Letter to Our Daughter Ema Yuizarix


In this letter to their newborn child, whose name was chosen as a map of her ancestral paths, Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski unpack the many layers of settler colonial domination over the lands she is from. They single out the university, the prison, and the museum as three spatial institutions that continuously strengthen the stronghold on stolen land.

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It’s the sight of the future spiraling in post-colonial rooms: A Triptych for Ema Yuizarix. / WAI Architecture Think Tank (2022).

Our dear daughter Ema Yuizarix,

Throughout history, maps have served as abstractions of power relations over the land. Some maps satisfy the narratives of leading ideologies, while others mark routes of escape or resistance. Meanwhile, names are like maps—some names are more like maps than others. Names can lead back to ideological power exerted by the occupier as well as the struggles of the occupied. Like maps, names trace narratives that tie us to the land, ideal or material. Sometimes our names disguise histories of kidnapping, capture, and predation. They erase our struggles, our right to opacity, and homogenize us under the leading ideology of the time. In other instances, names render imaginaries of resistance, of utopian ideals, of nostalgic returns to ancestral lands. A name could be a hegemonic map, or, instead of aligning with ideological power, it could be a route to subversion, a treasure map to liberation. 

We write this letter to you as a small narrative about your name, the footprint of its origins, and how it ties up with ideas about the land. Land is used here not as the geological layering of soil that composes the surface of the earth, but as a broader concept that engages with the geopolitical and ecological footprint of material culture in the form of built and destroyed environments. This idea about land takes into consideration forces of extraction, preservation, speculation, transformation, occupation, segregation, fragmentation, ecology, territory, identity, colonization, and emancipation. 

Land is used here not as the geological layering of soil that composes the surface of the earth, but as a broader concept that engages with the geopolitical and ecological footprint of material culture in the form of built and destroyed environments.


Your name is a combination of two narratives of resistance. The first, Ema, is short for emancipation (émancipation in French, emancipación in Spanish and it works in different languages where your family is from), but could have been liberation, or ultimately abolition. In that regard, your name wishes to raise a consciousness about the struggles that unite oppressed people around the world. It summons centuries-long fights against how lands have been occupied, colonized, militarized, fragmented, fissured, drilled, extracted, commodified, fetishized, and turned into touristic post-cards. Ema also recalls the struggles for emancipation that have been at the center of many stories that run through the land where your ancestors lived. Your name invokes many events, from the Scottish role in British anti-slavery movements, the Irish fighting against British control, your Polish great-grandfather accepting his new life in Scotland, where he ended up with the military as Nazis occupied Poland while murdering and separating his family, the French violently ending monarchic rule and witnessing Caribbean revolutionaries fighting their grip on their former colonies, to what we will focus this letter on: anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggles in the Americas. 

Emancipation in the Americas is needed since European settler-colonizers landed in Quisqueya (what is now known as the Dominican Republic) in 1492, and occupied Boriken (Puerto Rico) a year later, because they understood the land as a means to extract resources and accumulate wealth. This is the land that your ancestors took care of and produced delicious foods, spices, and shiny minerals from, that colonizers thought were more valuable than Black and Indigenous life. Through many generations, your family fought for emancipation because they were stolen from their land, first from the archipelagos in the Caribbean, then from the west coast of Africa—sold into bondage, and forced into labor.

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It’s the sight of the future spiraling in post-colonial rooms: A Triptych for Ema Yuizarix. / WAI Architecture Think Tank (2022).

Boriken, the land where your father was born, is the world’s oldest colony. Occupied since 1493, Puerto Rico was a brutal site of extraction and abuse administered by Spain for 400 years, and for over 120 years, it has been a military, pharmaco-toxicological, financial laboratory run by the United States. Like Puerto Rico, many parts of the world are only post-colonial in theory, as plantation economies have now expanded globally despite the apparent removal of colonial occupying powers.  In fact, your name recalls emancipation, not decolonization, because the latter has become misconstrued and turned into a metaphor for what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang call “settler moves to innocence” (2012). This aims to reconcile settler futurity with the unwillingness to return power, resources, and wealth that they have been violently stealing. Decolonization has never happened. Thus, the drive for emancipation remains imperative. 

