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“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.
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.
July 16, 1945 was an auspicious day in the history of humankind and the planet as the US Army’s Manhattan Project detonated Trinity, the first atomic bomb, in Jornada del Muerto, NM. (“Jornada del Muerto” fittingly translates as “Journey of the Dead Man” or “Working Day of the Dead.”) July 16 is also the day of one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history with the Church Rock, NM uranium tailings spill in 1979 on the Navajo nation (occurring 5 months after the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island).
An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Navajo lands. Sheep in the wash keeled over and died as did crops along the riverbank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.
Larry King, a Church Rock resident who was an underground surveyor at the Church Rock Uranium mine at the time the dam failed in 1979, speaks to a group of anti-uranium activists on the 40th anniversary of the spill, July 16, 1979. Activists were present from Japan and across the U.S.
Activist + community organizer, Leona Morgan, of Nuclear Issues Study Group, Diné No Nukes and the Radiation Monitoring Project spoke at the Church Rock 40th Anniversary commemoration. She noted “The Church Rock Chapter of the Navajo Nation passed a resolution in July 2018 opposing the storage and transport of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power reactors across the country through the local community along the railroad track. There are two proposals for nuclear waste storage of irradiated fuel from power reactors which are going through the neighborhood process as part of the application for a license from the United States nuclear regulatory commission. The Navajo nation currently has a ban on transportation of radioactive materials unless it’s for cleanup of legacy waste from uranium mining or milling for medical purposes. However, the Navajo nation‘s jurisdiction does not extend to state and federal roads and railways. Still there is a need for protection from further contamination of radioactive materials within the homeland of Diné peoples.”
In an effort to end WWII and to beat the Soviets in developing a hydrogen bomb uranium mining under the Manhattan Project began on Navajo and Lakota lands in 1944. Two years later management of the program was transferred to the US Atomic Energy Commission. The Navajo nation provided the bulk of the country’s uranium ore for our nuclear arsenal until uranium prices dropped in the mid 80s and is largely responsible for our winning the Cold War.
However, environmental regulation for mining the ore was nonexistent in the period prior to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During this time uranium mining endangered thousands of Navajo workers in addition to producing contamination that persists in adversely affecting air + water quality and contaminating Navajo lands with over 500 abandoned, unsealed former mine sites.
Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines and disregarded recommendations to protect miners and mill workers. In 1950 the U.S. Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long-term health effects from radiation poisoning. (This study followed the same violation of human rights protocol as the US Public Health Service study on the long-term effects of syphilis on humans by experimenting on non-consenting African American men in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 – 1972.)
In May 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mils.
“Everybody is afraid of nuclear war. Are they not waging nuclear war when the miners die from cancer from mining the uranium?” John Trudell (Cyndy Begay holding a photo of her dad.)
The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.
By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.
The text reads “Name: Harvey Speck, Age: 87, Previous work: Uranium miner at the Oljato Moonlight Mine 1956 – 1964.”
As high rates of illness began to occur workers were frequently unsuccessful in court cases seeking compensation. In 1990 Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which seeks to make compensation available to persons exposed to fallout from nuclear weapons testing and for living uranium miners, mill workers or their survivors who had worked in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona between January 1, 1947 and December 31, 1971. An amendment to this bill is awaiting Congress after its recess that will expand years of coverage from 1971 to the mid 1990s as well as expanding the regions of the US covered.
Design by Klee Benally of http://www.indigenousaction.org
At the other end of the life spectrum the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is the first prospective epidemiologic study of pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in a uranium-exposed population. The goal of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study (NBCS) is to better understand the relationship between uranium exposures and birth outcomes and early developmental delays on the Navajo Nation. It started in 2014 and has funding through 2024.
The text around JC + Gracie reads “The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles across three states – New Mexico, Utah + Arizona – and is the largest home for indigenous people in the U.S. From 1944 to 1986 hundreds of uranium and milling operations extracted an estimated 400 million tons of uranium ore from Diné (Navajo) lands. These mining + processing operations have left a legacy of potential exposures to uranium waste from abandoned mines/mills, homes and other structures built with mining waste which impacts the drinking water, livestock + humans.”
