I spent part of this past week in Green River, Utah as a guest of Epicenter whose mission statement reads “Epicenter stewards creative initiatives that honor the past, strengthen the present, and build the future that we envision alongside our community”. My engagement with Epicenter involved spending time with an extended Mexican family that moved to Green River in 2011 and who run a food truck with the best Mexican food in southern Utah. The family’s journey to Green River took a circuitous route. Upon leaving Veracruz, Mexico in 1992 the family first settled in Compton, California just in time for the Rodney King riots. Carlos Cruz, the patriarch of the family, works as a long distance trucker and was familiar with Green River from his trips between Compton and Colorado. Although life in Compton was challenging the kids of Carlos and Obdulia were reluctant to move to this little town in southern Utah but having been there now for 11 years they’ve grown to like it and call it home.
I was invited to do an installation on their building where the food truck is parked. However, when I went to meet the family in early March 2022 Obdulia was visiting a sick family member in California. So I met with Obdulia’s daughter, Jessenia who shared with me family photos from 30 years back and they became the source material for the installation at their food truck stand.
So the next time you’re cruising I-70 between Moab + Richfield stop by to say hey and get some good food. And tell them I sent you!
On June 28, 1865, President Andrew Johnson had directed every Indian Agent in the Southwest to conduct a survey to determine persons holding Native American captives as slaves, although they were not at this time asked to free Indian slaves. When Lafe submitted his list of Indian captives to Colorado Governor John Evan on July 17, 1865, he recorded over 160 names in Costilla and Conejos Counties. His full transmittal letter reads as follows:
In the company of E.R. Harris, U.S. Marshal, I called upon all those persons that hold Indian captives in Costilla and Conejos Counties and interrogated the Indians themselves, and their replies to my inquiries, you will please find in the accompanying lists which embrace within my knowledge every Indian Captive in these two counties, and to the credit of the citizens here I would add, that they all manifested a prompt willingness on their part to give up said Captives, whenever called upon to do so, and in view of the facts, I would most respectfully recommend, that all the Navajo Captives here be returned to their Reservation in New Mexico. Also the few Ute Indians residing in private families here, it is generally understood that they are there with the consent of their parents or friends, and enjoy the full privilege of returning to their people whenever they have the inclination or disposition to do so. Very many of these Ute children are orphans, are therefore homeless and perhaps under these circumstances, their condition would not be so much benefited by your order. Yet if your order is imperative, and you are instructing me to have them all removed, I will promptly do so.
I have notified all the people here, that in the future, no more Captives are to be purchased or sold as I shall immediately arrest both parties caught in the transaction. This step, I think, will at once put an end to this most barbaric and inhuman practice, which has been in existence with the Mexicans for generations.
There are captives here who know not their own parents; nor can be speak their mother tongue, and who recognize no (sic) one but those who rescued them from the Merciless (sic) Captors. What are we to do with these? I would here add that I have not incorporated in the accompanying lists the large number of Captives that have legally married in the two Counties.
I shall wait for further orders from you in regard to their removal. Please also instruct me what course I shall pursue in the premisis (sic) in regard to those who are not willing to return to their people.
A number of well-known men in the San Luis Valley were on Lafe’s list of slave owners, and Kit Carson was said to have three such captives.
Governor Evans promptly forwarded Lafe’s July 17list of captives to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington with the good suggestion (Probably influenced by Lafe’s transmittal letter) that those “slaves” who did not want to return home not be forced to leave their adopted families, and he considered the project closed. Governor Evans, however, was not aware of one major problem with Lafe’s list – that it did not include any of the Indian children living on Lafe’s home or living with other families in the Town of Conejos. Lafe would later submit a second list that would include himself and other Conejos residents that were slaveholders.
The Life & Times of Lafayette Head by Cynthia Becker and P. David Smith, Pages 190-191.
Millions of Indigenous people lived in North America before European colonial powers invaded. Along with an insatiable desire for free labor to cut sugarcane and to mine gold in the Caribbean and later to mine silver in New Spain (Mexico), Europeans brought a system of slavery that significantly differed from the system of enslavement practiced by Native nations which both pre and postdated African slavery. European concepts of bondage transformed the way Native nations interacted with each other, resulted in the enslavement and death of millions of Indigenous people, and sparked widespread resistance by Native nations in North and South America against colonizing powers (primarily Portugal, France, Britain, the Netherlands and Spain).
