Brown in Chicago – Decolonizing our roots and future

With the Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LSNA’s youth organizing work is founded on the values of racial justice. Youth are vital leaders in the push for both policy and cultural responses to the violence of displacement.[1] Displacement destroys culture. Youth leaders find themselves in a neighborhood experiencing swift racial and economic transition that feels violent and painful. They no longer feel welcomed in their neighborhood hangouts or feel secure that their parents (working-class immigrants) will be able to keep pace with the rising rents and property taxes. For our youth the fact that gentrification is a racialized process is common sense. They see the buying power young white people have in their community, and LSNA’s organizers help deepen their analysis through workshops that emphasize the historical housing policies in Chicago that created the Black and Latino ghettos of our city.

This July a group of seventeen youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association started a journey to fight the erasure of displacement by documenting their families’ migrations from Latin America to Chicago.  Youth leaders were also commissioned by their abuelitas and parents as they submitted DNA ancestry kits to see where their families’ journeys actually started. Our ancestry results capture the mixing of people’s brought violently together in 1492.  Our Mexican students –the great majority of the group–carry between 60-90% indigenous ancestry.  Africa is also present with us—all of our youth came back with some African ancestry. And our young people from the Caribbean have between 15-35% African ancestry.  We suddenly feel ancient and feel the weight of the loss of our indigenous and African identities–colonization is also erasure of one’s stories.


In partnership with the Genealogy and Storytelling Project LSNA youth will:

  1. Uncover the history of migration and displacement and the impact they have on their lives today;
  2. Boldly claim their own place in history as part of the Latin-American and Pan-African Diaspora;
  3. Dismantle the dominant narrative of white supremacy within the specific process of gentrification and more broadly;
  4. Engage more Latinx[2] families to celebrate their place and histories in the community as one weapon against displacement.

[1] In the past year, 110 youth have been involved in LSNA’s anti-gentrification work taking significant roles in outreach efforts to residents, develogeneology commissions 3.JPEGping actions, introducing new strategies and concepts, and meeting with local officials about the need to create policy solutions to address rising displacement.

[2] Latinx= The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. The “x” also encompasses genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary. Pronounced “La-teen-ex.

4/14/18 Session #13

This cold and rainy April morning was a smaller turnout for our group whom most are feeling the strain of the end of semester stress. I invited a fellow earlier this week to start us off with a guided meditation to help us feel more focused for the tasks at hand. After meditating, we began to review pictures and discuss the agendas and themes from the first year of Brown In Chicago and the experience from our culminating project last spring. I discussed the varieties of workshops and presentations that were held that day and unpacked our process of putting that together.

Before we began to break out to our brainstorming exercise I wanted to ground us with this consideration:

Think about why this project is important to you?
What motivates you to wake up early on a Saturday morning to join us?
How does this space feel to you?
How do can you recreate that feeling to share with others?

In the hallway I had large sticky notes sheets to the wall with the following questions in regards to creating a culminating project vision:

How we will show/tell our stories?
Photo exhibit
Art we created
personal testimonies
What will we tell stories about?
expanding latinx/a/o identities
all latino cultures (beyond mexican)
healing from gen trauma
how our DNA results changed our parents/family perspective/ ideas about certain cultures/identities
internalized racism
our identity shifts
ACCESSIBLE ethnic studies with younger and elders
How results contributed to self
What will they (audience) be doing?
Be a representation of me and show the world how neat it is to be brown and struggle but also love yourself!!
DIY workshops (arts and crafts)
listening and interacting
thinking about their own experiences and owning them
ask questions

Who will be there?
Latinx Families/Other POC/friends
community members
How do we want to feel during and after the event?
sense of belonging
calm/celebrated/connected/ centered
How do we want our guest to feel?
If they are YT-Uncomfortable and guilty
If brown/black/ect welcomed and allow them to express their feelings/stories
Included/ POC Empowered/ resonance
learned something new

Afterwards, we collected the sheets and discussed what was shared and how do want to make these visions come to life. Our next meeting we will pick up where we left off and start to put together our agenda for this event!

