March 14, 2022

Fresh Banana Leaves

Fresh Banana Leaves

There’s no word for “conservation” in many Indigenous languages.

Some come close, but mean something more like “taking care of” or “looking after.”

And that’s probably because the very idea of conservation, to “prevention the wasteful use of a resource”, would have been, and continue to be, foreign to many of North America’s Indigenous peoples, who lived in an entirely different, co-dependent relationship with nature.

That is to say, to have had a relationship at all.

A relationship with the very same nature of which we’re inextricably part of, of which we rely on for clean air, food, and water – or it’s game over.

And now, if we’re not facing game over, we’re certainly up against the final boss.

We live on stolen lands that were tended for thousands of years by Indigenous and Native peoples have been dried out by mostly white settlers in what seems like the blink of an eye.

Land now covered in cities, in suburbs, in industrialized agriculture, desperately and even controversially conserved as national and state parks.

Waters onshore and offshore, full of plastic and fertilizer, once bountiful, now overfished.

The receipts are in and it’s not gone well for colonialists’ stewardship over the single habitable ecosystem as far as anyone can tell.

New voices are needed, new policies and practices are needed, and perhaps the most compelling ones come from our land’s longest-tenured human inhabitants.

And while, yes, I’m focused on actions we can take to build a vastly cleaner and better future for all people, you know I work hard to bring you the necessary context, to understand how we got here, why we got here, to understand the decisions and systems involved – all of which should only make us more effective at taking action.

My guest today is Dr. Jessica Hernandez.

Dr. Hernandez is an environmental scientist, founder of environmental non-profit Piña Soul, and the author of the new book, “Fresh Banana Leaves”, where she weaves together her family’s relationship with nature, as part of nature, her family’s history of being displaced over and over, through the lens of eco-colonialism, and how Indigenous-led restoration is the way forward.

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Transcript

Episode 133

Quinn:
There's no word for conservation in many Indigenous languages. There's some that come close, but mean something more like "taking care of" or "looking after." And that's probably because the very idea of conservation, the prevention of the wasteful use of a resource, would have been and continues to be foreign to many of North America's Indigenous peoples, who've lived an entirely different codependent relationship with nature, one of consent. That is to say it's incredible that they had this relationship at all, because we clearly do not. They have a relationship with the very same nature of which we're inextricably part of, of which we rely on for clean air, food, and water, or it's game over. I mean, those are the starting stakes. And now, if we're not facing game over, of course, we're certainly up against the final boss, if we want to keep using a Nintendo metaphor. We live on stolen lands that were tended for thousands of years by Indigenous and Native Peoples.

Quinn:
And those lands have been dried out by mostly white settlers in what seems like the blink of an eye. Land that is now covered in cities and in suburbs. And industrialized agriculture desperately, and even controversially, conserved as national and state parks. We live on and near waters, onshore and offshore, that are full of plastic and fertilizer. Once bountiful, now overfished. And the receipts are in, right? It's not gone well for colonialists' stewardship of the single habitable ecosystem on this side of the galaxy as far as anyone can tell. New voices are needed, new policies and practices are needed. And perhaps the most compelling ones come from our land's longest-tenured human inhabitants. And while, yes, to be crystal clear, I'm focused on measurable actions we can take to build a vastly cleaner and better future for all people, but you know I work hard to bring you the necessary context so that we understand whatever we're talking about. Whether it's AI ethics or land conservation, land restoration, whatever it might be. To understand how we got here, why we got here, to understand the decisions and the systems involved. All of which should only make us more effective at taking action, at making progress for more people.

Quinn:
My guest today is Dr. Jessica Hernandez. Dr. Hernandez is an environmental scientist and founder of the environmental agency, Piña Soul. And the author of the new book, Fresh Banana Leaves, where she weaves together her family's relationship with nature, her people's relationship with nature, as part of nature. She weaves together her family's history of being displaced by war and colonialism over and over through this lens of eco-colonialism. And she talks about how restoration is the way forward if we'll just start with simply listening.

Quinn:
My guest today is Dr. Jessica Hernandez. And Dr. Hernandez is an environmental scientist, a founder of the environmental agency, Piña Soul, and the author of the new book that I loved, Fresh Banana Leaves. Jessica, welcome.

Jessica Hernandez:
[foreign language 00:03:34]. Thank you for having me here today.

Quinn:
Of course. Jessica, both before we get to conservation and restoration, and the book and all of those things, I have a few specific questions we need to get out of the way, which are very important. A little while ago, you tweeted a list of things that no one ever asks you about in these conversations. And that includes, one, you used to play rugby, which is very exciting. Because I played rugby for a little bit. What position did you play?

Jessica Hernandez:
I was a hook, so I was at the forward position. Yes.

Quinn:
Oh. All right, so you're pretty quick?

Jessica Hernandez:
I think so. I'm also very short, so I think it fits that position.

Quinn:
That's helpful. When I started playing rugby, I played a number of different sports and just really, I think, didn't understand what I was getting myself into. I remember a friend had given me some tapes to watch ahead of time. He's like, "You'll figure it out," I was like, "I'm not figuring it out." It's crazy. It's crazy. When did you play? Where did you play?

Jessica Hernandez:
So, when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. And I remember telling my parents, "Oh, it's like football," and they thought it was like football as in soccer. Because usually they refer to football as in soccer, but they didn't think it was referring to American football. So when they saw the first game, they were alarmed, because I was playing that.

