Category: Hidden Texas

Trending of Eco-Friendly Alpaca Products

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By Julianne Hodges, Jiayi Sun and Jennifer Murphy

A baby alpaca called Jenny hopped, skipped and jumped to Rhonda Deschner. She took a moment to caress its belly’s fur.

“Alpaca fur is the most environmentally friendly material in the world,” said Deschner, the 58-year-old owner of Tierra Prometida Alpaca Ranch, 15 miles west of San Marcos. “That’s the reason why I raised alpacas instead of goats or cows.”

According to World Population Clock, there are 7.6 billion people living on earth right now. By 2050, the population is expected to reach 10.5 billion. The growth rate of the population may soon outnumber necessary resources. Novel solutions to environmental stressors, such as alpaca fur, are becoming increasingly common. Therefore, alpaca fiber is poised to be on the shelves of everyday stores to luxury boutiques because of its low impact on the environment.

Alpacas’ manure benefits the soil. According to Alpaca of Montana Association, it is considered nature’s best time-release pellet fertilizer as it is brimming with nutrients,  including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen promotes plant growth as it is associated with leafy, vegetative growth, according to Noble Research Institute. Nitrogen is part of the chlorophyll molecule, which gives plants their green color and is involved in creating food for the plant through photosynthesis.

Phosphorus promotes root development, crop maturity and seed production. And potassium is important for a plant’s ability to withstand extreme cold and hot temperatures, drought and pests.

“We composted their poo and put it back on the soil,” Deschner said. “And they help improve the soil here, much better than synthetic fertilizers.”

Synthetic fertilizers consist of varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They also contain a large majority of the heavy metals such as mercury and lead, according to Organic Consumers Association. Therefore, fertilization may affect the accumulation of heavy metals in soil and plant system. Plants absorb the fertilizers through the soil, and they can enter the food chain.

When synthetic fertilizers come to the soil, they kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil that convert dead animal and plant remains into the nutrient-rich organic matter.

When synthetic fertilizers come to the water, they reduce the amount of oxygen in the water. The result is oxygen depletion causing the fish to die.

Alpacas also weigh less than other fiber-producing livestock. An adult healthy alpaca usually weighs 100 to 150 pounds, while the number for a sheep is 200 to 450. Therefore, alpacas cause less soil compression, which tends to lead to infertility in ecosystems.

According to Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, aerated soil grows vegetation more effectively than dense soil because ventilated soil allows gases to be exchanged with atmosphere, which is important for photosynthesis and respiration.

Light and fluffy soil can support vegetation, earthworms and other creatures that add to soil health. In turn, more grass is available to retain water, reduce runoff and ultimately, nourish alpacas.

Alpacas’ two-toed feet with soft pads on the bottom also benefit the soil. The pads allow them to tread grasslands with little impact and do not contribute to erosion like other livestock, according to Deshner.

“Other fiber animals such as goats and cattle have hooves, which can dig into the turf and tear the ground up,” Deschner said.  

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Tierra Prometida Ranch is located 15 miles outside of San Marcos on the Devil’s Backbone, a winding, scenic stretch of rolling hills full of desert plants and juniper trees characteristic of the Texas Hill Country.

Meyla Johnston, the owner of Alcapa Culture, said goats and cattle not only have sharp hooves which can cut through the soil surface, their eating habits also damage the plants.

“They voraciously rip up plants by their roots,” said Johnston. “This makes it impossible for grass to thrive and makes rangeland recovery longer and more difficult.”

But alpacas lack upper teeth and chew grass against their palate. This special structure of their teeth makes the way they eat grass protective of grassroots.

Alpacas also eat little. According to Alpacas Of Montana, alpacas consume 20 to 40 percent less feed per unit of metabolic body weight that sheep do on the same diet.

“This helps us save grains and reduce production cost because they don’t eat a lot,” Deschner said.

Alpacas not only consume less food than sheep and goats, they also utilize their food more efficiently than others. Their specialized three-stomach digestive system metabolizes most of what they eat with little waste.

Alpacas come in 16 different color groups with many other shades and hues, according to Alpaca Owners Association.

“You don’t have to dye it to get a broad variety of colors,” Deschner said. “This makes alpaca a perfect ready-made candidate for eco-lines of yarn, textiles and garments.”

