Puerto Rico’s New Makers’ Movement

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
**

Ring made by a Puerto Rican artisan, on sale at Localista, a new design shop featuring all-local designs, located inside the recently reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Ring made by a Puerto Rican artisan, on sale at Localista, a new design shop featuring all-local designs, located inside the recently reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that over the past six months or so, I’ve been experimenting with the use of the platform Contributoria as a way of funding longform features I want to research, write, and have published, as well as a means of expanding my audience.

For the most part, this has been successful. While the site could improve in some significant ways, it has allowed me to work on projects I’d otherwise be hard-pressed to actualize with limited resources, including one about The New York Botanical Garden, one about the Blaschka glass collection at Harvard, and the most recent one about the enduring fascination with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Not every one of my proposals has been successful. A project about c-sections has proven to be challenging when it comes to attracting widespread support, and both times I’ve proposed it, I’ve failed to attain the backing needed to be able to pursue it. Yet each month opens with the opportunity to propose a new project, and my goal for 2015 is to do my part to propose a compelling project each month and then hustle as much as needed to round up the support to get each project fully backed.

If you’re a newer reader, I’ll explain again how Contributoria works. As I mentioned a couple months ago, “Contributoria is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t pledge any of their own money to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to ‘back’ projects they want to see funded by the site. You sign up for a free account at www.contributoria.com and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.”

My current project is about an emerging makers’ movement in Puerto Rico. As with my previous projects, this one requires quite a bit of backing– about 200 more supporters by the end of the month. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it with your points if you feel so inclined. A full description of the project is on the same page where you have the option to back it.

You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word! I’m @collazoprojects on twitter.

Thank you.

Help Wanted: My March Contributoria Project

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
**

A mural on a Head Start  preschool in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
A mural on a Head Start preschool in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

One of the most common challenges writers and journalists face is that of funding the research phase of their work. Unless you’re on staff (and even then, there’s no guarantee), it can be tough to cobble together the money that allows you to do the work that’s necessary to investigate and report a story responsibly and thoroughly. All too often, we pay out of pocket in the hope that our investment will pay off– that we’ll be able to sell the story once we’ve committed money and time into writing it.

It’s a gamble I’ve made time and again, but one that has become harder to make now that I have three children and more financial responsibilities. Investing money in a project that may not have a sure outcome isn’t the best business strategy when you’re a writer.

That’s why I’ve been very grateful for Contributoria, a platform that supports journalists and writers by funding their project proposals. I’ve been able to research and report two stories thanks to their support, one of which has been republished in The Guardian, which is a partner of the platform.

The way Contributoria works is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t pledge any of their own money to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to “back” projects they want to see funded by the site. You sign up for a free account at www.contributoria.com and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.

My March 2015 project is about c-section rates in Puerto Rico and requires quite a bit of backing– about 200 more supporters by the end of the month… which is just a few days away. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it if you feel so inclined. You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word! I’m @collazoprojects on twitter.

Thank you.

SANER show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in NYC

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**
Among the many subjects I cover in my work, one of my favorites is street art, and that’s because it explores and embodies so many of my other interests–politics, social justice, en fin, la gente y el pueblo, how life is lived and seen at street level–in a single, colorful, impactful form.

Saner and two of the works in "Primitivo," on view at NYC's Jonathan LeVine Gallery until February 7, 2015.
Saner and two of the works in “Primitivo,” on view at NYC’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery until February 7, 2015.

I’m starting my work week filing an article for the art website Hyperallergic about “Primitivo,” the just-opened show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery by Mexican artist, SANER, who started as a street artist and who has, over the years, moved into other genres, including drawing and painting. I’ll link back to that article when it’s published. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour of the show through Francisco’s photos, which he shot on Friday before the show opened to the public.

Chin-chin! A cocktail for the new year

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
I thought I didn’t like bourbon.

Wedded to tequila and mezcal and charmed by their seemingly infinite possibilities, I didn’t give this most American of spirits much of a chance. The memory of the burn from sips of Wild Turkey nipped while making bourbon balls with my mom during childhood holidays didn’t exactly entice.

So when Francisco handed me a drink he’d ordered from the bar at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s recently renovated and reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and said, “Bourbon, honey, and lemon–try it; it’s delicious,” I almost said, “No, thanks.”

But something about the smell was so seductive, I couldn’t decline. One sip and I was reminded that one of life’s great lessons is try and try again.

Condado Vanderbilt makes its “Gold Rush” cocktail with Woodford Reserve (though the menu says Knob Creek). When we returned home to New York, Francisco decided to make his own version of the drink. This is what we’ll be drinking tonight to say farewell to 2014 and to ring in 2015:

Francisco's version of the Condado Vanderbilt's Gold Rush. (Photo: @collazoprojects)
Francisco’s version of the Condado Vanderbilt’s Gold Rush. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

[Makes two cocktails]
-2 shots of Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey
-3 ounces of fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (The Condado Vanderbilt does not use Meyer lemons, but the distinctive aroma and taste of the Meyer lemon elevates the drink considerably)
-a dash of St. Germain liqueur
-1 teaspoon of mountain forest amber honey

Mix well in a shaker with plenty of ice. Serve over more ice in an old-fashioned glass that has been rimmed with a light coating of honey and spritzed with Meyer lemon.