Quinn:
That's awesome. I mean, to me it felt like one of those sports you played and you were either definitely into it or like, "It's too much." For lack of a better word, was the hook in you at that point?

Jessica Hernandez:
No, I don't think so. And I think I was dreading the 6:00 AM workouts, because you had to work out, lift weights with your team. And I think that, being in college, I was not for waking up so early, but I think eventually... I think it was more of the sense of community, right? Because you become in community with your teammates. And the traveling, it gets you closer to them. But yeah, I was not ready for that at a young age.

Quinn:
I can totally understand that. My first couple of years in college I was a swimmer. We would get up and be in the water at like 5:00, which now I look back and just think like, "What were you thinking, then?" I mean, just terrible life choices. And you said you love the All Black. For folks who aren't aware, the New Zealand national team, they're just truly, outrageously inspiring and very, very, very good at what they do. Tell me how you discovered them.

Jessica Hernandez:
We will watch rugby games, and they're the best out of the best, in my opinion. And it's just something, like a team, that everybody aspires to become, but I don't think we ever reached their level. But yeah, it was just exciting to watch their games. And it's still exciting to watch their games, because they're continuing to be one of the best rugby teams out there.

Quinn:
Yeah, it's something special to watch. I mean, I try to appreciate all sport for what it is, but what they've done, and like you said, sustained over such a period of time is amazing. Number two, you hate cake. Defend yourself. I need to understand this better.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. I just never liked cake. I think it's just a texture issue. And we have had a lot of Tres Leches cakes, and it's just cake with lot of milk. I just don't like cake. I tried them all and I still haven't really... I think they're too sweet, also.

Quinn:
That's fair. So do you have a dessert of choice in any condition or are you more of a savory?

Jessica Hernandez:
I'm more of a savory. If I were to have a dessert, it's usually scones. So they're very plain in terms of sweetness and stuff like that, but yeah.

Quinn:
Okay, that's fair. So, listen, this is the most controversial one, and I don't know if you remember this tweet and you're probably regretting it at this point. And I'm going to give you a little backstory of why I identified with what's going on here. So my brother, who is a monster, pours cereal, pours the milk and then walks away until it's soggy. And it's the only way he'll eat it. You, on the other hand, would you like to explain to the people how you prepare your cereal?

Jessica Hernandez:
Yes. Any kind of milk, I usually warm it up and then add it to the cereal.

Quinn:
Okay. So, just so I understand, so you warm the milk first and put in the cereal. You don't microwave the whole thing together.

Jessica Hernandez:
No, not the whole thing. It's just warming the milk, yes.

Quinn:
Fascinating. Fascinating. And then you eat it warm. I mean, I guess it's like an oatmeal or a porridge or something like that.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. And I also live in Seattle, which is 99% of the time cold.

Quinn:
Sure. Cold and rainy. So, no, I get that, for sure. I get that, for sure. Awesome. And the last one, you said you don't drink. I have given that up myself. What was behind that?

Jessica Hernandez:
I never liked the taste of any alcoholic beverage. I think it tastes like apple cider vinegar. Not the apple cider, but apple cider vinegar. It tastes like any healthy juice, so I'd rather just drink that.

Quinn:
I think that's fair. I think it was when I realized... There was one day I woke up and I said, "Oh, I feel hungover." And then I realized I hadn't even had any drinks the night before, I was just old and tired. So everything made me feel that way. And my wife and I had three kids in three years and I just realized, like, "I have no bandwidth for waking up behind the eight ball at all." So, I get it. Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing those random things. But I remember when I saw that tweet, I saved it and thought, "Oh, we're going to have to get into it. I feel like we could do a whole conversation about rugby and warm cereal." So, thank you. I appreciate it.

Quinn:
Jessica, from what I've gathered from your work... And I watched a number of other conversations you had with other folks, including one of my newer heroes, Dr. Beronda Montgomery, who I had on the show and I couldn't have loved her book and our conversation more than I did. She's just such an inspiring person. And it seems like your work seems to always come back to relationships. So, relationships among the people, with the land and waters, with everything else, the animals and shrubs and trees that we share this ecosystem with, the rest of nature. And you center so much of the book in your father's narrow escape from this terrifying civil war, hiding underneath, within this protective banana tree. It's a beautiful image. It's a beautiful tribute to your father. Writing a book is so hard for anyone, and yet you managed to weave all of these incredible things together and make it so invocative and impactful. And you didn't pull any punches. How did you come to this idea of weaving your father's story throughout what you wanted to say about your work?

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. So, I mean, just becoming an adult and seeing how my father's becoming an elder, right? It always was an interest of me to record his story somehow. And I think that being able to write a book about environmental sciences, conservation, especially from the lens of an Indigenous woman, right? Because oftentimes the book doesn't necessarily talk about environmental sciences or conservation in the way that we're taught in school. I decided to weave his story, especially given that a lot of the teachings that I have integrated in my field of study have come from him, knowing that we're displaced. So my father was my first teacher of nature, and also seeing how he manifested his relationship at a young age, as a little girl, with our environment and also reclaiming that relationship, right? Because we were in a foreign landscape and a foreign environment. I owe it to him, why I decided to pursue the environmental fields. And I think that that was a way of honoring his teachings as he's an elder.