According to Scientific Research, the textile dyeing industry has created a huge pollution problem as it is one of the most chemically intensive industries on earth and the No. 1 polluter of clean water. The industry is using more than 8,000 chemicals in various processes of textile manufacture including dyeing and printing. More than 3,600 individual textile dyes are manufactured by the industry today.

Use of synthetic dyes has an adverse effect on all forms of life. Presence of sulfur, naphthol, vat dyes, nitrates, acetic acid, soaps and heavy metals like copper, arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, all collectively makes the textile effluent highly toxic.

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The World Bank estimates that 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and finishing treatment given to fabric. Some 72 toxic chemicals have been identified in water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which cannot be removed.

“This represents an appalling environmental problem for the clothing and textile manufacturers,” said Rita Kant, an environmental science professor at Panjab University, India.

The production of synthetic materials, such as rayon, can also create problems for the environment, according to Jonathan Chen, a textiles and apparel professor at the University of Texas at Austin who researches the use of natural materials such as plant fibers.

Rayon comes from cellulose, an organic compound found in plant cells and fibers, which is then dissolved and spun into uniform filaments. However, the cellulose must be dissolved in strong acidic and basic chemicals. The resulting chemicals are very hard to treat before being released back into the environment.

“Although modern technology has created new ways of producing rayon without using as many chemicals,” Chen said. “These new methods are not yet widely used.”

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Despite all of the eco-friendly advantages that natural fibers such as alpaca wool have over synthetic fibers, Chen said synthetic materials have the economic advantage. Synthetic fiber can be produced cheaper and at higher quantities to meet the growing demands of an increasing population.

“Right now, it’s very hard for plant fiber and animal fibers to compete with the synthetic fiber market because today, the synthetic fiber is becoming the mainstream fiber application production for textiles, and other non-textile applications,” Chen said. “It cannot compete at the cost, at the quantity, and also in quality in general.”

However, there is still a market for alpaca wool. Deschner said she sells it to different people who make fleece. The number of the companies she works with is increasing every year. This year, they provide the yarn to Ralph Lauren to make the Olympic sweaters and uniforms.

“Alpaca will become recognized as the most appealing natural fibers,” Deschner said. “They are the hope for the future of textiles.”

 

Sources:

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

http://alpacasofmontana.blogspot.com/

https://www.noble.org/

https://www.organicconsumers.org/organlink?page=8%2C0%2C5

http://www.alpacainfo.com/academy/about-alpacas

Tiny Homes Make a Big Impact

Video by Sara Lopez, photo in video by Sara Lopez

 

by Alex Arevalo, Deenah Kafeel, Sara Lopez, and Lainey Jackson

Austin is always on the edge of latest trends; food connoisseurs can be sure of new restaurant openings on a weekly basis; different sounds in music are originated and popularized in the Live Music Capital of the World; even shows and films gain inspiration from the city’s fresh and urban locales. Now, a particularly small trend in real estate has made a big impact on Austin-ites.

Residents have been opting to drastically downsize their living spaces and move into miniature versions of conventional homes. The practice of this counterculture has gained enough traction across the nation to be considered its own social movement. The success of the Tiny House Movement hinges on the idea that homeowners aim to simplify their lives and strive for greater efficiency in their living spaces.

One of the people responsible for bringing this idea to life in a uniquely Austin way is Michael de Ovando. For almost 40 years, de Ovando has used his background in architecture and design to create livable spaces for clients all over the world. Starting out building smaller homes for low-income communities in Mexico, de Ovando stumbled upon a real estate niche that had yet to be tapped into in the city.

 

Photos by Sara Lopez

“People now are wanting to live simply, more minimalistic,” de Ovando said. “They’re wanting to get rid of their big houses, so I see this as a way of the future. People want to buy just a piece of property, have a small house with very low maintenance, low utility fees.”

His company, Container Living Solutions, offers homes that differs in both practice and design. These compact living spaces are made entirely from steel shipping containers, either 20 or 40 feet in length, just like those you see aboard ships and freight trains. Unlike more common tiny homes made from lumber, or mobile homes made from aluminum, de Ovando’s homes offer certain environmental and disaster prevention benefits by virtue of their building material.

 

Info Graphic by Deenah Kafeel

 

“Everything is used out of steel; by not using lumber, we don’t have to cut down trees,” de Ovando explained. “This product is a completely green product, so there is a big environmental benefit.”

