After about a month and a half on the job, I think it’s time to give a little run down of what I’m doing and how it relates to Latin America and themes discussed on this blog.
Technically, I work at the Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF) in Albuquerque’s North Valley. The farm is unique in that it is a 50 acre non-profit, organic endeavor on city owned Open Space in the heart of a major urban area. In addition to growing food for Albuquerque Public Schools, farmers markets, and local businesses, the farm maintains the Open Space, and provides a wildlife habitat, including migratory birds such as sandhill cranes which are now just beginning to arrive. The farm is worked by approximately 15 Americorps members. I am sort of one of those. There are many complexities and layers to what I actually do, however, and it can get confusing.
Unlike most of RGCF’s Americorps interns, I have an off-site placement. What this means is that I spend most of my working hours not at the RGCF in the North Valley, but rather with the Agri-Cultura Network in the city’s heavily Hispanic and mostly lower income South Valley.
The Agri-Cultura Network is a collaboration of three community based organizations in the South Valley using organic farming as a way to preserve land and water for agriculture and provide viable economic activity while producing healthy food for the broader Albuquerque community. The three organizations include the La Plazita Institue, e-merging communities, and Valle Encantado. Individuals associated with La Plazita seek to leave behind destructive lifestyles, such as gang membership and prison sentences, through the exercise of traditional values, such as growing food, in backyards and on land leased from urban Open Space. e-merging communities is a local indigenous organization that stresses harmonious livelihoods through the practice of backyard gardening in the homes of members of the Red Wolf Band. Finally, Valle Encantado practices sustainable, organic farming in the heart of Albuquerque’s historic Atrisco Land Grant neighborhood. Together, these organizations work to enrich the city’s South Valley and the broader metropolitan area through sustainable agriculture that celebrates the area’s rich cultural and agrarian heritage (thus the hyphen in the name Agri-Cultura).
Agri-Cultura works closely with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which is a Quaker organization dedicated to promoting peace and justice. AFSC won a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in 1947. The Agri-Cultura Network also works with the South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC), which serves Albuquerque’s low income South Valley as a small business incubator by offering affordable office space and a community kitchen. An example of how all this comes together is that on Monday and Tuesday mornings, I help the farmers with each of the three affiliated organizations in their harvesting, in the afternoons I help with the marketing and distribution office work, and on Wednesdays I help wash sometimes as much as 200 pounds of salad in the SVEDC community kitchen, salad which was pooled from each of the three groups and is destined for Albuquerque Public Schools. Through such collaboration, the Network is able to benefit Albuquerque communities by providing training and living wages for growers, as well as healthy food for city schools, restaurants, and markets.
So what does all this have to do with Latin America? In a typical day, I may work with an indigenous immigrant from central Mexico in a backyard plot growing traditional crops such as tomatoes, chiles, and squash, as well as salad mixes, taking note of the traditional, local methods for dealing with pests such as squash bugs (for some, though limited success, plant after the Fourth of July and spread Cottonwood tree ashes around the stalk of the plants). Several hours later, I may work on one of the old Spanish land grants with a farmer who speaks Spanglish and hails from one of the old Nuevo Mexicano families that now has major streets named after them (i.e. Candelaria), and who maintain their acequia water rights, despite politicians’ frequent interest in taking it for more “useful” purposes. Through working with farmers, social workers, and anthropologists in the South Valley, I have been thinking often about how little we Latin Americanists see of Latin America in our own city as we spend our hours in the libraries, cafes, and microbreweries of Academia. This work also points to the utterly ridiculous notion that artificial political boundaries actually demarcate history or our conception of Latin America. LA’s Pico-Union, Chicago’s Pilsen, New York’s Jackson Heights, Miami’s Little Havana, and Albuquerque’s South Valley and Westgate are each as deeply interwoven in the histories and cultures of “Latin America” as any Central or South American village or capital. Sometimes you just need to stick your fingers in the dirt of Land Grant soil or wash chiles in the barrio as Reggaeton blasts out a truck’s speakers to fully appreciate the complexities of boundaries in our world.
More to come…
Just wanted to comment briefly on the Allende suicide. Two important aspects of this, both directly tied to what we could consider an international memory movement, are its ramifications for a national historical narrative and its ties to the broader movement to exhume the victims of state terror and civil war.
On the first point, it is worth pointing out that for many years, conservative historians in Chile have used Allende’s suicide to make an argument against his moral character. Gonzalo Vial, a historian who briefly served as Minister of Education during the Pinochet regime (and, somewhat strangely, later served on the Rettig Commission in the early 1990s), used suicide as a way to periodize history. In his massive national history tome from the early 1980s, Vial wrote in his introduction that Chile’s recent past could effectively be examined as “entre los dos suicidios” – between the two suicides – of President Balmaceda in 1891 and President Allende in 1973. Balmaceda’s suicide during civil war, in part, symbolized the closing of the door on strong, executive, Portalian style government and ushered in an era of strong, oligarchic, Parliamentary leadership. This style of government was very distasteful to a set of conservative intellectuals who later influenced Vial. They labeled this period “la decadencia nacional,” or a period of national decline, taking a cue from Oswald Spengler in Europe. Allende’s suicide, for intellectuals such as Vial, symbolized the end of this period of decline, as the military now offered, they hoped, redemption and a return to past (read pre-1891) form. Thus, in a way, Allende’s suicide lent legitimacy and justification for this narrative, as it allowed for neat historical framing while providing the right with material for claiming “told ya so” on his character. In part, some members of the left have long fought the official story of suicide so as not to lend credence to this narrative and to the military’s sense of self-legitimacy in overthrowing a morally loose leader.
Second, the decision to revisit the question of Allende’s suicide is not an isolated occurrence. Similar exhumations have become more and more popular over the past ten to fifteen years in countries with a recent past of state terror and/or civil war. In Spain, for example, judge Baltazar Garzon, the man behind the indictment of Pinochet in London in 1998, has spent significant energy over the past decade supporting his own country’s growing call for exhumations of victims of war and state violence. This is a direct move away from the post-Franco official policy of “olvido,” or forgetting, so as to not damage a perceived young and fragile democracy with painful and unsettling questions.
Even though the Allende question appears to be settled, it represents an interesting moment on a variety of fronts, including Chile’s political progress (?) away from the legacies of dictatorship, debates over and perceptions of the national past, and the growing popularity of exhumations and other such direct dealings with painful questions of state violence around the world.