- Every Day We Live is the Future: Surviving in a City of Disasters by Douglas Haynes
Haynes's book is a heartfelt and respectful description of the life stories of two Nicaraguan women, Yadira and Dayani. It is an account of their struggles to carve out a different life for themselves and their families in what the author calls "the margins": not a place but "a condition of chronic insecurity" shared by a large portion of people in the world (p. 2).
The book is divided into four parts that organize the stories chronologically. Each part intertwines three themes that the author asserts cannot be understood separately: urbanization processes, environmental frailty, and economic inequality. In Haynes's narrative, the bridge between fiction and non-fiction fades at times; yet, we are reminded that this is his subjective account of Yadira's and Dayani's stories, one that gives a human face to those who tend to be defined in terms of statistics, no more than "beneficiaries" of social programs. His work is welcome at a time of increasing hatred directed at those who are living the margins around the globe.
In his book, Haynes avoids ready-made theoretical claims or conceptualizations. He does not place Yadira and Dayani in any category. Nor does he objectify their experiences or measure them in order to propose paths of action. There is no evaluation, no lesson-giving or making, no simple categorization. As readers, we can articulate our own analysis and conclusions. This apparent freedom, however, is also one of the book's limitations.
As we read the book, we come to understand the where and how of the margins. What Haynes achieves is no small feat. We get a sense of what it means to live in a place like The Widows, the squatter neighborhood where Haynes met Yadira and Dayani. We come to understand what it means for a strong storm, not even significant enough to become news, to endanger their livelihood and wellbeing. We feel what it means to live on less than a dollar a day. We understand that it is hard for them to leave The Widows. However, we lack a deeper analysis of why. Why do they live in such conditions?
To live in a country where the annual per capita GDP is less than US42,000 is the outcome of global processes that must be historicized. Globally, we are part of a neoliberal capitalist project where the promised trickle-down effect never materializes. On the contrary, today we see increasing levels of wealth concentration within and between countries. Sociohistorical analysis can help us understand why certain people live in conditions of extreme precarity and how they are dehumanized in order to legitimize their exploitation.
Haynes describes the labor conditions that push families to economic informality in a city like Managua, as well as the limited clientelist social programs offered by the national government. However, there is no deeper analysis about these structural conditions [End Page 361] or the larger political and economic decisions that affect both Nicaraguans and US citizens—indeed, all citizens of what is called the global north. Unintendedly, the book promotes a narrative that projects poverty as a condition that exists somewhere outside the US. It also leaves undiscussed the complex historical roots of the social relations that shape interactions between Nicaraguans and between Nicaraguans and US citizens. Thus, Haynes description of the margins would be enriched by a discussion of what it means to live in "contact zones" or "social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination" (Pratt, 1992, p. 4). This is the space of colonial encounters; one re-created daily in Managua between wealthy city dwellers and those with fewer economic resources, between urban and rural inhabitants, between mestizos and indigenous and afro-descendant Nicaraguans.
Such an exercise would move the...