Monday, November 3, 2008

Daughters of Slaves

“Colombia is built from the physical work of blacks, yet 150 years after the legal end of slavery we continue to work as slaves and live in the worst conditions.”

The Afro-colombian students and young people I met at their National Gathering are very aware that they are the luckier ones, able to get an education and leave poverty, while the vast majority continue live in terrible conditions. They want to change this. It was a full on, powerful, intense, priviliged, exciting experience to be in the presence of three hundred Colombian students as they conversed "how will we create a positive transformation in the lives of Colombia’s black population".

After being delayed twice due to threats from paramilitaries and guerilla groups, the event took place in Buenaventura. Four days of debates, analysis, heated discussion. Daily my mind got too full of new thoughts for me to think any more and my notebook crammed full of reflections. Dancing was a welcome respite at the end of long days where I quietly observed and pondered the debates.......

How to we break Eurocentric control over culture, education, economics? How do we decolonise our minds, our institutions? Is Afro-centrism a good response?

Should our political position reject both left and right wing positions as they are both Euro-centric concepts and have been historically racist? Or can we build alliances with the left, yet maintain our identity and challenge racism.

Is the indigenous struggle over land rights also our problem as Afro-Colombians? How is capitalism and racism connected? How can we demand reparation for the work our ancestors have done?

Is learning about pre-slavery african history important for us in our present situation? Does the term multiculturality mean we are respected but still not included? How about Interculturality?

Outside, taking a break, I met a group of young woman, whose dads’ have been on strike for over 7 weeks and I asked if they would share with me their perspectives. They told me their families’ stories, passing, tugging and sharing the words out between them. We sat all together on the concrete ground. I seated myself carefully so we can talk as equals. I don’t want to interview them, rather hope they take the space as their own, to tell their own story.

Lorenza, Liliana and Vanessa:

Our relationships with our dads are difficult. We rarely see them. They leave for the sugar cane plantations at 5am and get home between 8 and 10pm. At school we were sometimes asked to do projects about our dads but this was nearly impossible. It is only when they have accidents that we see them more. “My dad lost his sight in his right eye”, “my dad had an accident with his leg and couldn’t work for six months – he got sick pay for three months”, “my dad has problems with his lungs from the dust“.

Things are really hard at the moment and we are going hungry because our dads have been paid for over six weeks. But I think the strike is just. They work like slaves in the fields cutting the sugar cane all day under the heat of the sun. Also, they are given protective clothing and a machete twice a year, yet the clothing lasts a month and the machetes just two weeks before they have to change it.

“I work from 7.30am to 6pm, 5 days a week doing housework. I get paid $230000 a month (£70). On Saturday’s I go to college to study nursery education. This costs me $100 000 a month.”

“I don’t have a job. I help at home. Because of the strike I don’t any money to pay for transport, or to print applications so it is difficult to look for a job.

If they win the strike, I will go to college to study nursing. I really want to be a nurse.”

On Sunday’s we all take part in a group [which organised for them to take part in this event]. Here, among many things, we talk about how to improve the relationships with our dads. They are sometimes violent at home.

“If I have an opinion it doesn’t matter to him because I am a women. If I do something, it’s often wrong, yet for my brothers it’s all good. I confronted my dad recently telling him this. He accepted it and we are talking more about this now.”

Our dads worry that if we go out to dance, we will get pregnant, but we get sex education at school and have a higher-level education than them. They have to understand that they can learn from us, their daughters. If education was free there would’t be this violence in the home, nor this war happening. Some students miss sex education at school, as they have to go to work. If our dads received higher wages this wouldn’t happen. If they win the strike there will be less poverty and less women getting pregnant.

We want this, we want something better for ourselves, for our children.

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