3/17/18 Session #12


Today we were visited by our project evaluator Shira Hassan to begin to evaluate the data we collected from a recent survey we distributed with Brown In Chicago fellows, parents, and community members. Our Brown In Chicago project methodology will follow a participatory action research model, (PAR) which is an approach to conduct research in communities that emphasizes participation and action. The reason we are using this method is to take research back into our own hands!

The goals for PAR are to:

  • Ask a question?
  • Gather information
  • Analyze our data
  • And take action!

This research method is often dismissed within institutionalized spaces because the process isn’t deemed academic enough compared to research that is empirically complied. An example how PAR is a suitable research method is explored by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project. YWEP, was based in Chicago to better address the needs and support young people of color who have current or former experience in the sex trade and street economies. There is a great need for a space that is safe and judgement-free for young folks trying their best to survive off economies that are highly stigmatized.

Our local and federal governments don’t address the roots of what sustains poverty and then wonder why young people are turning to sex and street work and continue to stigmatized and incarcerate them. Instead, we need comprehensive and accessible resources to keep sex workers safe. The only way to “vouch” for those needs is to conduct research to show to funders and stakeholders in a language they understand which are outcomes and expenses. Many non-for-profits and member based social justice organizing projects utilize grants to sustain their projects, much like Brown In Chicago, and need to a method to still capture the essence of our project and not to compromise our goals and values just for data and numerical outcomes.

Data is only important from what we ascribe meaning to it, we use our data to lead us to answers and evaluate:

  • Youth experiences
  • Translate the project experience to inform others the importance of ethnic studies for CPS schools

Our goals are to:

  • Look at data and examine what is the impact of knowing our own history?
  • What to do with this research?
  • Observe and document the project’s ripple effects.

Academia, tells us what to think and associate meaning to our data. The difference in this project is that WE associate the meaning to our data because OUR experiences informs this. We had a chance to look at a series of questions and answers we collected data that addressed the following:

  • To teach dynamics of power within schools (racism, classism, sexism, etc)
  • To teach about U.S Latin American policies and migration within the last 100 years
  • Integrate ethnic studies elements in school before entering the college level
    Challenging Whiteness
  • To have students walk away feeling more confident in their studies
  • More field trips to cultural centers
  • Connecting real life events/local Chicago history in school curriculum
  • Centering and putting people back into histories and stories that often leaves them out
  • Understanding that the arts much as music tells us stories we often ignore

Our action steps are:

  • To continue to explore how PAR impacts Brown In Chicago?
  • To examine how ethnic studies schools/curriculum currently operate?
  • Address the social and cultural disconnect from assimilated migrant families within our communities that reject the need for ethnic studies schools/curriculum because “we made it, we don’t need to learn about this anymore.”
  • Question the intent to move towards a more Restorative Justice approach to heal and organize? (Because what we are doing now is and hasn’t been working)


3/10/18 Session #11


Today our group joined to support and join Evelyn, a B.I.C fellow who collaborated to design an hour long workshop for this conference called, WE ARE ENOUGH: I don’t need your papers to be whole, I am already whole, I am already enough. The conference Immigrant Youth Conference at Northeastern Illinois University – El Centro Campus, was sponsored by ICIRR: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which Evelyn just landed her first post-grad job there as an full-time employee within their Community Outreach department. The inspiration for this workshop is intended as a response to the attacks on immigrant youth. ICIRR and community organizations are working to creating safer spaces for immigrant youth and provide resources, and an opportunity to meet other immigrant youth across Illinois.

The video above captures the first three minutes into Evelyn’s workshop introduction and she shares a personal story about a friend of from high school who inspired her to see the need of mental health support and affirmation for immigrant youth. Undocumented Trauma can manifest in many examples such as the process of cultural assimilation, stress from the lack of educational bilingual support, fear of sudden deportation, or simply enrolling into college. These are but a few barriers that arise when the U.S path towards citizenship is ridgid. Everyday activities are generate anxiety and a risk of being exposed and enduring the repercussions of what it means to be undocumented. Especially, during this time when our nation’s immigration rhetoric is very hateful.

