Category Archives: People

Upcoming Interviews – Charles Truong

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I will be using hip hop dance as a catalyst for discussing human dependence on coal. I have scheduled an interview with Rebekah Kowal, Chair of the University of Iowa’s Dance Department, for March 23rd at 10:30am.

I decided to interview Professor Kowal because she is not only a dance professor, but a historian and researcher. You can find a feature of Professor Kowal on the University’s Research and Economic Development page here.

I will also be interviewing Jeff Chang, an infamous Asian American writer who has written about hip hop culture and its relation to social justice. I believe that both Professor Kowal and Jeff Chang are individuals that have made remarkable contributions to their fields and it is incredibly humbling to be able to speak with them soon.

Upcoming Interview

Brandon Ewoldt, a web designer for the university, will be my first oral history interview for my project. Brandon works on a number of web development projects at the university. Below is a sample of his work.

Cover photograph for SCOPEBecause a major part of my project will focus on building a website, understanding how web design functions in capturing content and drawing in audience. I have an outline of content with different media platforms I want to use now, so I will probably bring that outline to meet with him in order to get hands-on advice.


American Forests: North American Forests in the Age of Man

American Forests is a non-profit working towards the reforestation of woodlands both nationally and globally. Though, their “Community Releaf” program is where they shine. With these green endeavors, the organization “aims to bring national attention to the value of our urban forests and reaches geographically distributed and culturally diverse communities across the United States.”

Their community inclined projects typically work to restore tree canopies in urban areas. With their project in Oakland, they intersect social justice with ecological justice.

Here’s an excerpt from a report on the matter:

“Several studies have found correlations between city trees and public health in neighborhoods with low tree canopy — increased respiratory illness, particularly among children and senior citizens, and more incidents of diabetes and heart disease. In terms of psychosocial benefits, a lack of access to green space can negatively impact mental well-being and stress levels, the latter a foreboding allusion to the potential climate change risks highlighted in the recent IPCC report.

Recognizing that tree canopy can be an important factor in understanding and addressing income disparity and supporting sustainable development — both environmentally and economically — a recent study by American Forests examined tree canopy by Oakland council district in correlation with several demographic and socioeconomic factors, including income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, population and age. The information that was derived can help identify the districts where additional trees can provide the greatest positive impacts for communities.”

They have also published a digestible history on the American forest since human civilization has taken root. Here’s a look:

“Human impacts, from colonial times to the present, have drastically changed not just the size, but the nature of American forests, whether you consider the baseline for what is natural to be 1492 CE or 15,000 BP.

The trees in mature forests are adapted to soil characteristics, light intensities and moisture levels created by the forest’s species themselves. Remove these species, and all those factors change. The resulting forest is now composed of pioneer species — those first to grow in a tree-less location, like aspen, birch and alder. The old-growth forest species must wait until the pioneer species recreate their required soil, light and moisture conditions to reemerge. Similar changes in forest composition are created by natural events such as fires and wind storms, and the mature forest regenerates naturally. The difference is that most managed forests today are harvested so frequently that they never reach the optimal conditions for the species that prefer mature conditions. Instead of a complex, old-growth structure of multi-layered canopies with a spectrum of young to ancient trees and tree fall gaps, decaying down wood, standing dead trees and high species diversity, forests today have relatively young, dense, even-aged and even-canopied stands of fewer species.

Simply replanting trees does not always mean the forest has returned. In places where timber companies have replanted with native trees — whether in rows on a plantation or less orderly in wilder areas — the new forest is a monoculture of commercial species that lacks most of the biodiversity associated with the original forest. Smaller patches of forest, or forest fragmentation, has also reduced forest biodiversity because the smaller fragments cannot support wide-ranging wildlife species. In addition, the small, isolated populations of other species, including some trees, are more susceptible to local extinction.”

Indigenous Iowa breaks ground on Earth Mother Camp, an environmentally progressive think tank

Indeigenous activist Cheryl Angel speaks at the site of the new Earth Mother Camp. Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Indigenous Iowa, a social and environmental justice organization rooted in indigenous culture, welcomed the first visitors to the Earth Mother Community Education Camp near Williamsburg, Iowa on Sunday, Feb. 26.

The ceremony began with a song to welcome water protectors from Oceti Sakowin, a camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cedric Goodhouse was

invited to start the ceremonial fire, setting positive intentions for the camp. There were speeches by Oceti Sakowin, Indigenous Iowa and Meskwaki speakers at the ceremony.

Click here to read the full article.