The structural integrity the steel yields also appeals to potential container homeowners. The risk of damage from floods and fires alike is drastically reduced in this type of home. In the worst case scenario following a natural disaster, de Ovando explained container home owners are at the very least left with the outer shell of the home, the steel container.

The potential for a smaller carbon footprint and the security against devastating home damage are only two of the draws associated with this type of modular living. Economic benefits offered by tiny houses attract the main demographics of downsizers; millennials and baby boomers. By foregoing mortgages on houses, consumers are able to keep themselves from going into severe debt, or are able to retain more of their retirement savings. “The young people and the older people, not middle-aged, are the main demographics,” de Ovando said. “Young people tend to live in simple places where they don’t have to worry about big payments. Older people are very happy with low maintenance, minimalistic retirement options.”

According to The Tiny Life, a website resource on tiny living, 55% of people who live in these spaces have more savings than the average American, with an estimated median of $10, 972 in their bank accounts. Additionally, 89% of tiny homeowners have less credit card debt than the average American, with 65% of those homeowners having no credit card debt at all.

Capitalizing on these incentives, contractors in the Austin area continue to develop areas to cater to tiny home dwellers. A new tiny home community, called Constellation ATX, is slated to open this spring on Old Manchaca Road, south of West Slaughter Lane. Featuring almost 100 lots of land, this project is expected to house nearly 500 tiny homes and open on March 1.

“Austin is weird,” de Ovando says. “Austin is a great city and I think this place is perfect for tiny homes. The trend is certainly on the upward.”

 

Check out Austin’s up and coming tiny home communities here:

Info Graphic by Deenah Kafeel

Businesses Struggle to Survive on The Drag

 

By Nancy Huang

Following the leave of Pizzeria Vetri from Urban Outfitter’s Space24 Twenty in January, Symon’s Burger Joint on Guadalupe has closed, leaving new space for other local vendors to open up shop.

Nathan Smith, a commercial real estate agent for Austin Tenant Advisors, said the In-N-Out hamburger chain, which opened last year, might have contributed to Burger Joint’s closing.

“Areas with high business traffic like Guad don’t do well with restaurant repetition,” Smith said. “It doesn’t work when there are two burger joints sitting that close to each other.”

Smith said the rent was already rising when In-N-Out Burger opened on Guad. With Symon’s Burger Joint closing, other restaurants have the opportunity to move into these spaces.

Husband and wife business partners Courtney and Ron Lunan are moving their mobile coffee shop, Lucky Lab Coffee, into the vacated space in September. This new move signifies a big change; the coffee truck company is opening its first brick-and-mortar location.

Along with Lucky Lab Coffee, hot dog spot Frank will open up a location in Symon’s Burger Joint’s counter space. This will be Frank’s second Austin location and third overall. Other Frank locations include the original on West 4th Street and one in San Antonio.

Rachel Albright, creative director for Urban Outfitters, said pop-ups are what keeps these spaces exciting.

“[Urban Outfitters is] always keeping things fresh with different vendors,” Albright said. “For a space like this that’s so close to students, we have a kind of access to campus life that no one else has. We want to make the best of it.”

Urban Outfitters properties like Space24 Twenty have opened up in cities like LA and Williamsburg. Austin is the third city where a communal entertainment and eatery space has been built.

“We chose Austin because the culture of this town grants us a lot of permission to have fun,” Albright said. “We’re trying to stay relevant by really listening to the students on campus. We want them to like our space.”

Fourth year Plan II and History major Thanh Bui said she likes Space24 Twenty, but all the closings and moving businesses are a turnoff.

“Every time a new business comes in, it’s like a new thing and of course people are interested,” Bui said. “But then, after the restaurant’s been there for a while and it’s even established a relationship with students and the campus, it leaves and we’re left with a new one. Personally I don’t think that kind of thing will attract more customers.”

Bui said all the recent closings on Guadalupe and other parts of Austin are indicative of a wider issue.

“So many things are changing on Guad,” Bui said. “It’s hard to tell if this place even has a culture anymore.”

Increase in Rabies Cases in Austin Over the Summer

 

A bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

A bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

 

By Nancy Huang

Let’s say you walk into your living room and, lo and behold, you see a bat in the rafters of your ceiling. Or maybe it’s dozing on the floor. You’re not completely sure what to do–bats aren’t a common animal. Believe it or not, there is a proper way to handle of bats in residential areas, and it will minimize harm for both yourself and the animal.

