Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve moved our newsletter online for this edition. This is the first of three newsletter installments to be published over the next several weeks.
by Gabriela Martínez, CLLAS Director
As I write this, I’ve been stranded in the highlands of Peru since mid-March when two days after my arrival the government closed all of the country’s borders, suspending domestic and international commercial flights and inter-departmental land transportation, imposing a curfew, and giving the police and the army control of streets and roads. Peru is one of the countries in the region that began responding early to the crisis; however, for weeks it has been suffering a rapidly rising number of cases. Although COVID-19 has touched all social strata, still the most affected are people living in shantytowns, and in large working class and populous areas where the living conditions tend to be substandard and people subsist by working in the informal economy. Thus, this population doesn’t have a safety net allowing them to shelter in place for weeks or months.
At the beginning of the academic year CLLAS got off to a great start launching its new two-year theme (2019-21): “The Politics of Language in the Americas: Power, Culture, History, and Resistance.” Throughout the fall and winter the line-up of research and creative events filled rooms to capacity, attracting undergraduates and graduate students, faculty, staff and extramural members of our community. You can read more about fall events in our fall newsletter here (insert link). Winter term ended with the arrival of the unprecedented pandemic COVID-19, which has impacted CLLAS operations as well as that of our entire campus, our state, the country and the world. We had to recalibrate everything we do, and change most plans we had in place for the rest of the academic year and beyond.
Although CLLAS has continued its operations remotely, and has successfully held its research grantees presentations via Zoom, our new grantees setting out to do research over this coming summer are going to be limited due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Some researchers may not be able to travel abroad to their sites of study, thus most will need to conduct research through virtual platforms instead of in-person. This situation is no doubt causing anxiety, as there are many uncertainties facing the future. CLLAS remains supportive and we have changed some of our policies for grantees given the circumstances, for example, some will be able to defer the use of funds beyond this summer and potentially until the next academic year or next summer. Others will conduct research locally or remotely.
There seems to be no corner in the world unaffected by the pandemic, and millions of people around the world are suffering the multiple consequences of it — illness, death, loss of jobs, serious economic hardship, among others. In Oregon the Latinx population remains disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its consequences. This is principally due to the structural racism in the state (and the country) where there are systemic disparities. Much of the Latinx population lacks access to healthcare, has no job security (much less jobs that can be done remotely), and many live in small houses or apartments, in some cases, with large families or sharing the space with multiple roommates to cover rent.
The pandemic has made social and economic disparities all over the world more salient. It has shown how broken the public health systems are in a large number of countries, including the United States. Existing social, economic, political, and racial gaps in the US have become exacerbated and deeper due to this health crisis. However, we should always remain hopeful that our societies can change with the will of the people and with citizens claiming changes through voting. Now we need more than ever an ongoing civic participation.
Finally, I want to say how proud I am of all students from the Latino Roots course who have shown resilience and commitment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our students were able to produce significant work, adding their documentaries and multimedia work to the Latino Roots digital repository administered by CLLAS and UO Libraries. This new addition raised the number in the collection to 82. This work is more important than ever given the times we live in where open racism and anti-immigrant policies and sentiments are harming our society.
CLLAS rejects racism and the violence that this generates against people of color. We should always remember that the richness and greatness of this nation was (and continues to be) built on the backs of Black people and immigrants of color, mostly Latinx and Latin Americans.
I wish everyone a healthy and restful summer! And may health and life conditions improve for all in the US and around the world regardless of race, religion, and nationality!
