By Ana Maria Mesenbring
“Todos somos satos” declared Professor Garriga-Lopez during a class discussion this quarter on Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto. Although the specific term “sato” refers to the mixed-breed stray dogs that occupy the streets of Puerto Rico, Haraway argues that there is no single definition of what it means to be a sato. In the assemblage of the island of Puerto Rico, satos live “unregistered”, meandering from construction site to garbage dump with an average life expectancy of two years. In efforts to curb kill-shelters from exterminating these animals, two women teamed up in 1996 to start the “Save-a-Sato” foundation. Now, around 10,000 satos have increased their life expectancy up to twelve years after relocating from San Juan street corners to the suburban homes of the northeastern states of the U.S. In addressing both the intended and unintended politics of sato removal and “transitioning” to new social contracts, I wish to draw the comparison between these companions and similar processes that occur in the anthropocene, specifically at Kalamazoo College.
In identifying a node/symbol/aspect in the assemblage of our classroom and the greater college structure and community, I found myself reverting back to the satos. I thought about accumulated knowledge in satos, and the way they retain this even when removed from their “dangerous”, yet familiar assemblages back home. For some, the experience of coming to the United States to pursue higher education through private, capitalist, hierarchical institutions could be compared to the experience of a sato moving to a new home in the US. As Haraway notes, “satos are capitalized, in lexical convention and monetary investment, in the process of moving from the hard streets of the southern ‘developing world’ to the ‘forever homes’ of the enlightened north” (Haraway, 89). In a sense, this is also how human immigrants are interjected into our labor, education and health systems upon arriving in the United States. My mother shares her stories about immigrating to this country in her thirties and feeling the immediate pressure to cooperate, assimilate, and detach from the previous assemblages she knew and loved.
As a student at this college, I recognize similar pressures placed on international students and others coming to campus from “unsatisfactory”, “underdeveloped” and/or unrecognizable backgrounds. This can be seen through the way in which these students are “capitalized” on through our brochures and statistics, while being welcomed to their new and “satisfactory” home on campus. The temporary nature of being a student in the higher-education system does not seek to serve as a “forever home” for its students, but uses its prestige to make students feel like they’ve finally “made it” when entering the system. Like the satos, these groups are subject to different social contracts than the ones they were born into. For both satos and the students, this transition is represented by the airplane that carries them from their old assemblages into new ones, as an instrument in a series of subject-transforming technologies.
In advocating for the importance of these “unregistered” dogs, Haraway argues that “the undocumented often have more to say about how the world is put together than do the well pedigreed” (Haraway, 88). This prompts me to think about our classroom this quarter, and how often we were able to interject our assembled experiences of transnational identity in discussions of humans and non-humans. Often times, we went against the grain in attempting to “put the world together”, citing numerous experiences from our immigrant parents or personal time spent abroad, rather than staying in our pedigreed bubble of a small, liberal arts college campus in Michigan, USA. In doing this, we welcomed the energy and spirit of satos into our classroom assemblage.
Through the adoption of satos by suburban families in the United States, as well as the weaving of international students and low-income students into U.S. institutions like Kalamazoo College, we see how benevolence and violence are intertwined. A couple adopting from a no-kill shelter in the suburbs of Boston wouldn’t view their philanthropic rescue of a sato as violent. Rather, they would view their interest in and compassion towards these abused satos as benevolent. However, Haraway articulates the high status that comes with owning these mid-sized, sterilized, rescue-derived dogs, suggesting this as an incentive for incorporating these dogs into familial assemblages.
While Haraway claims to be a staunch advocate of adopting from rescue shelters, she mentions their intertwined nature of violence and benevolence, saying that “the adoption of a street or thrown-away dog, mutt or not, hardly removes one from the swamps of class and culture rooted ‘improving’ ideologies, familial biopolitics, and pedagogical flashbacks” (Haraway, 94). This notion of benevolence and violence as intertwined came into our classroom assemblage this quarter through discussing Ayca Cubukcu’s “Thinking Against Humanity”. Cubukcu takes the stance that “compassionate calls to arms”, in the form of “humane kinds of violence” set forth by human rights organizations, or in this case animal shelters, precisely demonstrate how benevolence and violence can be mutually dependent. Using this lens, it is easy to problematize the rescuing of satos and wonder about the ethical implications of just “letting them be”. Similarly, this application of benevolence and violence can be viewed in the actions of our institutions that boast high rates of diversity and inclusion on campus yet do little to meet the needs and demands of these students.
This course offered us profound reflections on the relationships we have as humans to our surrounding environments and the billions of species that we live both independently and codependently with. By focusing on some of these companion species, specifically dogs, we were able to better inherit and inhabit their histories in order to make more sense of our own. In my opinion, satos serve as a key point of reference in this reflection. By acknowledging some of our identities as similar to those of these mixed-breed companions, we are able to become intertwined with these species, while still maintaining the characteristics that make us separate species. In the end, todos somos satos.
Cubukcu, Ayca. 2017. “Thinking against humanity,” London Review of International Law, 0(0): 1-17.
Haraway, Donna. 2003. Companion Species Manifesto. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. Print.