Invisible: los viajes diarios de las trabajadoras domésticas en Latinoamérica

Por Valentina Montoya Robledo y Rachel Randall.

Las trabajadoras domesticas son una de cada cinco mujeres que trabajan por un salario en América Latina. Suman cerca de 13 millones de personas en la region. En las últimas décadas y ligado a los procesos de urbanización, las trabajadoras domésticas han cambiado su modalidad, pasando de vivir en la casa de sus empleadores a sus propios hogares.

América Latina se convirtió en la región más urbanizada del mundo en el 2014. Para el 2020, por ejemplo, en Colombia, más del 83% de las trabajadoras domésticas vivían en sus propios hogares. Sus bajos ingresos y el hecho de que más del 80% siguen siendo trabajadoras informales las obliga a vivir en las periferias extremas de las ciudades. Tanto sus hogares como aquellos en los que trabajan carecen de transporte público de calidad, así como de infraestructura peatonal, haciendo que sus recorridos diarios sean extremadamente largos y costosos.

(Imagen: Invisible Commutes)

Este cambio ha llevado a largos recorridos en toda América Latina, con viajes de siete horas diarias en Bogotá, seis horas en Lima, cinco horas en São Paulo (Montoya Robledo, en prensa) y tres horas y media en ciudades colombianas pequeñas como Manizales. De acuerdo con la encuesta de movilidad de Bogotá del 2015, las trabajadoras domésticas tienen los recorridos más largos de todas las ocupaciones urbanas en la ciudad. En muchos países gastan un alto porcentaje de su salario en transporte: por ejemplo, 36% en Lima, y 28% en Medellín. Durante estos viajes extensos, las trabajadoras domésticas usualmente se enfrentan a discriminación racial, violencia basada en género, crimen común e inseguridad vial, entre otros.

Estas dificultades no solo ponen en riesgo a las trabajadoras domésticas, sino que limitan su acceso a las oportunidades de educación, descanso y participación política en la ciudad. Pese a todo esto, los gobiernos locales en América Latina frecuentemente ignoran la situación. El proyecto transmedia Invisible Commutes comenzó en el 2019 para sacar a la luz esta situación tan crítica. Inicialmente se pensó en un documental en el 2019, que luego se expandió a un proyecto transmedia en el 2020. En colaboración con el músico y gestor cultural Andrés González y el documentalista Daniel Gómez, el proyecto busca generar consciencia entre académicos, expertos en movilidad y el público en general sobre el acceso limitado de las trabajadoras domésticas al derecho a la ciudad en América Latina.

Invisible Commutes usa diferentes medios para mostrar los recorridos costosos, violentos y extensos de las trabajadoras domésticas para luchar por su derecho a la ciudad. El proyecto incluye cortos segmentos sonoros con testimonios de las trabajadoras domésticas sobre sus experiencias de viaje y sus perspectivas sobre grandes proyectos de infraestructura de movilidad. Cuenta con una sección de mapas de los recorridos dibujados por las trabajadoras domésticas. El proyecto también ha producido artículos de opinión y artículos académicos. Hoy, participa en el mundo académico, la sociedad civil y las discusiones de gobiernos locales. Fue reconocido en 2023 como una ‘Remarkable Feminist Voice in Transport’ por Tumi y Women Mobilize Women. Invisible Commutes es un esfuerzo amplio por responder a la injusticia en el transporte para millones de mujeres en el mundo.

El rodaje del documental Invisible comenzó en el 2019, centrándose en las experiencias de Reinalda Chaverra, una trabajadora del hogar radicada en Medellín. Después, en el 2022, la filmación siguió en Bogotá con la trabajadora doméstica Belén García. En el 2023, el proyecto Invisible Commutes ganó fondos del instituto de investigación Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) para completar el documental y organizar un taller con la Unión afrocolombiana de trabajadoras domésticas (UTRASD) en Medellín.