According to Kelly Carnes from Bat Conservation International, there are approximately 1.5 billion bats in Austin.

“Austin has one of the largest urban bat populations in the country,” Carnes said. “It’s not unlikely that Austinites will find a bat taking shelter in their homes.

Bat being fed a worm at Austin Bat Refuge.

Bat being fed a worm at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

Bat season in Austin is between March and November, according to the Travis County Health Department website, and comes with a rising risk of rabies cases.

During the summer months Austin’s Mexican free-tailed bats roost in high and dry places, including some houses and residential buildings. Proper removal of the bats should ensure no exposure, but people who aren’t aware are putting themselves in danger.

Rabies is a disease that affects mammals. It is fatal, and usually passed from animal to animal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, rabies exposure occurs only when “a person is bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal, or when abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes are contaminated with the saliva, brain, or nervous system tissue of a potentially rabid animal.”

Merely touching such an animal, or contact with its urine or feces does not constitute exposure.

Cleaning a bat at Austin Bat Refuge.

Cleaning a bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

According to the Austin Texas Government website, when bats are found in residential homes owners should stay calm and do the following: Isolate the area and close the door, and open a window in the room. There is a high chance that the bat will free itself if left alone.

This strategy works for the entire summer except during the months of June and July–inexperienced young bats may be trapped inside during this time period, and unable to escape.

Carnes said the risk of rabies is lower than people think.

“This time last year, there were only 4 percent of tested bats that had rabies,” Carnes said. “It’s unlikely, but health organizations take precautions because rabies is so contagious.”

Always wear gloves when handling bats.

Always wear gloves when handling bats. Photo by Kelsey Machala

 

Texas Parks and Wildlife makes it  clear that nobody under any circumstances should touch a bat, alive or dead, with their bare hands.

If the bat is resting in someone’s home, then putting a container over them and then sliding a cardboard sheet under it, all while wearing rubber gloves, is the best way to remove a bat.

If anyone is bitten by a bat, people are instructed to call the Austin Animal Center at 3-1-1, or the Austin/Travis County’s Disease Surveillance Unit at (512) 872-5555.

 

Texas Chili Queens

Texas Chili Queens: Adding Flare to Stand Out in Austin’s Crowded Food Truck Scene

By: Ross Milvenan

Austin now has the fastest-growing food truck industry in the United States, with over a 600% growth in food trucks since 2010, according to a report from the Economist.

With nearly 4 food trucks per 100,000 people in Austin, the novelty of these mobile eateries seems to be vanishing. With this abundance of food trucks in Austin, food truck owners like Ed Hambleton of Texas Chili Queens are bringing a unique spin to their businesses as they try and stand out in a saturated Austin market.

Ed Hambleton is the owner of Texas Chili Queens food truck, but his drag queen persona Edie Eclat runs the day-to-day operations. This involves interacting with customers, cooking the food, and serving up innuendos.

Edie Eclat working in the truck. By: David Lopez

Edie Eclat working in the truck. By: David Lopez

“I am not attacking anyone, I am not making fun of anyone, the drag queen does not harass you, but just lightly plays with you,” Ed said. “It just allows people to spice up their day, both figuratively and literally.”

Ed said he incorporates this twist into his food truck because it is good for business. He believes a key to success in this market is to get people excited about more than just the food.

“This makes it more memorable and generates buzz, traction and interest,” Ed said. “People will remember you based on the experience they had, and we definitely give people a memorable experience.”

Ed chose to serve a food that he believed was “lacking in the culinary landscape of Austin.”

“A lot of the food trucks in Austin have forgotten we are in Texas,” Ed said. “I get it, Austin loves to be healthy, but we need to go back to Texas roots.”

Ed also believes serving exclusively chili gives his food truck an advantage over others in Austin.

“It is the perfect food for a food truck,” Ed said. “One of the geniuses of it is that the chili is already made, and wait times are super low.”

Ed wants to eventually grow out of his food truck and enter into a brick and mortar establishment. He also believes that his restaurant could expand to other places as well.

“Since Texas is such a culturally distinct thing in the U.S. and the world, this could have global appeal,” Ed said. “You may see a Texas Chili Queens restaurant in Berlin, Tokyo, or Tel Aviv.”

While Ed believes the uniqueness of food trucks may be fading, he does not believe the era of food trucks coming into Austin is over.

