Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dust: Stories from the Grants Mineral Belt

          One week after packing the contents of my small apartment into a rusty Ford Taurus wagon and driving across the country to Central New Mexico, I wandered over to the local Wells Fargo to open a bank account. Between questions about checking accounts and “free security options” the teller suddenly looked up from her long painted nails and asked, “You haven’t been drinking the tap water, have you?” Yes, I had been. The next day I began asking everyone I met what they knew about uranium mining and contaminated drinking water in the towns closest to my new home. Local activist Candace Head-Dylla was quick to fill me in. There are five aquifers that used to enrich the carrot fields in Milan until mining replaced agriculture as the area’s major source of revenue. In 1961, the Homestake/Barrick Gold Corporation announced that four of those five water sources were unsafe to drink or use for irrigation. Although not a single health study has been conducted in the area, many residents are certain that exaggerated rates of cancer in their County was caused by seepage from radioactive waste piles. 
        These photographs and audio portraits were captured in towns and on tribal lands nestled between the world's largest open pit uranium mine and an enormous pile of toxic waste, or tailings pile, approximately 200 acres wide by 100 feet tall. Both sites lay open to New Mexico’s powerful winds which blow harmful dust all over Central New Mexico. These piles and pits represent the legacy of uranium extraction and processing in the American Southwest. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 five-year review of the old Homestake/Barrick Gold mill, the Agency states that ambient radon levels at the boundary of the site far exceeds levels of radiation that they consider acceptable or safe. Most of the characters in this multimedia essay have been diagnosed with cancer or negatively affected in other ways by mining activities. Through this multimedia essay I hope to document a landscape in danger (not yet endangered) and its people who live with the psychological and physical effects of sharing a region and history with the uranium industry.
        My deepest thanks goes to Kathleen Clemons, Dale Clemons, Robin Clemons, Pueblo of Acoma elders, Berleen Estevan, MASE, LACSE and so many others who shared their stories, homes and dinner tables with me. 


Grants. New Mexico. 2011. 

Lynn Head worked for the copper mines most of his life until an accident crushed his left shoulder. When asked what he thought of people who said the uranium industry was poisoning the town he responded: “If people say they don’t want any more mining, I tell ‘em, go back home and turn off the lights and live in the dark. We need energy and this is the way to get it.”

                                           Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Retired miner.  

Pueblo of Acoma, NM. 2011. Senior Center Head Cook, Berleen Estevan.

Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Edward Hunt points to ripe peaches in his backyard. 

Jemez. New Mexico. 2011. Rachelle Simpson in a shallow pool.  

Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Hummingbirds announce the beginning of Summer.

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Dale Clemons in front of the old village. 

Pueblo of Acoma. 2011. Lonely Rock.

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Natural Spring.

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Senior Center, Director Robin Clemons.

                 Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Butchering a lamb for the Day of the Dead. 

Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Main Street. 

Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. 

Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Candace Head-Dylla.

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Stan Garcia on his porch. 

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Dust storm before the rain.  

Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Half a mile away from the Homestake tailings pile, the EPA has determined that ambient radon far exceeds what is considered "safe" levels of toxicity. Milan residents remember homes that were once closest to the Homestake Tailings pile but have since been purchased by the mineral extraction company and buried where their homes once stood, without explanation. This is the site of a buried home. 

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Family gathering.

Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Children play half a mile from the Homestake Barrick-Gold mill tailings pile.

      Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Danielle Clemons and Caitlin Johnson in traditional dress.

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Agnes Sanchez, 94, keeps an eye on the main road passing through the Acoma reservation. 

                               Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Erwin Juanico in uniform.

                                 Grants, New Mexico. 2011. Nora Wilson walking in the park. 

Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Andres Garcia.

                                                    Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011.

Pueblo of Laguna. New Mexico. 2011. Snowstorm. 

Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Abandoned motel next to the train tracks. 

Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Satellites. 

Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Treasure hunter. 

Pueblo of Acoma. NM. 2011. Raymond Concho Senior.

                                                  Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. 

Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Mount Taylor. The mountain was stripped of its title as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) in February, 2011 after mining companies and individuals sued the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee and Pueblo of Acoma. TCP designation expands the bureaucratic requirements that must be met before developing land of significant cultural value.  

