Building Relations Between Indigenous, Immigrant and Refugee Communities
5:39PM Aug 4, 2022
Welcome to Righting Relations radio, an experimental podcast sharing inspiration and knowledge for adult educators, and transformative leaders working for justice, liberation and healing across Turtle Island.
Today, we are in conversation with Alfredo Barahona from Kairos, exploring relationship building between immigrant refugee and indigenous communities, and the importance of knowing who you are.
On the issue of self identity, I think it's important for those of us who are working on building solidarity and relationship of friendship with indigenous peoples to kind of understand where we are, and situate ourselves in the context, right. Without that understanding, you know, the word can become a little bit difficult.
I wanted to talk, you know, a little bit about how I see myself as both as as refugee immigration person, but also background that I didn't explore before, until now that I'm doing this type of work. And that background has to do with my own heritage, my own background, who am I, and the importance of me,
as an individual, not from a selfish point of view, to benefit from something because I don't even know what benefits are, other than them being at peace with myself, with my history with my, with my ancestors.
Understanding, you know, thanks that before I just took for granted, and I didn't think about why did I end my family had to come to Canada and settle in Canada as refugees and immigrants. Why do we have to leave our land? How does that connect to a pass of colonial rule in, in El Salvador, which, by the way, it wasn't until Cibola. It was called Atlanta. That's the indigenous name of the line. So even these days, when I people ask me, where are you from, I don't say I'm from El Salvador anymore. I was born in a place that now is called Cyber Buddy was Kokoschka plan before. And when people ask me about
I don't know much about them. I do know, now that my great grandmother was an indigenous woman.
And I did ask my mother in my hands. Can you tell me more about mama Santos? That's what we call her. Right? And they said, Well, yeah, she wasn't religious woman. And what else? What What else? Can you tell me nothing more than that. Because I don't think they also understood, you know, or thought about what being indigenous meant. And why this clearly, an indigenous woman will not tell you, or will not teach you teach you about the language, the culture, the traditions, what happened there. But I do know that there are some other historical, you know, important landmarks if you want a massacre in 1932. So we're not talking not even 100 years ago, 1930 to 30,000 indigenous people killed in one in one location. Now, what relationship to that had to the fact that my great grandmother, then didn't speak about her identity? And there's a lot so see what I mean by I need to learn a lot. But just by virtue of, you know, being conscious now and aware that my great grandmother was an indigenous woman. That simple fact, needs me to no longer deny that Any Norther? I will admit, and I would recognize, look, I don't know much. I don't know much about her. And I don't, I don't know much of what happened to her, you know, parents, grandparents, and so on going back. But just because I don't know, that doesn't mean that I will put push it aside and ignore it and not talk about it, and then deny part of my ancestry, because of just because I don't know, I'd rather acknowledge that I don't that I don't know that I don't have it. Because you know, it wasn't passed on. But I will tame it. If I can make that connection to my ancestry, then I will make it because now I'm reacting to what people tell me. You know?
You're not You're not indigenous? Again. What, what does it mean to be indigenous? And why are you telling me and who are you to tell me that I'm not indigenous, obviously means a lot of things, right. And it's not just the way you look, it's the way you here's how you live, it's how you relate to others how you relate to, to the land, that's what I'm learning now, which I wish, I wish I would have learned that before. But I didn't, I'm not going to spend my time crying about that. This is what I have now. And this is what I can use in order to continue forward, even with my own children, right? If I didn't speak to them in the past about my great grandmother, for example, well, now I can do it. And I have pictures that I can show, I can show them. So they can also claim, you know, by their identity by with their ancestry, and again, you know, not allow others to so tell them who they are and who they're not. That is a colonial mentality, in my opinion. And that's exactly what they wanted to do. The fact that my great grandmother didn't talk to my grandmother, and then to my mother about her identity, and her indigenous background is because that's what the colonial state wanted. They wanted to erase a retrace. So I show you the picture of my great grandmother, she didn't lose everything. Clearly, she didn't lose everything. Maybe she lost a lot. Maybe she lost. Maybe she didn't speak the language maybe that that's what she didn't pass it on. But when you look at her her dressing, she wasn't dressed in, in western, traditional clothing that to me, and as you can still see it these days, right. So it's not all lost, and you got to what, Amala Cibola, Mexico, Southern Mexico, because, you know, dressing that way. So glad to meet you didn't lose everything. But then my mother never wore that clothing. Why didn't you? And part of it is probably that they were already so colonized in their mind that they didn't want to identify with that Indian look. Right. So they were dressing with, you know, the cloth that the colonizers brought, brought. So
how does this inform your work now, in building friendship and solidarity between Indigenous and newcomer people in Turtle Island,