“The glory days are over and the novelty of the food trucks are starting to wane,” Ed said.

“I think food trucks will continue to roll into town,” Ed said. “But they won’t have the same cachet as they once had.”

Chili Dishes available at Texas Chili Queens. Photo: Texas Chili Queens/Facebook

Chili Dishes available at Texas Chili Queens.
Photo: Texas Chili Queens/Facebook

In 2016, 61 Austin restaurants, bars, and food trucks closed their doors, according to Eater Austin. While many food trucks in Austin have been forced to shut down, others have been able to sustain their success despite the increased competition.

UT alumni Edward Sumner and his lifelong friend Bernard Goal opened The Don Japanese food truck in the summer of 2015.

Despite struggling at the beginning, Don’s became very popular among UT students and frequently had a lengthy line and would run out of food. Last April, due to the restaurant’s popularity, the restaurant upgraded to a brick and mortar facility.

Co-owner Bernard Goal does not believe that a twist is necessary for food trucks in Austin to be successful. He believes the key to success in the food truck business depends on three important principles: product, service, and economics.

“You must have a good product, provide good service to your customers, and do so at a price that appeals to them and at a cost that is sustainable for you,” Goal said.

“Excelling in all of these will help a food truck stand out from the others in Austin.”

 

The Texas Chili Queens food truck offers five menu items. All inspired by these 5 cities in the state of Texas.

The Texas Chili Queens food truck offers five menu items. All inspired by these 5 cities in the state of Texas.

 

NEW STUDY SHEDS LIGHT ON SEXUAL ASSAULT AT UT

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 Find the full story here: https://texasnonosvamos.squarespace.com/

 

After Zoë was raped by her coworker, she went home to her empty apartment and cried for hours.

She felt confused. She didn’t think of the incident as rape until weeks later. She still doesn’t like to say the word aloud.

“It just sounds, like, so horrible,” Zoë, now 22, said. “I can’t bring myself to say even though I know that’s what it is.”

In the weeks following the incident, Zoë, who at the time was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, found herself calling UT’s crisis hotline.

I think I remember being like my room in my apartment and having a panic attack,”  Zoë said. “They were trying to talk to me, trying to calm me down and give me resources.”

With the hotline’s help, she scheduled an emergency meeting for the next day at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center.

 

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Third year neuroscience major Jackie Roth was friends with Haruka Weiser prior to Weiser’s disappearance and death in April of 2016. Weiser’s murder shocked the UT community and jump started discussions about campus safety. Jackie says that Weiser’s death was not a reflection of holes in the UT’s safety policies, but rather a rare event that is a result of wider systemic issues facing the community.

 

 

The counseling center is one of many small pieces that make up a great puzzle of prevention programs, counseling, advocacy services and reporting options at UT. In addition to asking why students often choose not to report incidents of sexual assault or rape, our reporting team set out to make sense of this puzzle and ask whether these programs are effective.

Sexual assault and rape are not rare incidents among college students. In March, UT released a survey showing that 15 percent of undergraduate women at the university say they have been raped. The survey of 280,000 students found that 18 percent of students said they experienced “unwanted touching,” and 12 percent said they experienced attempted rape.

The lead researcher of the survey and many of the people interviewed for this article have stated the statistics provided by the report are unfortunately unsurprising. They are reflective of national data, both on college campuses and of the general population.

“UT is a microcosm of what’s happening around country, the world,” said Katy Redd, the associate director for prevention and outreach at the CMHC. “Gender based violence is all too common.”

The survey also says very few victims — 6 percent — disclosed incidents to someone involved with the university. Of the 32 percent of victims who said they told someone about the incident prior to taking the survey, 4 percent reported to the CMHC. Just one percent reported to the University of Texas at Austin Police Department.

“I think there’s a whole host of reasons [for non-reporting],” Redd said.

Breall Baccus is a Title IX prevention coordinator and confidential advocate at UT. She said students may feel hesitant to come forward “because they don’t know what the next steps would be.”

“They might also not realize what happened to them was assault,” Baccus said.

 

 

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The university hired Baccus in January to fill a gap in the Title IX office. By law, the university must comply with Title IX, which “prohibits sex discrimination in education,” according to UT’s Title IX information page. Unlike other members of UT’s compliance team, Baccus is not required by law to open incidents for investigation. When students come to her to disclose an incident, Baccus can explain their options, which could include filing an official report depending on how the student chooses to go forward.

