Hi, this is Mateo Vargas. 

 

I live in the city of Philadelphia. A city with a proposed allocated city budget of $0 for the arts in the upcoming 2021 fiscal year. As an artist living here, it feels strange to be typing these words laying out such an uncertain future for the arts community. The mayor has essentially proposed completely eliminating the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy as well as the Philadelphia Culture Fund under the guise of COVID-19 related budget cuts. He has instead proposed a $760 million budget for the police force.

 

Philadelphia has a rich tradition when it comes to the arts, including one of the most well-known public mural programs in the states and many of these institutions seek to make the arts more accessible to historically underserved segments of the population. This tradition of accessible art institutions has benefited various artists in the community and served as a touchstone of culture and education. The complete elimination of city funding for the arts is not entirely surprising though, as America's long history of divestment in education, healthcare, the arts, mental health services and general community well-being has continued its long steady march into the present Trump era. 

 

This economic neglect by elected officials, always drawn along racial and socio-economic lines, has now been thrust into the global spotlight in a way both shocking and disturbing for its sheer brutality and inhumanity. This gutting of social programs has illustrated the systemic failings of the failed neo-liberal capitalist experiment of defunding communities of color while investing in increased militarization serving the ruling class. It has been glaringly seen in the form of the grossly disproportionate funding of the racist police state which is now on display for the world to see. 

 

The response to the killing of George Floyd has been the tipping point that continues to magnify the injustices of the continued misallocation of taxpayer funds in the country and how it disproportionately affects African-Americans and Latinxs by funding a police force that mainly serves to terrorize their communities and uphold white supremacy. This is nothing new for these communities but for the first time since the Civil Rights era of the 1960's, America is seeing massive unrest with the population taking to the streets. The population (both young and old) can now be seen on the daily news being brutalized during peaceful protests with the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and a whole array of violent tactics reminiscent of America's dirty wars abroad. Who can shake the image of Trump ordering the violent dispersal and attack on journalists and protestors alike for his bizarre photo-op holding the Bible in front of a historic church?

 

The global response to the Black Lives Matter movement has been incredible to witness and I hope to see the solidarity sustained into the future. Being silent is no longer acceptable. Being actively anti-racist is what is necessary to achieve change. It is during these uncertain times that I encourage everyone to subscribe to the principles of mutual aid. Survival has always been about maintaining our own wellbeing. Being queer and Latinx, I can attest I would not be here if it was not for those in my life who inspire me to continue to care and fight for a better future for all. No one is free until we all are.

 

Growing up as a child in Mexico, I still have vivid memories of my abuela's house when it was meal time. Everyone in the neighborhood more or less knew each other and it was not uncommon for children to wander in and sit at the table and be served a meal. This mutual aid is just one strategy in combating food insecurity. It is simply a matter of sharing resources and care. When I ended up at the homes of others they would feed me as well. Everyone in the community takes care of each other. It is a way of life that stretches far back in time to before colonization on this continent. This is the only way of living life I can see combating the individualism of capitalism and the failures of the state.

 

I would like to use this platform to encourage this principle of mutual aid and would invite anyone who can, to share in the current moment by providing assistance and continue the never-ending process of unlearning misconceptions and striving for a better world. I have attempted in my artwork to always emphasize this de-learning process, or de-colonization of the mind. My art practice strives to keep highlighting these issues and those who exist at the margins of the social order such as migrants, queer folx and BIPOC. A world of equity, acceptance, justice and love is what I want to see. A world of true solidarity with emphasis on local changes and advancement for all. 

 

I encourage you to donate to any of these organizations that will directly assist the Philadelphia community in its continued fight for racial justice and change.

 

Food scarcity has become a major issue in the city of Philadelphia during the pandemic and the current unrest. Food deserts are also a major issue in many American cities in general and tend to directly affect low-income residents with mobility issues. Having grown up dealing with various levels of food scarcity throughout my life, I can not emphasize enough how important mutual aid initiatives like this truly are. The West Philly Bunny Hop is a volunteer run collective that distributes free food to families in West Philadelphia and are doing excellent and much needed work at the moment. 