Quinn:
That's beautiful. Getting any sort of degree, much less a PhD, especially in a system that, as you so eloquently explained, is built on teaching and standards, and ways of doing both of those, the philosophies and the methodologies, that are not very inviting to the more Indigenous ways that you were raised on through your father and everything else. At what point did you decide like, "A PhD is not enough. I want to write a book"? Like, "This is how I want to tell more of our story." So I guess even before you got to the part of your father, or maybe that was the inspiration.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. In the book, I talk about the experiences that I face, right? The invalidation of Indigenous ways of knowing, the invalidation of lived experiences. And I think that I had a great mentor, Dr. Kristiina Vogt who was my advisor for my PhD, and she had written many books, especially in the environmental sciences, talking about conservation. Her main focus is forestry, ecology, so she had allowed me to write several chapters for some of her books. And I think that just seeing how writing a book is different from peer reviewing or publishing in that realm, it just intrigued me. As you know, writing peer review articles, we have to write an abstract, then the methods, then the data. You cannot really integrate yourself or your stories. And I think that being able to write a book, it gave me that different lens of, "Oh, you can actually talk about yourself when you're writing a chapter. So you imagine what you can talk about when you write an entire book for yourself."

Quinn:
Sure. So you understand, and any new listeners, I always try to come at these conversations and in any of the work we do, it's folks find our community because they're often looking around, whether it's climate or COVID or something else, and saying, "What can I do?" And the most effective answer I've found is, "Well, Jessica, what can you do? What is the cross-section of your lived experiences and your skills and your passions?" Whether it's something you're interested in because of your family or seventh-grade science, or you're an artist or whatever it might be. If there's room for it, certainly. And we've certainly got a number of writers and creators and things like that of every flavor. So, I wonder if you can talk just for moment about, I guess, what that process was when you were like, "Oh, a book seems more conducive to the way I want to tell my story and why I come to restoration from this lens"? And what the actual process of writing a manuscript, finding a publisher, whether it was as not conducive to a creative experience as maybe your PhD experience was. It's a little more technical and logistical, but I think people are interested in that to basically go like, "How do I write a book? Why would anyone want to read a book that I've written?" Because I think that matters, the more we can share that with folks.

Jessica Hernandez:
I think that it's important to tell everyone that everyone has a story, right?

Quinn:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jessica Hernandez:
Everyone has an important story that they can share. And I think that when we look at the literature world, the stories that are often uplifted in climate change are those of experts, right? You need a PhD, you need 10 years of climate science research. There are a certain number of folks who are dominating that discourse, right? It's the same folks that you see when you turn on the news station talking about climate science. And I think that knowing that climate change is still happening and there's still little that is being done by our governments, everyone has a story that's important to share. And when I wrote the manuscript, I sent it to several presses. And I think that I shied away from the university presses because they're more strict on how you write, and I wanted to work with an editor who was going to let me write my story, right?

Jessica Hernandez:
Who wasn't going to tell me, "Oh, you need to write it in a way for more academics to only understand," or, "You need to include more terminology." And I think that that's why I decided to go under a smaller press house in Penguin Random House, because they also had experience writing Indigenous stories, Indigenous books, written books. And I think that that welcomed me into their environment, because they didn't determine how an Indigenous person should write. And I had read several of the Indigenous books that came from that press, and they're books that have had a home in my books shelf. So I think that that inspired me to go with them as opposed to a university press, where we write for the academic audience and not necessarily for the community at times.

Quinn:
Sure. Oh, that's wonderful you were able to find somewhere that was so understanding and accommodating of your story. And was, I imagine, at least relative to, like you were saying, university or press or one of these bigger, more mainstream houses, relatively hands-off. You submit the manuscript, you find this smaller house within Penguin Random House, what was the next step in your journey from there?

Jessica Hernandez:
I received the contract right before we went into lockdown for the pandemic. So I had signed the contract and I was like, "Oh, I'm going to write. I'm going to probably find a cafe to go every now and then, in between work or after work, especially-"

Quinn:
The dream, right?

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. "... to read and write." And then we went into extreme lockdown because the United States was like, "Oh, we're actually in a pandemic. Everything that we were saying was false. This is actually very highly contagious and it's leading us to many hospitalizations and deaths." So I literally started writing the book when we were in lockdown. So I think that my entire draft of like, "Oh, this is how I'm going to be writing the book," shifted completely. But I think it also allowed me to sit down and actually talk to the peoples whose stories are incorporated to be in community with them. It gave me a different perspective. Because I was not meaning to include so many stories, but I think that being in the pandemic, understanding how we were going to thrive, even as a community that needed each other, that needed to talk to each other, it gave me a different perspective. And I was like, "Wait a minute. Instead of just incorporating my father's story, I should incorporate other people who I'm in community with as well, their stories." Because they're important, and they're also a way of how I wanted to write this book.

Quinn:
Wow, that's fascinating. I mean, and I imagine a lot of folks feel this way, if they have been lucky enough to be able to do their work in a relatively safe environment the past couple years, I imagine there's a lot of people that at least somewhat similarly have approached it. Especially from a creative point of view, just realizing they're doing work that they've always wanted to do or maybe dreamed of doing, maybe not in a cafe, as we paint the picture. But at the same time, doing it through just an entirely different lens. I remember back, growing up, when a teacher would say, "Write a paper about anything." Even if it was third grade or high school or college, I would always spin and spin, and thinking like, "What do I write? What do I do? This, and this, and this." But I felt like I was more effective when a teacher would say, "Write me 500 words or 3000 words about the last week of summer vacation." And then I'd think, "Oh, constraints, that's super helpful. I know what to do and that can help paint the picture for me."