The university amped up security and sexual assault prevention efforts following the on-campus sexual assault and killing of freshman Haruka Weiser last spring. In addition to increasing police presence, the university’s Be Safe campaign has used social media and student art to promote safety messages such as walking in well lit areas and not walking alone.

“It’s just a softer way of addressing things that are going on in campus and the way to increase their safety,” said UTPD Sgt. Samantha Stanford.

Stanford’s hire, like Baccus’s, was in part to address issues of interpersonal violence on campus. As a detective, she has received specialized training to help victims of sexual assault or rape. UTPD also offers free self-defense courses for women upon request, and Stanford said the department is looking into holding separate self-defense classes for men.

UTPD’s jurisdiction ends beyond the campus borders, and Stanford said that incidents in a private residence or in West Campus might be transferred to the Austin Police Department. Stanford also said sometimes the legal definition of sexual harassment or sexual assault differs from what the university or community may use. Despite these limitations, Stanford said she is available to meet with students to answer questions or explain the legal process.

“We’re trying to… brainstorm on how we can make the process a little bit easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and feel comfortable with reporting to us,” Stanford said.

“I think that every student should have a right to feel safe and get the education that they want to get,” Breall said, “and not have a traumatic experience get in the way of that.”

 

 

Meet One of the Only Feminist Bookstores in the U.S.

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BookWoman owner Susan Post looks through her cell phone behind the check out desk of the feminist bookstore. In 1975 Book Woman opened its doors in Dobie Mall, and 40 years later is one of just 13 feminist bookstores in the world.

 

By Sarah Jasmine Montgomery, Vedant Peris, Kris Seavers and Sunny Sone

 See the full story here.

The day after the presidential election, the first customer to walk into BookWoman recounted an emotional morning to owner Susan Post.

“She said, ‘We got up this morning and my daughter had been watching the election and she saw my expression and she said, ‘Mom, what happened?’ and she said, ‘We lost,’” Post said.

The woman got her daughter to school and then headed straight for the comforts of the quaint bookstore, which sits under a purple banner on North Lamar Boulevard.

“The first thing she wanted to do was come here because she knew she’d feel better,” Post said. “She ended up picking up a book for her daughter. She said, ‘I’m going bring her a book about a strong women. We didn’t lose. We’re just more aware now of what we are up against.’”

 

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BookWoman is not limited to solely feminist texts – the store sells materials related to the LGBTQ rights movement and, above, t-shirts supporting a local author.

 

 

BookWoman is one of only 13 bookstores left in the United States that self-identifies as a feminist bookstore. It’s also one of 18 independent bookstores in the greater Austin area, where, like the rest of the country, there is an all time high number of bookstores. It seems that people are now interested more than ever in buying books locally, even with the successes of national chain retailers and declining numbers of book sales.

BookWoman in particular has situated itself from the beginning as a political and activist space, and Post said the community’s need for her books is just as important now as it was when the store opened in the 1970s. In the months since the presidential election, Post said she has seen an increase in her sales and an interest in activism — not only in rallies and protests, but within the space of her store.

“People are still continuing to gather and to work and to protest,” Post said. “Instead of just signing a petition, people are showing up and expressing how they feel about the political climate.”

One recent BookWoman event featured two black women poets, Sequoia Maner and Sheree Renée Thomas, as part of an ongoing series in partnership with Torch Literary Arts, a nonprofit with the mission to “support the work of black women and girls through creative writing.” More than 15 people crowded between the shelves to hear the open mic and feature poets, who touched on subjects including #BlackLivesMatter, sexual assault and LGBT issues.

Ray, a woman who attended the poetry event and preferred not to share her last name, said BookWoman serves an important need for a space that people can find representations of their beliefs — as well as opposing views.

“I think that’s really important, especially now with so many people not being sure how to become politicized,” Ray said.

A book published last year by Kristen Hogan, the education coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin’s Gender and Sexuality Center, features BookWoman and other surviving feminist bookstores to explore how the stores have historically countered racism and created networks of diverse feminists. The book, titled “The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism & Feminist Accountability,” explores the radical history of feminist bookstores, and how modern journalists seem to gloss over these histories.

“Feminist bookstores have been not simply spaces to gather but sites of complex conversations among staff and collectives and, in turn, with readers about feminist accountability,” Hogan writes in the book.