The biggest take away from this workshop was during the small circle discussions and how connected, empathetic and compassionate everyone was towards one another when they shared a personal struggle they encountered when seeking support. There is so much stigma and historical distrust in the Latinx community around mental and/or health services present today. Families who haven’t had safe and positive experiences with doctors or never sought mental health resources may have a harder time understanding the significance of mental health care. This might generate feelings of shame to process our stories or airing out “family business” toward to a stranger makes it even more difficult to pursue help.

Towards the end of the workshop the was a smaller group of folx that stayed behind in our room to support a teen girl who was about to graduate high school and was afraid that due to her undocumented status she could not afford to pay for college out of pocket. This girl was distraught sharing how isolated she felt trying to tend to her declining mental health over this past year as she approaches graduation. Other participants in the workshop stepped up to listen to her patiently and exchanged contact and resources with her to stay in touch to help her figure out her next steps. Overall, we did not anticipate the outcome of this workshop to feel so vulnerable and engaged for the entire hour. I am beyond thankful and proud of the impact my team had facilitating workshop and future possibilities to continue the dialogue of undocumented trauma.

2/24/18 Session #10


This morning we ground ourselves with the reminder from Juliet our Brown In Chicago project director that, “to study is a revolutionary duty, and we ain’t just doing this for an A+ within a capitalistic society!” We each took turns sharing what topics we want to research for the duration of the Brown In Chicago Fellowship up until May. Within the next two months we will work within groups to conduct our own research projects on a topic of interest related to previous lessons. The following are topic ideas presented by each fellow and answers these questions: What I hope to learn/research more? What have I learned so far? What are ways I plan to learn more?

Emma: I used to think Latino culture and identity was more or less the same and I want to know more about what doesn’t make them monolithic. I’m interested in learning more about my indigenous background. I would love to find out how it’s still alive today in multiple cultures in Latin America. I’ve done limited research on this topic so far but I’ve been able to read small articles about different cultures in Latin America. Now that I have more concrete data about my DNA and what it’s made up of I can go from there. The first step in my plan is to conduct more research using all the resources that have been provided to me. I would also like to interview people to see if they have any input or information that I might not be able to find.

Austin: I want to deepen my own familial experience and to get to the root of acculturation and assimilation. How can internalized racism become so defining, despite it not being an explicitly overt/conscious action? I’ve found a couple of great resources on the topic and have been able to put my own experiences and the experiences of others into perspective. While I do want to use academic sources and back up what I say, I want this piece to be more personal. I will keep on finding more resources! Talk with more individuals about their experiences and work on formatting the whole piece.

Lucas: Understanding how we are developing or ascribed to the way we are today? Perhaps looking into epigenetics? Where did Mexicans get culture from that made it it’s own in terms of music food and appearances? How different are we to even say we are different from one another if I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican to others? What I have learned so far is that nothing past being born on a different plot of land and our skin color and adaptation occurring making from scratch what they had that later carried itself into the twenty first century. The way I plan to learn more is by investigating the lands and tribes/groups of people I am blood related to and see how much I relate to them in my personality, looks or how I am in my everyday life.

Arely : Last year my Mexican identity was deconstructed and I felt shook. I am proud of the diversity I see in Mexico similarly to the U.S. I want to know how to claim my indigeneity and access it. But, by doing so this means to reject my family’s Catholicism which upsets them. My research question is, What does it mean to be Mexican? Who are we as culture? I’ve learned that there is colorism and that it’s very similar to the U.S. we come from different backgrounds and are treated accordingly. But we are also one at the same time, being Mexican means being the colonizer and colonized at the same time for me. I plan to make more trips to Mexico and keep learning about the history of Mexico and learn how the people interact with the different dimensions Mexican culture.

Anaiza: How can POC students take education into our own hands? Why are we still struggling with dropout rates if our ancestors fought so hard to win us the fight to go to school?

Brittany: Why isn’t Latino history taught in school? Or just the option for it, having it available would be nice. Even when I was in grammar school in Puerto Rico for a little, we spent a little time learning about Tainos but more focus on Mayans groups. Meeting a Taino man on the isla who was proud of his culture inspired me that the culture isn’t dead. When we learn about Latin American in U.S schools, it is still Eurocentric and focuses on economic development and influences of colonialism is viewed as “mixing” which is just whitewashing. I am learning that more about more types of indigenous groups, challenging in school why don’t we learn more about Latin American History, about historical challenges against education/institutions to include more ethnic studies in our schools. I’m Interested in creating curriculum that is accessible Ethnic Studies and Integrating personal narratives.I want to explore how music, dance, and other mediums can challenge racism?

