Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario

We meet Marissa on a steamy May afternoon at Flux Factory. Artist-in-resident PlayPlay’s installation, Resilience: A Sonic Tribute to the Queer History of Club Music, was just set up, pumping in a continuous mix of queer electronic club music, from early disco to house to current underground hits. After a brief greeting, we cross the street into the Windmill Community Garden to begin our walk. Thomas orients our gaze to buildings across the street, as we consider layers of history embedded in the changing neighborhood of Long Island City.

Thomas: Something I’ve been doing in the past few days is looking at the history of the neighborhood, just going on to Google Maps and looking at how this neighborhood has changed. This garden’s only been here for 2 years. And if you look 5 years ago on Google Maps, you’d see a building that looks quite similar to the one across the street here. It was four stories. Then they got torn down and it was an empty lot briefly and then they made it into this. And this is true for almost all the sites we’re going to go to. 5 to 8 years ago, these sites all had homes on them, so it’s really shocking to see how things have changed.

Marissa: Just within that short amount of time

T: Yeah

Chris: Right, so whats the left behind memory of the spaces?

So we’re going to walk up 29th street and we’ll got to our first site, nicknamed the Pinnacle Basin. But maybe just start off by telling us a little bit about you, and your experience of being in NYC. Anything you’ve noticed that’s changed.

M: So I’m a transplant from California and my entire life I wanted to live in New York. And finally through school I moved to New York and while I was here I studied non-profit management and public policy. For me I’ve always been very interested in the intersection of human rights and arts. So that’s kind of what I do now. I’m the executive director of Art and Resistance through Education or ARTE and it’s a human rights organization, we teach young people about human rights through the visual arts. We give students an opportunity to express what they’re feeling and their connection to human rights on a very personal level. We particularly work with young people which I call impacted people and people who are learning about immigration. We also work at Rikers Island with young people directly impacted by the mass incarceration system. So that’s taught me a lot about migration, what does it mean to be in spaces where your organizing because it’s something that directly impacts your life.

C: Have you noticed any patterns as to how they ended up in these space? Is it a mix of varied stories?

M: Yes a mix of varied stories, but one thing I’ll say is I think through the process of art creation, that’s where the stories are allowed to emerge. We work a lot with students who are not necessarily part of my community. I’m going into their communities, so I consider them the experts. So the idea that when you’re creating an artwork together, that’s when the stories can come up. I remember this one distinct moment when I was painting with a young girl on a wall just like this and we’re painting and she was looking at me and said “I remember.” And I was like what do you mean? And she said “I remember crossing the border, I remember the last phone call I had with my dad, I remember…” And I think art was that communication tool that allowed us to bridge something. Because I identify as a Latina, Mexican 3rd generation and this was a girl who was also Mexican, but had a much more direct experience with the border.

The border was directly impacting her life and separating her family, almost an invisible border that she carried with her. She crossed the border but now it’s still a part of me, and in terms of being documented and undocumented all these things she carried with her.

A lot of young people won’t feel comfortable necessarily… so it’s also who do you trust and how do you feel safe. I think she eventually felt safe with her teachers but when you first meet someone it’s not a story that you share, you suppress. I did like the idea that art was a bridge to talk about our stories.

C: Right – so great. Welcome to our first site. We call these the pinnacle basins. I invite you to peek in [laughter]

M: [laughter] I’m too short…

C: Well I can describe for you what you’re seeing

T: Over here I think you can see

M: It’s an open area with a lot of different green, maybe weeds… I find it interesting that it’s all walled in but there’s not graffitti, its left untouched. Some pieces of trash but still an open area of possibilities.

C: Yeah, actually the most common plant you see in there is Mugwort and it’s a pretty amazing medicinal plant. You can make it into a tea and its really good for dreaming and activating your nervous system. And I also want to invite you to notice this border and just seeing that even despite this wall and surface there’s so much life. This is a prickly lettuce, and you know its a prickly lettuce because it has this nice little spine that goes up the entire length of the leaf. It’s nickname is also the compass plant because it’ll actually orient its leaves toward the north and south and shift throughout the day depending on the sun.

