Ryan Fontanilla began his doctoral studies at Harvard University in 2017. He studies the environmental, cultural, and military history of the African diaspora in the Americas. His forthcoming dissertation explores the influence of endemic freshwater scarcity and climate change on the violent scramble for natural resources in nineteenth-century Jamaica. It seeks to reveal how Black people drew upon their historical experiences with, and collective knowledge of, the natural environment to survive a deadly, drought-stricken, congenitally militarized and anti-Black racist world where simply trying to fetch a pail of water, visit precious friends, find work, and make money necessarily involved exposure to physical disability, police harassment, incarceration, and premature death—a world which uncannily prefigured that of our own.
Fontanilla’s unique perspective on the defensive strategies and practices enslaved and free Black people used to evade, manipulate, and outmaneuver law enforcement authorities in Jamaica is crucially informed by his experience as the son of a late police officer of Filipino descent and as a participant in counter-narcotics and Haitian refugee detention operations while enlisted in the US Coast Guard from 2002 to 2008.