houseless for a few months now, but not without shelter. I didn't expect my economic situation to magically change when I got off the airplane but I guess I expected my connecting with healing and spirituality to ground me through the hardship and make it less of a struggle.  It is true that it has lessened some of the hardship. Constantly I have tried to focus on the fact that I have all I actually need but it never really did feel secure or stable being in someone else's house with so much of life so up in the air.

I came here to live my values and write about the history of this island, connect with my beautiful surroundings and with buena gente but rapidly I became distracted with trying to exist.  Self-doubt, questions of worth, negative self-talk would wrack my brain sometimes. My health  throughout my time here has fluctuated. The virus has come around for a second bout. One day all these light splotches appeared all over my face and my joints hurt really badly on top of my lupus symptoms. It' was extremely hard to reach out and I didn't want to burden folks- because hey, folks think I'm in paradise, right?

I thank the universe and ancestors for my handful of created family who sent me wellness care packages as I struggled with lupus symptoms and heinous viral symptoms. So many times I sat in gratitude with calendula oil on my face, sipping a mixture of papaya and mango leaf tea and wondered how people without herbal knowledge were faring with the virus. A few times I made medicine and  housecalls for those who had been afflicted.

I chose this path. Or did it choose me? I chose to walk the road less traveled. I chose to walk alongside my ancestors. Healing does not always feel good. Sometimes we must bare our wounds, re-open our wounds, constantly before we can be healed and in order to help others to heal.

Exploitation and Resistance

When you don't have much money, you must compromise a lot with your living situations. I was a seriously exploited domestic worker, I lived with mushrooms and black mold growing in our walls, I lived in situations where there were environmental triggers for my lupus symptoms, I lived in a situation with a substance abuser. Why? Because I didn't have a lot of options.

You see, in Puerto Rico there are two faces. One face is the one that the ricos and tourists get to see. They have money and can afford decent housing and a car/rental car and to shop at the expensive grocery stores and see the sights of the island yet close their eyes to the struggle. Sometimes they stay around in beach towns and flip and rent out houses or build condos or start businesses that cater to other ex-patriates, tourists and ricos.

The other side of Puerto Rico is the side where folks are seriously struggling to survive. They live in neighborhoods with lots of stray animals, there is no transportation, maybe there is crime on their block, and existence is just hard. People work two and three jobs, share food, and rely heavily on family and friends for support through the hardship. I didn't have a lot of friends in Puerto Rico so I was vulnerable to those who seek to exploit volunteers and WOOFers (farm volunteers) and interns. Many times I got different prices or quoted higher rent because I'm not from here and they thought I was just another rich tourist from the States.

At some point I had no choice but to start standing in my power and not letting exploitation happen. During one housing exchange, when I was suffering through emotional violence and exploitation from a person not even from the island, my ancestors spoke up loud and clear. They said that if I continued to let people walk on me, that I was letting those people walk on their legacy. That changed something in me. I began to see that in trying to be my authentic self and my values, that it was about more than just me. It was also about the integrity and struggle of all those before me. If I lived in fear and let myself be exploited, I wasn't respecting all the courage and resistance of  my ancestors and predecessors. So from that day, I stood up for myself in ways I never had before. I found my voice in the most triggering and traumatic of situations. I left situations that were unhealthy. I left situations where energy was seriously imbalanced or where I felt that the person was not authentic or true to themselves or the community. I also learned that I couldn't hold that against some folks, because they really weren't aware of what community actually is or what a collective looks like or what co-healing looks like. The colonial mentality is really real. Our minds start to be colonized at really early on and actual decolonization doesn't just happen from going to a workshop or hanging out with anti-authoritarins and anarchists or anti-oppression organizers. It takes an actual shift in consciousness, an internal shift and collective action.

Survival

In the last 7 months I have had to be more creative than I have ever been to survive, whether to secure housing, food or my life sustaining medicine.  I began to realize that some folks will never understand the struggle. Some folks will never understand what it's like to not know if you will have a meal one day. They'll never understand what it's like to not know where your next meal is coming from or where you will find shelter tomorrow or next week. Some will never know what it's like to not know if you will have your life sustaining medication.  They will pass judgement on how and why you are where you are at as if  it is your fault or you deserve it. Why? Because we live in a meritocracy. Here you work hard and you get what you deserve, right? But my story tells otherwise. If I was a white (cisgender) male with my same qualifications- education and experience, I would have a lucrative position at a non-profit or I'd have my own business with financial backing. Instead, because I am a brown, gender non-conforming person who lives life authentically and doesn't f*ck people over to survive, I am in a precarious situation. Check out these links to see how trans folks of color like me are experiencing economic justice:

http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/11393
http://transequality.org/issues/racial-economic-justice
http://www.outreachcenterav.org/injustice-at-every-turn.html
http://srlp.org/resources/flow-chart-disproportionate-poverty/

I have such gratitude for those friends who rescued me from some intense situations, housing me, sharing meals with me and being of emotional support. Ya'll were key to my survival and your support has meant life for me in some life or death situations. At a time when we were all struggling to survive, ya'll came through and I appreciate you.  I realized early on that in a colony such as this, when you don't have money to secure your situation, you need family or friends to survive. Ya'll were my created family. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Afrovisionary Economic Justice 


As an act of survival and resistance in the face of our capitalist economy built on the currency of black and brown, queer, trans and disabled bodies, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Instead of continuing to be chronically underemployed due to circumstances beyond my control (being brown, visibly genderqueer, and chronically ill), I decided to create my own (community-supported) job using my skills, knowledge and experience. I call this the Afrovisionary position. In my new job I create new writings, skillshares and workshops for contributors and communities. The first campaign raises 6 month's salary.

It took a while to post the campaign for a number of reasons. One, some people close to me were also starting fundraisers for survival and I wanted to wait until they were close to their goals. Yea. I know that is really buying into the scarcity model. But I do feel like folks think "Well I gave this much to so and so, so that's enough..." I wanted to avoid that. Also, I dealt with major issues around self-worth and being vulnerable to so many by voicing my struggle and asking for monetary help. So many of my queer friends of color are struggling, too. But I knew I had to be courageous and try. There was no other choice.

Besides, this community-supported salary is a healing affirmation that my life and work matter. My voice is important. My work is important. I am important. And my inheritance is more than these carrots they dangle in front of us hoping we will assimilate. It is more than broken promises for an American dream always on credit that I could never qualify for or afford,. My inheritance is more than false notions of survival from a society composed of multiple systems with no intention on helping me, or folks like me, to ever to thrive.

The Afrovisionary Economic Justice campaign is at:



Please, if you are able, contribute to my act of resistance to a capitalistic, transphobic, ableist society that invisibilizes QTPOC and devalues our knowledgebase, work, and lives.

And please share widely with your communities.

Yours in Truth,  Power and Healing

Toi
Afro-Genderqueer/
Afrovisionary


Check out my short film, Survivin', that was created at the QWOCMAP Film and Freedom Academy

Survivin' cinepoem:
https://vimeo.com/channels/414698/page:2

Click below to check out what I was up to in Puerto Rico:

Queering Herbalism 2

Resistencia: Sangre - Puerto Rico video
https://vimeo.com/97003740