The lands of which your ancestors were custodians, like many others around the planet, were occupied, exploited, and kept under siege by the invention of laws that turned the blueprint of the plantation—of Indigenous expropriation and Black exploitation—into the norm, forming the base of cities, towns, urban police-states, and vigilante suburbia. Out of the rotten roots of white supremacist planning grow institutions and disciplines that, however benevolent they may appear, serve the values of the settler-colonial state. As both of us are professors, we would like to explain to you how the university (as it will play an important role in your life) is part of a system that—together with the prison and the museum—stand at odds with the concept of emancipation of the land, the body, and of historical narratives respectively.   

We work for Land Grant Universities (including in the first state whose legislature officially accepted the provisions of the Morrill Act in 1862), which are in principle, public institutions (with the heinous exception of a few private ones) that are only made possible through the robbery of Indigenous lands. With their original focus on settler-capitalist forms of agricultural technology, Land Grant Universities exist via forced removal and violent dispossession of Indigenous nations, similar to what happened to the Taino or Carib, and continues to happen to millions in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean.

Your parents chose to work in public over private universities, because they have the (unaccomplished) mission to provide education to people that inhabit these lands. This dream of a model for free and accessible public education begins one of the steps towards emancipation, and reparations for all that has been broken, stolen, and destroyed. 

However, just because they are Land Grant Universities, does not mean that they are the only education institutions built on violently stolen land. There’s another group of older, private, wealthy, and powerful universities. Built by enslaved people’s labor, many times from the same plantations where these forced laborers built them (whose names we don’t even get to know), these Universities including those grouped as “Ivy League” are institutions that continue to extract from communities they are supposed to serve—through tax laws, gentrifying real estate development, as well as benefiting from the global effects of empire. With ballooning endowments (sometimes bigger than the GDP of entire countries), these universities profit from shady investments that have and continue to support resource extraction, military interventions, apartheid regimes in South Africa and Palestine to name a few, and ironically, even the destruction of public education in places like Puerto Rico by means of vulture funds and colonial infrastructures of predatory fiscal control. Although ideologically operating in the abstract domain of finance, neoliberalism is a physical obstacle for emancipation as it scavenges the land. It rewards powerful, real-estate developing, wealth-accumulating universities, and threatens to destroy public education institutions that could serve the people. 

As we hope you’ll discover, this world is shaped by artificially created and enforced value-systems. Public, land grant, and private universities around the world, but particularly in the Americas and the United States, are entangled in the problematic legacy of “modernity” with its promises of progress, development, social mobility, and enlightenment. The incessant calls to modernize also mask the antithetical heritage of primitive accumulation by means of the consolidation of white supremacy, elitism, class struggle, and asymmetrical accumulation of land, resources, and therefore, wealth.

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney argue in The Undercommons (2013) that the university produces “incarceration as the product of its negligence,” making the university and the prison two heads of the same modernist monster. These questions about the university and the prison encapsulate two very important contemporary issues about emancipation.  If the university creates an extractive and problematic relationship with the land, the prison can be said to pose a set of equally troubling challenges concerning the body. As land is turned into capital in the university, it is the body that is commodified in the economy that supports the prison-industrial complex. Just as the construction of—what Achille Mbembe calls the “vertiginous assembly”—Blackness and race can be traced back to the transatlantic slave trade that forcibly brought 12.8 million kidnapped Africans to the Americas, the prison can be seen as the contemporary software upgrade not only of the biotechnology of race, but also of gender—trans activists have been fundamental in revealing this. With its blueprint in the plantation where millions of those kidnapped Africans (including some of your ancestors) were forced to work, the prison remains one of the ultimate deserving targets of worldwide movements for abolition. While we write these words to you from the comfort that is provided to us by working for a university, today the prison embodies one of the biggest obstacles for human emancipation. 

