Megan Figueroa: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination!
Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa. Here we are.
Carrie Gillon: Here we are.
Megan Figueroa: Exciting episode that ya’ll’ve been waiting for – patiently.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, this is a really interesting episode for sure.
Megan Figueroa: It’s another book interview – and I love it. I love being able to interview people about things they’ve written.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, she has all kinds of interesting things to say about how we conceptualize plants and conservation.
Megan Figueroa: And I’m obsessed with plants right now so. But what’s been going on in the meantime? Since we’ve last pressed “record”?
Carrie Gillon: Oh, my goodness. I don’t even know. So many things have happened. My sister and her family were visiting.
Megan Figueroa: And their little toddlers, right?
Carrie Gillon: Well, my niece is not a toddler, but my nephew is.
Megan Figueroa: Is your niece in school?
Carrie Gillon: Oh, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: School age? Oh wow. Anyway.
Carrie Gillon: Anyway. I thought I would talk about a podcast that – you brought up accents, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, accents. Let me tell you about this podcast.” This is actually the first season. It has two seasons now, but the first season is called “Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen.” Have you heard anything about this?
Megan Figueroa: No, not at all.
Carrie Gillon: Okay. So, there was, for a long time, this con going on where this woman and other people would pull in people who were kind of on the fringes of Hollywood. They were maybe about to get their big break, but they didn’t have it yet. This person – this woman – would convince them to come to Jakarta, and drive all around the city, and try to set up this movie that was going to be made – that was not real; it was not gonna be made – and then that was it. She maybe got some money out of them but not a ton. She was completely fucking with their lives.
Megan Figueroa: Wha –
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, it’s bizarre. It’s a bizarre story. And, okay, I’m gonna spoil it a little bit. It’s one person doing many different accents – so many accents – American, British, Chinese.
Megan Figueroa: To fool these people?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Because they’re just, like, multiple people, so you got to have the, I dunno, maybe it’s a British producer and an American person helping them, or a Chinese producer and a British person helping them, or whatever, just multiple, multiple accents this one person can do. And they’re pretty good.
Megan Figueroa: This is over the phone?
Carrie Gillon: All over the phone, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: Okay. Wow. I mean, I’m like, “This person should be a dialect coach for actors.”
Carrie Gillon: Well, this person probably should’ve just been a Hollywood producer, like, honestly, they could’ve done the job. But instead, they were conning everybody. It’s a wild ride. And there’s even an ASU connection, but you don’t find out about it until the very end. It’s so wild.
Megan Figueroa: Funny. So, you hear this person doing the voices because of recordings that were captured?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, some people caught on, and so they started recording this person, so you get to hear this person’s many different accents. Once you know it’s the same person, you can tell, but I dunno if I would’ve noticed right away that it was the same person.
Megan Figueroa: And it’s a woman?
Carrie Gillon: Maybe.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, okay, okay, okay. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: It’s all very spoiler-y, but it’s a fascinating listen, for sure.
Megan Figueroa: I can see how this would make a good podcast. This is the first season because the second season’s different?
Carrie Gillon: The second season is called, “Chameleon: Wild Boys.” The interesting thing about that is that it’s about these two boys that just show up and claim that they’ve been living in the forest with their parents for however long. They show up in this town called Vernon, which is half an hour/forty minutes away from Kelowna, which is where I spent my teenage-hood.
Megan Figueroa: What a coincidence.
Carrie Gillon: It happened after I left the Okanagan – that’s what the region is called – so I don’t remember this story at all. This is also an interesting story because, of course, it’s like, “Who are these boys? Who are they really? Are they who they say they are?”
Megan Figueroa: Well, if they’ve only lived with their parents out in the wild, I’m also interested in how they sound – their language or what are the idiosyncrasies of it.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t think – I can’t remember – I listened to that one first, and it was a while ago now. I don’t remember if you get to hear their voices. Anyway, it’s a really fun podcast.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, no, I have to listen to that. Oh, that’s what I was gonna talk to you about, fricking Amanda Seyfried and her Elizabeth Holmes voice.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, okay.
Megan Figueroa: Have you been watching the, I think, what is it called, “The Dropout”? I don’t remember what it’s called.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, I think it’s “The Dropout.” Yeah, no, I haven’t watched it.
Megan Figueroa: Well, they make a big deal about the voice. Everyone’s saying she obviously changed it. I think we all knew that already. But I’m seeing Amanda Seyfried do the voice, and you can tell that she’s doing a lot of tensing of her jaw or the bottom half of her face to get that voice. It looks, honestly, kind of painful because I feel like if you keep doing that, it would be exhausting. I just noticed how it actually – I can see in Amanda’s face how she’s doing this, and it doesn’t look comfortable.