Ashley:  I want to begin to Heal from Catholicism. By shifting religious affiliation and practice I want to see someone like me when I pray to God. While exploring and practicing Yoruba culture and spirituality I want to embrace natural and holistic forms of healing. Not depending on one person like God and to better feel supported by multiple orishas instead. This is a life changing process that will take time for me to better understand my familial indigeneity abuelita knowledge. I wish to know more about their traditions and our history?

Merari: I want to learn more about ending cycles of generational trauma, understanding my own healing, and learning more about my family’s battle with mental illness history.

Of the eight research topics and questions discussed above from the students in attendance I narrowed their topics into three main research groups based on their interests:

1) What is the history of the U.S Education Systems and importance of implementing Ethnic Studies?

2) Exploring what is Latinx identity, Nationalism, and internalized prejudice?

3) What Generational Trauma and decolonized healing?

Within these next two month we will continue to work on our research projects and continue to find creative ways to present our projects and share them within various upcoming community events which are planned or in the planning process still. One upcoming event that was co-planned with a B.I.C Fellow with a relationship with ICIRR: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will take place at on March 10th at the Immigrant Youth Conference at Northeastern Illinois University – El Centro Campus from 9 am – 2 pm. As a response to the attacks on immigrants and our youth, ICIRR and partners are creating a safe space for immigrant youth and provide resources, workshops, and an opportunity to meet other immigrant youth across Illinois.

Evelyn, a B.I.C fellow collaborated to design an hour long workshop for this conference called, WE ARE ENOUGH:  I don’t need your papers to be whole, I am already whole, I am already enough. While it’s so important to fight back and arm ourselves with information, it’s also important to recognize our need to heal from being an immigrant in this nation at this time. In this workshop we will introduce the concept of healing justice, create art that affirms who we are regardless of this status and create a safe space to share our stories.

This workshop is just one example and community engagement opportunity that was inspired by the Brown In Chicago project and am excited to see the other projects grow into fruition this upcoming spring 2018!


2/3/2018 Session #9


Today’s notes were gathered by Brown In Chicago Fellow Merari Flores while I took a sick day because the flu has been spreading around aggressively! Edits to notes made by Violet. Additional guest joined today’s session such as staff from LSNA and the parents of some of the youth participants. Today’s presentations is to unpack DNA from three different professional backgrounds in biology, anthropology, genealogy and social work.

Check in question:What are we expecting to hear/find out today?

Tammy- The biggest thing I like to learn today is how to better understand my 23andMe results? What do they actually mean? I have second and third cousins from the reports, should I reach out to them?

Annisa- I’m excited to learn more!

Gerrick- I’m pretty anxious to be honest but I still haven’t gotten my results yet.

Merari- I already had my results from last year so i’m excited to see what y’alls results are.

Emma’s parents- Extremely excited to find out more! To see how closely related we are to others.

Lucas- I don’t really know, I’ll take it as it is, my first cousin reached out, a third cousin reached out to me from the reports.

Arely- This is my second year too, even though you never finish learning about genealogy

Evelyn- I’m really excited to learn more about bio-culture, it’s something I want to be able to talk to my family about this because it was problematic.

Ashley- I just want to learn a little bit more about where I come from.

Kerry- I’m excited to explain more about the Azknasi Jewish ancestry.


Notes from the following presentation:

1.The Migrations of Homo Sapiens

-Where do we come from originally? We are all for the most part from East Africa.

-We don’t know the whole picture but we know we arrived about 50,000 years ago.

2.Racism and ‘race science’ in the 1800s

-When Irish people started pouring into the U.S there was a notion that they looked closer to Black people.

3.Skin color spectrum

-The amounts of red and yellow based melanin in the skin which protects it from ultraviolet rays from the sun, is highest nearest the equator, declining further away where skin is exposed less and still needs more sunlight to produce vitamin.

-Skin color does relate to where people have originally migrated from.

-Freckles are a mutation of dark skinned pigment people losing color, result of later migration. Why? Because as we move to places that have less and less sunlight we lose color.

