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My Unstructured Structure and the Meadow of Flowers

This is the final reflection written for the University of Vermont course, “Writing Across Disciplines”, taught in spring 2020 by Dr. Caitlin B. Morgan. The essay was written in May 2020–Thus, when it says, “this semester”, “now”, etc., it refers to January-May 2020.

In the start of the semester, I wrote that I would focus my efforts on writing a piece centered on a food systems story for my Writing Across Disciplines course. Moreover, I stated that I would allocate time for daily writing. Now in the future (May 2020), which, like Luis Rafael Sánchez says, “always comes dressed as the present”, I can say that I have not followed my plan thoroughly. I wrote the food systems piece, but it has yet to become what I want it to be. I allocated time for work, but found myself often not writing on such times. Nevertheless, I have written what I wanted or what I was assigned to write. In this present-future I can say that my structure is an unstructured one, and it works. This semester allowed me to be more aware of it. I am now more clear on how to position myself, in order to write what I have to and want write.

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PR-SPAN’s Science Rising Initiative to Bring Visibility and Awareness in Puerto Rico’s Election Cycle

This was originally published in Ciencia Puerto Rico on October 3, 2020. Oprime aquí para leer en español.

Puerto Rico has been immersed in a constant recovery cycle over recent years. Disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and the one we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic, make evident the underlying inequities and social and political dynamics that perpetuate the vulnerability of the Puerto Rican people. Facing the disproportionate effects of climate change and with climate extremes upon us, coupled with the current social and political crisis we are experiencing, it is important that policymaking be centered on scientific evidence and equity. Thus, the Puerto Rico Science Policy Action Network (PR-SPAN), a Ciencia Puerto Rico initiative, has the objective of raising visibility and awareness with science (conCiencia) by bringing often-unnoticed topics to the public discussion in this election cycle in Puerto Rico.

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Visibilidad y conCiencia de cara a las elecciones 2020 en Puerto Rico

Publicado originalmente en Ciencia Puerto Rico, el 3 de octubre de 2020. Click here to read the English version.

Puerto Rico ha estado sumergido en un constante ciclo de recuperación, particularmente durante los últimos tres años. Si algo hacen los desastres, tales como los ocurren luego de huracanes, terremotos y la pandemia actual, es que visibilizan las dinámicas sociales y políticas que perpetúan la vulnerabilidad del pueblo puertorriqueño. De cara a un futuro lleno de incertidumbre por la crisis climática, en conjunto con la crisis sociopolítica que enfrentamos, es importante que las decisiones que se tomen a nivel institucional y gubernamental estén fundamentadas en evidencia. Es por ello que la Red Científica Puertorriqueña para una Política Pública Basada en Evidencia o PR-SPAN (por sus siglas en inglés), iniciativa de Ciencia Puerto Rico, tiene como objetivo crear Visibilidad y conCiencia de cara a las Elecciones 2020 en Puerto Rico a través de iniciativas que traigan a la discusión pública los problemas que enfrentamos y alternativas como plan de acción.

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On Not Suffering (Much) in Graduate School: Part 2

Presiona aquí para leer la versión en español.

I wrote a piece in 2018 about the strategies and habits that helped me go through my terrible first year of graduate school (2017). I started that piece with a verse by Sol Fantin: The problem of time is not that is short, but swift. Time has passed, and what I wrote is still valid. It is important to know why we want a PhD or Masters before throwing ourselves in, to be informed about the place before arriving, and to develop a meaningful relationship with your advisor. Moreover, one should create healthy habits, and build a community of friends and people that support one another. Here I expand on that list with new strategies, and I reinforce some that I mentioned in 2018.

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Para no sufrir (tanto) en la escuela graduada: Parte 2

Click here to read the English version.

En el 2018 escribí una pieza con el fin de compartir estrategias y hábitos que me ayudaron a sobrellevar mi terrible primer año de la escuela graduada (2017). El escrito comienza con un verso de Sol Fantin: El problema del tiempo no es que sea corto, sino fugaz. Luego de dos años, todavía sostengo lo que escribí. Hay que saber para qué se quiere hacer un doctorado o maestría antes de tirarse la maroma. Y por supuesto, es importante conocer el lugar antes de llegar, lograr una buena relación con tu asesora, incorporar hábitos saludables, al igual que crear una comunidad de gente amorosa que se apoye una a las otras. Aquí quiero expandir esa lista con nuevas estrategias y reforzar otras mencionadas en el 2018.

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Politics of Adequacy in Food Access in Cuba

This review was published in Food, Culture, and Society online on June 2020.

Even though Cuba is constricted by the US blockade and embargo, and was severed by the fall of the Soviet Union―on which it depended for trade and imports―the island is regarded as an example of sustainable food systems, of doing a lot with so little. It is also known for its low malnutrition rates, for its food security in general. Nevertheless, that does not mean that people do not face hardship in accessing food.

Medical and sociocultural anthropologist, Dr. Hanna Garth, sheds light on such hardship in her first book, Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal. This is an ethnography rich with thick description about the politics of adequacy as seen through the lens of household food acquisition in Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city. Garth’s book explores/peers closely at the intersection of the social-cultural meanings of food and food access, with particular focus on the hardship people face―within, and at different scales from the household to the community level―to acquire the foods they want. Food in Cuba opens our eyes to the dynamics people go through to acquire the foods they desire and also reflects on the adequacy of a food system to keep its people fed.