Carrie Gillon: It doesn’t sound comfortable – like Elizabeth Holmes’ voice does not sound comfortable to me. It’s always sounded like it should hurt. I’m sure it doesn’t, but I think what I’m hearing is the physical exertion she’s putting into it. Because to lower your voice that much, it takes effort.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, no, it’s just like how, I mean, people say like, “Don’t do vocal fry. It’ll hurt you” – it doesn’t. The same thing where it’s like I’m not trying to say that this is harming her in any way, it just seems very effortful – very, very effortful. I mean, that’s been the most fascinating part for me because I’m like, oh my god, I dunno if Elizabeth got so used to it that – I mean, I don’t think I’ve seen her, the real Elizabeth Holmes, talk a lot.
Carrie Gillon: It doesn’t look like she’s – like the jaw thing, I don’t think that that’s what she was doing.
Megan Figueroa: She was doing it another way.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I mean, maybe she started off that way. That’s something that’s possible.
Megan Figueroa: That’s what I’m thinking. I’m like, “Okay, does she have more experience and so?”
Carrie Gillon: By the time she was on TV talking, yeah, she’d been doing it for a long time – at least 10 years, I think.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, exactly. I’m like, okay, I have so many questions. Did she did it all on her own? Did she have any sort of coaching from someone who knows about changing your voice? I don’t know.
Carrie Gillon: I have not idea. But also, I feel like most speech therapists would counsel her not to do it because they would be like, “Oh, it’ll hurt you,” even though it probably doesn’t. But I don’t know. I would never have guessed that doing that would’ve worked so well. I mean, we don’t know for sure that that really helped, but I’m pretty sure it was part of what was working for her, alongside the big, blue eyes and the blonde hair and everything. I think that it did help, and it’s just so bizarre to me, like, it sounded fake to me. It sounded like – as soon as I hear fake-ness, I’m like, “Ah, I’m not interested in you.”
Megan Figueroa: I know. Yeah. The way that they portray it in the show, it’s like, Sunny Balwani, her CFO and partner or whatever, he basically criticizes her for being too adolescent-like. It’s kind of her way to take back – or to exert power. I mean, this is what we would’ve guessed anyway she was doing, right, with lowering your voice.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, it seemed like that’s the way to get men to listen to you – at least men in that milieu. I don’t know if this would work in a different area. The fact that it was Silicon Valley and –
Megan Figueroa: Venture capitalists.
Carrie Gillon: Venture capitalists, like, that’s probably something to with why it was working. But maybe not. Maybe if all women lowered our voices, we would get treated differently. Ugh, I hope that’s not true.
Megan Figueroa: Well, I know. Especially, since we know things like, well, people still think we’re talking more than we are or taking up more space than we are. I think there’s still other things that are working against us.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know if that changed if we all lowered our voices?
Megan Figueroa: Ooo, interesting. I mean, I don’t know how we would do this experiment, but it’s an interesting thought to say, okay, so do people perceive women as taking up as much space as they do when their voice is lowered – or is it actually more accurate.
Carrie Gillon: You’re right. I dunno. I mean, I really don’t even know what my hypothesis would be.
Megan Figueroa: I know. I was gonna ask you, “What do you think?”
Carrie Gillon: You know, it might work.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Because really subtle things can have these huge effects – sometimes. Sometimes, they don’t have huge effect. Sometimes, they do. I’m really curious. I want someone to do that experiment for me because I’m not doing it.
Megan Figueroa: No, no. One shoutout to myself, I was on KJZZ, which is the NPR affiliate in Phoenix.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, cool!
Megan Figueroa: Talking about how masking is not harming language development.
Carrie Gillon: Cool, cool, cool.
Megan Figueroa: That’s just another way I wanna bring it up here that the whole “Masking – is it harming children’s language development?” It’s not a thing. I’m getting really frustrated because I think since it’s been two years now that people are like, “Okay, now we have kids that were entirely living in a pandemic,” and so we’re getting more articles like, “What did it do to them?” This is not an area to be worried about.
Carrie Gillon: Right, let’s be worried about them maybe not having as much interaction with grandparents as they would’ve in the past. Let’s be worried about the emotional stuff. Let’s not be worried about language development. They just do it. They’re just little, like, I dunno, they just do it as long as they have input. But they usually have input.
Megan Figueroa: Right, right, yes. Thinking about blind children, they learn language. But also, for decades, people in Japan have been masking, and it’s not like Japanese children don’t develop language.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. But I don’t think they were masked in their classrooms.
Megan Figueroa: Again, infants are, you know, useless little things. They’re at the whims of their caretakers. So, it’s like, people aren’t masking in their homes. It’s fearmongering.
Carrie Gillon: It is fearmongering. It’s frustrating because a mask is such a simple thing to do. Yes, you should get better masks. You shouldn’t be wearing cloth masks anymore. But it’s such a simple thing to do for yourself and for others around you, and people are mad about it. They don’t wanna do this simple thing.
