All writing and photos by MMR © 2018

PROJECTS 

ARTIVISTAS, GENTRIFICATION AND THE STURGGLE FOR URBAN SPACE IN MEXICO CITY

2019 - present

In early 2017 a procession of 1,200 people took over Avenida Chapultepec and Paseo la Reforma, two major avenues of Mexico City. The crowd traversed Colonia Juarez in honor of Santa Mari La Juarica, the neighborhood’s patron saint against gentrification. Artists Jorge Baca and Sandra Valenzuela created the effigy and altar to La Santa in their art gallery in Colonia Juarez in response to developers encroaching on their neighborhood, and after Baca called for the demonstration against gentrification, Indigenous Otomi, Mazahua y Hñåhñu residents of Colonia Juarez took command of the procession, wrapping the small wooden saint in a rebozo (shawl) and carrying her through the streets. What began as an art piece has become popularized, become folklore, with demonstrators recounting the miracles granted by Santa Mari La Juarica as they are confronted by the gentrification of their neighborhoods.

This research asks: How does gentrification, an anglo term, register in the vernacular of Mexico City artists, and how do they influence the term's entrance into the Mexican popular lexicon? How does their understanding of gentrification exist in relation to that of art-activists in Oakland? Is the term racialized as it is in Oakland, given the vastly different racial geographies of the national/regional context?

This project will take place in relation to my Oakland-based work, in an effort to build a transnational conversation around art, racial geographies, and urban space across the Americas. 

Drawing from the theories of Gloria Anzaldúa, this project considers urban crises by using the borderlands as an analytic, superseding notions of colonial racial capitalist development and dislocating the narrative from one of gentrification’s stages of inevitability to connect urban struggles to struggles against empire. By using the borderlands as an analytic for a gentrifying city, I argue that urban space is understood not only as a shifting landscape upon which hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces battle for meaning, but rather the borderlands implore a reckoning with the violent day to day struggles of those undergoing dispossession.

 

Complicating conventional social scientific and policy understandings of the role art and artists play in gentrifying cities, this project documents the ways that art-activists of color disrupt discourses of redevelopment and gentrification in Oakland, and insist that city governance recognize their geographies so they can determine their own futures. I find that the artists engaged in this work produce resilient counter-topographies of the city they call home. Their art-activist practices reveal how urban processes of foreclosure, excessive policing, and capitalist redevelopment function in tandem to disproportionately harm Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives.

 

This project is radically interdisciplinary: it breaks ground in the burgeoning conversation of decolonial geographies, contributes to vital theorizing on Black geographies, and threads junctures between the fields of performance studies, ethnic studies, and urban studies. I engage the performances, visual art and poetry that Oakland art-activists of color create to represent the spaces they inhabit so as to better understand the multiple topographies of the city itself. Ultimately, by placing art-activism in conversation with urban and cultural theory, I argue that the creative practices of resistance enacted in Oakland expand conceptions of urban space and urban life.

Publications: Ramírez, M.M. (2019) City as Borderland: Gentrification and the Policing of Black & Latinx Geographies in Oakland. Environment & Planning D, Online first:  https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775819843924

CITY AS BORDERLAND

art-activism amid racialized dispossession

in Oakland

2013 - 2018

BLACK FOOD GEOGRAPHIES & RACIALIZED FOOD SPACES 

2009 - 2014

Placing the community food practices of two community food organizations in Seattle, Washington in the historical and spatial context of the plantation, this project considered how racialized processes rooted in the plantation continue to influence society, and how black food geographies resist and reimagine the present. By threading theories of racial viscosity with those of black geographies, this project offered a multifaceted theoretical foundation upon which to consider the ways that race and racial histories are embedded in food spaces.

 

Through a multi-year engagement with food justice organization Clean Greens Farm & Market, this project considered how Black food geographies produce distinct spatial practices of urban agriculture. I considered the ways that the site of the Black farm is used to envision plantation futures, where Black food justice projects use the land as a tool of liberation, drawing from practices of resistance that stem from plantation survival strategies (McKittrick 2013). I contend that the Black food geographies of Clean Greens also served to stake claims to urban space, so as to re-inscribe blackness onto the gentrifying Seattle landscape.

Lastly, this project troubled the use of urban gardening projects, considering how when white food spaces "revitalize" vacant land in what were predominantly Black neighborhoods such as Seattle's Central District, their whiteness adds value to the land and further fuels the dispossession of Black residents. 

Publications: Ramírez, M.M. (2015) The elusive inclusive: Black food geographies and racialized food spaces. Antipode, 47 (3), 748-769.