Los metas del taller, que se llevó a cabo el 27 de julio del 2023, fueron: (1) averiguar cómo las trabajadoras quieren ver sus viajes representados en la película; y (2) permitir que las voces de las trabajadoras pudieran moldear la forma y el contenido del documental. Estos objetivos fueron muy importantes para nosotros porque, pese al aumento reciente de películas latinoamericanas que toman a las trabajadoras del hogar como protagonistas, casi ninguna muestra los viajes largos y difíciles que tienen que llevar a cabo.

Ya se ha discutido que estas películas suelen ser rodadas por cineastas de clase media o alta cuyas perspectivas son más parecidas con las de los empleadores que con las de las trabajadoras del hogar. Suelen dramatizar las relaciones entre los empleadores y las trabajadoras del hogar dentro de la casa del patrón, como por ejemplo en Roma (2018) de Alfonso Cuarón o en Una segunda madre (2015) de Anna Muylaert. En realidad, el trabajo doméstico pagado por horas cada día es más popular que el trabajo doméstico puertas adentro, como este informe sobre el Brasil también demuestra. Cuando hablamos de la falta de representaciones visuales de los recorridos de las trabajadoras en el taller, una participante comentó que a los patrones no les conviene reconocer estos viajes largos, difíciles y costosos porque puede provocar una discusión sobre cómo estos recorridos deberían ser compensados.

Para comenzar nuestra conversación en el taller, miramos escenas de la película Roma, que se centra en la protagonista Cleo, una trabajadora del hogar. La película se desarrolla en la Ciudad de México en los años 70 y la historia de Cleo está inspirada en las experiencias reales de Liboria Rodríguez que fue empleada por la familia de Alfonso Cuarón cuando el director era niño. Roma ha sido criticada por reforzar una narrativa en que Cleo es celebrada como, y relegada a ser, miembro suplente de la familia que la emplea. Sin embargo, las participantes del taller se identificaron fuertemente con la rutina agotadora de Cleo en la que tiene que mantener una casa enorme y apoyar a los cuatro hijos de sus empleadores. Algunas participantes discutieron el impacto negativo que esta carga laboral tiene para poderse relajar o hacer ejercicio, mientras que otras hablaron de las implicaciones que tiene para sus relaciones con sus propios seres queridos, en particular sus hijos. 

Sin embargo, varias observaciones que las participantes hicieron, y que contribuyeron al contenido de Invisible, fueron provocadas por las diferencias entre las experiencias que han tenido viajando en el transporte público en Colombia y los recorridos representados en una de las únicas películas latinoamericanas que examina este tema. Réimon (2014) de Rodrigo Moreno sigue los viajes largos de Ramona, una trabajadora del hogar pagada por horas que vive en las afueras de Buenos Aires y que tiene que desplazarse al centro de la ciudad para limpiar varios apartamentos lujosos. Igual que Roma, Réimon también se centra en los pormenores del trabajo y de la rutina de Ramona. Una participante elogió la gracia y la elegancia que caracterizan la representación de Ramona: siempre se ve muy bien vestida y sofisticada. Este aspecto de la película fue muy importante para las participantes. Ellas explicaron que la distancia que necesitan caminar a través de terrenos sin pavimentar para tomar el autobús significa que tienen que llegar al trabajo con la ropa sucia, ser el objeto de comentarios negativos de otros pasajeros, o llevar un trapo para limpiar el barro. La dignidad de Ramona resonaba con las participantes del taller que habían sufrido discriminación racial o que habían sido menospreciadas por causa de su trabajo.

Una participante observó que Ramona no muestra señales de tener miedo cuando está caminando sola por la ciudad en la oscuridad de la madrugada, mientras que esta participante teme ser agredida. Otras explicaron que las mujeres frecuentemente sufren acoso o violencia sexual mientras están viajando por transporte público. Comentaron también que en Réimon, Ramona consigue sentarse cuando sube al tren, pero los autobuses que las participantes toman están tan llenos en las horas pico que siempre tienen que estar de pie.