As designers and teachers, we think of these two institutions—the university and the prison—as part of the colonial footprint of cities and suburbia that are material displays of ideology and wealth accumulation via land occupation. Your name acknowledges the problematic nature of the legacy of settler-colonialism and the institutions it generates, as we continue to wonder: what could be a more sensible and emancipatory relationship with the land? After all, isn’t emancipation fundamentally against wealth accumulation? Is there such a thing as wealth accumulation without institutions and buildings that enforce it by means of the spoliation of the land? Can we imagine a world beyond the ideological constraints of ownership (of bodies, land, buildings, and infrastructure)? Can emancipation be possible without acknowledging that land stewardship and custodianship—something that your ancestors in the Americas shared—are more honest and sensible relationships than land ownership, since we could never own the planet—because it has been here long before the oldest of us even existed, and will continue to be here long after we are gone?

As designers and teachers, we think of these two institutions—the university and the prison—as part of the colonial footprint of cities and suburbia that are material displays of ideology and wealth accumulation via land occupation.


Yuizarix, your second name, is an afrotainofuturist connection to the archipelago of Boriken. Yuiza, an Arawak voice, was pronounced by the Tainos in Puerto Rico, whose family lived across Quisqueya, Ayiti (Haiti), Jamaica, Cuba, Florida, the Bahamas, and many other islands in the Caribbean.

Like many of the landscape paintings that formed the propaganda of “Manifest Destiny,” genocidal expeditions that rendered the officially-sanctioned myth of the disappearing Indian in the United States, or in the many depictions of Indigenous erasure by colonial painters in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, Spanish records claimed Tainos disappeared in the 1500s. But in reality, they are us. More precisely, Taino, Yoruba, Igbo (amongst all the symbols and candles, and avatars that you would have found on your great grandmother’s altar), and the many nameless peoples that were captured and brought into the plantations in the Caribbean, live within the futurism of Yuizarix. 

We tried to pack as much history in your name so that you won’t have to rely on the faux tradition of the still-life painting that exoticized your nature into bounties of colonial expeditions, and the imperial narratives that have misconstrued our past through the fragments of stolen artifacts and contraband that fill permanent collections of museums around the world. Like the university and the prison, the museum is another one of these modern institutions that continuously forges the narratives of collective memory from a dominant position of power. 

We hope that your name prepares you for when you walk into a museum and see fetishized pictures of your family, your childhood toys, the spiritual artifacts that your great-great-grandparents used to pray to, and even their kitchen utensils, hunting, and construction tools. In these museums you may also find large paintings of landscapes that, while familiar to you, have removed any evidence of your relatives that used to share these views, trees, and rivers. 

Aware of the tricks performed, you will notice how under the violently bucolic landscapes, white squares document all sorts of heroic information about the “authors” of these seductively fictitious images. The labels will describe in great detail the life and achievements of the artists and how they “discovered” the “untamed wilderness,” while very little will be said about the erasure of your civilization, presenting your culture as a distant memory of a fading past. The deeper you venture into the world of so-called “high culture,” the more you will be confronted with familiar objects that have been decontextualized and turned into “artistic” fetishes. Deep inside, you will know that many of the laborers and craftspeople who assembled these artifacts would have never thought of them as artworks, and even less as contraband commodities. 

Like ideological maps, some of these museums inaccurately repartition and retell geopolitical stories of global domination. “American” wings, adjacent to European clusters display mainstream icons of religiosity and works of settlers pompously presented in brightly lit rooms, tall pedestals, and within golden frames. As you walk through, you will see fragments of buildings, temples, and drawings brutally decontextualized and iconoclastically displayed. On the other side of these museums (always on the “other” side), spiritual avatars, hunting instruments, and ceremonial devices of your planetary neighbors and relatives have been gathered together. Unlike in any of the “Western” halls, the items in these rooms are not assembled collectively because of geographic proximity, but rather by their imaginary distance from the “enlightened” works of European and white Americans. Very much like the programs and curriculums of university that focus on Eurocentric canons, you will wonder as you venture in this room if you are still in the museum, or if you have been summoned to the “sunken place” Jordan Peele rendered in his film Get Out. In the darkness of these galleries, you learn that wooden effigies of Black bodies, masks shaped with the gold of Abya Yala, and the very familiar Zemí trigonoliths (that you will know from history books and the images your parents showed you), have been gifted by the Rockefellers, the Fords, and many other philanthrocapitalists who not only have no Arawak, Yoruba, or Mayan roots, but have amassed their wealth directly out of the erasure, and spoliation of their land; your land. 