 

BookWoman itself began as a passion project of the Common Woman Collective, a group of Austin women who dedicated themselves to ordering books and finding a place to host a storefront. Post helped DeeDee Spontak, a carpenter, and other members of the collective fix up three donated rooms at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe streets. In 1975, the store opened its doors with a red and yellow hand sewn sign that said “Common Woman Bookstore.”

Post said business boomed from the early to mid ‘70s, when customers flocked to the store to buy books they literally couldn’t find elsewhere.

“There weren’t a lot of books published by women, or publishers were turning down more radical things because there might be nudity or their might be lesbianism or there might be activism,” Post said.

 

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Witches Are Among Us

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Elise Cardenas and Yelitza Mandujano
Video by Elise Cardenas
Audio by Julie Gomez

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin”

Kristi Lewis’s first forays into witchcraft began with dead animals. When she found pieces of bone or other animal remains on hikes, she would wrap the animal in wire the to preserve it and honor its characteristics.

“I was just drawn to the idea of rebirth in a way, that death isn’t the final end-all,” Lewis said.

In November, she started selling jewelry inspired by her pagan beliefs full-time through Etsy and pop-up shops. One day when she was vending her jewelry at Independence Brewery, a woman saw her and pulled her children away, warning them to stay away from witches. Another woman and witch herself, Jessica Beauvoir, approached Lewis and invited her to join Austin Witches Circle, a creative collective for “witches, pagans & magical folk.”


“[Austin Witches Circle] is an opportunity for local witchy folks who make things to try and make a living selling or supplement their livelihood doing something they love,” Beauvoir said. “It also helps bring people together. We are always interacting with each other and being inspired by each other.”

Three to five times a month, Austin Witches Circle puts on markets where witches and non-witches can sell goods such as potions, amulets and jewelry. They also host occasional workshops and spiritual events like Sabbats, festivals that mark dates of seasonal or agricultural importance.

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Austin Witches Circle allows dark-art vendors to sell their crafts without judgement or skepticism they would receive at other art markets around town. When Beauvoir began selling teas and herbs around Austin, she faced some difficulties finding the right place to sell them. She founded Austin Witches Circle to bring together people with similar interests in witchcraft and art.

Though there is no requirement to be a witch to vend at Austin Witches Circle’s markets, Beauvoir says the vendors’ crafts share underlying themes, such as alternative spirituality and reverence for nature. According to Beauvoir, no specific belief or practice makes a person a witch.

“I think what makes a witch is when they identify with that word and figure out what it means to them,” she said. “I wouldn’t say there is any one characteristic that all witches share.”

Beauvoir uses herbalism to practice her witchcraft.  She identifies a secular chaos witch, meaning she uses her belief itself as a tool. Beauvoir says believing in something is what gives it power, so her beliefs can adapt depending on her needs. If she wanted to cast a spell that required belief in a particular deity, she would believe in that deity for the duration of that spell.

According to Cedar Stevens, another member of Austin Witches Circle, Austin has a large witch and pagan community, and though most witches are women, though there are some men as well. Many witches are quite discreet. 

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin,” Stevens said.

Stevens, a former atheist and scientist, now identifies as a witch and as “Wicca-ish.” She followed a trail of books from native plant landscaping and gardening, to agriculture, to herbal medicine and eventually to magical herbalism. Stevens was skeptical about magical herbalism at first, but found it to be her calling and soon started selling oils and incenses based on plant magic through her store, Natural Magick Shop.

Witchcraft is a practice, not necessarily a belief. Witches create from materials provided by the earth. They can choose to believe in pagan spirits or gods, something else or nothing at all.

According to Chris Godwin, acting clergy at a pagan congregation, Hearthstone Grove, witchcraft is the practice of pagan beliefs.

Godwin’s congregation practices Druidism, the second largest pagan religion in the United States after Wicca. Godwin’s Druid congregation focuses on traditional Irish gods and practices. They recite prayers in Gaelic, and rituals feature fires where congregants place offerings such as alcohol. Their community practices a kind of witchcraft that focuses on herbalism. Godwin says he’s skeptical of the efficacy of witchcraft, so he doesn’t practice it often.

“[Witchcraft] is kind of like prayer,” Godwin said. “It’s for when you have no agency left, and you must find some form of agency, some way to express and get out of the psychological state of being in need or being frustrated.”