M: Wow…

C: We’ve also got a little bit of sun scorched lambs quarter and this is nicknamed wild spinach. You can now buy it at the farmers market which is kind of crazy…

M: And its just right here…

C: And we’ve got some prostrate knotweed right here, and this is a little mugwort baby and crabgrass…. A whole ecosystem. On the border which I love so much…

M: And it’s interesting.. I think about borders and there’s so much happening at borders and border territories and I think a lot about crossing borders. Sometimes we just assume it’s shutting people out but it’s also containing things in, and a lot of transactions happen unofficially. I mean this is kind of a renegade ecosystem happening right now.

C: I mean these plants are just making it work, despite unhealthy soil. I also see some nice little paw prints, making some aeration in the soil here.

T: With you referencing the border, what’s on one side or the other. I think about how we’re being kept out of this space but it also allows for all these plants over there to live and survive. And this was on my Google Maps tour, a house that looked in perfectly fine shape and through the map maybe 10 years ago… and it was torn down and now this new life’s been able to be accessed. Also, by keeping very few people from accessing it.

M. One of my favorite books when I was growing up was the Secret Garden… this secret world over here. And that’s the thing, we make murals and we try to do them, as much as possible, in permanent spaces. Even though nothings permanent, everything’s changing but I think when you see things like this, the automatic assumption is that there’s nothing there and even when you’re cleaning walls, it’s like oh you’re going to get rid of this, these weeds, because that’s cleaning the space. But if you had a wall that hasn’t been touched for a while, there’s weeds and its unkept and no one cares about it, but its not necessarily true…things are thriving.

C: Let’s take a look at the one across the street – there’s a lot more going on over here. It looks like they started construction at some point.

M: I’m going to have to peek over

C: I like this one because there’s a lot of left behind infrastructure….

M: So this remains…. There’s no further development here?

T: Yeah so they started it and then literally walked away…. There are still ladders.

M. This reminds me of a wall in Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn]. So I first moved to New York in 2007, then I moved away in 2012 and then I came back and the wall is a mural that is totally incomplete, it’s been incomplete for the last 9 years, 10 years. And I had this vow, before I leave New York I’m going to get that wall painted. I asked a community member, what’s going on with this wall? But the wall was bad, like the pieces were coming down, and you couldn’t start this mural and leave it behind just sitting there. It reminds me of this. Left untouched.

C: Yeah for me this site is interesting because these cinder blocks and the wood and these beginnings of a foundation are actually providing support structure for the plants. And there’s almost like a second stage ecological succession because there’s some bigger trees coming up. You see that it’s been like this for at least 1 or 2 cycles… which is interesting.

T: Right and from the Google Maps you can see the history of the neighborhood too. That big complex there did not exist. So we can imagine what was there previously. But also this very well could become something like that, which is so many stories high. But if we leave it like this, what’s it’s providing for these plants: that they could grow.

C: Yeah…. And you might recognize this plant. It’s a Tree of Heaven, I don’t if you’ve ever read a Tree Grows in Brooklyn — this is the tree. Also here in Queens. And it’s a pretty sturdy and robust plant and can grow upwards of 20-30 feet tall.

T: Yeah there’s something so particular… again its building itself off of a border, off the wall, where the water and wind blew its seeds. And that’s where it can focus and start to grow its roots.

C: One of the big misconceptions about these plants is they are assumed to reduce biodiversity, but we can see here there’s a whole collection of species living together. They are mingling I see a shepherd’s purse right here which can be used for pepper.

M: So are all of these considered weeds?

C: Yeah, and it’s kind of curious who decides that designation. Some ornamentals that you see in Manhattan are weeds, but they’re beautiful to a lot of people so they’re not seen as weeds in a colloquial kind of way. But these ones are on the list according to the USDA.