4.Is it in our genes? Is it in our cultures?

-Extreme biological determinism:basically justifies outright racism, all social conditions and behaviors are linked to biology.

-Extreme social constructionism=all life conditions and behaviors are socially made, this can be used to justify colorblind racism

-Bio-cultural synthesis=social conditions and behaviors are linked to ancestries and inheritances.this recognizes difference but undermines racists claims.

5.What forces are leading us to map our genes?

-The Black community wanted to know their ancestry, people wanted to learn more about themselves. There is this form of “marketing a more inclusive” gene.

-Genes are not stuck to geographies.

-When we say someone is west african we say from gene flow that it is where place of conception was.

-We have never been a species that has stayed in one place.

6.The whole picture of our biocultural selves

-Phenotype has to do with reproduction, identity and ascription is how you and others see you, family and kinship has to do with how physical traits are sure.

-A recent study showed there is wider genetic variation among present day indigenous people in Mexico than between for example the average German and Japanese person.

Questions from the presentation:

Emma’s parents: Why would anybody want to know more about me? i’m very happy knowing I have Native American and African in me!

Ashley: I can actually answer that, my grandma was indigenous from Oaxaca so I was always wondering where exactly she came from specifically what tribe, and I went to Arizona and there was indigenous women from oaxaca and they say they couldn’t help me find out exactly know from what tribe, so I like knowing after seeing my dna results that I have my grandmother living in me.

Tammy: For me, I would really like my results to narrow down to specific countries, because West African is not enough, my whole family says we are Native American, so getting the results back I can see there is not one drop of native American, I want to know the specific countries, knowing specifically where I’m from. I boohooed tremendously and that’s because we don’t know where we were from, as I shared this with my family members they just didn’t care and i can’t understand why.


-Based on fossils how old is our world? As far as we can tell from the oldest rocks on the planet our planet is about 4.5 billion years old

-How old are Homo sapiens? About 200,000 years old
-When we started seeing lineage of modern-day life it happened at 500 million years.

1.A Brief History of life

-Our planet has not always looked the same way it looks today, if you look at an apple and see the skin, that is how much actual land we have on our planet, everything else is lava.

-When you have rock that is extremely hot it starts to move so all the top little plates are literally flowing on lava and they are constantly moving, so what we have today has not always been and depending on where continents are determines wind currents and the global climate

-Our continents have always been shifting.

-Darwin explained a mechanism how to explain how evolution works which was natural selection.

-Somewhere around 12 million years ago Central America came up.

-Modern day chimps are still around because they adapted to the forest and stayed in the forest.


-We evolved from australopithecus africanus to homo erectus.

-We are more closely related to chimps but we did not come from chimps.



-Genealogical dna testing lets us go deeper than our known family tree.

-Son and daughter get the mitochondria dna.

-Fathers pass down the Y dna.

-The further back you go the less percentage you get.

-Why ashkenazi dna? The jews that originally came from Spain are called sephardic jews. In 1492 the catholic church offered the jews of spain.

-When we see Ashkenazi in our DNA it is most likely Jews who were forced to convert and then came to the Americas.

1/27/18 Session #8

Our check in this morning revealed that with the momentum picking up for the new year many of us are beginning to feel overwhelmed with our daily responsibilities.There was a sense of feeling unbalanced within our roles, school, work, and personal lives. As a group we thought it would be best to center ourselves and practice mindfulness and meditation before diving into the discussion for today. We practiced an excerpt of a 21 day meditation series called Black Feminist Breathing Chorus , which focuses on a guided meditation lead by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Each meditation day is inspired by the legacies of black feminist thinkers, writers and activist. We meditated to day two which features Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks and the affirmation highlighted from this episode was, “I have hopes for myself.”

We planned to take time to discuss and debrief the 23andMe DNA ancestry results because a majority of the group received their results and were eager to process. We took turns going around and asking “what has changed about how we see ourselves after our results” or “what questions we have about the results?”  For those who did not get their results back they shared experiences they have had with instances of prejudice around the nuances of race/ethnicity/nationality.The following are the responses from the group:

Ashley- Which box do I check off on legal documents or surveys since I’m 75.8% Native American? I don’t have to check off the white box under the category for race but do I have that privilege to check off Native on the boxes? I want to continue to learn more about the indigenous side of my family.