Nestled at the foot of Mount Blana, a mountain sacred to local tribes and one of four Sacred Mountains to the Diné (Navajo), Fort Garland was constructed by the U.S. Army in July 1858 to protect settlers from tribes whose land the settlers took. The fort was abandoned in 1883 after confining the tribes defending their land to reservations in Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
Wanting to engage the local community in difficult conversations about Native enslavement in the San Luis Valley Fort Garland Museum held a series of Zoom conversations encouraging participants to share family stories and photos of distant enslaved family members. One Latino participant shared how DNA testing is changing awareness of Native ancestry for many people in the valley. Inspired by an invitation from Fort Garland Museum to install work related to Native enslavement in the San Luis Valley I used this opportunity to begin learning more of this obscured history. As someone who has spent the past 34 years living and working with with the Diné on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona and as an African-American this history intrigues me. Many Diné friends shared stories with me over the years of family oral histories that involve distant relatives being captured in battle with other tribes and being held captive. Learning of Native enslavement wasn’t new information for me. However, the motivations, extent and consequences of it were.
Thank you Drew Ludwig, Esther Belin, Ronald Rael, Estevan Rael – Galvez, Eric Carpio, Dawn DiPrince, Delia Charley, the Fort Garland Museum staff, Richard Saxton and the good people of M12 for helping to make this work possible. It takes a village to prevent truth decay.
Unsilenced is part of the Landlines Initiative organized by M12 STUDIO. Since 2018, the Landlines Initiative has connected new art installations and cultural work throughout Colorado’s rural San Luis Valley. This work is supported by awards from Colorado’s Arts and Society, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The first image is a portrait of 2 shrubs that were scorched recently in a brush fire near my home. Scientific models project more fires nationwide (worldwide actually), as temperatures increase creating more kindling for big fires.
On April 14, 2020, a Huffington Post headline read, “Navajo Nation Reports More Coronavirus Cases per Capita Than All but 2 U.S. States: Only New York and New Jersey Have More Confirmed Infections per 100,000 people.” The last point is key, because testing on the Navajo Nation has not been as robust as for New York and New Jersey. Sadly, the rate of infection for the Navajo Nation will continue to increase, as will the mortality rate.
In light of the emergency on the Navajo Nation, several mutual-aid, grassroots organizations have formed to get supplies of food, water, personal hygiene items, and firewood to elders living remotely and to provide hand-washing stations for unsheltered relatives in Kinłani (Flagstaff, AZ). Though the reservation is rich in natural resources that have been and continue to be exploited (including coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, and water in aquifers), roughly 25 percent of the 180,000 inhabitants are without running water and another 20 percent are without electricity.
This poster is designed to inform the community of the public-health strategy to provide optimal health during this time and to support the work of Navajo Hopi Solidarity and Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual Aid. Additionally, this Diné COVID PSA is a collaboration with Shi Buddy, who provided the poster’s text, and grass dancer Ryan Pinto, who is pictured on the poster and who collaborated on the photograph’s production. Diné COVID PSA is part of a larger collaborative project that is currently underway with poets and visual artists—to drop soon.
Shout-out to Art Journal Open for the opportunity to spread the word and to all the people providing essential work during this time. Thank you. We see you and appreciate you.
My friend sent a message saying “…We have to go tonight man; the Guaraní put out a call for support. The police will be coming at 6 a.m. to remove them from their land. They heard the sound of chain saws cutting down trees earlier in the day and occupied the threatened land.”
A November 28, 2017 article in The Guardian noted “The Guaraní people of Jaraguá are squeezed into the smallest parcel of indigenous land in Brazil, two tiny villages, Tekoá Pyau and Tekoá Ytu, in the far north of Latin America’s largest city, São Paulo. About 700 people live in tiny dirt-floor houses on an area the size of four football fields.” The land under seize was still being negotiated with the State; however, developers jumped the gun and began clearing the land to build apartments.
Guided by the full moon of March 9th our band of activist accomplices arrived at Jaraguá around 1:30 a.m. There were campfires of non Guaraní supporters as we approached the main house on the land under seize. Some people slept as others talked + played music around the fires. The house buzzed with activity as young Guaraní warriors pulverized charcoal to mix with water to paint their bodies.
After some time my crew summoned me from the house saying “…Okay man. It’s time to correct the billboard.”
The billboard read “Your Future Apartment is Here.” The midnight rebels responded with a poignant meditation for the land developers “Sell Your Memories”.
With helicopters and drones overhead and 2 battalions of armed police on the ground Guaraní warriors approached the perimeter of the property to confront agents of the settler state at dawn. Males approached the gate first followed by females who took a position ahead of the men.
With arms interlinked, songs were sung accompanied by a slow rocking back and forth movement. The 6 a.m. deadline came as State surveillance intensified. Guaraní leaders were blessed with tobacco smoke and speeches were made. Ultimately it was decided several hours later to not jeopardize the wellbeing of children and elders. Rather than continuing to occupy the contested land members of the tribe created an encampment in front of the gate blocking developers from entering.
