Hello, and thank you for listening to the Righting Relations podcast. My name is Rehana Tejpar. And I'm the National Facilitator for Righting Relations. We are a women-led pan-Canadian network and Community of Practice strengthening our capacity as adult educators working with indigenous immigrant refugee and low income communities to bring about radical social change. Today, we're joined by Heryka Miranda, a member of our network who will be sharing about her experience of working with Mexican and Guatemalan migrant farmworkers, through dance movement therapy in the Niagara region. Heryka, the US born Guatemalan artist and community organizer living in Hamilton, Ontario.
So my master's thesis was what I danced for relaxation community art sessions would look like for migrant farmworkers. And I work specifically with mostly Mexican, in Guatemala and Mike and, and I was looking at the specifically approaches in dance movement and therapy and movement based expressive arts therapy that come from Northern California with the area and housing. So it was kind of just exploring what that would look like. And, you know, kind of like the logistics involved because they're migrant workers are. So they're one of the most, you know, hidden and unheard voices in Canadian society, are hidden in the farm. They're extremely isolated. And I've always been very interested in, you know, giving back to what I call like, if my community and I did a lot of that work in in the States when I when I lived there, and I'm from there, and I worked in Washington, the Washington DC area, working on a various immigrant rights campaign. And I worked with predominantly undocumented youth and families for more than 15 years, before I moved to Canada. So I really missed, you know, being with them. And doing this work. But I did it in a different capacity. But the workers it was like I came home, because they had similar issues with people who are undocumented, yet, they are here legally, but their migrant status keeps them vulnerable, and keeps them quite vulnerable to exploitation. They pay into EI they pay, they have a health card. They're supposed to get these benefits, but they don't, it's not accessible to them. And or they're not simply just not eligible for they work about crazy hours, like Rehana, I can't even tell you like, it could be eight hours, it could be 10 hours, it could be 14 hours, like it's so unpredictable. And their time is not their own.
So I was kind of when I when I started meeting migrant workers and I hooked up with a really good friend of mine named Evelyn, Allah, from who CSEA for migrant workers. And when she found out that I moved to St. Catharines. She was like, Great, I'm going to introduce you to your migrant worker, community, your neighbors and it was like that first moment I walked in, I smelled that the vs. I you know, hurt Spanish everywhere. I heard music. And I just felt like, like I just went right home again. Oh, and and then you know, just had this warm, the warm welcomes and, and this immense, like gratitude for coming to visit because they don't get many visitors. Right. When I met them. I was like you think I could do like my research with migrant workers? And she was like, hell yeah, you know what I need and and it took a while right? But um, so anyway, so that was kind of like my, my introduction was like starting to visit migrant worker residences. And then also just just witnessed, like, the conditions that they're living. Like, for instance, the woman, the Mexican women that I went to go meet there were eight women living in the house with one bathroom and two bedroom. Right. And I remember you would see like a row of up towel. Right? And so that indicated like, they have a gotten mind that to to take a shower, right. And so you know, there was a woman that was cooking Seeing the other one was cleaning a shower, or they were talking on their phone their cell phones or their lifeline, right to their, to their families. And everybody got What's up, you know, and and so it was it was really that that I saw the the immense need and again that gratitude for coming to this, right. So I thought okay, like, let me get serious about this, you know, and then I just started kind of trying to figure out like, how am I going to do this? So I went in and I did to Intro to dance movement session. And, and they were mostly men, and they loved it. Right. And they were getting ready to leave. I was like, Would you be interested in in, you know, if I designed a series? Would you all be interested? Like for the next harvest? Harvest? 2016? And they were like, yes. So, so I did that. And through that those those two sessions, I ended up meeting Luis, who became the heart and soul of the, of the work. He was my advisor, he was my expert team with my I really feel like he was my comb. I wouldn't say co-researcher, but definitely like my Kob co creative Partner and,
and Luis just fell in love with this, like, you know, like, tell me more about like, how can how can the body?