En respuesta a estos desafíos, Invisible concluye con las propuestas de las participantes para mejorar las experiencias de las trabajadoras del hogar cuando se están desplazando a las casas de los empleadores. Estos cambios incluyen: construir más baños públicos en estaciones alrededor de la ciudad; reservar vagones solo para mujeres; darles prioridad a las trabajadoras del hogar en las horas pico; y subvencionar el transporte público para estas trabajadoras o introducir formas de transporte solo para ellas. Las últimas tres propuestas requerirían que las trabajadoras se registraran formalmente, lo cual sería un desarrollo positivo para el sector ya que la informalidad trae muchos otros desafíos.

Esperamos que el documental pueda inspirar a los funcionarios públicos y a los urbanistas a responder a las propuestas de las trabajadoras y a continuar escuchando lo que tienen que decir.

Valentina Montoya Robledo es investigadora senior en Género y Movilidad del Transport Studies Unit (TSU) de la Universidad de Oxford. Dirige el Proyecto transmedia Invisible Commutes sobre la movilidad diaria de las trabajadoras domésticas. Su más reciente artículo académico es ‘That is why users do not understand the maps we make for them’: Cartographic gaps between experts and domestic workers and the Right to the City.

Rachel Randall es Reader in Latin American Studies en Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Su libro, Paid to Care: Domestic Workers in Contemporary Latin American Culture, acaba de salir con la University of Texas Press. El libro arroja luz sobre las luchas de las trabajadoras del hogar en América Latina por analizar películas, documentales, testimonios y textos digitales que son el producto de colaboraciones directas con estas trabajadoras o que fueron inspiradas en sus experiencias. El libro está disponible ahora con un descuento de 30% usando el código UTXM30 en el Reino Unido y Europa, y en los Estados Unidos y América Latina.

The ethics of mapping migrant violence through Mexico

By Sylvanna Falcón.

From October 2021 through to May 2022 undergraduate students from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of California, Berkeley, participated in a human rights investigation with Human Rights First (HRF) and El Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, AC (IMUMI, The Institute for Migration of Women). Under the direct supervision of university staff, we became part of a binational team (US and Mexico) to track incidents of violence in Mexico affecting non-Mexican migrants, many of whom were asylum seekers, that were being captured online, primarily through news reports or social media posts.

Student researchers used open-source investigation techniques to identify incidents of harms committed against migrants in Mexico. These techniques refer to methodologically accessing publicly available information on the internet, including online news articles, non-governmental or other expert reports, and social media content. For research purposes, the team collated and synthesized this information systemically and went through a process of verification on as many incidents as possible during the research period.

Police vehicle parked in front of a migration encampment in Tijuana, Mexico (image: Barbara Zandoval published on 19 June, 2021)

With a primary focus on US President Biden’s administration, which began in January 2021, the students identified more than 400 unique incidents of violence targeting migrants since the start of Biden’s presidency, from reported kidnappings, extortion, and death to allegations of widespread corruption of government officials working alongside drug traffickers. Students recorded all incidents in a shared spreadsheet and tried to verify as many of them as possible. In addition to vetting the source of the information itself, verification meant that students would locate additional online material about a specific incident in order to have more confidence that the incident indeed occurred.

But what to do with all the collection of incidents? How to communicate this information to the general public in an ethical way? What do we gain or lose by depicting migrant violence in a data visualization project? For what purpose, what audience, does this form of documentation serve? Each organization in this partnership had a different purpose for participating in the project. For university students, it was a unique learning experience to systemically collect this kind of online information. HRF, based in the United States, was in need of additional research support to document these cases to put pressure on the US government to change its immigration policies to align with human rights standards and for IMUMI, based in Mexico, the plight of migrant women is their primary focus through advocacy and education efforts.

As we all began to think about the most effective method in which to share this information publicly, the desire to go beyond a text-based report seemed important given the university’s access to various data visualization options. As we agreed to create a digital story and digital map of the incidents, students began to reflect on the ethics of this work, asking pointed questions about the purpose, the desired outcome, and whether or not data visualization results in dehumanization of the migrants. As I navigated these thoughtful queries from students, I encouraged them to acknowledge the various sentiments they felt about the research project itself and about these final deliverables. In the digital report titled ‘Perilous Journeys: Migrants Vulnerable to Violence through Mexico’ they wrote, in part,

Many of us are undergraduate researchers from migrant families with ties to Latin American countries. The cases the team reviewed have evoked feelings of both accomplishment and powerlessness. While proud to help to document the migration-related trauma that is familiar to many of our families and loved ones who have faced migrant-related trauma, our constant exposure to the quantity and severity of these instances is felt on an even deeper emotional and personal level.

