Environmental Racism: Stories of My Community

As an Artist Fellow at the Global Human Impact Institute, I worked with Health Fellow, Jordana Vasquez,  to conceptualize an idea for a project highlighting the effects of climate, race, and health inequities through the perspectives of parents, expecting parents, and those fearing raising children in the current environmental emergency. With the power of storytelling, I wanted to highlight what new parents have been through due to toxic hazards, systemic health racism, climate displacement, food insecurity, and economic impacts. The goal of sharing these intimate stories was to encourage institutions to take accountability for how they are complicit in environmental racism. 

Prior to this research project, my knowledge of Particulate Matter (PM) was limited. I didn't realize that exposure to PM during pregnancy can cause health problems to the expecting parent and developing baby. Neither was I aware that weather apps can display daily air quality information. Black and brown communities have the highest levels of PM, which comes as no surprise. Many of the people I interviewed, whom themselves live in neighborhoods with high PM levels, were unaware of this issue. 

I wanted to hear about their experiences giving birth and navigating a medical system that wasn't designed to center their health and wellbeing. To those who have chosen not to have children at this time, I wanted to explore their reasoning. To be able to hear their stories and experiences, and to be able to share them with you, is a great honor and privilege. The experience was more of a conversation piece than a formal question and answer session, and I let the individuals direct the discussion. Interviewing each individual person provided them with a platform to express their thoughts and stories, as well as an outlet for sharing their experiences. 

Andrea

 

There was one incident at the hospital where I gave birth. During my overnight stay, I was placed in a room with 3 other new mothers who also had baby girls in 2010. The next morning when they came to bring in the babies, I guess the nurse did not check the tags, (babies have tags on their ankles with numbers that match the mother’s wrist) because she was handing me a baby that was not mine. Coincidentally there was someone in the room that had the same last name, so they were trying to give me her baby. Even though I just met my baby a few hours ago, I knew that wasn’t my baby.  The nurse tried to hand her over to me and I said no repeatedly. After a back and forth the nurse finally checked the tags and noticed that the numbers did not match. This would have not happened if this was a better-staffed and better-equipped hospital. Needless to say, I got my right baby. 

 

For my 2nd and 3rd pregnancy, my experience was completely different. I changed doctors and offices. They were much more attentive. The doctor worked at a hospital in Long Island and it was one of the best experiences I had and I think it was because I wasn’t in the Burroughs. 

Albania

My birthing experience was a nightmare, Wyckoff Hospital in 2007 was not a hospital that had a proper maternity unit, and with that being said they provided the worst care and bedside manner I have ever experienced. I don't want to get too much into details because I don't want to speak negatively about the hospital, however, all I can say is that it was a traumatizing experience, and if I could do it all over I would have not chosen that hospital.

 

My son has been dealing with asthma and related health conditions since about the age of two. He has had several admissions to the PICU due to asthma. I truly believe that his medical conditions have been caused by air pollutants, and poorly maintained NYCHA buildings. According to the NYC health department in Long Island City and Astoria, levels of PM2.5, the most harmful air pollutant.  I bet it does not help that I have more options for fast food than access to a well-stocked grocery store. 

Anabelly

I had a complicated pregnancy, I was admitted to the hospital many times throughout my pregnancy.  I felt like I was in the hospital for days. The nighttime hospital staff would sometimes bring my food and my medication late. During the late hours, I would hear staff yelling and laughing in the hallways while there were sick patients trying to get some rest. 

 

Close to my delivery time I was told to walk around the hospital to help speed up the process. The staff unplugged me from my monitor and I went on my walk. When I returned, I waited for the medical staff to plug me back into the monitor but no one came. After a while of waiting, I decided to do it myself. Since I had watched them do it several times before, I was able to do it successfully. As soon as I plugged myself in staff came rushing into my room. They got an alert that my baby was in distress. I think about that all the time. If it wasn’t for me learning how to plug myself into the monitor, they would have never known she was in distress, and there could’ve been a good possibility that she would not be here right now. 

 

I had no knowledge of particulate matter or even how to read it prior to this. This wasn’t the information that was made aware to me. But given the recent flood, I would like to get the fuck out of here. It’s scary to think that nowhere is safe. The world is terrifying, so where am I suppose to go?

Genesis

 

Growing up, I would always say that I’m going to have 10 kids. I had a health class in high school where one of the assignments was to care of those fake baby dolls. As much as that traumatized me, it worked on me. Once the doll woke me up in the middle of the night, I was like oh hell no. So then I was like okay I’ll have just one child. When Trump became president, that was the year that I first moved out, and was living on a trader joes check, I experienced real adulthood. I had to pay bills to maintain a household, it wasn’t fun. When he became president I was like, oh hell no, America like se jodo (America is screwed).  My first thought after he won was I’m not trying to bring children into this world. Especially a child of color. Given the environmental and political climate, whatever gender they are,  whatever their sexuality,  if they are brown and/or Black,  they are automatically in danger. I’m really not trying to bring a child of color into this world.