“As a heavy metal, uranium primarily damages the kidneys + urinary system. While there have been many studies of environmental + occupational exposure to uranium and associated renal effects in adults, there have been very few studies of other adverse health effects. In 2010 the University of New Mexico partnered with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Division of Health to evaluate the association between environmental contaminants + reproductive birth outcomes.”
“This investigation is called the Navajo Birth Cohort Study and will follow children for 7 years from birth to early childhood. Chemical exposure, stress, sleep, diet + their effects on the children’s physical, cognitive + emotional development will be studied.”
“JC with her younger sister, Gracie (who is a NBCS participant). #stopcanyonmine”
Efforts to mine uranium adjacent to the Grand Canyon have accelerated during the Trump administration. The most pressing threat comes from Canyon Mine located closely to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because of the plethora of abandoned mines on the reservation the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on the reservation in 2005.
However, it’s possible still to transport ore from off the reservation across the reservation. Approximately 180 miles of the Canyon Mine haul route would cross the Navajo Nation where trucks hauling ore had 2 separate accidents in 1987.
For more information on these and other uranium related issues at Ground Zero, check:
(DOE map from 2014)
- November 8, 1895 German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovers x-rays.
- 1896 French physicist Henri Becquerel discovers radioactivity.
- 1898 Marie + Pierre Curie discover polonium + radium.
- December 28, 1931 Irene Joliot-Curie reports studying penetrating particles produced by beryllium when bombarded by alpha rays. She believes the particles, which are actually neutrons, to be energetic gamma rays.
- May 1932 British physicist James Chadwick discovers the neutron.
- September 12, 1933 Leo Szilard conceives the idea of using a chain reaction of neutron collisions with atomic nuclei to release energy. He also considers the possibility of using this to make bombs.
- July 4, 1934 Szilard files a patent application describing the use of neutron-induced chain reactions to create explosions and the concept of the critical mass.
- January 29, 1939 Robert Oppenheimer hears about the discovery of fission. Within a few minutes, he realizes that excess neutrons must be emitted, and that it might be possible to build a bomb.
- September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II. The U.S. didn’t send soldiers overseas initially. President Roosevelt declared that America would support the Allies with material, assuming the role of “arsenal of democracy.” The initial interest was in mining vanadium, a heavy metal used to make steel alloys and amour plating for tanks and ships. Byproducts of vanadium milling are carnotite and uranium. Uranium which was initially considered a waste product and was used at this time as a coloring agent for ceramics (ex. Fiestaware).
- April 9, 1940 Germany invades Denmark and Norway.
- May 10, 1940 Germany launches its assault on Western Europe, attacking Holland, Belgium + France.
- June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union.
- September 3, 1941 With PM Winston Churchill’s endorsement, the British Chiefs of Staff agree to begin development of an atomic bomb.
- December 7, 1941 Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. We declare war on them the following day.
- December 11, 1941 The US declares war on Germany and Italy following their declaration of war on the US.
- January 19, 1942 President Roosevelt approves the production of an atomic bomb.
- August 1942 Luke Yazzie reveals to trading post owner Harry Goulding and Vanadium Corporation of America prospector, Denny Viles, the carnotite deposit in Cane Valley that would become the Monument Number 2 Mine located on Yazzie Mesa.
- August 13, 1942 The Manhattan Project is formally established.
- September 19, 1942 Oak Ridge, TN is selected as the site for a uranium processing pilot plant. Construction begins February 18, 1943 and the site is closed off the public April 1, 1943.
- November 1942 VCA obtains the rights to Harry Goulding’s Monument Number 1 site in Monument Valley.
- December 1942M. Sundt Company is appointed contractor to build Los Alamos Laboratory. It opens in April 1943.
- April 20, 1943 A contract is concluded with the University of California to manage Los Alamos, NM. This contract served as the basis for University of California management of both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.
- September 8, 1943 Italy surrenders to Allied forces.
- September 20, 1943 John von Neumann visits Los Alamos, NM and points out the potential for high compression from implosion thus theorizing a method for making an atomic bomb.
- April 1944 IBM calculating equipment arrives at Los Alamos, NM and is used in implosion research.
- June 6, 1944 Allied forces launch the Normandy invasion.
- September 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sign the Hyde Park aide-memoire, pledging to continue researching atomic technology.
