Nancy D Valladares



I think that what set me on the path of working with soil is cannibalism. One of my earliest memories is the taste of earth. Among them is also my first burial. There’s this practice, not uncommon in Latin America and other parts of the world, to bury a new baby’s umbilical cord in the soil of one’s home, or beneath a tree. My umbilical cord was buried near a guava tree in our home’s yard in Honduras.
This practice binds the body to the soil, but I cannot stop thinking about what happens after. When the umbilical cord dissolves and becomes food for maggots and mycelium, and the guava tree, am I also consuming myself.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, writes about worms, fungi, and microbes as relatives; decoupling their liveliness from a utilitarian-ness. Rather re-imagining them as workers of the soil and the processors of decay while recognizing the invisible labor that must occur beneath before plants can grow outside of human cycles of time.

They exist within their own subjectivities of timeliness and biorhythms. So the question becomes, can we learn to nourish and care for soil, as part of the larger ecologies of beings, as kindred with whom we cohabit, co-survive and co-build?

Soil is a highly regulated and controlled substance and attempts are made by state agencies and travel infrastructure to monitor its movement as much as animal and human bodies. Nonetheless, it's crucial to recognize how movements across borders are constantly in flux at different scales - from human to animal to vegetal, to bacterial and geological. At microbial scales, cartographic divisions and notions of territory or nationality disappear. Soil exists outside of the designation of the animate, despite its potential for incredibly rich and varied microbial ecosystems, and is treated as pure substrate for other operations to exist.

Puig de la Bellacasa writes: “Soil is the final home to most residues. In that sense, it carries Earth’s material memory and that of its creatures. In cultures marked by horror of decay, the status of this massive memory storage easily oscillates between treasure beholder and trash dump.” She proposes that in reconsidering the relationships to soil, its animacy and potential as a co-creator of matter, we may find powerful alternatives for world-being. In decay, residue, compost, as well as within the webs of mycelium and vermicular relations, exist incredible examples of symbiotic relationships that resist taxonomies and separation.

In addition, the mobility and regulatory aspects of soil migration are vectors through which we can analyze the suppression of non-human agency. Deeply ingrained into the infrastructure of the carceral state, these agencies of regulation and control of species introduction reveal how the expansion of state vision at a microbial scale can operate to support oppressive structures. The constant exchange of matter that occurs between borderlands ensures the perpetual mingling of soils of various kinds, in the nooks and crannies of crossing bodies. As we wash and repeat, dust, sand, and grit mingle to become something at the surface of our skins, the hems of our clothes, the cracks in our shoes.

Though the production of territories, the migratory routes and passages of non-humans have also been affected. The passage of non-human migrants and itinerant beings is also regulated and subject to the scrutiny of state entities, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Foreign Agricultural Service. It’s increasingly urgent to recognize how the displacement of human persons is intimately tied to the subjugation of other beings, as well as domination over land, territory, and soil. How do we recognize the ecological injustices that disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous peoples in the Americas and implicate the structures that enabled the severing of relations between human and nonhuman worlds?