Megan Figueroa: I know. And so, they’re like, “Oh, but children get to school, and they can’t see their teachers’ mouths.” I’m like, “They’ve already learned language by then. What is your problem?”
Carrie Gillon: I mean, yeah, unless it’s a second language, which, okay, yes, it does make it a little bit harder, but it’s not impossible. Like you’re saying, blind children can learn a second language later. It’s ridiculous.
Megan Figueroa: It’s ridiculous. I think parents are a very easy target because parents want the best for their children.
Carrie Gillon: And they’re scared. This is a scary time. And so, it’s really easy to manipulate parents who’re already extra worried about their children just because, you know, we’re biologically kind of – but like, as a baseline, it’s really easy to fearmonger around children. It’s always been the case that’s it’s easy to fearmonger around children.
Megan Figueroa: No, I know.
Carrie Gillon: Not cool.
Megan Figueroa: Not cool.
Carrie Gillon: Anyways. We hope you enjoy this interview. I think it’s really a fun one.
Megan Figueroa: Today, I’m really excited to welcome Dr. Jessica Hernandez, who is Maya Chorti and Zapotec. She is a transnational Indigenous scholar, scientist, and community advocate based in the Pacific Northwest. She has an interdisciplinary academic background ranging from marine science to forestry. Her work is grounded in her Indigenous cultures and ways to knowing. She advocates for climate, energy, and environmental justice through scientific and community work and strongly believes that Indigenous scientists can heal our Indigenous lands. Her book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science is gonna be released tomorrow, January 18th, 2022, but our listeners will hear this in a little bit. It was released mid-January this year. Thank you so much for being here.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you.
Jessica Hernandez: Thank you both for inviting me to your podcast. I really appreciate it.
Megan Figueroa: Of course. I wanna say just a superficial thing – your book cover is gorgeous.
Carrie Gillon: It is. It’s so beautiful.
Jessica Hernandez: Thank you.
Carrie Gillon: The colors – it’s so vibrant.
Megan Figueroa: Do you know the artist who did it?
Jessica Hernandez: Yes. I cannot recall their name, but they did a great job listening to what I wanted. I wanted the book cover to describe both of my Indigeneities given that Zapotec is represented through the background, which is like the Milpa, and the fresh banana leaves, obviously, they’re Maya Chorti community.
Megan Figueroa: So gorgeous. We got to read the book before others, which I think is my favorite part of podcasting. We wanted to focus in on some bits, specifically what some of the words that we may know in Western science as, perhaps, being objective that really aren’t. Because I think that that’s so important for anyone in Western science to grapple with. First of all, what does it mean to you to be an Indigenous scientist? How does that conflict with Western science and its expectations?
Jessica Hernandez: I think that being an Indigenous scientist just means that I’m upholding my traditional knowledge systems that have been passed down through the generations, obviously not through Western methods, which is like writing, or peer publications, or lectures. It’s mostly storytelling, songs, prayers, ceremonies. I think that as an Indigenous scientist, I uphold that, and it’s blended with my Western science training that I acquired through my academic career.
Megan Figueroa: What do you think that Western science is lacking that Indigenous epistemologies can offer?
Jessica Hernandez: I think when I view Western science, it often tends to be binary or linear where we follow the scientific method as opposed to Indigenous science or Indigenous knowledge that tends to be wholistic. As scientists, when we’re doing an experiment, we’re often removing ourselves from that experiment unless it’s genetics or something that’s human biology. But in Indigenous science, we’re always interconnected. We’re at the center of what we’re doing. Obviously, that’s connected to our spirituality which we embody as humans in the natural world. I think that, as a result, Western science tends to be more linear and Indigenous science is more wholistic. Oftentimes, we call that “systems thinking,” but that’s the best way that it can be paralleled to the Western ways of knowing.
Carrie Gillon: Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between the Zapotec and the land and animals, and also with Maya Chorti and the land and the animals, if they’re different?
Jessica Hernandez: For me, personally, they’re different just because my father was displaced from his Maya Chorti lands and, eventually, made his way, his journey, through the Zapotec community where my mom is from. As a result, one of the premises that I write in the book is that our environments, our land, carry our trauma. They carry our healing as well. For my dad, his environments carry that trauma that he faced as a child solider during the Central American Civil War. I think that, as a result, there is that traumatic relationship that we have with the land in the Maya Chorti community, especially in my family.