Pedro- While filling out border card to go from O’Hare to London during my recent study abroad trip,I filled out my nationality as Latino/Hispanic  on some paperwork and the TSA agent aggressively crossed out my selection and told me, “NO, you’re AMERICAN!” I didn’t want to argue so he can get on my flight safely without being detained.

Annisa- When I shared my results with my parents my father teased her about having 33% Native American ancestry and about continued on how I inherited that ancestry from my mother’s side.

Lucas- Receiving my results inspired me to travel to Spain and Italy more!

Roxy- Uncovering that her grandmother isn’t my “maternal” grandmother and now I’m trying to discover the stories and rumors about her papers being fake or stolen might be true.

Brittany- I am trying to understand where Native American identity fits into my own identity? I find it so weird that I come from Europe/Spain when ethnically I am from the islas like Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. How can I be both?

Austin-I think we construct our own identity but also we honor our families and ancestors. I have learned so much about who I am from my mother and am starting to understand how these identities intersect.

Emma- I’m feeling overwhelmed and processing these fresh results still.

Juliet- Reclaiming African diasporic identity is helping me counter the anti-blackness within my family and also to accept that I am mezitaze and how mixed my own heritage is.

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We ended our meeting to a quick field trip down the street to visit Hairpin Arts Center, for their latest guest installation called, For the People Art Collective “DO NOT RESIST? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence.” We had a private tour curated for our group around the different exhibit art pieces that addressed Chicago Police Brutality over the last 100 years. Art that was represented from as early as the 1919 Chicago Race Riots to #BlacklivesMatters demonstration photography from the last few years. I also spotted a photo of my fellow LSNA Youth Organizing colleague Lili with her five year old daughter at a #BlacklivesMatters protest we attended with a group of Youth leaders during the summer of 2016.

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It is important to remind ourselves why projects such as Brown in Chicago wants to explore notions of race, identity, decolonization, and power structures. These are the social constructions our society is informed by and how we navigate throughout our communities. This art installation reminds us that our history and engagement with Policing and Prison Industrial Complex is perpetuated are sustained by racism and violence. What we can do to not continue to engage within these structures is to truly take time to reflect within ourselves what privileges we benefit from and may take for granted. While challenging how to hold ourselves accountable to not be a bystander to inequalities that are as subtle as a micro-aggression’s or inequity within institutionalized spaces.

1/13/18 Session #7

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Our opening question this morning was adopted from Xicana activist-artist Melanie Cervantes from California. We took turns answering,“What message do you want to share with your future ancestor?” Whether a few of us want to have children or not it was very important to us to have our memory and message of empowerment to our future ancestors.

We then, split up into two working groups, one to focus on developing our research questions from the previous session and group to catch up with the previous workshop.

Below are more topics and themes we are interested in researching and questions to ask our own families:

Internalized Racism: “My grandfather distanced himself from Latinx identifiers, assimilation and growing up in a white neighborhood.

Conflict with Catholicism and finding a new religion (decolonization) Finding a religion that better caters to my experience and allows me to have agency and power with my connection to spirituality in an autonomous way. I wanted to praise someone who looks like me, a strong woman like Yemaya is more practical for my daily life and spiritual practice.

Colombian:  Repression of Colombian  identity? Wanting to know my Colombian family more.

Religious Syncretism- How can we deepen our spirituality?

Dad’s father: Mexican, grandmother (Guatemalan) came thru Mexico interviewing “tita”

Mental Illness:  Understanding a traumatic family history, my own healing, ending cycles of violence, empathy for history of family violence.

Formalized Education:  Education in the US and POC, how did we get to the dropout rate crisis? *Most educated population are black women. Taking education in our own hands.

Grandparents lives: Grandfather was a POW WII and wanting to learn more about his own experience. Grandmother was she “Texan” or “Mexican” (or Cuban or Spanish) she was a sex worker? First child was kidnapped and could be a Gypsy?

Wanting to return home: Understanding more deeply where my family is from and what legacies have Taino culture has left behind? What can I do to help the island after hurricane Maria?