Acknowledging their relative privilege by being university students in the United States, the students felt it important to include in the report the following line: ‘As researchers, we cannot stress enough the importance of remaining cognizant of the real names, faces, and lives behind the work we present in this report.’ 

The ethics of visualizing the data remained front and centre during the duration of the project. And the questions of ethics were multi-layered: from knowingly exposing students to graphic material on a regular basis, from understanding that the material could be mis-used if not careful about the presentation, to inadvertently exposing the safety areas for migrants to authorities, and, most importantly, unintentionally dehumanizing the plight of migrants through dots on a map.

In the end, a data visualization project that turned into a digital report conveyed an ideal synergy between text-based information and learning about the incidents on a map so that readers could geographically situate where the reported incidents occurred. The students opted to add different color markings on the map to distinguish incidents and, moreover, to aid people’s understanding that the extent of the problem is throughout the country of Mexico. Both HRF and IMUMI felt this presentation of the research aided them in their own efforts to raise awareness of migrant violence and to call for change.   

Sylvanna Falcón is an Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Trained as a sociologist, Professor Falcón is the founder and director of the Human Rights Investigations Lab at UC Santa Cruz. She is a visiting scholar at the University of Bristol, hosted by MMB, from October to December 2023.

From Bristol to Brasilia: collaborating on migration and mobilities research

By Anamaria Fonsêca.

In April this year I visited the University of Brasilia (UnB), Brazil, with Professor Foluke Adebisi from the Bristol Law School to take part in a series of lectures organised by the postgraduate programmes in Law and in Human Rights. I have been collaborating with UnB’s Research Group on International Private Law, International Trade and Human Rights since the outbreak of the pandemic to develop research that builds bridges between Brazil and the UK. The invitation to visit UnB this year was an opportunity to advance this work and the internationalisation of both UnB’s and the University of Bristol’s research.

UnB is among the top five universities in Brazil, excelling in terms of internationalisation, affirmative action programmes, research quality and teaching standards. Our visit specifically aimed to establish a dialogue between the Bristol Law School (through Foluke) and MMB (through me) and the Law School of UnB and their internationalisation department. Foluke brilliantly lectured and established dialogues on law, legal education and decolonisation, while I was responsible for diffusing preliminary results from my doctoral research, specifically on the topic of ‘Creating Immigration Hostile Environments: A Case Study from England’. The aim was to draw parallels between the legal and public policy frameworks of countries in the global north, such as the UK, and countries in South America, such as Brazil, which has had its refugee reception policies significantly affected by the change of government in recent years. The aim was to think about how political ideologies through political parties interfere in the establishment of mechanisms for the implementation and promotion of human rights, in this case specifically for asylum seekers and refugees.

University of Brasilia (image: Ray Fernandes)

Addressing the creation of hostile environments for migrants is impossible without raising three key issues: the concept of national sovereignty; the Western geopolitical perspective on human rights; and xenophobia and racism rooted in a superficial lack of identification with the ‘other’, whether due to physical characteristics or their social, economic and political contexts.

Many cases of migration are a post-colonial phenomenon, which continues to link the colonising nations and those previously colonised. The presence in the UK, for example, of people whose origins are not far removed from Africa, Asia or Latin America reflects the ties created by the British empire. With this in mind, I began my presentation with a case study of England, the first country to talk openly about the creation of a hostile environment for migrants after Theresa May, then-Home Secretary, coined the term during a period of heated debate about migration in the UK.