“Fue el Estado!:” Justice for the Guatemalan Fifty-Six Girls and Embodying Emotional Geographies
By Carla Macal Montenegro, PhD Candidate in Geography
Guatemala is home to the Maya, Garifuna, and Xinca people, as well as Ladino and European settlers. It thrives with cultural traditions, delicious cuisine, and beautiful landscapes. Guatemala is also a colonized territory and experiences ongoing land dispossessions and exploitations by imperialist powers such as the United States and Canada. Colonization in Guatemala has generated race, class, and gender inequalities, from structuring a system of patriarchy that normalized gender roles based on power dynamics and domination. Due to this system, indigenous women are still rendered invisible and subjugated to domestic care roles. A tragic component of this inequality is the high number of femicides in the country. From 2001 to 2011, 5,000 women and young girls were murdered in Guatemala with less than four of the cases resulting in a conviction (Stephen, 2015).
As a Guatemalan woman living in the Global North, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share the stories of Central Americans experiencing the ongoing violence of colonial imperialism (Speed 2019). On March 8, 2017 Guatemalan people responded to state oppression and demanded justice for the fifty-six girls. Forty-one were burned to death at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, and fifteen survivors are physically and emotionally injured. Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción located in San José Pinula, Guatemala is a state-operated shelter for adolescents identified as “troubled youth.” Families trust this shelter as it promises good caring conditions for their children.
However, on March 7, 2017, a day before the fire, a group of girls ran away from the shelter due to cases of rape, sex-trafficking, inadequate food, and physical abuse. The shelter authorities punished the girls by locking them into a room to the point of causing the death of forty-one girls ages twelve to seventeen. This tragic story enabled me to ask the following question:
How are feminist organizations in Guatemala responding to state level gender-based violence?
With the support of a graduate student research grant from the Center for Latina/o and Latin American Studies (CLLAS) I embarked on my first ethnographic field work during the summer of 2019 to conduct preliminary research for my studies. I identified 8 Tijax and MuJER, two organizations that are entrenched in the work against gender-based violence leading me to do a comparative study.
8 Tijax is a small volunteer collective that began providing support to the families of the fifty-six girls. They support the families with different roles such as hospital accompaniment, social work, journalism, and advocates of justice for the girls. I was able to interview all of the collectives’ participants in addition to one of the mothers of one of the girls. They shared how their work is to humanize and highlight each of the girls’ stories. As one of the participants’ shared, “Within deep pain, love is born.” She mentioned how they do this labor of love to amplify the truth and to valorize each of the stories. 8 Tijax has created commemorative altars to aid in the perseverance of public memory and even an international campaign #NosDuelen56 as a tribute to all the girls who were inside the shelter.
MuJER is the second organization I approached to interview and compare the work on gender-based violence in a formal setting. The director of the organization shared that they identify as a community-based organization providing services to women facing domestic and sexual violence. The organization’s main campaign is to provide a safe space for sex workers by providing skillsets they can use to generate different sources of income. MuJER is one of the organizations in Guatemala helping to advance gender equity and is part of a feminist network. One of the best moments during my field work was when they invited me to provide a natural deodorant-making workshop for the women in the organization. I provided the materials and shared with them a step-by-step natural deodorant recipe. We were building community as well as reciprocity.
From the interviews I made the connection that MuJER could potentially provide emotional support to the mothers of the girls. In addition, both organizations were deeply connected emotionally with the people they were supporting. Compassion was demonstrated by eating a meal together or applying on each other a calming essential oil during the interviews. Embodying emotional geographies throughout the interactions with the participants abolished the feeling of being an outsider. Instead we were weaving feelings of solidarity and sisterhood.
Speed, S. (2019). Incarcerated Stories: Indigenous Women Migrants and Violence in the Settler-Capitalist State. The University of North Carolina Press
Stephen, L. (2015). Gender violence and female indigenous Guatemalan refugees. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon. Pp. 1-27
About the author
Carla Macal Montenegro is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Oregon. She is studying the interconnections between borders, migrations, and feminist geographies. She is an educator involved in a pedagogy of liberation. She enjoys reciting social justice poetry with 3 Generaciones and Sin Fronteras group. Carla is also the creator of Ixoq Arte, an herbalist self-preservation project to reclaim ancestral indigenous knowledge. She was raised in East Los Angeles and was born in Guatemala.