the way it informs that is that sometimes I think that it is very difficult to understand or comprehend what has happened to others, because you have not experienced yourself one way or another, whether you experienced that again, you know, in my own case, you know, I cannot I mentioned to you earlier, the massacre 1932 of indigenous people, I wasn't there, but clearly that had an impact on my on my generation. Because my grandmother, my great grandmother didn't pass on, you know, their heritage and culture and so on. And why because of the operation because of the repression, the intention was to, to shape them into something that they were not. So that understanding will help me to understand what other people's in other in other parts of the of the Earth, like in this case, and your North America, what they come through as well. Making the Connection to my own migration story, you know, coming from El Salvador to to Canada and to settle in Canada because of conflict, and a conflict that is pretty much related to colonialism. Because that's what it is. The war, the civil war in Cibola, from 1980 to 1982. It's not just the war because people wanted to fight one another. It's a word that is related to military dictatorships that were that were you know, defending and protecting a colonial state that's the that's the the origin of my migration to Canada. So from for me, it's also you know, the colonial process also forced my family myself to come here. I do understand what it feels like not to be Be able to visit us to school, for example, the school that you went to kindergarten. Many people, you know, can talk about going to, you know, very important places when they were growing up where I can't, I can't do that, you know, not when I mean, I could do it. But if I want to do it right now, I can do it, because I'm so far away from it. And that is an impact. Do you see that is that is that assumption that it is difficult. And so I, when I hear indigenous people talking about indigenous people hearing in Canada, I mean, right? When I hear them talk about the loss of their land, the in how that impact on the way of life, and how they had to be removed from their communities, for example, to go to school. So they have to leave the community, they have to leave their families, they had to leave their friends, they have to be everything that made them comfortable, everything that made them happy, they have to leave that. But that's similar to, you know, a refugee who has to leave everything. And that's what happened to him. I was 17 years old when I left. And I couldn't say goodbye to everybody or to anybody. Right. So you just leave everything in there. So that sense of loss, you know, I think it relates, and I want to make the connections to the colonial mentality, because that's what it is, what we're experiencing in Central America and rest of Latin American countries, is the result of the same wave of splitters, you know, quote, unquote, that came to this land. And they are the ones that set in motion, all these processes that we that we are experiencing now. So, to me, colonialism is not a thing of the past. I don't talk about colonial, the colonial states or colonial societies, assumption that is in history or in the past, I think is pretty much we're leaving it, we're in the midst of it. Regardless of you know, where other people want to convince me off, right, it's a no, no, no, I see that, that you still been ruled by, by colonial powers, right? Especially here in Canada. So that that's how my own history and learning as much as I can about my own ancestry, my own history, helps me to, you know, walk I guess, in, in solidarity with others. Understanding that, if I'm here, it's not because I can't, I came to take possession of your land.
I'm here because the colonial powers in the region when I was born, forced me and 1000 others to leave. And I'm here and now that I'm here by force, I want to make I want to make sure that I do it in the best possible respectful way. And so that's why that's why I think I need to learn about the people here indigenous people there is to read their struggle, and then stand in solidarity with with, because it's the same thing. I found myself here, but it could have been the other way around. Could have been that I stayed there, and some of the indigenous people were forced to go down there. It could have been easily.
And what have you learned about you know, in hosting these circles of friendship between newcomers and indigenous people across the country? What are some learnings that you've taken about building friendship and solidarity? Well,
I'm learning a lot to be honest. And, and, and it takes time. That's the one thing that people have been telling me right, that it's not something that happened in one meeting in one circle in one gathering. In one powwow, it's not that so you know, it takes time and sometimes building these relationships and building these friendships. It's not about being in a room in a meeting, in a forum, in a conference, but rather, being in somebody's living, living room, being in somebody's kitchen, learning about those things. So you're cooking together. And while you're cooking, you're you're actually talking about, you know, your your family, your community, what you what you have, what you don't have, what you know, and what you need to learn those kinds of things. And it takes time. That's one thing that I'm doing. The other thing that I'm learning is also that a lot of people like like myself in German, and I think of myself regardless of how many years I've been here, but I still think of myself as a newcomer. A lot of people are telling me that, you know, they want to learn and they and they kind of, you know, they also kind of feel kind of embarrassed, because they didn't learn before, you know, you've been here, let's say 1015 years, and you never get to contour relationship with indigenous peoples even though you see them on the street, they kind of feel a little bit guilty, I guess. And then also a little bit of shame but, but at the same time, they also say, you know, but I want to learn, I want to, you know, I want to continue this process. I'm also learning that it doesn't take that long for newcomers to make the connection to, you know, their, their, their spirits in their countries, because then let's be honest, most of the newcomers that are coming these days, as refugees and immigrants are coming from conflict zones, in Africa, in Asia, countries like the Philippines, India, you know, and then like American countryside, people are leaving because of conflict. So they're coming from areas where are affected by, by the history of colonialism, and they made those connections very quickly, that doesn't take time to make those connections doesn't take time. They very quickly clicked. What takes time is then is learning, lowering the guard if you want, there is still a lot of mistrust, there is a lot of Yeah, you know, sort of like, I don't know you yet, why should I trust you and I have had people, both indigenous and newcomers, you know, spreads that very clearly. Right? You know, I don't know you yet. But I want to learn about you, I want to hear more about you. With those words, you know, I want to hear more about your story. Behind every refugee anemia, and there is a story and I want to learn that