Nicaragua, Tan Dulce Como Violento

('Nicaragua, As Sweet As it is Violent' seen painted on the side of a community center in Matagalpa)

I wake up at six thirty when the roosters crow. The neighbor’s dogs yelp and bark at the chickens that scatter dust in the front yard, tearing up Fatima’s flowers. Still haven’t opened my eyes. Pigeons scuttle across the tin roof and green mangos fall from the shade tree above us and the whole house shakes. Half an hour later I listen to Fatima and Karem coming back from church. They open the front gate and I open my eyes. For at least five more minutes I have this space, in bed underneath my mosquito net as absolutely mine. Before Fatima’s granddaughter, Honey Sashenka, comes running in “Sarita! Sarita!”; before the Evangelical music blares “Nuestro Jesus” and Karem sets oil popping to deep-fry the morning eggs and beans, I feel lazy-comfortable and undiscovered watching sunlight seep through the gap between my bedroom wall and ceiling.

Machismo in Nicaragua is suffocating. Since living in Nicaragua I understand the necessity of fighting for gender equality. Simply put: a woman should have the right to walk the streets unmolested, to work for an equal wage, to know that violation is not the result of a short skirt or confident swagger, but rather the ill-intentioned, conscious decision of the aggressor. These photographs are a tribute to the exceptional women in Nicaragua’s activist groups who give their time, and often their lives, to the struggle for mutual respect and the freedom to live without fear.

During my semester abroad in Mataglapa, Nicaragua, I interned with the only feminist group in the region, Grupo Venancia. The name was taken from a leading female activist for women’s rights within the campo, or rural areas of Nicaragua during the 35 year Somoza dictatorship. The Group has continued on this vein, spearheading the fight against President Daniel Ortega’s ban on therapeutic abortion and holding monthly seminars on religious fundamentalism, globalization and economics. The goal is that these participants, as young as 13 and many of them mothers, become economically self-sufficient and take on leadership roles in their communities.

The Groupo is currently collecting statistics and testimonials from women who have experienced domestic violence. This form of abuse towards women, as well as Femicide- the murder of women for not other reason than their sex or their role as mother, wife, or daughter—have been named the highest threat to women in the country. The Group has made it their priority to combat these acts of violence.

Members of Grupo Venancia wearing Gueguence masks. Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Home in a Nicaraguan neighborhood. San Jose, Costa Rica. 

Police station. Dario, Nicaragua. 

Kitchen of a rest-stop on the road to Jinotega. Matagalpa, Nicaragua. 

Marisol. Member of Grupo Venancia. Matagalpa, Nicaragua. 

Bed in a women's shelter. Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
For many women who have decided to take legal action against 
their agressors, this is a safe haven. The young woman
 and child sitting on this bed a moment before the photo
 was taken had just left home because it was no longer safe 
for her or her son.The night before her husband had attacked
the child with a machete, leaving a gash on
the right side of his head, from scalp to jaw. 

Woman and child at seed bank. Waslala, Nicaragua.

Waiting room of Radio Waslala, Nicaragua. 
Radio Waslala and the municipality's women's center work closely
with Grupo Venancia to help organize events, lectures, and teach-ins. 

Wilmara in the Grupo's library. Matagalpa, Nicaragua. 

Gloria and her mother waiting for the resident psychologist to 
begin the group rape counceling session at the women's center.
Waslala, Nicaragua. 

Seed bank. Waslala, Nicaragua.

My Caminata Statement and Photographs


It is impossible for me to think of the City without invoking the Island.

The Island is my aunt whose nostalgia for her homeland cannot be separated from her absolute devotion to New York as her home of forty-eight years. The Island is the story of my grandparents whom I never met: abuelita and her pot of stew, the one she kept boiling on the stove in case her neighbor’s children or the mailman, were hungry. The Island is abuelo and his sense of humor that allowed for laughter, instead of panic, when he came home from a night of gypsy-cabbing with a pair of crutches instead of payment. A gift, he said, from the man with a broken foot who miraculously healed and darted for the door as they reached his stop. These stories make up the landscape I once thought of as Puerto Rico.

I took these photographs in Titi Carmen’s neighborhood while re-tracing her morning walk. Along the way she pointed out buildings, now condemned landmarks covered in yellow tape, where she was married, or where las Españolas—the Spanish women—lived. The buildings are dilapidated, but her memories remain strong. As I followed her caminata across the pavement Carmen traveled back and forth in time and place. She recalled her dead husband, my grandmother’s last  few days with Alzheimers, and on the Island, orchids and a priest who saved her mother from cancer.

For Carmen, memory expands the limits of geography. At eighty-three she does not leave Manhattan. She is afraid to take the train alone, which zips by her building every few minutes. Carmen has defined the physical boundaries of this new island yet, listening to her stories, I no longer pay attention to the traffic, construction on Madison ave, or my shoes slapping concrete; for an instant I inhale the smoke of burning rice and wonder if that Baptist priest wore a camouflage hat. I have realized that place lives within us. In this world geography does little to stifle memory, which exists without borders.

20"x30" Inkject prints from digitally scanned 35m color negatives.