Quinn:
You even talk about COVID. It's so interesting reading it, for a number of reasons obviously, but because it incorporates so much of history, and so much of your history and your family and your people's history. Even as, like you said, you've been moved from place to place and now you're in Seattle, but at the same time it feels so much of the moment. Both in the, "If we don't do this now, we're making even more mistakes." And also, it's very clear, whether it's COVID or whatever it might be, that we have to elevate voices who have a relationship with the planet, who know how to care for it and proved that over thousands of years. Where, this moment we're in, and you've got this IPCC report this week, and it doesn't take much to look around... And look at what happened with the Northwest last year.

Quinn:
I mean, that incredibly devastating to see. There has never been a more important moment to start making huge change. So you pull no punches, as it were, in your book about white eco-colonialism and genocide among others. How important was it to you in writing the book and also now going forward in your work, Piña Soul and otherwise, that we not only find a far more practically holistic way of restoration and care and relationship-building with the earth, but to tell the story of how we got to this place? How much does that matter to your work? So that, I guess, we can understand the mistakes that have been made again by folks who look like me along the way.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. One of the reasons why I incorporate the history of settler colonialism is that oftentimes as scientists, when we're practicing our science, we exclude ourselves from settler colonialism. When we talk about marine sciences, do we really know the history behind who had founded that field of study, right? Do we know the Indigenous contributions to that field? Especially from the Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands who are navigating our oceans. And I think that as a result of that, writing the histories, especially a history that's still embedded in our society such as settler colonialism, it allows us to reflect a lot on the things that we can actually do, moving forward. Especially knowing that, for instance, this year the IPCC report mentioned that, "Oh, yeah, we should actually listen to Indigenous knowledge and include Indigenous knowledge," despite the United Nations COP Conference excluding Indigenous peoples from their platforms, from actually being invited.

Jessica Hernandez:
We had every representative except Indigenous communities, who were still trying to fight against the pandemic, right? Because a lot of the Indigenous communities, while the United States Native American tribes have led a great effort for COVID, a lot of Indigenous communities of the Global South don't really have access to vaccines, and they're still trying to grapple with that. And I think that it's ironic that you have the COP Conference and then you have the IPCC report notifying that, "Oh, we should actually listen to Indigenous peoples and integrate their knowledge." Because it's a little bit ironic, right? Because when you do have the platform to actually uplift those Indigenous knowledge systems, you actually don't do that. And it's always done in writing, right? And I hope that that translates to actions. And I think that as an Indigenous woman, I have experienced a lot of lip service, right? As we call it. And there has never been any action actually enacted to do what they're saying they're going to do. So I think that that also parallels the realities that many of us still live today, right? As Indigenous peoples in the environmental discourse and field.

Quinn:
I love that. And I was curious in knowing our conversation was coming up and seeing, like you said, that lip service in the IPCC report, but at the same time no real cooperation within COP itself, which, a complicated beast unto itself. And it really is remarkable. Because it's not difficult to look around, practically anywhere now, and understand that the purposeful omission, the erasure, the negligence of not including Indigenous voices throughout, of continuing to marginalize them, at best is only holding the entire endeavor back, right? We just continue to dig the whole deeper. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about Piña Soul. What the purpose is there, what you're working on, and what you hope to accomplish with it in the sense of, again, these greater scopes of lip service, having to carve out space where you can.

Jessica Hernandez:
Piña Soul is a small social purpose corporation that I founded right when I completed my doctoral degree, and that was because we experienced a pandemic. And a lot of my relatives are artisans, right? So they embroider, they bead, they also do filigrana which is this gold kind of jewelry. It's an ancient tradition that has stayed in Oaxaca. So I wanted to support them in the small ways that I could, especially given that in the pandemic tourism was going to shut down, especially. And they relied a lot on tourism, so I think that that was the sole purpose of it. And then I decided that I can actually integrate some of the consultation services so that we can start having these conversations with have organizations who can actually have the power to enact changes. Who have the power to actually start reflecting and being like, "Oh, maybe we should include Indigenous peoples, but how do we do that?"

Jessica Hernandez:
And I think that it's a growing small social purpose corporation, and the social purpose corporation is one of the business models that Washington's state has. I think Hawaii has that as well, and there's one other state that has that model, where you can make some profit but it's for a social purpose. So it's like a business integrated with a nonprofit, but not necessarily in the sense of a nonprofit that cannot make any profit. So I think that I decided to go with that model to see how I can support my relatives and also give consultation services whenever we have the capacity. And through that funding that we do get from both of those things, we're able to give small micro-grants for Black and Indigenous-led conservation efforts. And you don't necessarily have to be a nonprofit, right?

Quinn:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jessica Hernandez:
Because not all of our community members have the resources to establish a nonprofit. So we give out micro-grants to individuals who do that work.