M: Well it’s interesting … so I’m vegetarian and I find it interesting what people consider food and I joke with people and say well aren’t dogs “No! Why would you dare say something like that?” But who gets to decide what is food, especially in the States and for its all the same I’m not going to eat any of it…. But again if you go to India this idea that some parts are sacred. But who gets to decide what is a valuable food and what is beautiful and not beautiful.

C: Yes. So as we’re going by here just take a moment to notice these amazing sidewalk ecologies… some more mugwort here… this is a bigger version of the lambs quarter.

M: It so interesting, my mom was the hater of weeds and she pulled up the weeds. And this also reminds me, if you see stuff like that your natural inclination it’s not kept. And even with art and graffiti, there’s certain kind of graffiti, like its a sign of a community deteriorating but if you go to parts of Manhattan and see commercial graffiti its beautiful…

C: Do you think that’s something people are taught or is a larger function of culture?

M: I think it’s something that’s kind of inherent. But maybe it is taught. I had an argument with a friend recently about what is art, what is art that should go into a museum. And this is why we do public art because anyone should have access to this work that we’re doing. And the young people that we work with are creating something that is conveying a message that everyone should see regardless of an admission fee.

C: Yeah I mean there’s such a perception that these plants are doing such bad things to my neighborhood, but I mean what are they really doing?

M. Yeah

C. A lot of them coexist with other plants really well and provide so many valuable ecological services.

M. I also feel like if you put pesticides or certain things into the ground to destroy it, it’s almost worst.

C: Yes! Do you think there’s a kind of metaphor for how we do that to human communities?

M. Yes, well actually. I I think we do that all the time. In researching this I was thinking a lot about what weeds are, and the idea that they’re plants in the wrong place. They’re unwanted and not welcome. And I think we constantly do that to human beings, especially in the United States. Especially when we think about immigrant communities, migrant communities, I think we’re seeing a lot of that right now.

We work with a lot of young people of color, because in arts and arts education there is such a disparity between art and people of color and white folks. So across the board young people are so angry with Federal policy changes, and fearful of what’s going to happen, especially if you’re an immigrant young person, or someone who is in jail. They know that the stakes have always been high regardless of who is in the administration. I hear this from students at City College and I tell them once he leaves there’s still the issue of belonging. Just like the weeds.

I kind of feel wrong saying that but it’s true. And the idea that people are disposable. It’s important to understand this historically. Programs like Brasiero, initiated in 1942 was this US agreement with Mexico. In the aftermath of the war, the US was really nervous about what was going to happen to rebuild the country. So they signed an agreement with Mexico and it was like come immigrants we need you, we want you to help us with our economy. So the idea was we were welcomed. Immigration goes through phases. Now these people are unwanted, we don’t need them supposedly. But it’s very clear that they still do contribute to large parts of our economy. And I started to think about weeds too, in the sense that you were saying they can protect soil, they fertilize soil, they condition soil, and then they can attract beneficial insects. So again they’re unwanted but at the same time, there is this whole other layer of benefits that they do actually support the ecosystem. So that made me think a lot about that.

So its so easy to say: Immigrants: bad. That’s the narrative. It’s easier for people to digest that.

C: Like a very distinct Binary.

M: Right. Weed: Bad, People: bad. As opposed to actually talking to the recipients of DOCA and the dreamers and understanding their contributions.

C: RIght! Ok so welcome to our next site, the Available Light Corridor. It’s kind of a makeshift alley that we fell in love with. You can see these border ecologies forming here. We have more Mugwort. A little forest is brewing.

M: I like how its peeking through this wood over here.

C: This an interesting plant. This is Japanese knotweed. It is a reviled, hated plant you will find in NYC. It is kind of similar to bamboo, it has a rhizomatic root system. So the entire plant is actual one organism. The trick is that it is incredibly difficult to get rid of, so if you put chemicals on it, blow it up, it still comes back. So a lot developers they see this and they decide they are not going to develop on this land because there is knotweed here. So we wonder, what if we collect the seeds to deter people from developing on sites.  Because it is actually an edible plant. And is good for your kidney system.

M: You can’t get rid of it.