- October 27, 1944 Robert Oppenheimer approves plans for a bomb test in Jornada del Muerto valley at the Alamagordo Bombing Range.
- December 22, 1944 First Fat Man bomb assembly is completed.
- February 13, 1945 Dresden, Germany is burned down in an incendiary raid killing 50,000.
- February 19, 1945 Marines land on Iwo Jima, a Japanese observation post for B-29 raids. Over the next two months 6281 Marines are killed and 21,865 are wounded in capturing the island from 20,000 defenders.
- July 16, 1945 As part of the Trinity Test, the first nuclear bomb named “Gadget” is detonated in Alamogordo, NM in the first atomic explosion in history.
- July 26, 1945 President Truman issues the Potsdam Declaration which warns Japan of “prompt and utter destruction” and requires unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces.
- July 29, 1945 The Japanese government rejects the Potsdam surrender demand.
- August 6, 1945 The bomber Enola Gay drops the atomic bomb Little Boy at 8:16:02 Hiroshima time.
- August 9, 1945 Fat Man (2nd atomic bomb) is dropped over Nagasaki at 11:02 Nagasaki time.
- August 14, 1945 Emperor Hirohito orders an Imperial Edict be issued accepting the Potsdam surrender agreement.
- September 2, 1945 Japanese officials sign the formal Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri.
- January 24, 1946 The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission is established.
- July 1, 1946 Testing of nuclear weapons begins at Bikini Atoll in the Marshal Islands.
- August 29, 1949 The Soviet Union explodes its first atomic bomb in Asia. President Truman waits until September 23, 1949 to announce the Soviet atomic bomb.
- June 9, 1950 Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr presents his “Open Letter to the United Nations.” As early as 1944 Bohr had recognized that the creation of atomic weapons would completely change the nature of future warfare. Bohr stressed the free exchange of scientific and technological information as critical to creating the basis for peaceful cooperation between nations and reflected on the hopes + dangers of the Atomic Age.
- January 27, 1951 The U.S. conducts its first nuclear detonation, Operation Ranger Shot Able, at the Nevada Test Site.
- October 28, 1951 While nuclear bombing tests continue in the Marshall Islands the United States conducts the “Baker Shot” at the Nevada Test Site.
- December 20, 1951 The first U.S. nuclear reactor to produce electricity goes critical.
- 1951 The U.S. Public Health Service begins a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long term health effects from radiation poisoning.
- May 1952 The Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mils.” The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.
- October 3, 1952 The U.K. tests its first atomic bomb known as Hurricane.
- November 1, 1952 The U.S. tests its first ever thermonuclear device at Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific which yielded 10 megatons of TNT and was roughly 1000 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima seven years earlier.
- March 17, 1953 The U.S. conducts the “Annie” nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. A wood-framed house was built for the occasion as part of the civil defense study on the effects of a nuclear explosion.
- May 19, 1953 The U.S conducts the “Harry” test. It was the 9th nuclear detonation in the test series at the Nevada Test Site. This test was the most efficient pure fission device ever detonated. Due to an unexpected change in the wind “Harry” caused the highest amount of radioactive fallout of any test in the continental United States contaminating the city of St. George, Utah. The test was later called “Dirty Harry.”
- June 19, 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed by the U.S. for passing atomic secrets to the USSR.
- March 1, 1954 The U.S. conducts the “Bravo” test which is the largest thermonuclear device in history up to that point. The bomb was in a form readily adaptable for delivery by an aircraft and was thus America’s first weaponized hydrogen bomb.
- November 22, 1955 The first megaton-range Soviet Hydrogen bomb is detonated in Kazakhstan.
- 1955 The Navajo nation received $625,000 a year in uranium royalties which provided about 25% of the annual budget. By 1956 the United States was the world’s leading provider of uranium thanks to the Navajo nation. Monument Valley provided nearly 1.4 million tons of uranium ore to the American people. At the same time the Public Health Service recorded the first death of a 48 year old white mining foreman at the Monument Number 2 mine who died of lung cancer.
- October 30, 1961 The Soviet Union detonates Tsar Bomba which is the largest nuclear device in human history. The weapon yielded 57 megatons of TNT which is 4 times larger than any nuclear device tested by the U.S and amounted to all of the explosives used during WWII multiplied by 10.
