the philosophactivist

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 $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,


**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.


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.

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


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

Survivin' cinepoem:

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

Queering Herbalism 2

Resistencia: Sangre - Puerto Rico video