With the Zapotec community, we connect that more to being welcomed, being wanted, because obviously the Central American Civil War displaced a lot of Indigenous peoples. It’s coined as a genocide, but the United Nations, even though there hasn’t been any political persecution done to bring justice to that genocide. So, yes, I think it’s different. In the Maya Chorti community, we have more of a rainforest, and that’s why banana trees and other plants that have been introduced have been able to thrive there. In the Zapotec community, we tend to have more mountains. That’s why we are called “the people of the clouds” just because we’re closer to the high altitudes. That’s how I will describe their differences.
Megan Figueroa: I’ve read recently, it’s an Indigenous scholar, Dian Million’s felt theory. Again, I wish that these were things that. going through Western science education, I was introduced to before not three years after my PhD, but it’s the idea that feeling something is legitimate knowledge. In Western science, that is not the case at all. Is this, as an Indigenous scholar, part of your persona, part of how you approach science?
Jessica Hernandez: Yeah, I think that spirituality is connected to our feelings, to our emotions, and I think that, oftentimes, part of us being able to heal our landscapes, we also have to heal ourselves. Dian Million covers that because oftentimes in Western science, we are taught to remove ourselves. We want to be objective. They tell us to remove ourselves from the work that we’re doing. But in current times, even, as we advocate for social justice, it’s a little bit hard to remove yourself from the work that you’re doing even in STEM because it’s all integrated or interconnected.
Megan Figueroa: What is “settler colonialism”? And then go into what “eco-colonialism” is.
Jessica Hernandez: Settler colonialism is just the biproducts of colonization that we’re still facing. Obviously, you know, it introduced capitalism, democracy, and other areas that continue to oppress Indigenous peoples or people of color. What I coin as “eco-colonialism” is just like the settler-colonial frameworks that have been embodied into our environments given that who tends to steward or govern our natural resources is obviously not Indigenous peoples. It’s people who have power who tend to be white, cisgender, men.
Eco-colonialism, it also embodies the drastic changes that our environments have undergone because it’s under colonialism because of the colonization of Indigenous lands. I think that it’s like a multilayer area just given that colonialization introduced multilayers to our current environments, to our current societies. I often say that when we are trying to “recolonize,” it’s kind of like peeling onion layers because we connect decolonize one entity by just doing one action. There has to be multilayers that will probably take multiple generations for us to actually decolonize something in that sense.
Megan Figueroa: Could you use milpas as an example of what eco-colonialism has done to the process of growing corn?
Jessica Hernandez: Milpas tend to be a wholistic agricultural system that has been passed down since our ancestors. It’s something that we have been able to maintain. I think with the eco-colonialism of corn, it sometimes jeopardizes the multiple species of corn that my communities and other Indigenous communities have been able to sustain and prevent from being genetically modified or given that aspect. I think that, with eco-colonialism, we talk about genetically modified corn, it fractures that spirituality or that connection that we have with our plant relatives that, in this case, are also a food source. I think that we often hear, “Our food is our medicine,” and I think that when we introduce certain things like that, it fractures our relationship that we have with our plant relatives.
Carrie Gillon: What is “ecological grief”?
Jessica Hernandez: What I coined as “ecological grief” is just a process that we can experience because we have that interconnection with our spirituality to our plant and animal relatives. Ecological grief will be kind of the mourning or the grief that we experience when we experience ecological loss. For instance, connecting that back to the milpas, climate change is resulting in extreme weather patterns, so when there’s hot, extreme weather conditions, it dries the milpas. They experience draughts. When we have the opposite effect, heavy rainfall due to hurricane seasons, they’re flooded. I think that, as a result of that, our communities experience ecological grief because they’re not only facing food insecurity, they’re also losing those plant relatives, those animals relatives, that, you know, their lives were lost because of extreme weather conditions as opposed to building that spiritual ceremony so that we could consume them instead of them being lost just because of climate change impacts.
Megan Figueroa: I’ve experienced this recently because I’m in Tucson, and it is a dry place. There have been more rains. And we have these – much more rains this last season. And it was so beautiful. It was so green. The flowers were blooming. But what happened was that my prickly pear died because they had too much water they were storing. It just fell over and died. That was actually one of the moments that I realized that – I mean, I’ve been getting in to plants a lot lately because I think during this COVID isolation, I was like, “Look at what I have around me. It’s so beautiful.” But actually, it felt like a loss. Absolutely.
Jessica Hernandez: Thank you for sharing that. How did you cope with that?
Megan Figueroa: It was strange. Actually getting the prickly pear out of, I call it a “cactus garden,” but it was these plants that had been there long before I moved in. I actually am lucky enough to have two saguaro in my front yard, and so they were near the saguaro. But it’s like removing a body from this area of just these prickly pear that I’ve loved, and I saw every day, and now they’re not there, and it does feel like something is lost. All of this, wild flowers were growing, and it was as green as I’ve ever seen Tucson, and at the same time, what’s natural to the landscape here are dying. It was really hard for me to grapple with, especially during COVID, where we’re experiencing all this grief anyway.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, it just never ends. How is Indigenous terminology being co-opted to validate settler colonialism in environmental sciences?