A week later the blockade remains. A luta continua (the struggle continues).
March 17, 2020 update: The Guaraní have halted their occupation as a public health measure in light of the Coronavirus threat.
“Lá vem a força, lá vem a magia
Que me incendeia o corpo de alegria
Lá vem a santa maldita euforia
Que me alucina, me joga e me rodopia
Lá vem o canto, o berro de fera
Lá vem a voz de qualquer primavera
Lá vem a unha rasgando a garganta
A fome, a fúria, o sangue que já se levanta.”
“Here comes the strength, here comes the magic
That sets my body on fire with joy
Here comes the damn euphoria
That hallucinates me, throws me and twirls me
Here comes the song, the beast scream
Here comes the voice of any spring
Here comes the nail tearing the throat
Hunger, fury, blood that already rises.”
from the song “Raça” by Milton Nascimento
In 2017 the Guardian newspaper described the open drug market in central São Paulo known as Cracolândia as follows…
“The reader who has already watched the American television series The Wire may be able to imagine Cracolândia as the “Hamsterdam” – a block of vacant blocks where the Baltimore police, in an attempt to reduce street crime, created a “free zone” for drug dealers and addicts.
But there are two important differences. First of all, Cracolândia is not on vacant land, but in a busy and active center. The area is undergoing a gentrification process and there is an ambitious revitalization plan for 2018, which includes the construction of 1200 new apartments.
The second difference is that this situation, with the shamelessness of drugs in plain sight, has been a permanent “attraction” in downtown São Paulo for more than two decades.
Since the inhalation and highly addictive version of cocaine came to the city market in the 1990s, city governments have successively tried to eliminate Cracolândia, mostly through police repression, and have always failed.”
There are governmental organizations, NGOs and groups of concerned citizens working to help addicted people enter rehab, job training programs and finding ways to bring light to Cracolândia. One such group of people is Pagode na Lata which has been going to Cracolândia weekly since December 2019 bringing musical healing to the people. Various members of the group have been engaged with social projects there since 2012. Per their Instagram page “Pagode organized in Cracolândia da Luz, right in the flow, promoting harm reduction and the right to madness.” I was invited to join them there this week by a friend, activist and fellow street artist, Raul Zito. He shared with me “…I always become unhappy thinking about the situation in Cracolândia but we are trying something that comes from a place of love. All of the songs we sing are about love because the people there have been unloved for too much time.”
Though born a boy Nomi knew as a child she was a girl. Many of her childhood days were spent trying on her mom’s clothes until her dad caught her one day in the mid 80s. Distraught, he sent Nomi to boxing school hoping this would make her more masculine not fully realizing how this skill set would benefit her years later as a trans woman in La Habana.
Cuba is changing. Shortly after the revolution in 1959 the Castro regime rounded up gay men through the 1970s and imprisoned them or sent them to reeducation camps. Homosexuality was seen as being counterrevolutionary and inconsistent with the hyper-masculine ideals of the new government.
Pre-revolutionary magazine covers with stereotypical women of color misrepresentations.
Castro is quoted saying in 1965 “We would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider a homosexual a true revolutionary, a true communist militant.” In 2010, Castro admitted responsibility for the injustices suffered by LGBTQ people after the revolution, telling the Mexican newspaper La Jornada: “If someone is responsible, it’s me.”
Now under the guidance of President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, director of the state-run National Centre for Sex Education (Cenesex) the country’s constitution bans “any form of discrimination harmful to human dignity” and healthcare and visibility has improved. La Habana has gay clubs, bars and has an annual Gay Pride parade.
Initially in 2008 gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy became available free of charge under Cuba’s national healthcare system. Now many in the trans community report having to pay for hormone therapy. Gender reassignment surgery may occur after a 2 year period trial living as the opposite sex while on hormone therapy. The island has a comprehensive approach to healthcare when it comes to HIV; condoms are distributed, sex education has improved vastly and access to antiretroviral drugs has increased. (Of note, many of the trans women I photographed recently in La Habana admitted being HIV positive.) In 2013, Cuban law banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and in recent years, calls have increased to legalize same-sex marriage.
However, many members of the LGBTQ community remain estranged from their families and as happens the world over turn to one another for love, support, fashion tips and community.
Pocahanta applying Leo’s lipstick.
Pocahanta + Rachael.
Nomi sharing a moment with Rachael.
Thank you to the girls who shared a moment of their realities with me. A special shout out goes to friend and photographer Titus Heagins who invited me to join him on this trip and for providing access to this community.