- October 16, 1962 The Cuban Missile Crisis begins after surveillance photos taken by a routine U-2 flight over Cuba shows Soviet Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles on the island.
- October 10, 1963 The Limited Test Ban Treaty, signed by JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, enter into effect. The LTBT bans all nuclear weapons test above ground, in the atmosphere, under water and in outer space.
- October 16, 1964 China tests its first atomic bomb.
- June 10, 1967 By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.
- June 17, 1967 China tests its first hydrogen bomb.
- July 1, 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is opened for signature. A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty since 1968 with five states being recognized as nuclear-weapons states: the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France + China.
- May 26, 1972S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), both of which were important steps in slowing the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the USSR.
- May 18, 1974 India tests its first “peaceful nuclear device dubbed Smiling Buddha which was the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
- April 7, 1978 President Jimmy Carter cancelled production of a neutron bomb, a thermonuclear weapon designed specifically to release a large portion of its energy as fast neutrons rather than explosive energy.
- March 28, 1979 A partial nuclear meltdown occurs in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. It was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.
- August 16, 1979 An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Diné lands. Sheep in the Rio Puerco wash keeled over and died as did crops along the river bank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.
- April 26, 1986 A catastrophic nuclear accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine under the direct jurisdiction of central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire release large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere which spread over much of western USSR and Europe.
- August 2, 1990 Depleted uranium munitions made from nuclear reactor waste was first deployed on a large scale during the Gulf War. The U.S. military used depleted uranium for tank armor and for some bullets due to its high density helping to penetrate enemy armored vehicles. Within 2 years of their use grotesque birth defects numbers grew – such as babies born with 2 heads, or missing eyes, hands and legs, or babies born with stomachs and brains inside out. Leukemia cancer rates in children up to age 14 years doubled from 1992 to 1999.
- September 23, 1992 The U.S. conducted its last nuclear test, code named “Divider,” at an underground facility in Nevada. It was the last of 1032 nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. since the Trinity Test 47 years earlier.
- May 11, 1998 India detonates its first “weaponized” nuclear bomb. It was the first time India carried out such tests since 1974. The experiments took place without any warning to the international community and there was widespread outrage and concern over the tests.
- May 28, 1998 Pakistan detonates its first nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear tests two weeks earlier. The move provoked worldwide condemnation and fears of a nuclear conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
- October 9, 2006 North Korea detonates its first nuclear bomb.
- March 11, 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident occurs after a severe earthquake off the coast of Japan.
- January 25, 2018 The symbolic Nuclear “Doomsday Clock” moved to 2 minutes away from midnight which is the closest it’s been since the Cold War in 1953 when the U.S. and Soviet Union were testing hydrogen bombs. Scientists behind the report cited a long list of concerning geopolitical developments, many of which come back to Donald Trump, as reason for the move: a halt in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation negotiations with Russia, Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Shortly after the Great Depression newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented by Executive Order a public works program to get US citizens back to work called the New Deal. A program that emerged was called the Works Progress Administration or WPA and one of the communities to benefit from the WPA projects was the high altitude community of La Isla (located in San Luis Valley of southern Colorado). In the mid 1930s a one room school house was constructed for this rural, farming community which was used until 1959.
I was invited by CU University Field School to spend a week this past spring learning the history and hearing stories of people in this cattle ranching and farming community with a large population of people who trace their ancestry back to the Spanish colonialists who passed through the region beginning in the 1500s. I interviewed people who attended the one room school house made of adobe hearing anecdotes of the simplicity of their lives in the 1950s. Family photos were used as reference images in the murals. In talking with former La Isla student Walter Perea he remembered that not many people had cameras back then but his mom had a Brownie camera with which she’d document their lives. He was able to find her camera and a photo of him holding it is included in the fabric collage. He also remembered going to school with a Flintstone lunchbox and while he couldn’t find that I was able to locate a used Flintstone lunchbox from that period at a small antique store in Antonito, CO. An image of this also appears in the fabric mural.
