Journey of a rascuacha tech: from the barrio to the world
By Iris Rodriguez, founder and editor of Xica Nation
For the past thirteen years, I have had the privilege of working with Tejanx, Xicanx, and Mexicanx communities across the U.S. as a “rascuacha tech” helping folks assert digital power for social justice and autonomy. During this time, I have witnessed the suffering of our gente and our communities on different fronts…while learning the ins and outs of engaging in “digital resistance” for the purpose of seeking justice and establishing autonomy. I’ve collaborated in digital resistance projects that have penetrated high security Texas prison cells and have gone as far as being displayed in the halls of the United Nations.
But I was not always awake or conscious of self and community. And although computers arrived on the scene when I was relatively young, my story begins in the land before the internet.
During the day I was a normal 80s kid and Xicanita living in San Antonio. I was born a short distance from the headwaters of the Yanaguana and grew up in the barrios along the slithery back of Culebra Road as it makes its way from the “Northwest” side into the mero Westside. I went to schools named after dead confederate soldiers where confederate flags would get pinned on us when we would make honor roll. Like most of my people in San Anto and across the land, growing up a white blindfold was placed over my eyes.
I come from the land before the home computer, part of the last generation to have been born unplugged and off the internet. I come from the land before cell phones and pagers, back when we used to write and send letters by U.S. mail. I remember when computers first hit the stores…and when the internet (dial-up) first made it’s way across the U.S.
I remember when my elementary school won a big grant and was awarded a computer classroom set sometime in the mid 80s. They were Apple computers and were very big and clunky, with “floppy” disk drives. My first grade classroom full of little brown kids were taught the computer by learning to play Oregon Trail, a role-playing (specifically, white folk role-playing) game where we were assigned different characters within a white pioneer family on a caravan across the wild west. The object of the game was not to get killed along the way to your final destination by hunger, disease, or an “indian raid.”
In 1990, when I was ten years old, we got our first computer, the IBM PS/1. We didn’t have A/C. We didn’t have cable. We didn’t have “wireless” landline phones (the latest in phone technology at the time.) But all of a sudden we now had a computer and a “dial-up” connection to something called “the internet” that required no one in the house use the phone line at the same time the computer was online. And with this, my little brown barrio mind exploded as I directly connected with people on the other side of the planet straight from our hot-as-heck Texas car garage/office on the west side. My life would never be the same.
It was not until much later in life that I would realize the importance of the computer skills I had learned as a kid. At age 22, I inadvertently became involved in a major contamination case out in the Rio Grande Valley known as the “Xicano birthplace of Monsanto,” located in Mission, Texas. After hearing from several community folks talk about their situation and touring the locations, I felt desperate to take action, to somehow support the community’s campaign. I had no idea what I was doing. But the situation moved my heart and my instinct told me to act. So in spite of being a working-poor university student, I figured I could offer up some very basic tech knowledge to help.
We eventually collaboratively built a powerful and independent multimedia production house and public archive around the Mission case that garnered worldwide attention and 50k hits a month in the time before social media. Settlement offers in the class action lawsuit against the 30+ chemical corporations involved in Mission began to rise and all of a sudden the community found itself with a space where they had the power of dictating their own narrative publicly after decades of government and media silence.
This was the first in a series of social justice movements I would take part in for the next 13 years. I began to I realized that the tech knowledge I had as part of the digital generation could be applied to protect and heal. It could also be used as a weapon of self defense, by serving to construct the digital war fronts of community-led social justice movements on the ground.
Last year, after dealing with the horrific family detention issue, seeing the Obama administration terrorize my community with immigration raids, seeing the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and pinche Donald Trump and the rise of his (and other) wasichu death eaters spread hate and destruction across our communities and Mother Earth, I said YA BASTA. Folks from different communities were contacting me to help them on different issues…but I couldn’t always volunteer like I wanted to. I reached a point where I didn’t feel right keeping the knowledge of digital resistance to myself because of the tremendous power and impact this work can have on entire communities.
I decided to write Rascuacha Tech: Digital Resistance for Social Justice and Autonomy and document my thirteen-year journey through the digital world, where I have served as an organizer, multimedia producer, and digital resistance warrior in community-led campaigns on issues including environmental justice, family detention, decolonization, cultural arts, guerrilla media, Xicanisma, and public archives.
My vision for Rascuacha Tech is to assist communities of color in the U.S. who have mobilized to assert autonomy and demand justice, specifically those who experience ongoing trauma, lack of economic resources, media blackout, backlash from the non-profit industrial complex, technological divides, and other communication barriers.
My lens is radical and based on my experience as an 80s kid and rowdy Xicana from Texas. What I offer is not an end-all solution or social-justice-in-a-box. But I do offer stories, opinions, recurring themes, and lessons learned from my digital warpath that I hope will help community-led movements for justice and autonomy.
After thirteen years, I now run several “digital resistance” networks (including Xica Nation) through my main umbrella network, Xica Media. And in true rascuacha tech style, I self-published Rascuacha Tech through another project, Xicana Chronicles.
Here is a quick snapshot of the chapter listing:
PART I: DEFINITIONS
Chapter 1: Defining digital resistance
Chapter 2: Defining rascuacha tech
PART II: REFLECTIONS
Chapter 3: Birth of a digital warrior
Chapter 4: The spiritual journey
Chapter 5: Spiritual elements of the virtual world
PART III: INSIDE THE MACHINE
Chapter 6: How to construct a digital war front
Chapter 7: Traffic and quality control
PART IV: THINGS TO CONSIDER
Chapter 8: Potential obstacles
Chapter 9: Self-care as resistance
Stepping out from behind the screen to share this experience has been a humbling process, but one I hope others will be motivated to do. I am a firm believer that our stories have the power to change the world. I hope that by documenting my own story and lessons learned on this digital warpath that communities of color in resistance can save time and money as they assert their own digital power.
In the spirit of resistance and love, I offer these flowers of my experience to the world. These are the virtual arrows of the digital warrior. They must be used carefully to defend, create, liberate, and heal.
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*Also see the new Digital Resistance 101 course