C: It is persistent.

M: That goes back to migration. You will never be able to stop migration. It’s a human right. The idea of traveling and movement. And especially in situations where people are fleeing from persecution in some way. And also physically there will always be this desire to move and to travel. And it’s funny who gets to decide who gets to travel and who doesn’t. When you learn about the stories of what people do to cross borders the decisions that they make, that they have to leave family members or these long trips that they put their bodies at such risk. You can’t deter that piece of the human spirit. This plant is such a beautiful metaphor.

And you said it is a single organism?

C: Yeah, so there is a mother patch here and spreads.

T: Making its way down

M: I’m never leaving. I would love that as a logo. A fist with Japanese knotweed coming out.

C: Yes! But in places like the UK it is actually illegal to have it on your property. Its an outlaw.

M: You can’t even bring it into the UK, like it’s on a list of all these things including these plants.

C: Yeah. Its blacklisted.

M: Are there plants that are blacklisted here?

C: One on a lot in Crown Heights I was observed was called Mile a Minute and it’s a spiny knotweed. And that is one of the top blacklisted plants at the United Nations.

M: Why?

C: It reproduces and can strangle some plants. But who decides that this plant has value? And maybe in other parts of the world it’s quite beneficial. Burdock root is here as well. And this is a broadleaf plantain, which you can use for burns and you can make a tea out of it. It’s all around a really great plant.

M: So what do the residents think?

T: The first trip around the neighborhood we randomly ran into the guy who runs the community garden. And he immediately knew who we were: “You’re the weed guys.” So the project itself is here because of the community garden. It’s a collaboration in that sense. I think we’re are trying to be respectful, we don’t want to be colonizers to this neighborhood since neither of us are from here. But we do want to learn from what is here. Because things similar to it do exist where we live.

M: I just realized there is this graffiti on the wall and its in a different language. I think it’s Hebrew.

T: I think this building houses a Hebrew publication.

M: What you said about not being from this area, that is a big deal for us too. I mean we go in and work with students and then go to another place. So recently we did a wall in West Harlem called the Global Women’s Heroes Project and was initially a project that started in a jail working with young women and they learned about a series of women activists and then did their portraits and then they created a mural design and then we carried that design outside of the jail into another community. So we really wanted East or West Harlem because it was kind of near the jail. So we worked with entirely different group of students to carry it out. And this is in West Harlem on the Harlem Tavern, it’s famous restaurant, high profile with lots of foot traffic. And one thing that happened, you can’t imagine how many people came up to us and were like “Who are you? Why are you here?” One man I remember was “who are these kids? Are they people of color, this is a people of color community.” And its interesting because it made me sad that he had to ask that. Cause he is so used to people coming in not knowing who you are.

We were really clear with him. We are coming from a different community. But I hope that we did our research. We really wanted to be grounded. We want our students to know what West Harlem is and the background and significance of it. It’s a very hard question, because people in the community are like “I don’t even know who you are.” Or if you’re painting a mural and there are people who you don’t represent. Its painful.

C: Even saying that we are looking at these kind of plants, that we are supporting these plants, that it becomes very divisive. The idea for folks is that you should get rid of these. The last walk I did someone walked by yelling “I can’t believe this lot is here. These plants are ugly.” You have to absorb some of that. I hear you. We find these plants beautiful and that creates a dialogue hopefully.

M: It’s a lot of hard conversations.

C: For sure.

T: Also the tagging on the wall here. My assumption is people are claiming that this is their space. That their name belongs there. Honoring and recognizing that.

M: What does it mean to clean this up? Who is it going to affect? Our first murals that we did, people were like you need to talk to the crew in their neighborhood because those are their walls. I mean this is their space. So if you go put up a mural there they might tag on it because that’s their space. It taught me alot about how to navigate. When we look for walls we usually find privately owned walls because then we don’t have wait for bureaucracy or whatever.