Jessica Hernandez: I think that that question can have multiple answers because I think that, oftentimes, one of the examples that I can think of is even the field of permaculture where permaculture is an Indigenous way of being that came from the Aboriginal people of Australia. But like a white, cisgender, male scientist, in a way, went to study with them or engage with that community and then decided to invent the field of permaculture. Now, permaculture is something that you can get certified. It’s interesting because I have undergone the certification, and it’s interesting to see that not many people know that history. Obviously, it’s in some of the textbooks, but they don’t even know the history of that. It is co-opted Indigenous knowledge that is now generating money. I think that that’s one of the examples.
Another way can just be how, oftentimes, in the environmental sciences we view Indigenous communities as areas of expertise rather than experts ourselves. We can be experts in Indigenous science or Indigenous communities when, in fact, even myself, I have to follow a strict cultural protocol to know what I can share, to know what I can write about, and I think that, oftentimes, we see that co-optation of Indigenous knowledge being written in peer-reviewed articles that communities never agreed to allow them to be published, but yet because we don’t have that access to that higher education where we can have access to those peer-reviewed articles, it bypasses the cultural protocol that we, as Indigenous peoples, follow. Obviously, that’s different within tribe and community as well.
Megan Figueroa: I’m really excited to talk to you about this word “conservation” because I think through reading Indigenous scholars, I’ve come to understand the word “conservation” as “theft.” Can you, for our listeners, under what conditions was this conception of conservation conceived and how does it conflict with Indigenous knowledge?
Jessica Hernandez: I think that when we look at the history of conservation, it started with the establishment of national parks. Obviously, national parks were these pristine wilderness or these pristine environmental landscapes that certain white males decided that it was so beautiful that they wanted to conserve it, to preserve it, for them, to be honest. As a result of that, there was a lot of Indigenous peoples who were violently displaced from these lands. Oftentimes, when we talk about displacement or we hear it or we read it in articles, it doesn’t really entail the violence that was behind displacement. Because it was brutal displacement. It wasn’t like you were given an option – do you wanna leave; do you wanna stay? Obviously, people were displaced forcefully.
I think that that started the field of conservation in Yucatan history. As a result of that, the word “conservation,” at least for me, it’s rooted in the land theft and that identity theft as well. Because when we were displaced from our lands, our ancestral lands, that have maintained that history since time immemorial, our identities are also fractured. I think that, as a result of that, conservation tends to want to save something. It’s kind of like embedded in the savior complex as opposed to looking at protecting the environment through a wholistic lens, right.
Because, oftentimes, when we look at conservation, especially when we relate it to animals, people tend to care more about the conservation of beautiful animals, like the panda bear. I mean, not saying that they’re not important, especially culturally important animals to certain cultures, but it ignores the whole wholistic environmental landscape that tends to be important, especially for Indigenous peoples. Because we don’t just have one connection with one animal. We tend to have a connection with the entire landscape, with the entire environment.
Megan Figueroa: This is connected, too, with settler colonialism, right, because this implies that land can be bought and sold or partitioned off, right.
Jessica Hernandez: Yeah, definitely. I think that it’s that ownership that we owned mother nature. And that’s why it also ties back to patriarchy, right, because oftentimes the patriarchy teaches us that men, especially cis-gender men, have an ownership over women or femme bodies because it relates to that whole notion that men can own something that’s feminine in that sense. As a result of that, we see that manifest through patriarchy, and obviously that’s interconnected to this notion of you can own the land; you can own mother nature.
Carrie Gillon: Can you explain the connection between eco-feminism and your Indigeneity?
Jessica Hernandez: For me, it’s a duality because my maternal Zapotec community is actually a matriarchy. It’s completely the opposite of a patriarchy where, you know, women are the leaders of our communities. Obviously, patriarchy has infiltrated some pueblos because we tend to be a nation, so we’re made up of different pueblos. But at least in my mom’s pueblo, the chair is still a female. For the whole Zapotec nation, a woman tends to represent us in the national congress of Indigenous communities in Mexico.
With that it was interesting because, obviously, my father’s community is totally the opposite. Patriarchy has infiltrated that. I think that, as a result of that, it’s a duality for me because I saw how women, or even our third gender that we call “muches” or “muxes,” are treated with respect and with honor. Then when you come into the real world that you leave your community, it’s patriarchy where women are supposed to be submissive, or women are supposed to listen, and obviously also LGBTQ+, where if you’re not a cisgender male, you have to be this submissive role where you’re not dominant. I think that it has been interesting, at least when I reflect back growing up as a little girl because I didn’t understand those dynamics. In my maternal community, all the women and the muxes were able to speak first, and then the men could speak. But obviously that’s not what we see in current society where men tend to cut off everyone else.