My experience in this community was brief but I was there long enough to begin to get a sense of the interconnectedness of families in the valley and how people supported one another over time to build community. I got to attend a large birthday celebration for a 92 year old matriarch which reinforced for me the value the community placed on family and the wisdom of elders. Like the stories I heard from individuals in the community the birthday celebration was an opportunity for people to reflect on the interconnectedness of their lives. While I often don’t have difficulty leaving a installation spending a couple days watching the fabric mural under different lighting conditions over the course of a day and being mesmerized by the movement of the fabric to the subtle breezes in the morning and evening to the manic movement of the fabric midday as the wind picked up I felt like narratives emerged from the fabric that made this piece hard to leave.
Thank you to CU Field School, Ron Rael, Drew Ludwig for assisting and to the former students of La Isla who shared their stories with me.
This text comes from a recent Facebook post by Cletus Perea… “So Mercy Ann Gallegos And myself decided to have a Mini Class Reunion in our 1st & 2nd grade schoolhouse. This is also the place of The La Isla School Mural Project where some of our ancestors are featured. Mercy was actually raised by the 2 elderly ladies in the picture. Her Grandma Lupita Sanchez, Great Grandma Cirila Valdez And her Mom Berta Ortiz as well as my Dad Juan Perea
Felix Sanchez And my Grampa Estevan Perea.
Then we went to Los Cerritos Cemetery to celebrate our ancestors life and our Blessings.
My cousin Mercy comes from Albuquerque so it was nice catching up.
Mercy, Thank You for your time and an enjoyable morning. ♥️🎶🎵🤠
By the way, that was me on the horse 62 years later. 🤠
Cletus with his cousin, Mercy Ann Gallegos, standing by the photo of himself as a little boy wearing a suit with one of his brothers and his mom, circa 1957.
One of the best memes I saw over the past couple years read “Fuck a wall. America needs to build a big ass mirror to take a look at itself.” I used the opportunity to show work at Blue Sky to look at similarities we share in the Americas rather than what separates us. To this end I used corn as a metaphor for our shared realities. As noted in my artist statement for the show…
“Maize or corn, a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago, is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas and has become a staple food in many parts of the world. However, little of this maize is consumed directly by humans: most is used for corn ethanol, animal feed and other maize products, such as corn starch and corn syrup. Genetically modified maize made up 85% of the maize planted in the United States in 2009. Its ubiquitous presence in unsuspecting food items contributes to the soaring prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
In 1894, two brothers, Dr John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith “WK” Kellogg, were running a sanitarium and health spa in the town of Battle Creek, Michigan. Among the treatments offered at the sanitarium/hospital for various ailments were hot and cold water baths, hydro-therapy with water enemas, electric-current therapy, light therapy using both sunlight and artificial lamps, and a regimen of exercise and massage. Among the more famous of the hospital’s clients through the 1910’s and 1920’s were President Warren G Harding, actor Johnny Weissmuller, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Todd Lincoln.
As Seventh Day Adventists the Kelloggs believed in maintaining the purity of the “body’s temple”, and forbade the use of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. They were also strict vegetarians. Dr. John Kellogg was firmly convinced that sex itself was impure and harmful–and most especially the “solitary vice”, the “self-pollution” of masturbation. Kellogg married, but never consummated the union. Among the treatments Dr. Kellogg proposed for masturbation were piercing the foreskin with silver wires to prevent erections, and using carbolic acid to burn the clitoris so it wouldn’t be touched.
Kellogg convinced himself that eating meats and spicy foods increased the desire for sex, and forbade any of them at his sanitarium. Following the earlier lead of Presbyterian religious fanatic Sylvester Graham, who had invented the whole-wheat graham cracker as part of a diet that would reduce people’s sexual desire and stop them from both copulating and masturbating. Kellogg now attempted to make his own anti-sex food which became the corn flakes we know + love today. (From The Daily Kos 10.23.14.)
Meanwhile, thousands of Central American migrants trudging through Mexico towards the US have regularly been described as either fleeing gang violence or extreme poverty. But another crucial driving factor behind the migrant caravan has been harder to grasp: climate change. Most members of the migrant caravans come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – three countries where corn is a cash crop and devastated by violence, organized crime and systemic corruption, the roots of which can be traced back to the region’s cold war conflicts. Experts say that alongside those factors, climate change in the region is exacerbating – and sometimes causing – a miasma of other problems including crop failures and poverty.