At UnB we were welcomed by Professor Inez Lopes Matos, coordinator of the Research Group on International Private Law, International Trade and Human Rights. Professor Loussia Felix and Professor Menelick de Carvalho Netto also took part in the panels involving the decolonisation of legal education and the decolonial approach to the category of asylum seekers and refugees. This deepened and refined discussions and demonstrated how much the approach of MMB can be strengthened through partnerships with UnB and vice versa. Students from the postgraduate courses in Law and Human Rights expressed great interest in establishing more knowledge exchange with professors, researchers and students linked to MMB in order to broaden their Lusophone approach to key themes of interest of the research group. These themes include:

1. Political violence and post-conflict reconstruction in communities experiencing local, national and cross-border displacement. In Brazil, the growing community of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is a focus point for research. Students’ discussions provided an account of Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), a government mission responsible for welcoming and integrating migrants and refugees from Venezuela, and the political effects that such an operation has in terms of a regional responsibility for human rights, given Venezuela’s suspension from Mercosur since 2017.

2. Labour and mobility and the historical legacy of slavery in contemporary work relations. The students’ research interests are also focused on historical reparations for black and indigenous people in the process of construction of Brazil as a sovereign nation, its direct link with the trafficking of people from West Africa and the consequences of a late abolition of slavery. Their other studies look at types of labour analogous to slavery, which in Brazil ranges from unpaid domestic and social reproduction work to land exploitation.

3. Representations of territorial boundaries and the tensions between political and ecological rights. The research group is also interested in the plight of indigenous communities, specifically during the Bolsonaro administration when more land was expropriated, and the Amazon’s natural heritage was further destroyed. While we were in Brasilia there were protests against the Marco Temporal (Time Limit Trick), which recently came to a vote in the Supreme Court and was not approved – a victory for indigenous peoples for the time being.

4. Neoliberal market expansion, wildcat economics and the movement of people and capital to and from the global margins. The Brazilian and South American experience of late capitalism is another theme within the research group, in particular the consequences of colonisation on the country’s political, economic, social and cultural structures.

5. The circulation of ideas and translational exchanges across borders within Latin America and beyond. Brazil’s ‘distance’ from other Latin American nations in terms of identity and culture is also a key theme, again taking into account the legacy of colonisation. This includes the experience of joining forces with other Latinx, and more particularly South American, countries through international agreements, which have encouraged the integration and recognition of Brazilians as Latinxs, and the repercussions that these socio-political aspects have on the country’s development.

Our conversations with the UnB students and staff around these themes were enriching and productive, and highlighted the many ideas to be developed, lessons to be learned and collaborations to be established between the two universities, particularly through their role in developing their countries’ intellectual and political spheres. We look forward to this collaboration bearing fruit for both academic environments.

Anamaria Fonsêca is a Teaching Associate in the Law School at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on forced migration, ethnicity, integration, citizenship and the hostile environment for immigrants, as well as sex work and women’s rights. She studied for her PhD at the University of Bristol and recently submitted her thesis on ‘England’s hostile environment: sex work as an attempt to mitigate the impacts of destitution for women who are denied asylum.’ She is also a qualified lawyer and a member of the Brazilian Bar Association. Anamaria’s visit to the University of Brasilia was supported by MMB.

Roots and routes: debating indigenous rights in twentieth-century Latin America

New writing in migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Jo Crow.

My recent book Itinerant Ideas (2022) explores the multiple meanings and languages of indigeneity (Merlan, 2009) circulating across borders in early twentieth-century Latin America. It takes readers through an extensive visual and written representational repertoire to show how ideas about indigenous peoples evolved as they moved between nations during this period. These representations include newspaper articles lamenting indigenous people’s supposed culture of backwardness, ignorance and poverty, public speeches making indigeneity synonymous with colonial exploitation and subjugation, and reprinted paintings depicting indigenous people as suppliant victims. By contrast, I also reflect on conference proceedings that cast ‘the Indian’ as the epitome of hard work and resilience in the modern world, magazine covers celebrating indigenous cultural creativity and entrepreneurship, teaching materials asserting indigenous society’s intimate and superior knowledge of the land, and poems making indigeneity symbolic of (anti-colonial, anti-capitalist) resistance and rebellion. (See examples of archival documents explored in Itinerant Ideas in the images below).