There was one woman I’ll never forget in the Bronx. I’ll let you have this wall but you’ll have to paint a picture of my deceased mom and I’m like I really can’t do that. And she also was like “Please no marijuana leaves” and we can definitely assure you there are no marijuana leaves with children on this wall. It was just a funny request.

C: She wanted a memorial.

M: And no weeds.

(Laughter)

C: Do you ever imagine the weeds if the weeds were to make their own mural what it would say, what it would look like? If the plants were the artists.

M: “We are never leaving.”

There’s this video a picture of Mother Earth, what if Mother Earth was a real person and they anthropomorphized this woman. So people are at a picnic and Mother Earth spills fake oil on them and all these horrible things that we do. So I think the weeds would be like…”Really?”

C: Stop spraying us!

M: I haven’t done a lot of research into this, but there are these new types of graffiti that are actually used with plants.

C: Moss graffiti

M: Yeah. I would like to explore that more.

C: My friend has been doing a project using algae. Bioart. Sort of changes color due to the space or the temperature. All these environmental factors.

M: You have to recognize that how you dispose of paint is not always the best way, what kinds of paint. If you are using spray cans. And again I love art and graffiti but at the same time if we don’t dispose of it properly, we are learning the repercussions of that as well. What are the best ways we can do that as an organization. So maybe plant, moss, algae grafiti is the way to go.

T: I wonder if there are any plants that would eat the remains of graffiti paint?

M: I would love. An environmentally friendly way to dispose of graffiti excess. So for the record I helped come up with that idea, so if you ever do that. I had some of the inspiration for that.

C: There have been a lot of plants found to take heavy metals out of the soil and other types of compounds. So if the roots could just absorb the grafiti remains.

M: Prior to my work with ARTE I used to work with Art Science Prize, where they would work with students to create these sort of ideas. So every year they would have a thing: one year it was Biomimicry, so students would have to come up with ideas and if they won they got seed money to foster innovation with young people.

C: I am curious about this word gentrification and what comes to mind for you? how do you position yourself as an artist and organizer around that term?

M: Neighborhoods are constantly changing but I think the problem with gentrification is that it affects the affordability of places where people live and people who have lived for decades or longer. That’s when it becomes dangerous and an issue when people start losing their housing and then again we are a housing organization and housing is a human right. I was talking to a friend Dr. Sara Martucci(?) she actually studied gentrification in the city and I asked what parts of the city do you think are most impacted and she was saying Williamsburg itself is a very classic, key example of that. It has undergone so many different levels of gentrification often tied with culture. We actually work out of rented, gentrified space in Williamsburg on the north side of the neighborhood. You see how much has changed. Part Italian, part Latino communities

And then all of a sudden you see these large high rises or Whole Foods and these become the markers, the loss of culture. And that’s when it becomes damaging.

Even here when you think of Long Island City you have to talk about Five Points and you could argue that that space was important. And it was taken down because of these demands to renovate buildings and build condos. This iconic place for graffiti and culture, known throughout the world, overnight was quite literally whitewashed.

Now you are seeing compensation for these artists that were in that space. They won that lawsuit, but the loss of that historic building you can never really replace that. So for me that is when gentrification becomes damaging. And I think that’s what people fear too. We are always wrestling with the idea of people encroaching upon spaces.

C: Ok welcome to our next site. We nicknamed this the Coptic Bamboo Forest. This is more of the mugwort. Let’s take a moment to look at this border…these spiney plants.

M: I love that.

C: These two structures creating this corridor and you can see its been cut back several times…

M: I’m also reminded of this idea of being a Native. A native new yorker. Because there are so many transplants and it’s interesting to think about the changes you see in that context. I also found this quote online that I love, actually on a gardening blog. And it says “Annual weeds take supreme advantage of the long-term viability of seeds. The seeds of many weeds can remain dormant in the soil for years. It is said that poppy seeds can retain their viability for up to 100 years. This means that for any one time there is a huge store of weeds seeds in the soil waiting for the right conditions to rise and germinate. These conditions may be related to warmth, water, or light levels so our very cultivation of the soil brings seeds to the surface, bringing sunlight and water can trigger germination.”