I'll share a little bit on that last question I just asked you in writing relations, we have spent time and gatherings just around that question of who am I, and spend a full day just sharing on that question and telling our stories without any outcome expectations, but for that purpose of, of getting to know each other, building trust and seeing each other in our wholeness. Because often we are reduced into these categories, as you said, and we reduce ourselves into categories, and we choose one identity to return to run with, but it doesn't ever do us justice, because we're all multiple things. And so the more we can let let ourselves be seen, the more that I think others will do the same. And that we can see that at the at the core of our beings, we are human. And there is something profoundly similar in every human experience. Despite all the differences that we have in every way that we can be different, there are these, these fundamental pieces that are transferable across beings, human beings in this entire planet. And I think that the part of the work of being human at this time on the planet, is in remembering that we are all connected, interconnected, that this is an illusion that we are separate. And in this dualism of of the world, that there is duality in this world, we know that there is a sun and a moon a night and a day we know this. And at the same time, there is oneness there is unity. And multiple truths exist at once and it's not a pair. It's not paradoxical it is that way. And we've spent so much time in dualism and the binary which is Eurocentric thinking and it's our programming. And so if we're talking about decolonization, or we're talking about, you know, building a more positive world, healing our world, then I think that that that that coming together. Reconnecting is the work of our times with ourselves with each other with the planet. Because colonization has separated everything, divided everything. And so think seeing each other, beyond the, the form being beyond the race beyond the story of even identity, you know, identities are a layer of our existence which impact us are important. effectors. And then on another level and another layer, there's this, just this human spirit. Take away all this stuff when your body dies, what's left? You know, and I think that that's the, like, direct channel, to our ability to, to, to move things in a in a in a way that is, is what the world what what is what we're being asked of at this time. And I think that is through the heart, I think that is through the language of love, which I think is that heartbeat, that that that of Mother Earth of of creation that's in every one of us. And it is through dance, and it is through song. And it is through our tears. And it it is through our laughter. It is through the simple things, too. And getting out of the head sometimes is important. Yeah. Because yeah, we're not just these, these, these talking heads. And yeah, so I am excited about remembering that we are these powerful creator beings of light, of energy, of frequency, that have infinite potential, and rising to that beauty that we are, and remembering that we create our world. And we often get so mad at ourselves for doing such harm. You know, we give ourselves so much flak.
And yet, we're powerful creators, and we can create things in different ways that then we have in the past, we can learn from the past, we can choose what this present and what this future can have for us. And what we need is that long term vision, you know, not just our lifetimes,
kind of world do we want to see in 10? Gender seven generations from now? You know? Yeah. Living in powerful times, opportunity.
That's what it's about. So it's not some kind of academic, in my mind, anyway, it is not so much about an academic, you know, deep thinking and exploration, but it's rather just gone inside you, right to that very basic level. And so when people tell me, for example, you know, try to listen, not just with your ears, but try to listen with your heart means a lot, accepting and recognizing the importance of learning about yourself learning about the past, but then also, how do we move forward, and you know, what you learn from the past, in order to make sure that it doesn't happen again, that's also what is important, right. And then I'm also thinking in terms of, you know, what my contribution is, while I'm here, and I'm here. So I'm not just gonna occupy the space, you know, the time I want to make sure that, you know, I contribute to something Yeah, so that's what I'm doing.
Yeah. And I think that we are, at our, at our best, when we know what that who we are, and our what our purpose is in the world, you know, because each one of us in the circle, holds a piece of the balance, hold a piece of, of the world. And we all need to, to know what that piece is that we're holding and being truthful and authentic to that. Not be who we think we should be, or who someone else wants us to be. But, but who we truly are. And that I think is such a journey of discovery, and of unlearning the programming of what we were told we were and who we think we ought to be. And that can be a that is a journey, and that's doesn't just happen overnight, you know, yeah, well,
you know, I mean, you realize him how much of our education quote unquote, right was geared towards, towards telling you who you should be. I don't think I was educated and and I went through university in all of these years. I think I was being educated to swipe to learn who I was. I was related to I could learn who they want me to be, what they want it to be. And so I'm rebelling against that. So to me relearning is important so I'm relearning and re educating myself. That's what I'm talking about. Right. And I think that that's, that's what that's what it comes down to.
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