Carrie Gillon: Getting back to the eco-feminism part, how does that connect?
Jessica Hernandez: With eco-feminism we are taught that as women or as non-binary folks, we tend to have a stronger connection with our environments. We have to caretake not just our people but also our environments because it’s that whole nature and nurture situation. I think eco-feminism, it’s our Indigenous women that are on the frontlines advocating for environmental justice, for climate justice. But then, because we have patriarchy, this machismo, in Mexico, oftentimes, the people who get the spotlight are the men. I think that when we look at the examples of the Zapatistas, it was the Indigenous women who led that movement. But you look at Comandante Marcos who’s a cisgender man who ended becoming the face of that movement even though it was a completely Indigenous woman-led movement that started with their elders, their muchuks.
Carrie Gillon: Also, another thing you bring up in your book is the femicides. It’s my understanding that most of the people who are killed for being environmentalists are women.
Jessica Hernandez: Yeah. I think that relates back to what we experience in the United States and Canada with the missing and murdered Indigenous women. Oftentimes, I always tell people, it transcends borders because we do experience that in what is called Latin America, south of the border, where if you’re an Indigenous woman – because we go back to this machismo, this patriarchal society – you experience violence and ultimately death. We have a lot of Indigenous environmental leaders who are female or who are non-binary who go missing. Obviously, their bodies are found years after. But I think that we forget that. We forget that when we talk about conservation, it’s obviously the people who are truly trying to protect our environments face these kinds of violence and this persecution even today.
Megan Figueroa: I think in the United States, I realized while doing some research, that Theodore Roosevelt, a former president, is thought of as a conservationist. Then I was looking it up, and he had put aside through executive action over 150 million acres of land under reserve or whatever. I’m thinking, okay, he’s known as a conservationist, but of course, there’s no mention about how that 150 million acres is theft and that it is being robbed from Indigenous communities in the name of conservation. This is what I really wanted to talk to you about is, some of these Western ideals of conservation that we have, how can we use Indigenous knowledge, not co-opted, but use it to have more of this healing, that you talk about in the book, of the land?
Jessica Hernandez: I think that you mentioned something that’s very interesting, that what’s important for us, in order for us to heal, is learning our histories. When you ask people who consider themselves a conservationist or who study conservation if they know the history, or if they are asking these questions that you are asking right now, you know, “What about these lands?”, “How did he end up making these national parks or areas of conservation?”, and they don’t know. They don’t know that it was this violent displacement. I think that in order for us to heal our landscapes, we have to starting healing ourselves.
Obviously, that starts with our self-reflection. It depends on our positionality. We all carry power and privilege. Even for me, despite being an Indigenous woman, I hold a PhD. I was able to write a book, given the opportunity. I think that we’re pushing our positionality and taking action, and I think that that’s something that the younger generation is trying to do, right, where we’re seeing them being more outspoken for our environments. But yet, we’re still missing that important piece which is knowing the divided histories that this country was founded on. Obviously, it’s a layer that’s added on to the genocide that both Black and Indigenous peoples faced.
Megan Figueroa: Speaking of positionality, can you talk a bit about invasive species and how they are viewed differently by Western science versus Indigenous science?
Jessica Hernandez: That’s something that my elders have always taught me. As I immerse myself more into the field, oftentimes, when we are restoring or doing a conservation project, we’re aggressively removing invasive species because we’re seeing them as weeds; we’re seeing them as not wanted. And I think that what we often tend to forget is that, for many of us, depending on where we’re coming from, depending on our positionality, our ancestral lineage, a lot of those invasive species that we call “weeds” are also our displaced relatives.
I think that it ties back to the title of the book because banana tress are an invasive species to Central America, to my ancestral lands, but yet, they have become our relatives because we integrate them into our traditional cooking. When we cook tamales, when we cook other traditional foods, we incorporate those banana leaves. I think that it kind of relates back to even what Indigenous peoples are facing today with climate displacement, and integration discourse, and how they’re unwanted because we don’t consider them “American,” which ties back to the whole notion of invasive species are unwanted. But yet, a lot of those species can be someone’s relatives if you go back into your indigeneity or your identity and your heritage.
Carrie Gillon: Can you talk a little bit about ecological management?
Jessica Hernandez: Ecological management, I think it ties back to conservation where we’re trying to manage our environment; we’re passing policies and laws. I think that oftentimes when I think about ecological management and these policies that continue to govern our natural resources, I can think of urban parks, right, because even urban parks or national parks, you’re not allowed to pick any plants; you’re not allowed to forage. It’s illegal. It’s like city or government property. I think that, as a result of that, many Indigenous peoples, we cannot pick up our medicine. We cannot pick up things that we need for our ceremonies.