Quinn:
That's really cool. I love that you've, I wouldn't say pivoted it, but evolved it to becoming something that's so much more directly applicable and practical in doing the work. It seems like such a beautiful extension of, like you said, where you come from and your people, and the elders and what they make with their hands, and what you are trying to make through your own work and in working with those structures. So, I'm curious on the sense of how that is going. Is it more incoming calls or outgoing calls? Because we are desperate for new ways to heal and care for this earth we're so lucky to have, right? As far as we can tell, one habitable place. The power structures are still, and this is how they're just incentivized, unwilling to do what's needed to take decisive action, to stop doing more damage to start with. And at the same time, they're reluctant to even discuss broader measures. More impactful things like giving stolen lands back to Indigenous people, whether it's the parks or elsewhere, no matter how badly we've scarred them. But I'm curious, through this evolution of Piña Soul, and coming off your book and your degree, where you might be finding some successes working with some of these groups. If you're finding places where you can be most effective, that are most receptive, and how that can be transferred to even more success down the line.

Jessica Hernandez:
It's interesting, right? Because through Piña Soul, when we do the call for funding projects, we do get a lot of applications. So I think that it solidifies the fact that Black and Indigenous communities are doing a lot of the projects to support their communities, but yet there's no funding going towards Black and Indigenous communities. And those are the two communities that we focus on, but that doesn't say that other communities of color are not doing the same kind of work. And I think that it's hard, right? When we are deciding who to fund or which projects to fund because they're limited, funding that we have. And also, there's a huge influx of people submitting applications. So I think it shows that organizations should be doing more, especially organizations that have the capital to fund these Black and Indigenous or community-led initiatives that are trying to address the healing of our landscapes. And I think another thing is that knowing everybody has a role to play in the healing of our landscapes. It's whether we have to step back, whether we have to uplift other voices, whether we have to give back the land, we all have a role. And sometimes it's finding our position in that role, and seeing whether we're willing to do that and do the actions that our roles tell us, demand us to do as people.

Quinn:
Do you enjoy this place structurally, how Piña Soul is set up? As, like you said, it's not a nonprofit, it's not a profit, it's a special sort of newer social thing. But also being this conduit almost, between, like you said, funding and then finding a way to apply that to people, artisans, who can do things. And it doesn't require much to enhance their efforts. Like you said, even a micro-grant can go so far. I think of... We had a wonderful conversation with a couple of the folks who work with this large anti-poverty organization called GiveDirectly, and they work a lot with just giving people cash. Because they've done so many studies and said one of the most effective things we can do is let people have autonomy over their decisions. Because on any given day, someone who's living underneath the global extreme poverty line, which I think is a $1,90, one of the most effective things we can do is let them decide.

Quinn:
Because on any given day they could need food or housing, or water or transportation or something like that. And if you just go and build wells or you just go and give food, or whatever it might be, that's not letting them dictate how they want to live and need to live, and address their needs in a way that they have autonomy over it, that's going to help them elevate themselves and their families and their businesses, whatever it might be. That's why I was so interested to hear about how you're doing this microloan version with Piña.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. So with those micro-grant, we have a board. I'll usually ask for volunteers to review the application so that there's no biased decisions made. And I think that we are able to give micro-grants ranging from $100 up to $1,000, depending on what the community asks and also what kind of funding we have during that year. And I think that being able to incorporate my family's way of living, especially with the artesanias, it allows us to generate some funding so that we don't rely necessarily on donations or sponsors. Because oftentimes, especially in the pandemic, we can be a little bit overconsumed with donations, right? Because all of our inequalities were amplified during the pandemic. And I think that we can have that donation fatigue at times, especially when we want to give. But a lot of us have lost our jobs or a source of income, right? That's something that we shouldn't ignore as well. And I think that through that, we are able to sell goods, give most of the profit back to the artisans themselves, and then get some of that donations that they decide to give for these small micro-grants. And right now it's a small cycle, but hopefully with more manpower we can't make it a little bit more of a bigger organization. But I think that that will probably take years.

Quinn:
But that's the time we have and the work we have to do. I was talking with a friend who's a excellent climate change reporter, and we're about the same age. And we were realizing that if this idea that we need to decarbonize everything by 2050, it's very easy to look at where we are in our lives and realize like, "Oh, that's the extent of our work life, basically." And it makes you take a step back and go, "I think this is how I'm going to spend my time and use it in the most effective way that I can." For me, that's focusing on action and focusing on being as inclusive and cooperative as I can with folks like yourselves and other ones, who clearly have very different lived and work experiences and they're clearly infinitely smarter and more capable than I am, and finding ways to amplify that as much as possible. For Piña, most of the micro-grants, are they more local or regional to your area in the Northwest or is it all over the place? How do you prefer to do that as you're trying to, like you said, scale this operation up?

Jessica Hernandez:
The micro-grants that we have given out, and also the applications, they are more local-based. So we are trying to work with a nonprofit and Sustainable Seattle to see how we can get more funding for the local initiatives. But our hope's and the board, and everybody who's behind Piña Soul, is to make it more national. And I think it has to do with Piña Soul having been established in the State of Washington and more people being familiar with the small organization here than at the national level. So, hopefully it will go national. Especially knowing that there are so many communities across the country who are doing the same initiatives to support their communities as well.

Quinn:
You're not wrong. It's not difficult to look up, even pre-COVID, and feel that we're all being pulled in a million directions. Like you said, donation fatigue. And I remember doing, when my young cousin, who survived and did well, got a blood cancer when she was very early-20s, and I remember using Facebook. Going on and saying, "Hey, friends, I'm raising money to try to give to the folks who were doing research for her specific type of blood cancers." And that was such a novel sort of thing at the time, to use that as an instrument to harness the collective, to try to focus as opposed to just asking one-on-one-on-one.