Chin-chin and salud! Here’s to a wonderful new year full of health, happiness, and wholeness!

The Disappearance of Mexico’s Students & How You Can Help

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
I’ve been covering the disappearance of the 43 students from the state of Guerrero, Mexico since early November, nearly five weeks after the students were taken by authorities on September 26.

Since most of my reporting has been from my home base in New York (with the exception of a couple pieces that were reported from Mexico City on November 20), I’ve focused on US responses to the disappearance and to artistic and cultural reactions, both online and off.

I’ve been gratified and moved by the responses to my articles, not because they were about me or my work, but because they confirmed that people do actually give a damn. And, a lot of them (you!) told me that they care so much, in fact, that they want to be able to do something–anything–meaningful to make a difference and to let Mexicans know that they stand in solidarity with them.

A sign carried by a participant in the November 20 protest in Mexico City. It reads "In solidarity with the disappeared." (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
A sign carried by a participant in the November 20 protest in Mexico City. It reads “In solidarity with the disappeared.” (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

This happens a lot with the news, I think. We hear about the terrible things that are happening in the world and we want to take action. But more often than not, the news we’re presented is totally decontextualized and it lacks any call to specific action. The effect, then, is that we’re left feeling helpless. Knowledge, it seems, isn’t always power.

In the weeks that I’ve been covering the Ayotzinapa story, I’ve given a lot of thought to what readers can do to take meaningful action and to feel that they’re not just passive consumers of the news. I’ve come up with the list below based on several inputs: (1) my own experience as a former social worker and what it means to help; (2) my experiences of listening to Mexicans as they confront the horror of Ayotzinapa and related atrocities; (3) my interview with John M. Ackerman, a law professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and a journalist in his own right.

Here are some actions that you can take:

1. Continue to commit yourself to staying informed.
With all of the abuses and horrors committed in the world, it is incredibly difficult to continue paying attention to one single episode of violence. And yet, doing so is crucial if governments are to feel that international attention and pressure are upon them to take action. Staying informed is the single most important thing you can do to show your support, even if it feels like the most passive action. With respect to Ayotzinapa, the website Mexico Voices provides English-language translations of articles that were written by Mexicans and published in Mexican media. The coverage is far more comprehensive than any currently available in the mainstream media in the United States.

2. Share information with others.
You don’t have to become a left-wing activist crusader to help spread the word about what’s happening, and you don’t have to flood your Facebook status updates with impassioned pleas for followers and friends to pay attention to what’s happening in Mexico or elsewhere. Share articles and information that seem of greatest value among your social networks. Put these into as much context as you can. Avoid sharing information that’s sensationalist or that comes from a source that you can’t verify or that seems suspect. Spreading consciousness about what’s happening is key, but it’s only useful if the information you’re sharing is accurate.

3. Commit yourself to your own community.
Though there is a desire–and an understandable one–to help the families affected directly by the disappearance of their children, it’s not entirely clear (at least from my position) what kind of tangible help would be (a) most useful and (b) most sustainable. When confronted with the world’s horrors, I’m reminded that one of the best and most sensible actions I can take is to recommit myself to acting honorably within my own microcosm.

One of the reasons I left the social work profession was because I realized that while it was founded on pragmatic ideals that involved tangible changes in individuals’ and communities’ well-being, so many of its actual practices were rooted not in actionable activities. Instead, actions were often based on hand-out principles that made the giver feel good, but either had little positive long-term effect or actually had a detrimental impact. Rather than obsess over what you can do for someone else, take the time to consider how you can make the greatest impact for peace in your own community and in your own family.

God knows every community could use more of that.

4. Take a stand or contribute your skills when obvious opportunities arise for you to do so.
Whether it’s signing a petition in support of Adán Cortés, who interrupted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last week, creating a piece of artwork for Tribute to the Disappeared or #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa, or offering to host the Clothesline project in your community, there are opportunities to take a more direct action that will make you feel like you’re doing something important. I know for sure–because I’ve been told as much–that the participation of a larger community means a great deal to the people who are organizing these displays of support and solidarity.

[Update: I just learned of this photography initiative supported by Social Documentary Network, which is a worthy cause for both pro and amateur photographers.]

5. Pick up a pen.
Send a letter to Mexican officials to let them know you’re watching and that you condemn the disappearance of the students and the way the case has been handled. Let them know you are a witness and that you stand in solidarity with ordinary Mexicans, whose lives have been impacted negatively by narcoviolence and the collusion of the government in profiteering from drug cartel activity.

Tweet President Enrique Peña Nieto: @EPN
Write him a letter: President Enrique Peña Nieto
Residencia Los Pinos
Distrito Federal, MÉXICO

6. Don’t boycott Mexico.
Deciding to boycott Mexico by canceling a vacation there or choosing not to buy Mexican products is unlikely to hurt the people who are causing and contributing the problems that gave rise to the disappearance of the students. Instead, it hurts ordinary Mexicans who are, in many cases, already struggling.

7. Learn more.
Take the opportunity to learn more not only about the current situation, but to fill in the blanks of history that the US media fail to contextualize. One excellent beginning resource is The Mexico Reader, an anthology published by Duke University Press.

Do you have other ideas about how people can help? Please share them below.