Re Imagination Nation, We Imagine US

Episode 4: Jerry Tello and Mayra Santos-Febres

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Published on: March 30, 2023

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Our fourth episode shines a light on the work of transformational healing that members of SCoRE (Solidarity Council on Racial Equity) are accomplishing in their communities. National Compadres Network co-founder Jerry Tello puts a focus on culturally-based wisdom in addressing mental and emotional health. Then, Puerto Rican writer and activist Mayra Santos-Febres tells how the courageous creativity of Black and Indigenous resistance is reshaping our world and shares her own vision of a life-affirming future.

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Maria Hinojosa: [00:00:06] Welcome to Re-imgagination nation, I’m Maria Hinojosa. Author Jerry Tello is co-founder of the National Compadres Network. And, well, he’s a mensch. He’ll talk to anyone who will listen about transformational and racial healing and how it can impact our lives. Jerry has been a leading voice of fatherhood, training of youth rites of passage, family strengthening, and of building community peace. And Jerry is convinced that in order to heal from historical and current wounds, all of us need to reimagine a society where physical, mental and emotional health are just as important as economic wealth. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:00:59] Paint that picture of the Jerry who is really so thankful for where we came from, but what happens when you’re imagining the future.

Jerry Tello: [00:01:07] When we recognize in indigenous thought and view that we are of a duality we are with night and we’re of day where of the light, the present, but we’re also the shadow. And so shadow and darkness doesn’t mean bad. It just means a different way of learning. It’s not without struggle. I mean, we would not be here if our moms chose not to struggle, if they chose not to endure pain. So struggle is not bad. Struggle is not negative. Struggle is not deficient. It’s just that we have a deeper lesson to learn. We have to go through some things. And so and that’s the challenge. The challenges, if we choose to create a world and that’s the world that I imagine in which we can come together with our blessings and with our cargas, with our struggles and accept each other for that. You know, I mean, there’s a story that I tell about when I was a kid and I was supposed to be watching my nephew and my nephew was a crybaby little boy that used to cry all the time. So a lot of times he was crying, I didn’t pay attention to him. And my mom called from the kitchen and said, what’s the matter with Ronnie? It’s just Ronnie mom he’s just crying. But you go over there and see and I said, no, no, it’s just him. And she got upset with me and pulled me by come on, let’s to go see what’s wrong with Ronnie. And we walked in that room and as soon as we walked the room, I smelled the caca right. And I said, oh, well, that’s why he’s crying he’s all stinky. And she went up to him, ay que chulo mijito, I said no he’s not chulo mom he’s skinky. Come here, my baby, my pretty. He’s not pretty he’s stinky. Don’t get her close to you, Mama. You’re going to get the caca all over you. And she began to put it, you know, a long squeeze him and she began to pat him, you’re going to it all of your dress, mijito chulo you know. And what my mom understood is that, you know, life comes with caca life comes with shit. Life comes with that. How do we embrace people even in their woundedness? Because that’s the first step. Can I sit with you? Can I hear you can I understand where that woundedness has come from? And then when we get into that dance or that song or that ceremony, then something can be transformed. So the ending of that story is my mom is singing with the baby and saying roo, roo, row, roo, roo, allla roo roo mijito and I’m back screaming, Mom, you’re getting caca all over. And she’s just singing. And my nephew Ronnie calms down. He begins to sing with her. And what she is, you know, metaphorically done is brought him back to his song. To his sacred song, he was crying out for somebody to embrace him, and I think that’s the job in the world. How do we embrace people that, you know, they’re stinky, they’re funky, they’re doing some ugly stuff, right. Well, but if they’re not willing to step in that circle, then we can’t do anything with it. So the world that I envision is that we’re able to face ourselves and face our truths face to light, face the dark, but also to be accountable and then create a better world that honors the sacredness of everyone. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:04:25] We actually wanted to talk to you about solidarity. We wanted to talk to you about what does solidarity look like, what opportunities are there for solidarity. And I’m wondering if you have a story or a moment or a vision or a dream for what that solidarity looks like for you. 

Jerry Tello: [00:04:41] This country needs an office of racial equity and racial healing. We need that to be a priority. That is significant. As you know, the defense budget, as significant as a budget on other aspects of health and healing deals with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual historical wounds and present day wounds as we move forward. So I think, you know, we need that aspect of health and healing to be integrated in everything we do. We do a podcast and it’s on healing generations. And it’s amazing the response that we’re getting because people do truly want to heal, it’s just that sometimes they don’t know how. In this pandemic, it’s caused a lot of unease. Disease a lot of nervousness because people are having to to be inside and look inside. So the solidarity really comes recognizing everyone has a sacred purpose, committing to include everyone’s medicine and stories, and that we all need a place to heal and to grow and to develop. And when and if we all believe in those principles, then you go back out to your own communities, to your own niches, whether it be in finance, whether it be in radio broadcasting, whether it be in community service, you go back and basically plant those seeds and water that. But we continue coming back together with what we’re learning about and how to grow that. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:06:15] Jerry Tello is an author and co-founder of the racial equity group the National Compadres Network. He, like I are both members of SCoRE. Puerto Rican writer, educator and activist Mayra Santos Febres is a leading voice among black and queer communities in the Caribbean. Mayra also founded the Festival De la Palabra. Puerto Rico’s biggest literary festival, Mayra joined me to talk about racial healing and to share her vision of a better world. Well, let’s just say that we’ve gotten to a space where racial equity is a lot better. Can you paint a picture of what that looks like in your mind? 