Paper by Manuel Calle Escajadillo presented at the First Inter-American Indigenista Congress, Mexico, 1940 (image: author’s own)
Chile: A Monthly Survey of Chilean Affairs, Vol. 11 no. 9, 1926, New York (image: author’s own)

Building on the work of James Clifford (1997), my book argues that such diverse, contesting meanings and languages can, to some extent, be joined up with either a story of ‘roots’ (the static, ‘local’ Indian, fixed in the rural community, working the land according to traditional custom, antagonistic to the existence of the modern state) or ‘routes’ (the changing, strategising, productive Indian moving in various circuits, central to the success of the modern state).

Photograph of Julio Tello displayed at the Pachacamac Museum, Peru (image: author’s own)

Sometimes the indigenous protagonists of Itinerant Ideas come to represent both stories at the same time. This is the case of Quechua-speaking Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello (1880-1947) who, before becoming famous in national scientific circles, studied at Harvard and travelled to many European cities, including London, where he attended the International Congress of Americanists and met his soon-to-be English wife. Tello used his national and international platform to celebrate the ‘deeply rooted genealogical tree’ to which he belonged. Such profound roots, he said, ‘extracted from this land the sap which nourished a race of giants’ (speech published in El Comercio, Lima, 14 December 1924).

Ideas about indigenous identity and history matter because they inform state legislation (related to land ownership, for example, or education or health) which impacts indigenous lives. And individuals matter because they develop and disseminate ideas and create state policy. They are bound by state and bigger socioeconomic structures but they are also part of these structures and thereby influence them.

Writing on indigenous conflict in Bolivia, Andrew Canessa (2018) makes the obvious but important point that ‘“indigenous” is not an indigenous concept’ (p.11). While many of the most prominent intellectuals and political activists under scrutiny in Itinerant Ideas were not indigenous themselves a key aim of the book is to emphasise indigenous interventions in debates about indigenous identity and history, showing the many different ways in which they both perpetuated dominant discourses of race and fundamentally undermined and challenged them.             

The book also draws attention to the transnational dimension of conversations about indigeneity. In contrast to much of the historiography on race in Latin America, including my own earlier work (Crow 2013), Itinerant Ideas goes beyond the national confines of debates about indigenous rights. This does not mean it is written without nations in mind but rather that it ‘simultaneously pays attention to what lives against, between and through them’ (Saunier, 2013). Transnational debates help us to make better sense of national developments because they feed into and are in turn shaped by them.

The debates analysed in Itinerant Ideas take place through a vast web of transnational intellectual networks. This web is what makes an idea catch on and spread. Individuals invent ideas, which evolve as they are passed on through their networks. The book is therefore as much about relationships as it is about individuals. As Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have commented in Connected (2011, p.xi), the ‘key to understanding people is understanding the ties between them’.

The book foregrounds indigenous voices within this web. A growing body of literature explores how indigenous social movements in Latin America today are linked into transnational networks. Excellent works also exist on indigenous border-crossing during the colonial era. Much less attention has been paid to the period in between. Itinerant Ideas demonstrates that transnational indigenous organising was a visible and audible reality in the early twentieth century, and that it took many different forms including labour protest, conference attendance, teacher exchanges, missionary activity, art exhibitions and theatre groups.

In order to anchor this investigation of transnational networks, my book looks at one particular cross-border relationship: that of Chile and Peru. The front cover shows a photograph of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile – territory that was Peruvian before Chile annexed it during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).

Most scholarship on Chile and Peru concentrates on the history of this military conflict and its legacies. This means that relations between the two countries are interpreted almost exclusively as antagonistic and hostile. Itinerant Ideas does not deny the history of conflict but insists that there is another history that is worth researching and telling too – a history of collaboration and dialogue.

As well as Chile and Peru being read as countries always at war with each other, they are also read as oppositional nation-imagining projects. We see, for instance, how Chile has often been depicted as ‘more European’ or ‘less indigenous’ than Peru. The image on the front cover of Itinerant Ideas – an Inca road running through the Atacama Desert – suggests the possibility of a different narrative. It points to a history that brings Chile and Peru together rather than driving them apart. Many of the intellectuals in the book spoke of or wrote an Inca history that covered both these countries. For them, the so-called ‘indigenous question’ of the early twentieth century was something that crossed contemporary borders and moved between Chile and Peru as well as other Latin American countries.