So when one thinks of what it means to be an American – whether it’s indigenous people praying with it’s pollen, religious groups ingesting it to curb sexual desires, people with amputations + blindness from type 2 diabetes or Central Americans pursuing a safer and better life, we have to examine our relationship with corn as a signifier of our shared experience.”
Ryan Pinto performing his chapter to “Messages from the Underworld” titled “Tribe-scendent.”
My Justseeds homie, Thea Gahr holding it down pulling screens for the people.
Shout out to Kingsley for the assistance.
Founding Blue Sky member Chris Rauschenberg rocking his t shirt from the show (who was heard saying under his breath “I went to an art opening and all I got was this lousy t shirt.”)
With my collaborators Ryan Pinto and Jesse Hazelip.
I’d wanted to get this up sooner but I had a heck of a time getting the images + video to upload from the rez. I had to wait until I went to town (Flagstaff) to use a faster service. Anyway, in the spirit of festiveness… Christmas lights in the sheep corral on a cold December night.
Last month I received a letter from Maria Singleton, a woman I met in November in Nogales at a demonstration organized by School of Americas Watch. She identified herself as a member of a humanitarian aid organization based in Ajo, AZ near the U.S., Mexico border.
She wrote “…This last year has been rough for humanitarian aid workers in Ajo with the arrest of Scott Warren and 8 No More Deaths volunteers charged with misdemeanors and fined for leaving water for migrants out on the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. In order to get a permit to enter the wildlife refuge they are requiring people to sign a form that says they will not leave water, socks or first aid items out. These are the exact items that we leave out for the migrants that are passing through this incredibly dangerous part of the desert. This policy started last August and resulted in the charges that our friends with No More Deaths are now facing. “
Maria pointed out that she and her partner own property directly across from the entrance to Cabeza Prieta which abuts the Mexican border. This region has the highest migrant death rate due to the brutality of the desert crossing. Maria offered the walls of their building which is ironically known as “the ice house” as it was the place where ice was stored for the town of Ajo (during its copper mining boom years from the early 1900s through the 1960s). She also noted that there will be a faith based action of civil disobedience August 3 – 6 which will be staged in Cabeza Prieta.
As stated by the Faith Floods the Desert organizers “Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.”
Joined by a small crew of filmmakers and assistants I journeyed to Ajo to begin to understand what’s happening there and to install the message “water is life.” We were welcomed warmly by the Ajo activist community to whom I’d like to recognize for their expressions of shared humanity and for their bravery. Shout out to the world’s finest crew as well – Justin Clifton, Drew Ludwig, Stash Wislocki and Jerrel Singer.
For more information on the impact of this administration’s border policy on humanitarian aid workers
Examples of border patrol activity disrupting humanitarian aid efforts:
More information on the upcoming Faith Floods the Desert action:
This past weekend was spent at the SOAW Border Encuentro in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The U.S. Army School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is located at Fort Benning, Georgia. As stated on Wikipedia “The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching “anti-communist counterinsurgency training,” a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War. In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum.In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.:233 ”
“During the Cold War Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.:17 As the Cold War drew to a close around 1990, United States foreign policy shifted focus from “anti-communism” to the War on Drugs, with narcoguerillas replacing “communists”.:10
“School of the Americas Watch is an advocacy organization founded by former Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois and a small group of supporters in 1990 to protest the training of mainly Latin American military officers, by the United States Department of Defense, at the School of the Americas (SOA). Most notably, SOA Watch conducts a vigil each November at the site of the academy, located on the grounds of Fort Benning, a U.S. Army military base near Columbus, Georgia, in protest over human rights abuses committed by some graduates of the academy or under their leadership, including murders, rapes and torture and contraventions of the Geneva Conventions.”
Since 2016 School of the Americas Watch moved their vigil from Fort Benning, GA to the border wall in Nogales to protest the militarization of the border. As taken from the SOAW website “…SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement working to close the SOA / WHINSEC and similar centers that train state actors such as military, law enforcement and border patrol. We strive to expose, denounce, and end US militarization, oppressive US policies and other forms of state violence in the Americas. We act in solidarity with organizations and movements working for justice and peace throughout the Americas.”