 

They are accepting donations at:

 

venmo: @foodeveryonedeserves @eclkdomestic

 

cash app: $foodeveryonedeserves $eclkdomestic

 

Morris Home "supports trans- and gender-nonconforming individuals as they develop the knowledge, skills and supports necessary to promote sobriety, manage emotional and behavioral difficulties, choose and maintain safe and healthy lifestyles, and develop healthy relationships with peers, family and the community. Morris Home, the only residential recovery program in the country to offer comprehensive services specifically for the transgender community, provides a safe, recovery-oriented environment in which people are treated with respect and dignity."

 

This organization is doing vital work in the city and unfortunately has experienced a loss of one of their members recently. Rem'mie Fells lost her life tragically in a heinous murder here in the city of Philadelphia. This cause is important to me because no one should have to experience hatred and violence for being trans or gender nonconforming. The challenges faced by trans and gender non-conforming folx of color are endless, and Morris Home is leading the way in helping these communities recover, heal and have access to safety and important resources. 

 

Donation link:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/showing-up-for-morris-home/donations?utm_medium=email&utm_source=product&utm_campaign=p_email+7002-thank-you-instructions-v5

 

The Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project (YASP) is building a youth-led movement to end the practice of  trying and incarcerating young people as adults.  Through its work in the Philadelphia jails, YASP provides space for incarcerated young people to express themselves creatively and to develop as leaders both within and beyond the prison walls.  Young people who have been through the adult court system are at the forefront of YASP, leading the movement to keep young people out of adult prisons and to create new possibilities for youth around the city."

 

This organization is doing essential work in fighting youth incarceration in Philadelphia. While the Philadelphia Bail Fund has received an immense outpour of support and donations, they are now asking for folx to redirect their donations to organizations like YASP. Youth should not be tried as adults and YASP is providing resources for young people in need. "All donations make it possible for YASP to employ formerly incarcerated young people and train them as organizers and leaders of the organization." "YASP launched the nation's first youth-focused participatory defense hub. The hub meets every Tuesday, 4:30-6:30PM, at the The YASP office (924 Cherry St, 5th floor). The hub is a youth-led space where any young people with open court cases - or their families - can come to get support, talk through how the process works, and think about their next steps and strategies to get the best possible outcome for their future." Donations accepted.

Much of my work revolves around highlighting the issue of migration, detention and deportation in the United States and the continued war waged against migrants rights. I encourage you to donate to any of these organizations that will directly assist asylum seekers and migrants in the United States:

 

Juntos is a community-led, Latinx immigrant organization in South Philadelphia fighting for our human rights as workers, parents, youth, and immigrants. We believe that every human being has the right to a quality education and the freedom to live with dignity regardless of immigration status. Donations accepted.

 

These are unprecedented times for us all. Life for asylum-seekers is growing ever more desperate as the COVID-19 virus makes its way into the border towns where thousands of families are huddled along the US/Mexico border. 

Border Kindness has (and will) continue to provide services to asylum-seekers (and local families in great need) throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Though we lack appropriate PPE, our dedicated staff continue to provide food, medical care, clothing and other needed items to families on the border in Mexicali, Mexico. 

While other NGO and humanitarian aid organizations have ceased operating, Border Kindness WILL NOT ABANDON the most vulnerable. We must continue helping our sisters and brothers during this crisis. The lives of thousands of people are at imminent risk. Click here to donate directly to our COVID-19 response efforts. Please consider donating, any amount truly makes a difference! 

 

NDLON improves the lives of day laborers, migrants and low-wage workers. We build leadership and power among those facing injustice so they can challenge inequality and expand labor, civil and political rights for all. Donations accepted.

 

Peace, love and solidarity,

 

Mateo