My first interview for this project was with Tere Almaguer, a long-time organizer with PODER, an herbalist, and a danzante Mexica. As people of color and immigrant communities living in a city in the heart of empire, there are so many battles to be fought: against the racist social control of the police, against the evictions and displacement, against the revanchist gentrification that tries to remake our communities as playground for the rich after decades of disinvestment. But the struggles are long. In this particular land, the struggle of native people has been going on for over 240 years. For us as descendants of the mezcla, of the Latinx diaspora, the struggles are external and internal, oppressions often within ourselves. For the struggle to be resilient for that long haul, we must care for ourselves, healing our bodies and minds and communities. Different from technocratic futurism, a Latinx futurism would embrace the technologies and ancestral knowledges that will allow for our future resilience. Tere has been part of the Ancestral Apothecary cohort of people of color reclaiming herbalism and other traditional practices. In our interviews, she talked of the elderberry growing at Hummingbird Farm, and other immune-boosting plant medicines, so needed in these times when our systems are facing the onslaught of diseases, toxins and infections unleashed by capitalist exploitation. I had not intended this series to have portraits of real people, but as I worked on the interviews, I could see their expressions as portraits of our possible futures. I borrowed from a couple of photos of Tere, one holding a chamomile bunch from Hummingbird Farm, and another wearing a mask at a social distancing car protest demanding homes for our unhoused neighbors. The sky is adapted from a drawing by Linda Schele of Ixchel, Mayan goddess of healing and midwifery, whose inscriptions look suspiciously like Tere’s cat glasses.
Futuros Fugaces was a way to explore themes and relationships that have concerned me for a long time: what it means to reclaim ancestral knowledge, how we re-imagine the future, and what this looks like in the particular of the Mission/Excelsior Latinx community I’ve worked with for the last 30 years. Thanks to the SF Arts Commission for funding my first Individual Artist Grant.
In imagining a Latinx futurism, the project took me in unexpected directions, beyond a more literal extrapolation of futurism, to a more mythical layering of Mesoamerican imagery as a way to connect past and future cosmic time. The emergent utopias of our communities of color will not be sterile or sanitized; they will contain hints of the dystopias we’re already living through, and they will contain the messiness and contradictions of our cultures, a collage of rasquachismo, rooted in a reclamation of ancestral traditions and collective memory to urban land struggles and queer ecologies. As I thought of a Latinx futurism, the cyclical nature of Mesoamerican time, cyclical, perhaps helical, expanding outward but always returning. Or perhaps it is a simultaneity of times, layered in parallel existences informing the present, accessible through ritual and ceremony. Mesoamerican time gave me a layering of myth and history and contemporary cultures and utopian visions. Utopia has to coexist with the present, accessible through our cultural practices and our arts, to inform our actions. Glimpses or shadows of that utopia found their way into these images.
The images were created in pencil, scanned to create the line drawing, then watercolored and scanned again, and additional colors and backgrounds applied digitally in Photoshop. They were printed as giclée digital fine art reproductions at East Bay Giclée in North Oakland.