All ideas are always, continuously itinerant. This is born out both in the histories told in Itinerant Ideas and in the travels that the book itself has been on since publication. Due to generous invitations from colleagues in Berlin, Dallas, Oxford, Santiago and Temuco, I have been able to talk about Itinerant Ideas with many different audiences. Our discussions sometimes took us back to key conversations, moments or people in the book. More often than not, though, they took us in new directions, opening up questions – for example, about the global south framework, Latin America’s relationship with the Caribbean, and the global production of indigeneity today – that I am now keen to explore further.

Jo Crow is Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Bristol and, from January 2024, will be MMB’s Research Development Associate Director. Her research interests include Chilean cultural history, nationalism and nation building, Mapuche cultural and political activism, and the production and circulation of ideas about race in Latin America. Her recent book, Itinerant Ideas (2022), is published by Palgrave Macmillan, with a 20% discount available here.

Other MMB blogposts on movement and mobilities in Chile include ‘The limits of interculturality: migration and cultural challenges in Chile‘ by Simón Palominos, ‘Mobility and identity in the Patagonian Archipelago‘ by Paul Merchant and ‘Migration, racism and the pandemic in Chile’s mass media‘ by Carolina Ramírez.

Working with the Colombian Truth Commission on illegal drug economies

By Mary Ryder.

In June 2022 the Colombian Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition launched its final report, Hay Futuro Si Hay Verdad: Hallazgos y Recomendaciones (There is a Future if There is Truth: Findings and Recommendations). This was the culmination of three and half years of work investigating the causes and consequences of decades of armed conflict in the country, developing a wide-ranging set of recommendations to support the transition to peace.

Colombia’s Truth Commission had a hugely ambitious mandate and introduced a number of innovations, including working with pedagogy as an operational pillar, integrating feminist methodologies, exploring the mobilities of drugs and money in the conflict, and collecting testimonies beyond the borders of the nation. It faced myriad political challenges and ran throughout the global pandemic. The release of its final report and its acceptance by Colombia’s new President, Gustavo Petro, renew prospects for peace in the country and signal the enormous responsibility for Colombian society to widely acknowledge the truths the final report presents and work towards its recommendations.

‘There is a Future if There is Truth’ (image: Colombian Truth Commission)

Colleagues from the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies and the School of Education at the University of Bristol have been working with the Colombian Truth Commission since its inception, supporting the innovative work described above. Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Bristol and support from the MEMPAZ and EdJAM projects have enabled the development of gender-sensitive methodologies for collecting testimonies and the collection and transcription of thousands of testimonies from women and LGTBQI+ people affected by conflict. Commissioners Alejandra Miller, who led the Commission’s innovative work on gender, and Carlos Beristain, who led its work collecting testimonies from Colombians in exile, both visited the university in 2019, as did members of the pedagogy and gender working groups (see more here).

Along with another University of Bristol doctoral researcher, Laura Hankin, I have worked closely with the Truth Commission throughout its operation. Here I reflect upon the key role of the drugs working group, to which I contributed, and the importance of understanding the complex relationship between the movement of drugs – and of capital generated by the illegal trade – and the armed conflict in Colombia.

Drugs in the Truth Commission

The Colombian Truth Commission is the first in the world to meaningfully investigate the role of illegal drug economies in an armed conflict, and to dispute the continuation of UN conventions on international drug prohibition by recognising their damaging and counter-productive impact on Colombia’s transition from war to peace.

Drug economies were central to the Commission’s mandate, which explicitly called for an investigation into the relationship between Colombia’s armed conflict and the cultivation of illegal crops, the production and commercialisation of illegal drugs, and the laundering of assets derived from drug trafficking.

The team responsible for this work sought to expand upon existing literature and research that has tended to reduce illegal drugs-trafficking to a means of financing Colombia’s armed conflict, and to contest a longstanding political discourse that blames illegal drugs-trafficking as the source of all problems in Colombia. A deliberate choice was made to focus not just on drugs-trafficking but on understanding the dynamics of regional drug economies – of which trafficking is just one part – and how these interact with the conflict. We also took a broad view of who is involved – from citizens, police, guerrilla and paramilitary groups to politicians and local authorities – who is benefitting from them, and who is suffering because of them.