Mayra Dos Santos: [00:07:17] One of the most important things is the migration laws. Things cannot look better than people no puede ser I said that I have panties coming from Taiwan and that you have all those borders that create that destitute place of no place of the immigrant. Another thing that I imagine is a place without jails. I think that we can get rid of those and that crime has to be revisited because crime is based on the godlike properties of private property. Another one that I don’t want is the segregation of neighborhoods this thing that a friend of mine told me that still happens in the States, which is that you have like a red line, invisible red line that separates even if they’re a street apart the value of this part of the neighborhood and the value of the other part of the neighborhood. See what I mean, the connection between race and capital. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:08:18] So as an Afro Caribbean woman, when you’re imagining a future of racial justice. For you, it’s also very specific on the issue of capitalism. 

Mayra Dos Santos: [00:08:34] Yes, because, right, racialization is tied to the destitution of bodies, territories, and in the logic of extraction, you know, race is not disconnected from the way in which capital works right now. I have no problem with money. I think money is very pretty and shiny and it’s in paper. And I like paper. I’m a writer, but and I like symbols. But what it stands for is for a ruthless access to everybody’s resources without asking for anything. If you have to kill, you kill if you have to incarcerate, you incarcerate. So well, we’re talking about is a war against people in order to extract richness. I am not talking about socialism, socialism has done the same. I’m talking about ways of reimagining without this Eurocentric bipolar thing, you know, either you’re from the left or from the right. There’s other ways in which access to land, to water, to health, to food, to voice, to knowledge can be imagined and should be imagined. And I think that we should revisit other ways in which it has been imagined by the palenqueros, by the communal organizations of the Aymara Indians or the indigenous people. All these people have other ways. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but we should look at them in order to see what we can gain from that imagination of other flows, of knowledge, of access and connection to the land and to resources that you don’t have to kill people and incarcerate them and break them and control their bodies and obliterate their existence in order for the ruthless accumulation of wealth accumulation for accumulation sake. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:10:51] OK, success, as we know, success is hard to measure and but if you think about your own journey for racial equity and racial justice, is there something that you think about like and this is what it looks like or what it looked like for you? 

Mayra Dos Santos: [00:11:07] I had a lot of a-ha moments in this year in which I said, oh, my God, this is what I should have been doing all along. You know, that I lost something that was very dear to me. I went to Alabama on that very day. I figured out that I wasn’t going to get a grant for the festival de las palabra and that I had to close that operation and I hurt like crazy. But one year afterwards, I was able to bring home the bacon with the Mellon Foundation in order to create a program of Afro decendent studies in Puerto Rico for Diaspora studies. So you see how life works, you know, it goes ba y te dio un cantazo and then when you look back. It gives you another purpose, another way of getting to a place where you really need it. I think that life was telling me Mayra, what is the purpose of having a reading, an advocacy event for education if the content of that education is not getting people any herramientas any tools. In order to fight for racial equity you’re in the same place, we have to create the content. We have to create the narrative. We have to be sitting in the places where the narrative is being created so that reality can change is not the other way around. The reality the imagination is that changes the reality. I am sure of that. People are crazy. People tell me Mayra tu estas mas loca que una cabra montada en una bicycleta I don’t care. I know this is true 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:12:45] But when people tell you that you’re crazy and I have to translate that tu estas mas loca que una cabra en bicycleta you are crazier than a billy goat on a bicycle. 

Mayra Dos Santos: [00:12:54] Yes, I am proud of being the billy goat on a bicycle. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:13:01] When people say that to you and they say that like, oyeme, Mayra tu estas… what does that do to you? Mayra Febres Santos is an educator, writer and activist based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and like me, she’s a part of SCoRE the Solidary Council on Racial Equity. Re imagination Nation was produced by Futuro Unidad Hinojosa and PRX, as a part of the We Imagine US project executive producers are Diane Sylvester and me. Our senior supervising producer is Gregory Branch. Our podcast producer is Andres Caballero, project editor Khaliff Watkins. Our engineer is Leah Shaw, production manager William Oaks the fourth, production coordinator Jessica Ellis, assistant project manager Raul Perez, post-production supervising producer is Tanya Bustos. New media manager is Alexander Garcia. Our music was composed by Michael Ramos, Re imagination Nation is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. I’m Maria Hinojosa. Join us for the next episode of Re imagination Nation. You can find us online at We Imagine, PRX, or wherever you get your podcasts on. And well, don’t forget to check out our companion fiction series. Yeah, a dramatic series. It’s called The Long Way Around. Next time on Re imagination Nation, Measuring Racism with Harvard University sociologist Dr. David Williams and also the power of going deep into racial healing. That’s a conversation with UC Berkeley law and African-American studies professor John Powell.

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