I think that ecological management tends to sometimes follow the binary way of thinking that Western science follows, and it tends to ignore that more wholistic approach that we should be following in order for us to heal or, in this case, in order to ecologically manage our lands, we have to position ourselves into a more wholistic lens so that we’re actually healing as opposed to following this management approach that’s very Western in that sense.
Megan Figueroa: Because when it goes back to Western management, I think – I grew up under it. Carrie grew up under it. The management that is done by Western systems is gonna be very market-based. The idea that land is a commodity is something that’s so engrained. Do you view ecological management as moving away from the kind of capitalism of the traditional conservation concept?
Jessica Hernandez: Yeah, I think so. Because ecological management, like you were mentioning, tends to follow, you know, asking what gains can we get as opposed to embodying humans as equal partners with animals and plants. I think that we do have movements like deep ecology, social ecology, that are trying to dismantle those layers. But obviously, there’s a lot of layers.
Carrie Gillon: Can you explain “deep ecology” and “social ecology”?
Jessica Hernandez: Those are areas that are different than the normalized ecology because, oftentimes, when we think about ecology, we think of this hierarchy of species, and humans tend to be on the top. It’s like a triangle. But deep ecology or social ecology tends to be linear where we all hold the same power as species, as animals and plants. I think that it’s hard for many people to grapple with through the idea because we have been taught that we consume plants, and we consume animals, and not necessarily hold – you know, animals and plants also have a say into what kind of things that we do with them. We see that with the agricultural system or the cattle ranching where we’re growing all these animals just for them to be slaughtered without connecting spiritually to those animals that we’re gonna consume where we are asking them for permission, where we’re holding a ceremony for their sacrifice, for the nourishment that they’re gonna provide us. It’s so market based. It’s just capitalism and how much we can get for something.
Carrie Gillon: Can you explain the kinship notion – like bananas are our relatives? Because I think for some people it might be confusing because we just don’t conceive of it that way.
Jessica Hernandez: The kinship notion relates back to many of our creation stories. Oftentimes, in Western religion, in Christianity, we think about the creation story of Adam and Eve, and it follows that Christianity, that religion. But for many Indigenous peoples, we all have different creation stories where we have stories where the creator created us from our environments. So, obviously, that’s why a lot of native species, our cultural keystone species, are part of our identity. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, in the state of Washington, salmon tend to be that for many Indigenous peoples here because the creation stories say that they were created as part of the salmon. They are their relatives.
I think that as many people view Adam and Eve as their relatives, we view animals and plants as our relatives because we came from them. Instead of, I think, in the Christian story how god created the man, how god created the woman, in our creation story, the creator kind of gathers environmental things that they – and obviously they or she – found from our environments to create us as humans and, obviously, our ancestors. So, I think that, as a result of that, we have those spiritual kinships, or those spiritual connections, to certain plants and animals.
In this case, because banana trees are displaced, they’re non-native to our lands, we have built those kinships because they are everywhere. If you go in Central America, there’s banana trees not necessarily in plantations, as that’s how they were introduced to commodify the plantations so they can export bananas. Especially, Latin/South America is one of the – I think it is the largest exporter of bananas. But, in a way, we built those connections.
Megan Figueroa: An example that people will understand hopefully that is coming from where I’m at right now in the Sonoran Desert is that we completely ignore our relationship with our jaguar relative. This, I think, is why environmental justice and border justice are so connected is that the border wall that people on the right want to build is destroying these animal habitats – “habitat” – the “ecology” of the land. Because the jaguar is getting – it can’t go into Mexico. It can’t come back over. And it was able to do that before – before humans intervened. And land becomes commodity and all of this – and borderlands and stuff.
Carrie Gillon: White humans.
Megan Figueroa: White humans, yes, yes, sorry. But yeah, the jaguar was near extinction at one point. It just makes me so sad. The same goes for the Mexican grey wolf. A lot of animals in this area are being affected by white humans arguing about borders.
Jessica Hernandez: With the border situation, it’s become so political that we, like you were mentioning, we tend to put our needs first as humans as opposed to looking at the animals – in this case, endangered animals – that we should be healing as well and protecting.
Megan Figueroa: This is also a good reason to talk about all of this is that these are things that are being affected right now. This is hurting jaguars right now. This is hurting the other animals along the border right now. Our listeners probably have all heard about the border wall debate and all of that. It might not seem like it’s affecting the climate or environment, but it is. If you ask these questions, like you were talking about, and know histories of things, you’ll probably see how a lot of it will affect the land and the animals around you.
Carrie Gillon: Also, the plants, too. When the wall was being built on Tohono O’odham land, all the saguaros were pulled out. And they’re protected. It didn’t matter. They were just torn down and thrown aside.