I love this, because I think about it also for young people waiting for the right conditions. We are seeing this right now. There’s the thinking of “Oh young people they don’t know what to do.” But I think it’s also they were waiting for the right moment. As we are seeing in the anti-gun advocacy and things like that. In Florida, this is the moment where people are rising up. And things have been dormant. With the right sunlight, time, resources.

C/ T: So good.

M: What is this?

C: This one is called cleavers or sticky bedstraw. I love it because it’s got this amazing, invisible way of clinging to things. So it has this biological function, attaching itself to dogs or other fibers.

M: Even the skin!

C: It sticks to you and the seeds will disperse. Especially this time of year it’s everywhere. And spreads pretty far underground.

M: I’m so impressed by this.

C: And this is wood sorrel, it looks like cleavers. A really good edible plant you can put on salads. The tricky thing about these guys, is that I always think about the soil. Which is interesting as you think about the germination, how healthy is the soil. I wouldn’t necessarily eat any of this, not knowing where any of the soil has been.

M: Oh, even though they may be edible plants.

C: Right. It may be toxic from all the oil from cars

M: So if you were creating a salad you probably wouldn’t get it just from anywhere?

C: Yeah, probably go to the middle of Prospect Park. Or something a little farther out when I know for sure.

M: Yeah!

T: I like this plant becauses its so particular to movement. Not saying it requires a human body but we are one of the participants in offering more movement, faster movement if it sticks to us. If it follows us, or rather joins us for the time it sticks to us. The dance it is doing with us.

M: Companion.

C: Doing a duet.

M: Fantastic. I’ll leave mine on.

C: Its a little broach.

M: It is!

T: And the barbed wire at the time is interesting because the vine mimics the share of the barbed wire. You can see that even though its no longer attached to the wire. Or maybe it was going into the shape of it and they tried to pull it off.

C: We can take a walk around this border. Seeing the manmade, non-manmade.

M: I have another thing about borders. There is an artist her name is Anna Teresa Fernandez and she created a piece called Beranda la Frontera or Erasing the Border. I think she did this on the US Tijuana and San Diego border. There was a piece of the border that she started painting so you couldn’t tell the difference between the border and the landscape behind it. A very powerful message or act of making it transparent. She did it while wearing a cocktail dress and heels so it was transcending the lessons of femininity. So she talked about when she was 15 she heard this phrase the English translation is “Men want a lady at the table and a whore in bed.” So the idea that she’s working, shes painting but she’s also exploring manual labor and powerful, vulnerable manual labor but beautiful in heels. So these two very powerful messages. And for her in this article I was reading about her, this erasing of borders, that we can have these utopian visions through art. We can erase and camouflage it, but also that one day it’s going to eventually come down. Such a powerful message. And this reminded me because you can’t tell that this is camouflaged here as well.

C: The biomimicry.

M: Yeah, I can send more info on it. She was originally born in Tempico, Mexico.

T: With the murals, the walls. Do you ever see them as borders?

M: That’s actually funny. A quick joke, I was talking with someone and I said “We need more kids, I meant to say ‘to build or create art’ and I said build borders. And I was like NOOO! Like I meant to paint walls not build walls. SO bad. But we don’t actually. And I think through the work we do, borders separate young people. Maybe it’s more wishful thinking, but I think we often see it leading to something, so the wall of a building its not borders to us, but an invitation. SO I’ve never thought of it as a border. But again maybe that’s just my own interpretation.

This is beautiful.

C: Tell us what you are seeing.

M: So it’s this huge, almost like a mini corridor, a full on patch. Oh my gosh there’s birds too, different types of greenery, we see different colors, it’s almost like a palette of green. Which is great. And all these vines. There’s little birds thriving in there.

C: Sometimes I like to get a little low. If that feels comfortable for you. See it from the plants perspective.

T: Also in this position, it makes be think about a reframing of myself. I am a giant to a plant, to them. It’s nice to be shrunk.