Quinn:
And now, flash forward, again, even pre-pandemic, there's so many people and groups and marginalized people, or people who have some sort of preexisting condition or some sort of tragedy. And we're just all being pulled in so many different directions at every time, that it's really hard to focus as someone either if you're trying to give it or someone, like yourself, who's trying to give it but do it in this focused way to identify, "How do I most successfully bring in enough funding to keep this going, if not to grow it?" But it seems like identifying such a specific use case is a good way of going about that, so that people can identify in their mind, "Oh, this organization does this specifically. And that's something that I care about and I'm interested in, and I want to support and elevate." Do you find that that's helpful? That you have a calling card almost, to say like, "This is what we do."

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. That's something that we'll do. And also, I think one of the things that we do is that we also amplify mutual aids. And mutual aids is just a Indigenous way of life where, if we have a little bit more, we give it to the family who's in need. And I think that amplifying mutual aid, especially the projects that are happening back in our ancestral lands in the Global South, especially in Latin America, it has allowed us to generate enough donations to actually help the communities complete those projects. So, I remember working with the Mixtec community, with this Indigenous-women-led artisanal cooperate that also played a role in Fresh Banana Leaves, the book. And during the hurricane season, they lost their milpas, right? Their communal harvest.

Jessica Hernandez:
So they were facing food insecurity. And as a result of that, we decided to create a mutual aid so that we can support the communities. Especially the people who were most impacted, which was single mothers and elders because they didn't have any of other economic or income source. So we were able to fundraise enough to provide them with food for an entire year. And that was through a mutual aid effort and knowing that, being in the United States, the US dollar carries a heavyweight globally, especially in the global economy. So a dollar sometimes is up to 21 Mexican Pesos, which is a lot of money in Mexico. And as a result of that, we were able to raise enough for the whole year of food for over 24 families. And I think that it shows the power that even if we donate a dollar, especially for communities of the Global South, it can actually be expanded much more than, unfortunately, in the United States.

Quinn:
Sure. I feel like that's one of the main things I really understood as I try to go into these conversations that I endeavor to, and often fail, but do my best to learn as much as I can about the person and the subject, and the greater landscape around it. And similarly, when I was really trying to understand where we've come on global poverty and where we are, and why the measuring lines are where they are. And what the systems are behind why certain places are still dealing with it or getting worse. It's one thing to say there's a poverty line or extreme poverty, but like you were saying, it's so vastly different in each place. And also, it is a measure of what you can attain for these goods, right? Clean air, clean water, clean and healthy food to start with, at the least, and some shelter.

Quinn:
And we have enormous structural systemic problems here, and most of them are undergirded by racism. But it is incredible, like you were saying, how far a dollar can go in some places. Especially places, like you said, when those hurricanes came. I mean, millions of people just devastated. And so many of them are, to categorize it in a lazy way, subsistence farmers, which is they're growing the food they eat. They're not going out and buying a whole bunch of other stuff. And your story of how the milpas was lost was just crushing. And I really appreciated the nuance you took to really explain what that whole process was like, how it was supposed to work, so I could better understood how it failed and what that meant when it didn't, and all of the different pieces of the ecosystem that were related to it. But it really is incredible how much just a small amount of money can have to help folks recover, or just to elevate themselves and feel a sense of security.

Jessica Hernandez:
Oftentimes, that goes back to what it means to be a displaced Indigenous person, because we still hold those responsibilities with our communities back in our ancestral lands. And I think that that's something that my parents have taught me. That despite it all, we are still responsible for helping our communities, especially in times of need, to our capacities. And I think that having the privilege, right? To have a PhD, to even have a social media platform, because internet is something that... It's a privilege back in our homelands, right?

Quinn:
Sure.

Jessica Hernandez:
Because our communities don't have access to the internet. I'm able to elevate those mutual aids and get donations, and I think that it takes a community and a village to do that kind of work. And it also goes back to the responsibilities, right? That we have with the land, with the people, and in my case also with my communities back in my ancestral lands as well.

Quinn:
Well, I appreciate you sharing that, again, just on top of this idea, this necessary but so lacking fabric of relationships. Again, not just with each other. "Should I wear a mask? Should I not? Who does it matter? Am I protecting myself? Am I protecting other people?" But also, again, applicable to the land and the water, and the animals and the plants, whether they edible or not. And you talked a little bit about consent. Willing consent is this thing that Americans are dealing with on such a far-reaching and intimate scale these days, right? So women are increasingly standing up to men who take advantage of them, right? But they still have to fight. And often, as we've seen, fail to keep sexual aggressors off of the Supreme Court, right? You've got the largest companies of all time, started here. And now, in this sudden race over the past 10 years, they are able to collect and profit off of our data. Our actual locations. And often either without our consent, only discovered later, or if they have it, it's buried underneath pages of legalese that few people are ever going to read, much less actually understand without a degree, right?

