Hi there, I’m Angélica De Jesús; a doctoral student in the MSU Sociology Department and /literal/ mami currently living in Nkwejong (aka Lansing, Michigan).

During a recent chat with my abu Eréndira, she asked detailed questions about what I do at MSU. Our conversation about my work stood out to me because it was a reminder that my work, as is true for the work of many other scholars, operates in various linguistic and cultural spheres. My grandmother’s questions — “Mija, que haces? Como puedo describir tu trabajo?” — reminded me of the power of being in conversation with elders as I continue to shape my work. My abu helps me to tell the story of my work in multiple ways, and I draw from our conversation to write this introductory post (this time, in English).

The short, English language answer to the question “what do you do*?” is: I’m a climate scientist passionate about climate justice, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and health equity.

A longer English language answer is: I am a scientist of climate change and environmental policy and law. After earning a dual degree in Arts and Biology from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA, I started working as a public health researcher focused on health disparities. In this work, I soon realized that national level health disparities work often omitted (in funding, in data collection, and otherwise) people in US territories. This was an issue I could not ignore. Wanting to be a bridge between policy makers and scientists interested in supporting health research and equity in the US territories, I sough out interdisciplinary graduate study at the University of Michigan where I earned an Masters of Public Policy focused on Health Policy Analysis, Planning and Design, and Environmental (Health) Justice.

A year into this masters program, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean and devastated our archipelagos and her people – including many Afro and Indigenous descendant Puerto Ricans. This critical event guided me towards deepening my commitment to working in the world of Climate Adaptation Science and Policy. This is one reason why chose to continue study by beginning a doctoral program in Sociology at MSU.

Nowadays, with the help of an incredible committee, my professional and academic work is broadly guided by (1) deep curiosity about how AfroIndigenous Caribbean people (my relatives) operate #landback and reparations movements in my ancestral home of Puerto Rico and other US places captured by settler colonial governance (2) deep connection and responsibility to land-based AfroIndigenous futures in the Caribbean. 

I think a lot about how governmental policies and practices contribute to or detract from local climate change adaptation capacity in US territories (aka colonies). I am reading a lot about land tenure laws, policies around water access, water quality, and natural resources management operations, including the creation and maintenance of National Forests.

And while I do this reading and thinking, I also spend time visiting with other members of colonized nations and displaced peoples. Sometimes we talk about our families, sometimes we talk about our shared culture, sometimes we vent! And sometimes we talk about how we can draw from our Traditional Ecological Knowledges (TEK) to work alongside mainstream scientists to create a good future for incoming generations. I am grateful to be working with and have worked alongside brilliant AfroIndigenous, Black, and Native American scientists, writers, artists, and relatives from other backgrounds working on addressing climate change. Most recently I was part of a transformative summer internship with the Rising Voices Changing Coasts (RVCC) program, the source of the two photos in this post.

In light of these ongoing conversations with my abu, community, and recent personal experience as an RVCC summer intern, I find it very important to share my research and to continue doing culturally rooted climate science research. For these reasons, and more, I am excited to be a part of CHI to hone my skills as a scientist committed to doing work that resonates with my relatives – or at least keeps these intergenerational conversations going.

If you have questions or like to talk more, please email me at dejesu16@msu.edu!

*To any one who has shared space with me and helped me think about how to answer the question “what do you do at MSU?” thank you for helping me name and follow this path. <3