Garth’s book focuses on the politics of adequacy―the determinants and external forces that shape the environment in which the foods that people find adequate and necessary are available (8). Cuba’s socialist food system, and its level of food security and sovereignty, provides the author the space to understand food access beyond calories, supply chains, and production levels. Food in Cuba is based on almost 10 years of ethnographic research in Santiago. Methodologically, the author lived with 22 households, and interacted with almost 100 individuals through deep hanging out and interviews; she performed participaant observations of people’s food acquisition, meal preparations, and family and community dynamics around food adequacy.

 Each chapter of Food in Cuba reflects how the politics of adequacy shape the spaces navigated by Santiagueros to acquire the foods they desire. Their daily struggles show glimpses into how a shifting food system and a sociopolitical reality impact their livelihoods. Garth’s detailed descriptions and analyses of food acquisition allow the reader to challenge their understanding of food security and sovereignty.  

Chapter 1 uncovers Santiagueros daily struggle―la lucha―to acquire food, and how social characteristics interplay in the degree of lucha that people go through. In that chapter, Garth also discusses how social stratification in Cuba is reflected in the struggle people face to prepare a decent meal. In chapter 2, she further elaborates how that social stratification, and its relation with people’s cubanidad, was crafted through three periods of change: Cuba’s independence from Spain, the reforms that came with the revolution, and the Special Period after the fall of the Soviet Union. Chapter 2 shows how social memory, food nostalgia, and systemic change generate a set of dynamics where “[the] social meanings of foods, new and old, are constantly renegotiated (…)” (46).

Chapters 3 and 4 explain how much of the burden (and emotional dilemmas) of food acquisition fall on women, and the degree to which social networks and capital revolve around social stratification and power dynamics within a system that is not so horizontal. Finally, chapter 5 focuses on the myriad ways food acquisition―and the adequacy of Cuba’s provision system―takes a toll on individuals’ wellbeing.

Food in Cuba lets us know that “[f]ood is not simply food, but a reflection of identity, filled with emotions that color experiences of the changes in the food system (…)” (31). Hanna Garth’s focus on people’s food acquisition clarifies the nuances of food security and food sovereignty. Ultimately, Garth argues that despite the sociopolitical goals of the Cuban state, the attempts to create a ‘horizontal’ system, the lived reality is quite different. Socioeconomic, cultural, and racial characteristics play an important role in, not only food acquisition, but also on people’s wellbeing. This wellbeing is also impacted by not achieving a decent meal; the meal that reflects a cultural heritage and tradition: cubanidad. As such, “[s]truggling for a decent meal is a way of struggling for cubanidad” (160).

Food in Cuba: the pursuit of a decent meal
by Hanna Garth, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2020, 214 pp., ISBN: 978-1-5036-0462-9

Photo credit: Luis Alexis Rodríguez Cruz, 2018 – Photo was taken in Baracoa, Cuba

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Puerto Rico’s Food Sovereingty

This is my translation of my recent column in Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día, published on March 19, 2020.

Puerto Rican farmers and fisherfolks, beyond safeguarding our natural and agricultural resources, are key agents in strengthening our food security. Sadly, they have not been taken into account during the emergency we are going through. The COVID-19 pandemic should increase our awareness of our vulnerable island food security, and drive us to actualize actions that have a positive impact on our food system.

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Soberanía alimentaria en tiempos de coronavirus

Read the English version here. | Esta columna fue publicada en El Nuevo Dia, el 19 de marzo de 2020. La puedes acceder aquí.

Nuestros agricultores y pescadores, más allá de ser agentes que pueden salvaguardar nuestros recursos naturales y agrícolas, son claves para fortalecer nuestra seguridad alimentaria. Lamentablemente, han pasado desapercibidos durante la emergencia que estamos atravesando en Puerto Rico, debido al coronavirus que causa COVID-19. La pandemia por la que estamos atravesando nos debe hacer conscientes de nuestra precaria seguridad alimentaria y motivarnos a tomar acciones contundentes en pro de nuestro sistema agroalimentario.

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Una crónica que se escribió desde el más acá

            En su reciente crónica, Entre la bicha y la pared (1) (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2019), la antropóloga y escritora puertorriqueña, Rima Brusi, expresa que escribir es una forma de plantarse. La autora, como mucha gente puertorriqueña, lleva varios años en un vaivén, el cual ha provocado que su corazón se comporte como si estuviera a punto de regresar (41). El libro tiene 14 partes (¿episodios? ¿capítulos?) que nos sirven para construir―de alguna manera―los ojos para ver a Puerto Rico desde la distancia y para mirar la distancia desde unos ojos que añoran ver un cayito en La Parguera. Entre la bicha y la pared es un tren que nos hace recorrer espacios incómodos, donde las estructuras andan desmoronándose; es un tren en cuyas estaciones se (des)montan Demonios, “Magestades” blancas, Vándalos bilingües y otros seres que nos hacen enfrentar la realidad del viaje en el que andamos.

Índice de Entre la bicha y la pared de Rima Brusi (2019)
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Una novela que nos nombra

Una amiga me dijo que nuestra generación–millenials, supongo–le pone nombres de humanos a sus mascotas. No sé qué es un nombre de humano. Mi perro, bendito, que en paz descanse, se llamaba Bruno. Ese nombre (¿de humano?) no apareció en las listas que compartía la protagonista de la novela Nombres y animales (Ed. Periférica, 2014), de la escritora y cantautora dominicana, Rita Indiana.

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