Quinn:
Equivalent to yours, but in an entirely different profession. Again, there's this beautiful history of living in a relationship with the nature around us, that we should ask consent and similarly show gratitude for what we take. Because we are taking it, right? And that we should only take what we need. And I thought about it. I was watching a presentation that Robin Wall Kimmerer gave pretty recently. I believe she said this in a few other places, but it says, "Never take the first plant you find, as it might be the last, and you want that first one to speak well of you to the others of her kind." That seems so simple, and yet at the same time so revolutionary to so many folks, again, like me, who were raised in the society we're in and built these power structures. But in addition to giving land back, to restoration and enabling more Indigenous positions in these power structures of care, what are some policies of holistic restoration and care that you feel like could be successful in more places? I guess, where have you actually started to see some success, some progress, and how can we transfer that to more places as we work against the clock that we built ourselves?

Jessica Hernandez:
So I think living in the State of Washington, right? The example that comes to mind is when the tribes fought to get their treaty rights recognized, where they have the right for 50% of the custom salmon species that come through this region. And I think that that took them to take their fight to the legal court system. And that's known as the Boldt decision, where Judge Boldt decided that, "Actually, yes. We should actually enact the treaty rights and give those tribes the right to their salmon." And as a result of that, the tribes here, the federal recognized tribes, I think it's 29, have a right to steward conservation efforts or protection initiatives for the salmon. And I think that that shows an example of how giving back the land or giving ownership of that stewarding for our natural resources can actually elevate conservation efforts and also integrate Indigenous knowledge. And I can also think of the Presidential Memorandum, right? That President Biden passed where he was like, "Oh, we should actually also incorporate Indigenous knowledge," or as he called it, traditional ecological knowledge, when talking about environmental efforts. But that's still a memorandum, right? Is not actually a law. So, hopefully that presidency decides to enact it into law so that we can see that at the national scale as well.

Quinn:
Are there other places around the world, perhaps in the Global South, and I know you said Mexico is very far from it, so are there places that are actually seeing more progress on these things? That are more accommodating and progressive, and enabling more Indigenous power to revert to a system that actually works, of relationships and care?

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. I can think of the recent situation that happened in Ecuador where, I think, 3,200 barrels of oil were actually emitted in the Amazon rainforest. But again, it takes a tragic event, environmental disasters to happen in order for government structures to listen to the Indigenous communities. So as a result of that, the government decided like, "Oh, yeah. Tribes should give a consent whether there can be oil or extractive energy resources, or projects happening in their Indigenous lands. And without consent, those projects cannot actually move forward in building or constructing their pipelines." And I think that that's another example. But again, these are examples where an extreme environmental disaster happens and then that's when the government is actually like, "Oh, okay. The tribes are advocating for their rights at the federal level or a judicial level, so let's actually listen to them." But it's unfortunate, right? That these situations have to happen where most of our environments are destroyed. Especially with oil, it's obviously going to have a negative impact. It's going to take a while for the landscapes to actually restore. And as a result of that, right? It takes that for governments to actually listen to Indigenous people.

Quinn:
Yeah. Disaster shouldn't be the prerequisite for this sort of action, for this sort of movement to enable folks who clearly have a record and a way of life, and a philosophy and a methodology, all of those things, of healing, of taking care of one another and taking care of what's around us. I don't want to keep you too long. So, again, we try to towards these action steps that folks can take. So, besides checking out Piña Soul, any other specific recommendations you might have for, again, our community to get involved? Either themselves or on their local front because, again, it's the United States, you live on stolen land. There are ways to enact change wherever you might be. To search out any missions that might be ongoing, that they could support in any way, even if that's not appropriate, to get directly involved, whatever the case. But also, I was curious, you mentioned that your publishing at Penguin Random House had published some Indigenous books that you enjoyed before, and if you want to share any of those? You can also send them to me later and we can throw them in the show notes. Whatever's easier. So I'll just leave it to you to... How do you feel like is the best way to folks to get educated and get onboard and contribute?

Jessica Hernandez:
I think one of the ways is also to learn who's Indigenous lands you're currently occupying or settled on, and I think that's through native-land.canada. And I think that that's a great way to immerse yourself into learning more about the Indigenous histories. The map doesn't necessarily show you the history, but then you can do a Google search of the Indigenous communities whose lands you're currently on and seeing what kind of initiatives they're actually leading, because we can focus a lot of our efforts in our own backyard. Another way is also to pick up Indigenous scholarship. And I think some of the books that the publishing company has that I can think of is, I think... Medicine is Sacred is one of them, and I think Sacred Instructions is another one. But I can send you a link as well, because I-

Quinn:
Send me whatever you want and we'll put it in the show. I don't mean to put you on the spot with it. If you asked me what are the five books I read most recently, I couldn't remember a single one, even though I love them all. So, I totally get it. I'm not going to make you do that. Thank you. I'm excited for myself, selfishly. And also, we'll get to this in a sec with one other question, but we've used the website Bookshop. I'm not sure if you're familiar with, they support independent bookstores. We've got a whole list of our guest book recommendations on there, so we'll put those on there. Well, if they're available there. If not, we'll link to it in a more specific way. So, a few last questions that we ask everybody and then we'll get you out of here, Jessica. And again, thank you so much for your time and your scholarship. When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something that was really practically meaningful? Again, whether that's yourself or in your community, or as part of a group of friends, whatever it might have been.