Proceedings began in Tucson with a block printing workshop by fellow Justseeds member Thea Gahr.
My collaborators in creating the image used for the backdrop, Raechel Running and Thea Gahr. (The above 3 photos are by Saiyare Refaei.)
That evening there was a vigil at Eloy Detention Center outside Tucson. Opened in 1994 Eloy Detention Center is a private prison contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement where immigrants from surrounding cities are detained sometimes for years. The center houses both men and women. An investigation by The Arizona Republic in 2016 found the center to have the highest number of deaths in the U.S. There have been 15 deaths since 2003 including 5 suicides. One of the more moving aspects of the vigil was seeing silhouettes of detainees in windows who communicated with demonstrators by turning lights on + off in their cells and by banging on windows. We learned that the price the detainees pay for this communication is a restriction of their privileges such as visitations with family and legal representation.
The time in Nogales included workshops, speeches, music and art. One of the more moving moments included the arrival and participation of a group of activists from Oaxaca who traveled 3 days to participate. Their journey included stopping along the way to meet with and lend solidarity to other immigration grass roots groups.
(The 2 photos above are by Saiyare Refaei.)
Screen printed posters were made at the event and were given away for free. We also printed on t shirts and other pieces of clothing provided by participants.
Thea getting assistance from across the border.
Sweet sage smudge blessing through the border wall with crosses along the bottom of the wall bearing the names of migrants who died over the past year while crossing the Sonoran Desert or in detention.
Crosses with a name of the deceased are raised as people say “presente!” upon hearing the names of those who have perished trying to cross the Sonoran Desert in pursuit of their dreams. An image of hope saying “tear down the walls; build up the people” is in the background.
- An end to US economic, military and political intervention in Latin America
- Demilitarization and divestment of the borders
- An end to the racist systems of oppression that criminalize and kill migrants, refugees and communities of color
- Respect, dignity, justice and the right to self-determination of communities
- An end to Plan Mérida and the Alliance for Prosperity
End of the encuentro but the struggle continues…
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2011
eu amo o brasil!
big shout out to raul zito, photographer and wheat paste artist in sao paulo, brasil. i’ve been following his work on various street art blogs and learned through flickr he’s been following mine as well. here’s an example of his work in sao paulo.
he and i got in touch with one another late 2010 and he offered to get a piece of mine up in sao paulo. the piece isn’t finished yet but here’s what he’s done so far. i absolutely love it. he put me beside magrela mag who did the piece on the second apartment in the first photo (up top). sweet! i love the way jamaal is flying into the mama bird’s mouth, through the basketball hoop while the beautiful, nude woman checks it all out. wicked piece!
stay tuned. he’ll be getting files of his to me soon to paste here. how cool is that?!
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2011
it never fails. whenever i do a big installation, it rains. such was the case last week and this weekend in phoenix. so after a week, stephanie’s photo on the billboard, the collab with breeze, is already starting to come down. one week later. that hurts. steve, julia’s husband and partner in managing the hive, said he’d try to paste her back up. i left some wheat paste with him that had started to turn sour. yum.
meanwhile, i met niba yesterday. he’s a photographer who is based in tucson, i think. it was one of those moments when virtual reality becomes real and you meet someone from your social networking sites. in truth, i thought niba, also known as “dead now” on twitter was a woman. o well. instead, he’s a great guy with 2 beautiful children. here are some of his images from yesterday’s installation. thanks niba!
i mentioned above that raul zito of sao paulo pasted one of my pieces in sao paulo. i returned the favor + pasted one of his images in phoenix. what comes around…
shout out to the british two tone movement
kicking it with breeze + erin gramzinski
July 9, 2017
I don’t often read posts from back in the day when I started pasting especially posts found on my Blogspot site. (I miss that url – http://www.speakingloudandsayingnothing.blogspot.com, aka “yo mama.”) It’s fun seeing my enthusiasm for everything about the art form. In this case it’s especially exciting to read through these posts from early 2011 to reflect on how long I’ve been aware of Zito’s work and to remember that dreams can come true. He’ll be coming to the rez in just under a month. Full circle. Yay!