M: In my life I’ve been kind of close to the plants. (Laughs) Especially this looks like a whole little forest here.

C: Thats a plant called Spurge.

M: how big does it get?

C: It can get up to 4-5 feet. Behind that is horseweed. Those get super tall. What’s really amazing is their biomass is pretty small. They have a thin, center stem thats hollow, but they can go 10 feet. How are you supporting yourself?

M: That could be an awesome lesson in terms of architecture. How does it do that?

You also made me think, is dandelion considered a weed? One of our murals, one of the students designed it with a dandelion being blown. It’s interesting people love dandelions…

C: Sometimes… (Laughs)

M: You blow into them. For us it was a symbolic thing, the seeds are going on, are the future hopes are being dispersed, and very positive messaging. But its a weed. We included flowers as well, but that flower or weed was the most important to us. Plant.

C: There’s this artist Maria Teresa Alverez who does a project called Seeds of Change…

M: Yes, yes, YES! I shared some of her work to some students.

C: She traces back plants like dandelions as coming over from ships that were carrying slaves and the seeds were in the hay of these ships bringing over goods or people, so their legacy tied to colonization Really interesting project.

M: Fantastic. Do you just chill here?

(Laughs)

C: places like this for sure, though not this particular spot. Some white noise.

M: What are they doing?

C: Can I just squeeze in here?

M: Have you been in here?

C: Not here, but we’ve snuck in to some other places nearby. I’ve worked in Hunter’s Point South which is not too far from here. The south Tip. We have access to this particular swath of land and as soon as you enter this certain point the temperature drops. The sounds become less crazy. You notice all this life. It feels like a different space. It’s so calming. The unstructured. It’s not like a formal structured park. Its letting things go.

M: I don’t want to end on a negative note, but I was looking at this blog. Weeds were compared to immigration in a negative way. “Removing the weeds and the roots is not a painless process. It disturbs the roots of the garden and it is Slow and tedious work. The idea that everything about the weed must be removed or it will continue to spread. It zaps the strength of the plants that are intended to grow there. And eventually take over completely. It was this Southern agrarian blog.

It was also saying that culture is very precious and it must be cared for and defended. Culture requires work to maintain. So this idea that when you bring in foreign elements like weeds, like people, into a native culture it brings serious risk. Like an invasive species in nature finds is natural enemies, it takes over the original culture is destroyed forever.

I chopped up some of the words, but you can look it up online.

It reminds me of this fear, of when we first started, this fear of the unknown, the immigrants. It’s this myth too, the idea that the weeds are suffocating, and there’s no value to them. Similar to  when we talk about immigration and immigrants. Did you see recently that man who was screaming at the immigrants, the lawyer, and it was horrible, but there’s so many inaccuracies. But the idea that immigrants do contribute to the commons, they do pay taxes, all these things they are building. They are changing the culture, but culture is always evolving to being with. So people are fighting to preserve these things, these plants. It’s a dangerous mentality if people or plants need to be plucked out or are going to infect things. But I love the Mexican proverb “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” That keeps me going. Or it makes me think about the Japanese Knot weed. Its gonna continue. This work is gonna continue.

C: Especially within hard core ecological circles this is considered a very dangerous site. The plants can co-exist with native plants and can help strengthen the system. The term for this space is called a novel ecosystem. Because its gone beyond a point of no return. But what is the tipping point?

M: Can we co-exist?

C: Yeah. I mean the plants find a way. I mean they literally change their structure in order to be with each other.

Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario is the Founder and Executive Director of Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE). As a committed human rights and peace-building activist, artist, educator, and advocate for youth, Marissa launched ARTE in 2013 to help young people amplify their voices and organize for human rights change in their communities through the visual arts.

Marissa has written several publications focusing on the intersection of human rights, art education, and youth development, including the Huffington Post, Education Week, and Radical Teacher. Currently, Marissa serves as an Adjunct Lecturer at the City College of New York in the Art Education Department. Marissa holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations, from the University of Southern California, an M.P.A. from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, and an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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