Geovani Ramírez’s Talk: “Reducing Settler Colonialist Footprints: Karen Zacarías’s Native Gardens, Latinx Suburbia, and Indigenized Environmental Justice”
April 11 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Reducing Settler Colonialist Footprints: Karen Zacarías’s Native Gardens, Latinx Suburbia, and Indigenized Environmental Justice
In 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that over half of Latinx people nationwide were living in suburbs, which signaled a shift from their earlier migrations to urban areas in the 1980s. The 2020 U.S. census would indicate that such migratory trends would continue over the next 18 years. William Frey (of the Brookings Institution) observes that these demographic shifts are changing “suburban America” from what some may have once believed to be characterized by “mostly white, middle-class, politically conservative developments . . .” into neighborhoods comprised of increasingly diverse residents, with Latinx populations accounting for the greatest growth. Such migrations have led to impacts on housing, schooling, economics, and political and public life, but given these trends in the time of the Anthropocene, we may do well to follow the lead of urban planners James Rojas and John Kamp who focus on how Latinx people are modifying the “American suburban landscape” and how such practices impact, for instance, “rates of water consumption, patterns of mobility, and social interactions.” By offering an analysis of Karen Zacarías’ play Native Gardens, using what Dina Gilio-Whitaker refers to as an Indigenized Environmental Justice (EJ) framework, this talk will consider what Latinx environmentalisms, that is environmental practices geared toward exposing environmental hazards and promoting sustainable approaches to ecological relationships, can do to foster healthier environments in suburbia. Native Gardens is set in an affluent neighborhood in Washington D.C. and depicts disputes over land claims and horticultural practices between the Del Valles, a young Latinx couple, and the Butleys, their older Anglo-American neighbors. In the play, Zacarías uses horticulture/gardening, botanical knowledge, landscaping tastes, and plant symbolism to explore ethno-racial, class, and border tensions—in so doing, she asks readers/audiences to consider the grounds for what belongs in ecological spaces, what is desirable, and therefore what stays and is removed. Native Gardens thus stages suburbia as a space in which broad ecological conversations must take place in order for people to not only become better neighbors but better stewards of environments. In this talk, I conduct an ecocritical analysis of Native Gardens in which I consider the following questions: What kinds of environmental issues does Native Gardens dramatize/present and what spaces does it cultivate? What are the strategies for responding to these ecological concerns, and how does Native Gardens help us envision a space that promotes human and more-than-human life? While acknowledging the play’s merits, the Indigenized Environmental Justice framework I use exposes the play’s settler colonialist tendencies in an ongoing effort to expose and decrease settler colonial footprints, which continue to trample native gardens.
Geovani Ramírez is an assistant professor of Latinx studies and literature at Virginia Tech University, whose research and teaching interests revolve around the intersections of ethnicity, race, gender, class, environments, and health. Through employing ecocritical and disability studies frameworks as well as ecofeminist theory, his current book project, The Burning Question of Labor, reveals the essential role Mexican-heritage women have played in offering conceptual frameworks for understanding Chicanas’ relationships to labor and laboring spaces, environments, and health. Geovani has published in such venues as UC Berkley’s Ethnic Studies Review, Latinx Talk, and Intersectionality: Understanding Women’s Lives and Resistance in the Past and Present. He is an affiliate of Virginia Tech’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and a member of its Transdisciplinary Academy’s team for the establishment of a Latinx and Latin American minor. Geovani is a 2023 Juneteenth Scholar.
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