Megan Figueroa: And that’s a crime. A normal person, an individual, cutting down a saguaro will get arrested, get fined, whatever. But then in the name of capitalism or border whatever, this is okay. It’s just angering.
Carrie Gillon: In the name of nationalism.
Megan Figueroa: Nationalism, yes.
Carrie Gillon: Actually, yeah, can we talk about the term “environmental justice”? How was it conceived? What conditions was it conceived under? And how does it conflict with Indigenous knowledge?
Jessica Hernandez: I think that “environmental justice,” obviously, it’s a coin that was created in Western academia. Even though it was created by Black scholars, it’s housed in academia. Obviously, academia tends to exclude many people, many identities, especially people of color, nonbinary people. It wasn’t created for us. In that sense, environmental justice, it was a term coined, but I think that, obviously, it’s important to acknowledge that Indigenous communities in Africa, around the world, have been trying to advocate for the protection of their environment, their lands, since time immemorial, since colonization started, where we had the first settlers come to Indigenous lands and steal them and lead a genocide.
I think that sometimes environmental justice tends to conflict with Indigenous communities because sometimes – and I will quote many of my elders – sometimes they say, “It’s not a choice for us. It’s not environmental justice because it’s our only way of surviving. It’s our only way of maintaining and protecting our identities and communities.” I think that they often view environmental justice as an option, like, “Oh, yes, we can become environmental justice advocates,” but for them, it’s their only choice. It’s like they’re forced to do certain things not because it’s trendy, or not because they think it’s something that they should join, it’s something that they have to join, they are forced to join, as well.
Carrie Gillon: Do you think there’s a better term for that that would encapsulate all of what you just said?
Jessica Hernandez: I think it’s hard sometimes to come up with terms, right, because we’re thinking in English, but I was thinking of protecting – we hear even “land protectors” refuse to be called “activists” or “protesters,” right, because they were like, “Oh, we’re land protectors.” I think that every community has their way of – that fits more of their protocol. But think that would be an example. How in Standing Rock, the Indigenous communities decided that they were not “protestors” or anything else. They were “land protectors.”
Carrie Gillon: That’s a really good example.
Megan Figueroa: It goes back to the idea that we should ask communities for what they wanna be called since, you know, our podcast is about language, what they would want from us if we are trying to help – I mean, instead of co-opting or intervening or white-savor-complexing – having a conversation and learning from each other instead of just, I dunno, just all of this stuff that we’ve been doing, yeah, opening those kind of conversations.
Carrie Gillon: Listening. More of us should just be listening.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely.
Carrie Gillon: Speaking of that, what can all of us learn from Indigenous sciences that most of us have been ignoring so far?
Jessica Hernandez: We all have Indigenous roots at one point. Obviously, some communities have lost that. I think that with Indigenous science, we can learn that we can take the steps to heal our environments that, oftentimes, when we look at the climate change discourse, it’s like a doom situation. But oftentimes, that tends to dismiss people who already don’t believe in climate change. I think with Indigenous science, it goes back to the examples that we were talking about how we should build those connections with the animals. For instance, the situation that’s happening at the border where people don’t know that that wall is not necessarily just a political act, but it’s an environmental act, and it’s impacting many endangered species. I think that with Indigenous sciences, it teaches us to connect ourselves back to our environments whether it be our ancestral lands or our ancestral environments or the environments where we’re displaced currently depending on our positionality and our identity. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Megan Figueroa: No, it’s good. Having some reason to care about asking what can we give to the land instead of taking and taking and not acting and just not giving. Well, thank you so much for being here and talking to us about, I think, some concepts that a lot of us will still grapple with – or begin to grapple with – which I think is good.
Carrie Gillon: Do you have any last words for listeners that you’d like to share?
Jessica Hernandez: No, thank you for having me. You both mentioned, you know, it starts with listening. Because oftentimes, you know, we don’t listen to listen. We listen to speak. That’s something that we should find in our lives, especially as we still undergo this pandemic.
Megan Figueroa: Oh! And also, buy Banana Leaves – the book.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, the book. I was like, uh, that might be hard for me to get them here, I dunno. I’ve never looked for them here, though. [Laughter] Yeah. Thank you so much. We always leave our listeners with one final message. Don’t be an asshole.
Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an asshole.
Carrie Gillon: This month we would like to thank Catherine Anderson for becoming a patron.
Megan Figueroa: Yay! Thank you, Katherine.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you. Anyone who would like to support us, you can do so at http://www.patreon.com/vocalfriespod where we have stickers, and we have mugs, and we have bonus episodes. This month’s bonus episode is all about AI and humans working together to write very weird prose.
Megan Figueroa: BFFs. Just co-writing a book. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio, theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @VocalFriesPod. You can email us at email@example.com. Our website is vocalfriespod.com.