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.
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:
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.
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
Check out my short film, Survivin', that was created at the QWOCMAP Film and Freedom Academy
Click below to check out what I was up to in Puerto Rico:
Queering Herbalism 2
Resistencia: Sangre - Puerto Rico video