How can we share stories without speaking? And, you know, what do you mean about the body, you know, holding emotions and, and, you know, how can we express those emotions and, you know, and all this kind of stuff. And I was like, huh, very interesting. And he was also someone who's like, super stadial. And like, it's not very trusting people from the outside. Because he's been there for it this season will be his 27th season, like working in camp Canadian arm is 5253 years old now. And, and he's like, you know, a, and he's quite a leader. He's been here for a long time. And he's helped orient a lot of migrant workers that come a lot of young ones. And he was, he was a bit like, Well, can you tell me exactly what you want to offer us? And he's like, because, you know, there's many people with good cards that come, but then they leave, you know, and then we never hear from them again. And then he told me about reporters that would come in. And, and you know, hear it here I am pouring my heart out. And then I never even see the article. Four, I never see them again. They're nice to me, they take me out for coffee and stuff. And then I never see them again. And he would say this about various groups, including like, a group, or collective that were associated with Union. And he's like, we can't organize. Like, that's the other thing about being migrant workers, they can't organize, right? A union, like forget it. And they're told even before they stepped foot, I think in their farm from the consulate can also make them inform them, I could support them being and that people are going to come and talk to them, about us about creating a union or something, but don't trust them. So they're they're completely, you know, they're not encouraged to go outside connect with Canadian society in some way, too. Right. So there's already a lot of fear there. And so he was, I really appreciated that Luis, because it's like, I just don't want like, my story matters. And my time matters, you know, and I and he was very kind of, like, firm with me. And I was like, oh, you know, I was like, alright, buddy, you know, and then I said to him, and this is the thing, the beauty of art, as you know, is I said, You know what, Lee? I'm really curious to see the masterpiece that comes that you and your companions create in the farm. Could you show me? And he's like, a masterpiece. I'm like, yeah, the work of art that you created the farm. And he worked has been working in the flower industry for the past nine years. And he's like, What did you call? And so that kind of moment where I said that he he was like, Whoa, and he's like, yeah, do you want to come and see, I said, I would love to. And then when I went to the farm, I mean, acres upon acres of sunflowers, right? Like little baby went to like, fast ones, like just depending on where it took me and I was just like it up. Right? And I thought to myself, like, what, what a work of art and what an incredible theatre space ate. And I said to Louise, I said, Look, I know you're going to be going home, like in about a month or so. And I'm just wondering if you would know if you would be interested in doing land dancing in the sunflower field. And he was just like, What the hell? And so I said, Okay, you know, I'll I'll share with you what's been shared with me because I've learned about land dancing. I think that was one of your questions. With it was kind of like formally introduced to me by dancing Earth, artistic director, Roland Panchen is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But he's really, like, perceive sprouted throughout the world. Like he's just been such a profound mentor. For me, and as, as well as other, particularly indigenous choreographers that I have, that I have worked with. And so one of the things was just really being what I told the week, I said, meet up. Have you ever walked on the soil barefoot? And he was like, thinking No. And I was like, Okay, well, I know, you're really tired. But I'm wondering, just trust me here. And you might think I'm a little crazy. But can I ask you to take off your, your shoes, and your socks? And he was just like,
like, like, you know, Tommy was like, What the f? And he? And he did and Rehana it was like, something. So, so, right, like, he started walking on the soil barefoot. And you could tell like, instantly that connection with the soil, right? He was just kind of like in this worry. Right? And, and he said, and I would just ask him some questions, just, you know, and that's the part of land dancing is like, connecting to, you know, a site specific, and, you know, you're connecting to personal asking permission to the land, and how we do that we've walked carefully on the land, barefoot, if possible, and then being in contact, or with all our relations, whatever is present, right. So the earth, the sun, the wind, so the elements, the beautiful sunflowers, and kind of, you know, as a metaphor, and a reminder to us that we are all, you know, when through grasping, and fires are spirits, and Earth is our is our body, and water, in fact, lead. So connecting through those elements, and like using various kinds of metaphors, to, to kind of, for the land to transmit messages through the body. And, and so, so what I saw the least instantly was, like, he's been, he's been doing this for a long time. And when he walked on the soil for the first time, he was like, you know, clothes wise, and he was like, I remember when I used to do this game when I was a little boy, right? In Mexico, and I would like, you know, run around, and, you know, this kind of silly fellow, you know, Cassie Manuel, there's noodle, Ito, you know, but just kind of running around. And I haven't done this MSA era, you know, extra hair after the lack of Moscow, right? I'm like, Oh, you're like, you work with her every single day for eight to 10 months out of the year, like, you know, Canadian soil, like, intimate, more than you can Mexican soil. And he was like, right. And I was like, but have you ever gone and like, touched her with your own bare feet, you know, and so, so I just would ask him to kind of walk along and to like, let his body respond and like any kind of sensation or feeling if he wanted to, like, expand that in any kind of movement to do so that he had free rein like permission to do whatever and, and like, you know, they work in the hot sun, they work in really cold temperatures as well. But this time, you know, he was coming to the farm from a different context, for he wasn't coming to the farm. As a migrant worker, he was coming to the farm as a migrant worker, but this time coming to enjoy and to see the fruits of his labor, and to be inspired by the fruits of his labor and, and all the elements that he comes in contact with daily, right. So, so I started With just walking in, we started, like, I did this exercise of like walking to the horizon, right towards the horizon. And so like, there's all these, these fields, like, you know, it's like these roads, right, and so you just pick one and he would just go and there was moments where he would like, you know, like slide over, like get stuck in a clump of soil and be super muddy and sometimes really dry. And sometimes the earth hurts too, right? So all those textures, right came material, later on to create a collaborative piece that we did call the sunflower man, and all the material from our month of coming together in his sunflower fields,
you know, became song, a short story story that I that I recorded, and, and movements from, like, the one of the things that she loves, is getting up, like at four o'clock in the morning. Because she's like, even though it's difficult, but I get to see Mother Earth be born every day. Right? And, and like the and see the sun rise every day, he has this incredible love affair, like with the sunrise, right. And, and so like this movement of just like extending his arm, like really wide. And you know, and like honoring the sun that just became like, a movement, theme and movement, quality of movement throughout the entire piece, right. It's like this openness, and it's hard, you know, and so and so that, to me was like, a dream. Like, I think for any artists, you know, to, to accompany and to facilitate, you know, this journey of, of a person that is systemically marginalized, racialized, and, you know, vulnerable to exploitation, have this sense of freedom and liberation, and ecstasy and like, find his voice through, through through movement due to art was quite profound, you know, and, and this sense of belonging, that he too belongs to the land. And no matter where that is, but as long as you take care of her that you respect her, love her, like I kept getting all these messages, you know, from him, like over and over and over again, right? He was like a philosopher, a poet, a dancer, a storyteller. And that's the thing we don't know, because there's so hidden, like, the incredible resources that we have in our Canadian firm.