Dawson Davenport Project Idea 2017

I was thinking about creating a cartoon, in the meskwaki language. (subtitled in english) The story would be about the environment, possibly a meskwaki story. There are many reasons i want to do this. one is that i would be able to work with my old job, the meskwaki language department, and theyd be thrilled that im doing this. another reason is because i want to give it to the school as a donation, and to possibly make this something long term, so that i can use it to help teach our language and also teach the children about the environment and environment issues. There are so many educational components that would come of this, as well as preserving my language. The idea I had was along the lines of Dora the Explorer. Have words of the day, for example, tree; or what type of tree it is. Or things like why trees are important and its role with oxygen. I am sure there are many meskwaki stories that can be taught as well, as our culture and traditions sometimes are connected to nature. Like planting and gardening. The possibilities are endless. And i think that this project can teach everyone as well.

Turning Deadly Poop Into Fertile Soil

Due to lack of a proper sanitation system Haiti is fighting the worst CHOLERA epidemic in modern History. “Since 2006 a non-profit organization called SOIL has been transforming human waste into resources in Haiti. Through the use of ecological sanitation, SOIL is working to create a revolutionary business model for providing access to safe, dignified sanitation that produces rich, organic compost as a natural resource for Haiti’s badly-depleted soils, while also creating economic opportunities in some of the world’s most under-resourced communities”.

This ecological sanitation is a game changer, this is one of the most organic fertilizers, there are no chemicals added and is rich in nutrients and minerals, this is what allows plants to grow healthy and stronger. It also adds organic matter to the soil which may improve soil structure, aeration, soil moisture-holding capacity, and water infiltration. Plants that grow in a rich soil environment are stronger than those plants that grow in a soil full of fertilizers made in labs by humans, that have added chemicals and therefore need insecticidal because a plant needs more than NPK( Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) to be strong, and this manure fertilizer provides more of the nutrients that the plants and the soils needs.

For more details please see the following video, courtesy of AJ+:

Turning Deadly Poop Into Fertile Soil

Haiti is fighting cholera by turning human poop into rich fertilizer.

Posted by AJ+ on Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mexican Migration and Climate Change

Theme : 

– Mexico is a country that is vulnerable to the many effects of climate change including things like prolonged droughts, soil degradation, devastating rainstorms, lack of water and rising sea levels. These changes eventually cause for an increase in Mexican migration.

– Understanding that not all immigrants are the same, but instead each of their stories is different and unique. Learning to empathize by listening to other’s stories and life experiences, even if you’ve never lived through them before.

General storyline :

-The stories of three Mexican immigrants will follow this main story line: Their former lives in Mexico-> What changed? What lead them to make the decision to migrate?-> What the process of migrating was like? -> What their lives in the United States now look like?

Main characters : 

-My grandfather Jose Luis Castellanos from Michoacan, my friends father Luis Cervantes from Chiapas, and Lourdes Gutierrez the daughter of a farmer from Guanajuato.

Interviews : 

  • Jose Luis Castellanos, immigrant and former fisherman from Michoacan.
  • Luis Cervantes, immigrant and former corn farmer from Chiapas.
  • Lourdes Gutierrez, immigrant and daughter of a farmer from Guanajuato.

Arts Medium : 

-Their different interviews will be turned into vignettes. Each of these vignettes will be read out loud by three different actors. The audience will not know where these immigrants are from until the end of the presentation where it will be announced that all of them are Mexican immigrants. This will be to illustrate that we can’t generalize an entire group of people, instead we have toeach of their stories is different.

The Outline Outside My Mind

Theme : Have you ever wondered how great nature can be? Doesn’t matter your answer to that question because either way, this project will entice you to form a more perfect union with trees.

General storyline: I, along with a good friend of mine, will be walking through a forest and talking about the intricacies, the beauty, the majesty, the drama, the romance, the war, the famine, the peace, the pieces, and the nature of what we see. We will, of course, supplement all the factual information with statements that may not be facts to the general public, but they are to us.

Main characters: Those featured in this work will be, as of today, will be Raud, yours truly, and my main man Creek may sneak on camera.

Interviews: I have interviewed Creek, the caretaker of the particular forest I will be filming in, and Andy, the university’s urban forester. I am currently working with three other folks to get interviews. Some more viable than others, so we shall see who else will join in.

Arts Medium: I will be working with film. I do not think it will be on an old-timey crank-and-shoot, but the world has many surprises and that is always an option.

P.S.: I plan on reaching out to Leonardo DiCaprio, so, ya know…the film should be pretty cool.




Leo lovingly pointing at...