Outsider Fest Showcases LGBT Art

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Yelitza Mandujano and Selah Maya Zighelboim

Amber Bemak and Nadia Granados, two artists from the United States and Columbia, explored political and personal themes in a performance called “American Spectral History” during the third annual Outsider Fest. Using video and performance art, they presented images of aggression from North America against Latin America, violence against women and queer people and lesbian lovers.

“One thing that people said a lot to us after the show is that it made them feel turned on and disgusted at themselves for being turned on but also at what we were showing,” Bemak said. “I think that’s a good descriptor of our work, and we want people to have that visceral experience at the same time because so much of what we talk about politically has to do with sexuality and gender and sex.”

 Amber Bemak performing “American Spectral History”.

Like many other performances at Outsider Fest, “American Spectral History” touches on topics of queerness and intersectionality. Outsider Fest, an LGBT art festival that ran from Thursday, Feb. 16 to Sunday, Feb. 19, featured spoken word, concerts, films and theatrical performances. According to Curran Nault, the festival’s founder and organizer, the goal of Outsider Fest is to facilitate conversations between different groups of people — between artists and academics, different kinds of artists and different races, ethnicities and classes.

“What’s kind of important to me is the name ‘Outsider’ itself,” Nault said. “It’s meant to evoke, obviously, sexuality, as being out, being queer, but also all of the different ways that people can feel marginalized, outside of the norm, outside of power.”

Use this interactive map to explore the different venues used during (Out)sider
Map and captions by Julie Gomez

This year’s theme was ‘Into the Wild,’ which Nault said is meant to express the idea of reconnecting with nature to solidify community and re-emerge, ready to fight. According to Nault, one show that touched on this theme was “Promised Land” by Rudy Ramirez. In the show, Ramirez goes on a personal journey to find self-acceptance, at one point traveling and camping in the woods.

Ramirez said he created his show, “Promised Land,” with a specific kind of audience member in mind, a young queer Latino who needed confirmation that his feelings and experiences were legitimate. Ramirez wanted “Promised Land” to be the validation he needed when he was younger.

“I was queer in my head before, but when I saw this world, I was queer in my heart after that,” he said. “It was a feeling that this world is possible, we can get there. It’s not something that’s just imaginary. It can be real, and it makes it so much more worth fighting for.”

Lilia Rosas (left), Irene Lara Silva (center left), Paige Schilt (center right), and Trystan Cotton (right) during “Conference on the Couch”.

Besides art shows like “American Spectral History” and “Promised Land,” Outsider Fest also included panels. Most days of the festival began with a Conference on the Couch, where attendees could gather in Nault’s living room with a panel of academics, who sat on couches and chairs with attendees to discuss their work. These panels covered art activism, transgenderism and queer publishing.

For Nault, who is radio-television-film lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, taking academia from its “ivory tower” and bringing it to the community is an important aspect of the festival.

“The fact that we’re literally welcoming you into our living room sets a tone for what the festival is really about, that is that there’s no separation,” Nault said. “There’s no separation between the people making the festival and attending the festival. We’re all together in this family setting.”

According to Nault, art’s emotional resonance makes it unique as a tool for community-building and activism. This resonance allows it to stay with its audience in a way that something like a pamphlet, which only hits on an intellectual level, cannot.  

“Art creates new worlds,” he said. “There’s something that points to a utopian impulse or an imaginary impulse. It creates new visions beyond our current state. It creates a yearning for something different.”

Video by Elise Cardenas, Selah Maya Zighelboim, and Yelitza Mandujano

Local Coalition Provides Legal Aid to Austin’s Immigrant Community

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A sanctuary built by one of the residents sits outside Casa Marianella, a homeless shelter for immigrants and refugees in Austin. Casa Marianella is one of about a dozen organizations that help comprise Texas Here to Stay, a coalition of legal and community organizations that work to provide education and legal aid to Austin immigrants through free workshops and clinics.

 

 

Bells chimed at the San Jose Catholic Church. Signs announcing “Taller & Consulta Gratis de Inmigración” — which translates to “Free Immigration Workshop and Consultation” — adorned the building’s exterior. A crowd gathered, and though it was Sunday, the group did not consist of the usual congregation.

 

It was Jan. 29, nine days after President Donald Trump was sworn in, four days after he announced plans for a border wall and two days after he barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. This crowd of immigrants and their loved ones was there to find out what could happen to them in the future — and what they could do about it.

 

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