Jessica Hernandez:
I guess for me it's interesting, because my maternal nation, the nation that my mom comes from, is actually matriarchal. So instead of patriarchy, the women are the ones who are leading our nations. Our nations consists of different pueblos, but at least in the Pueblo from my mom, it's still something that's really recognized. Because we will visit back our homes, how women had this power to speak up, right? How my grandmother will be telling everybody what to do, even my grandfather, and how she led basically our entire family. So I think that seeing her being that kind of powerful Indigenous woman allowed me to realize like, "Oh, I also have the power," right? Because I was a shy student growing up, especially in my K-12 educational system. And I think that seeing that, manifesting that role, that reverse of roles, because in the United States we're accustomed to patriarchy-

Quinn:
Of course.

Jessica Hernandez:
... it allowed me to be like, "Oh. Actually, a woman can also speak up. And a woman can also tell people what to do, and also be respected for it as well."

Quinn:
I love that. That's really cool. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Jessica Hernandez:
Dr. Beronda Montgomery and also Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, because they're both Black scholars who have actually written books also. And they have taken me under their wing and also supported me, right? As a young writer and also as somebody who just published their first book, on how to actually do these kind of things. So, I will have to give them both props.

Quinn:
Oh, I love that. Well, I couldn't have enjoyed my conversation and getting to know Dr. Beronda Montgomery enough. On top of her own scholarship and her work, her entire philosophy and attitude towards mentorship is just so beautiful and something to learn from. I'm a big fan of Dr. Prescod-Weinstein. I would love to have her on the show at some point. I got to keep earning it here. Jessica, when things are chaos and difficult, as they've been for a while now, what is your self-care? How do you take care of your self? Because that is actually just as important as what can people do. People are trying to do the right thing and help, but they're also like, "I am completely burnt out. Things are a little gnarly." And I think they appreciate hearing from folks like yourself who are so impressive and inspirational say, "Sometimes I just got to go for a walk or eat ice cream," or whatever it might be, or hot cereal.

Jessica Hernandez:
So for me, this is more of in academia, right? Talking about academia. We tend to bring our works home. And it's ironic, right? Because a lot of us have been working from home, but I think just setting boundaries, when I'm like, "Okay, so I'm going to work until 4:00 and that's it, whether I'm done or still have to work." And then I start watching TV shows or I start reading. And I think being able to do that during the pandemic and setting those really harsh boundaries of like, "If I get an email after 4:00 PM, I'm not going to respond to it because that can wait until tomorrow." And also practicing self-care. So, it's reading a book, watching television, because we have a lot of great TV shows during the pandemic that have come out. So catching up on those shows, and also going for a walk. Because I think that oftentimes we focus so much on sitting, and I just like to go for a walk. My allergies during the season just amplify, because I guess the trees and the pollen. And the rain, right? Is spreading a lot of the soil up in the air. But yeah, I like to go for a walk. Especially wear a mask that can probably prevent my allergies from just flushing out.

Quinn:
I hear that. What are you watching? I'd love to know. What's your, "Oh my god, I turned off the work. I'm done"? Like, "I couldn't be more excited to just watch."

Jessica Hernandez:
So I'm into the show Euphoria, which is... I think that it's supposed to be more for younger people, but I actually like it.

Quinn:
I feel like I'm not allowed to watch it, I'm so old.

Jessica Hernandez:
Because, I mean, it shows you a different light. I just really like the whole premises of the storyline. I think it's a mature story, it's not for younger folks. And also, I'm rewatching Devious Maids which was, I think, a show that came out a couple years ago, but it's very funny to me for some reason.

Quinn:
Awesome. You got to have something. It makes a big difference to have something like that to look forward to. I love reading, but sometimes I just got to turn it all off and do that. Last one, what is a book you've read this year that has opened your mind to a topic you hadn't considered before or has actually changed your thinking in some way? And again, we'll throw that all up on Bookshop and-

Jessica Hernandez:
So I think it would be Dr. Emil' Keme's book which is on Mayan literature. Just because, being so stuck in the sciences, I haven't really looked at, "Oh, there's actually a lot of Mayan literature that's important." And it has transformed as we have gone from like, "Oh, this is a ancient civilization and no longer exists," to actually scholars and writers actually writing poems in our different Mayan languages. So I think that that was a book that I was like, "Oh, this is actually awesome." Because it's talking about literature and poems. Talking about more writing, but from the Mayan perspective.

Quinn:
Sure. I love that. Well, yeah, if you can send me the name of that, I would love to look it up and I'll try to add it to the list as well. Last one, where can our listeners follow you online and Piña Soul? And we'll obviously put the link to the book out there as well.

Jessica Hernandez:
Twitter, because sometimes I'm like, "Oh, I forget that I'm actually tweeting things to people." So, that would be the best way to get to meet me online.

Quinn:
Awesome. We'll put all that on there so everybody can follow your incredible work, and link to the book, which I would love if everybody had a read. Dr. Hernandez, thank you so much for your time, your scholarship, for your writing and sharing your history with us. And your mission to enable more folks, going forward, to live with the land, with the water, with the nature around us in a much more restorative way. Because there is clearly no time like the present to finally start doing that. So, thank you very much.

Jessica Hernandez:
Yeah. And thank you for sharing your space with me, and I hope that this conversation might help someone out there.

Quinn:
Absolutely. That's all we can try to do. Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout, or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It has all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:
And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @Importantnotimp. Just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram at Important, Not Important. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast to keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:
Please.

Brian:
And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:
Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:
Thanks, guys.