Leo lovingly pointing at…

What Does The Future Hold?

desert-china-map This article, Living in China’s Expanding Desert illustrates in an interactive way how climate change is affecting not just those who live in coastal areas, but also those inland. It may be hard to understand why warming and increased water content in the atmosphere would cause desertification, but it is quite simple if you think about it. When water is heated, it evaporates and lifts up into the atmosphere where it condenses and falls again. However, in a desert or arid region, any moisture that lifts up, does not fall down in the same place. This is a natural process that is the result of wind cells on the planet stemming from equatorial heating. Unfortunately, the earth is heating more rapidly and water is spread further and further from areas that need it, like Chinese deserts or the Sahal in Africa. The input of energy into any system will cause a reaction and the more energy, the higher the magnitude of such a reaction.

This is yet another example of people who do not cause the majority of climate changes being affected the most by climate change. Rural people all over the world are being impacted and not with just hot days, they are losing their way of life and resources to food. This is a positive feedback loop that will accelerate with time and there is probably no going back from something like this. There is development of solar panels that are de-desertifying some places in Africa, but the problem of government intervention is just as bad or worse in China. This is a human rights issue that must be looked at as such; for, we all have the right to life, liberty and happiness… not just Americans.

Lake Chapala: My Grandfather’s Story

pasado-misma-fecha-recuperado-centimetros_milima20140818_0078_8When I think back to my childhood in Mexico and what it was like to grow up in San Luis Soyatlan, Jalisco, one of the first things that comes to mind is Lake Chapala. Growing up, my friends and I used to always go to the lake and play by the shore. Two of my uncles, who still happen to live there, used to go fishing and every once in a while I would join them just for fun. I remember it being a lovely experience, we would be surrounded by the water and the big, blue sky directly above us. The large sun would be shining over the lake and would make the water glisten and shine. My uncles would check their nets and remove the fish that they had caught for the day. To this day, those are some of the fondest memories I have of the lake. But what about my mother’s memories? Or my grandparent’s memories? After all, they lived in that town longer than I had. Why had I never asked them anything of it?

Ten years ago, my family decided to migrate and move to the US. Originally  I had thought that the main reason why we decided to come here was due to the lack of educational opportunities that were available to us. I thought that my mother simply wanted to provide more chance of achieving a higher education in the US. But after learning more about climate change and the effects that it has on migration, I began to wonder whether one of the reasons that we left San Luis was due to the lake changing over time. So I decided to ask my mom and my grandfather about their experiences with the lake. Below is some of what my grandfather, Jose Luis, told me when I interviewed him.

My grandfather told me stories about his ancestors, and he said that for many, many years his family had dedicated their lives to fishing. His grandfather was a fisherman, his father and uncles were fishermen, and eventually so was he. The lake used to provide food and water to his family, so it was a very important part of his life. He remembers growing up and playing by the clear blue water, being able to see the fish swimming under, and going there to bathe every once in a while. The lake was massive according to him. It used to reach the shores of the town and sometimes it would even overflow onto the streets. He remembers fishing and catching different kinds and species of fish. One species that he called “blanquillos”, or white fish, was the most popular, but they slowly began to decline in the lake and eventually became extinct. He says other species have also began to decline and that its really hard to catch or find any nowadays. This is only one of the aspects of the lake that changed over the course of my grandpas life there. He also mentioned that the size of the lake began to decrease and vary overtime, and that the water quality also decreased as more and more pollution found its way into the lake. For my grandfather, this was devastating. Every year his catches would become smaller. When the water level of the lake would decrease, he would sometimes have to walk really far distances just to reach the water. But for my grandfather it was more than that. To him seeing the lake slowly deteriorate was very depressing, since he had grown up and spent his life there. The lake had provided so much for him in the past, but what could he do to help it now that it was suffering? Eventually, my family was unable to continue to make a steady income from fishing. My uncles slowly began to leave for the US in hopes of a better future. Some years after that, my mother made the decision to leave as well, and with that my grandparents followed. For my grandfather, being away from the lake has been very hard. It has been six years now since he has last seen the lake, and he constantly talks about going back to see it.

After listening to my grandfather and my mother tell me stories of how the lake used to look when they were younger, I realize how much Lake Chapala has changed, and that what I knew of the lake was not at all what it once used to be.

I looked more into what has changed over the years and found that currently the lake is suffering from contamination and waste coming from the city of Guadalajara, where the lake also provides water to 60% of the population. The contamination of the lake comes from the city as well as from the river Lerma that comes from the state of Mexico and carries lots of waste. The water level of the lake has also decreased due to the lack of water coming from the river Lerma, the overuse of the city of Guadalajara, as well as droughts in the past.

Moving forward, I plan to interview a couple more immigrants about their stories in Mexico or other Latin American countries and what led them to Iowa.