In one of these museums, you may see J. M. W. Turner’s painting Slavers throwing overboard the dead and the dying—Typhoon coming. We hope that in addition to being disgusted by the (historically accurate) rendition of slaveowners throwing Black slaves into the ocean, in order to claim the insurance attached to their bodies as private property; you will remember that the transaction that allowed the Sturgis Hooper Lothrop family to sell this painting to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, financed the purchase of a sugar mill and plantation in Salinas called Central Aguirre where racialized Puerto Ricans worked under the brutal regime of the plantation economy. The combination of emancipation and afrotainofuturism in your name may help you decipher that what is problematic about the art and architecture that you may encounter, is not only their ideological content, but the invisible economies that fuel and fund them, as well as how they are always related to relationships to the land and the body. 

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How could an artwork painted in London and sold in Boston fund biopolitical regimes in Puerto Rico? How can the Rockefellers, and the Fords, and Carnegies, and Mellons “own” your history and possess fragments of your life? You may remember that these same benefactors, in addition to being former proprietors of the pictures you had previously seen, also claimed ownership over the landscapes they depict before they became postcards memorializing troubling accounts of white-washed history. These “collectors” of your history continue to own large swaths of the Earth, not only through the land they occupy with their museums, real estate, mining companies, banks, university buildings, private prisons, but also through your land, back in the colonized islands. An imaginary afrotainofuturist emancipation will make you aware that it is through extracting from these landscapes that allow them to fund and run their museums full of objects that they have stolen from your people, and the university buildings that they have endowed where your history continues to be perpetually distorted. 

Bolivian philosopher and self-proclaimed “unidentified indigenous subject” Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui shares with many Indigenous thinkers like Nick Estes and the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the belief that history, rather than being a linear sequence of events, is a spiral that binds past and present to the future. Like Taino petroglyph spirals, your name coils to a hopeful future in direct opposition to a colonial footprint that expands ad infinitum, leaving a trail of ecological disarray. In this way, Yuiza is not only connected to the past history of extraction and colonization of Puerto Rico, or to a Cacica (a Taino leader that is the reason behind the name of the municipality of Loiza), but also to the potentialities of working today with the legacy of the Spanish-language equivalent of the name, that is shared by a most iconic Puerto Rico early 20th century feminist, anti-capitalist utopian, and anarcho-syndicalist.

As well as being afrotainofuturist, the Yuiza in Yuizarix is also the Luisa of the Loudreaders. Arrested several times for wearing pants in public because of restrictions on women’s clothing, Luisa Capetillo wrote essays about feminist emancipation and free love, as well as fiction about worker’s’ emancipation. In her anti-capitalist utopias, workers would rob (reclaim back from) banks and live happily ever after in the Puerto Rican countryside, eating delicious and nutritious locally grown vegetarian meals, and displaying solidarity with workers of the world. Capetillo understood the relationship between land, sovereignty, gender, emancipation, education, love, and freedom, as she, in her role as a loudreader in the tobacco factories, organized strikes with tens of thousands of workers who were denied any other means of formal education. As loudreaders shared radical literature aloud for workers during the entire workday, Capetillo found inspiration in the communist writings of Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx, and in the anarchist texts of Mikhail Bakunin and Piotr Kropotkin. The anti-capitalist imaginaries of her oral narratives helped outline routes of resistance for former slaves and workers of the land that had been oppressed because of their social class, their gender, and the color of their skin. 

Luisa Capetillo understood the relationship between land, sovereignty, gender, emancipation, education, love, and freedom, as she, in her role as a loudreader in the tobacco factories, organized strikes with tens of thousands of workers who were denied any other means of formal education.

We hope that these names you bear connect you, against all modern institutional odds, to the spiral temporality of a past that has been erased, painted over, fetishized, and commodified, as well as a future that allows you to be a part of a planetary network of solidarity. We wish that your name allows you to establish a connection with struggles of emancipation that seek the liberation of the land, and those who, although denied from access to it, are their custodians and relatives. Like in a room full of critical memories and hopeful visions of the future, we wish that the afrotainofuturist emancipation in your name guides you in your worldmaking journey. ■