It was such an unexpected treat to see Donna Haraway speak yesterday at UNAM’s Campus Morelia, Michoacan, sharing concepts from her 2016 book, Staying with the Trouble, and presenting her fierce desire that we move out of individualistic human-centric narratives and ‘toward decolonial multispecies justice and care’. She did this through relating two accounts, from the book, of the relationship webs that exist between humans, other-than-humans and the land they live in and rely upon: the US government’s ongoing abuse and decapitalisation of the Navajo – Dine’ – Nation in the Southern US, and the ecotourism and conservation attempts surrounding the migratory monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico.
Through setting these accounts side-by-side, Haraway did not attempt to propose solutions but rather to highlight the entangled and inseparable histories of colonial land aquisition, water use, mining, extraction, habitat destruction and environmentalism, in order to encourage a deeper level of thoughtfulness, communication and collaboration with regard to environmental issues and, therefore, environmental justice.
Haraway’s brain works in fascinating non-linear patterns and following her threads of thought was a journey in itself. A few photos here from my scribbled down notes…
One comment in particular stood out, regarding the monarch butterflies,
‘The privilege of being with the butterflies demands understanding and becoming part of the struggle for multispecies environmental justice and care, which is essentially a struggle for water and land.’
I found myself applying this to clay, the privilege of coming to a new place and working with the earth as material, with limited understanding of what that material has previously meant and been connected to.
Haraway also said of the butterflies,
‘This species is in an entangled way of living and dying, that involves lands, water, people and politics – and this is just one tiny part of the puzzle.’
How does this apply to clay? Clay is earth itself, or one of the essential components of it. The mountains that the Tlalpujahua clay comes from are the mountains that were mined ferociously at the turn of the 20th Century by the Belgian Dos Estrellas gold and silver mine. The water we mix to clean and process the clay at Guapamacataro is the same water that is channelled to irrigate the surrounding agricultural fields and that is controlled as a precious and competitive resource. How do we ensure that, in working with local clay, in taking it from the ground underneath our feet, we are, as Haraway says, fulfilling ‘our promise to the more-than-human world’ to be aware of and sensitive to the other species we are symbogenetically joined to? How do we ensure we are respectfully informing ourselves of the complex existing narratives of water, land and people and moving as gracefully as possible amidst them?
With my own ancestry tracing back through England, Wales, Mexico and the Hñähñü people (into which my Abuelita was born, in Hidalgo), and my knowledge that the area of Michoacan where Guapamacátaro sits was once home to Purépecha, Mazahua and Hñahñu people, I’ve been curious to know more about what role and meaning ceramics and clay work had/has for the indigenous people of this region. It’s a huge lake of a question and one that I am unlikely to brush the surface of. In some initial research I have come across a review of a book by Patricia Fournier García (who interestingly has the same surname as the founder of the Dos Estrellas mine), in which she explores the interlaced economics of pulque production and ceramics for the Hñähñü of the Valle del Mezquital. It is just an overview (and a helpful test for my Spanish that will necessitate a few readings) but it contains some interesting openers and I include it here as a starting point for future questionings.
‘I don’t have these answers. In so far as I have any answers at all it is an attempt to talk to each other, to have more knowledge, to understand each other’s experiences more… and it involves a willingness to engage in controversy – we shut each other up in order to stay safe… I think we have to cultivate the capacity to support each other in controversial conversations, to be able to make mistakes and to forgive.’
– Donna Haraway