And we were able to kind of debut it at the in the soil Festival, which is in St. Catharines. And we did it 12 times in one weekend, because that's just the way it is like we had different audiences. And it was interesting. And then we got exposure. And then we got to filmmakers that were interested in documenting our work. And so it just became bigger than I could have ever expected. And then the last kind of huge thing that happened with release tonight was that Nikki Ashton, the MP, she heard about the sunflower MP. And she invited us to go to Ottawa in October 2016. To perform to share the sunflower man dance team, to precarious forum and in Parliament Hill. And so I was like, Whoa, and Luis was like, where I'm going. And I was like, Yeah, but you're leaving, like, except the end of the month. And you're, you know, and you're leaving, like the beginning of October. And he was like, anyway, he ended up you know, asking the consulate for an extension he was denied. He asked his boss if he could stay longer, and his boss was okay with it. But the consulate denied his request. But he, he said to me, you know, I don't care if this is my last year here. I'm going to go to Ottawa. And he just kept advocating for himself until they said yes. And it's the first time I have ever heard of a migrant worker getting an extension a travel tourist visa until so he could do the conference and he could come to the conference. And at the conference, he said the reason But Dan said he spoke and he said that his message was that Canada owes me something. Canada owes migrant farmworkers something, right. And, and I said to him, I was like, Okay, keep going, and he just got really choked up. And I said, status and a pathway to citizenship, right. And we got a standing ovation. And it was like this huge thing. And again, it's because of dances because of art, that he felt agency, he felt like he mattered, he felt like he, you know, he used those dance rehearsal and performances, that we were a that we were, we were invited to do as as kinds of platforms to advocate for Migrant Justice, to to show like, to give visibility to migrant workers, and to resist against the precariousness of right of migrant worker employment. Because precarity is like, if you go like read anything about migrant workers, and their way of life here in the academic literature. It all they use this word called precarity. And precarious. And so like, he was able to resist precarity through the arts, right, and find his voice. Yeah, so that means that I'm just, you know, it's been section. It's been such a privilege, and it's so overwhelmed. By by the, the power of the art, like, I'm still kind of digesting what happens, and my role, like, as a researcher, which I'm like, I didn't like that role. I didn't really see myself as a researcher, I fell right back into my community worker role, but also kind of what does it mean? Now I'm kind of thinking a lot about what does research and researcher mean to me, right, and what was it, like I talked about this a little bit in my thesis about one of the things that I had to really be grounded in, and, and was in making sure that this was an anti oppressive practice, right? My knee as a researcher, I had a certain level of power and privilege of being a researcher in the first world. And, and I had a huge responsibility as a researcher, and also someone that's very close,
culturally speaking, we share similar history in development cycles to and again, going, you know, the route being colonization, you know, and the impact of colonization on forced migration, that also my family also had, has gone through, right. And, and limited levels of formal education. And so many other things, right, so So I had to be very much grounded in and kept reminding myself and challenging myself, like, what kind of researcher am I and how am I going to incorporate an anti oppressive practice throughout the research, and I feel like I did that in in our try to as best as I can. By making sure that like I share this information, and that I also advocate myself and use my privilege as a Canadian citizen. And as a US citizen as well, because I have two of them now, to go to Parliament Hill and be part of the Migrant Justice Movement and write letters and try to talk to, you know, politicians about what's, what's going down what I saw what I felt what I heard, you know, and that's, and that sound going right, but it really took me on a journey for sure.
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