For more than three years we delved into the Truth Commission’s archives to explore the regulations and controls that different armed groups in Colombia held over drug production, trafficking and consumption in the regions under their control; the conflation of counter-insurgency efforts with counter-drug policy efforts, and the militarisation of state-citizen relations in these regions; the impact of forced eradication and aerial spraying of glyphosate on campesinos, different ethnic groups and on the movement of money in Colombian territories; and campaign financing and the corruption of politics and public institutions through incomes from the illegal drug trade, among other dynamics.

The Commission’s findings reveal a complex web of entangled networks, comprised of political, armed and civilian members involved in the production, supply or use of illegal drugs, which varied widely across the different regions of Colombia and at different moments of the armed conflict. The report describes how the circulation of drugs became a means of accumulating wealth and power for these different actors, which generated violence on Colombian society and caused corruption in many institutions and politics.

Another key conclusion of the final report is that Colombia’s traditional political conflict was exacerbated and degraded by the punitive, prohibitionist ‘war on drugs’. Drug prohibition criminalised anyone involved in the production, supply or use of illegal drugs, which stigmatised their behaviour as ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’ and in turn justified acts of violence against them. For example, systematic human rights violations were exercised against drug users by armed actors as a mechanism to gain acceptance among the wider population, many of whom deemed it a valid and desirable way to deal with people considered ‘disposable’, ‘flawed’ and ‘dangerous’.

The ‘war on drugs’ also resulted in the transformation of the armed forces, whose attention was diverted from citizen protection to destroying coca fields and drug laboratories and pursuing drugs-traffickers, often against the will of many rural communities whose livelihoods depended on illegal crop production. These prohibitionist policies not only failed to shut down these illegal economies, but they played a key role in scaling up the violence.

The Commission’s recommendations for the non-repetition of violence state that Colombian leaders must now recognise how drug economies have penetrated the country’s culture, economy and politics and how the global ‘war on drugs’ is continuing to drive its armed conflict in the present. In particular, it recommends that the new Colombian government leads and promotes an international debate to reform drug policy in cooperation with the United States and to move toward legal regulation. The report is unequivocal that this change is urgent and necessary to eliminate one of the key structural drivers of conflict in the country.

The work discussed above is presented in chapter 6 of the final report Hay Futuro Si Hay Verdad and in three case studies which expose, first, the repression and stigmatisation of coca-growing farmers in the armed conflict, second, the militarisation of Colombia’s Macarena region under the logic of the ‘war on drugs’, and third, the victimisation of people using drugs.

Mary Ryder is a PhD student in the School of Education at the University of Bristol. Her research explores how Colombians’ experiences and memories of conflict have been shaped by counter-drug and security policies. She is broadly interested in drug policy reform, transitional justice and memory within the context of conflict and peace.

Introducing Missão Paz: supporting migrants and refugees in São Paulo

By Paolo Parise and Clarissa Paiva.

Missão Paz (Peace Mission) is a philanthropic institution that has supported and welcomed migrants and refugees arriving in São Paulo, Brazil, since 1940. The institution belongs to the Missionaries of São Carlos (Scalabrinians) and is a member of the Scalabrinian International Migration Network, which operates in 32 different countries.

The main objective of the institution is to welcome migrants by understanding their stories, respecting their identities and promoting their integration into their new social context. Missão Paz fights for the human rights of individuals and groups in vulnerable situations (due to their mobility processes), regardless of their gender, belief, class, ethnicity and national origin.

The Institution is composed of the Casa do Migrante (Migrant House), Centro Pastoral e de Mediação dos Migrantes (Pastoral and Mediation Centre for Migrants), Advocacy, Communication, Memory and Documentation Centre, Radio WebMigrantes, Project Management, and Centre for Migration Studies (CEM).

In the Casa do Migrante (photo by Daniel Aratangy)

The Casa do Migrante is the shelter of Missão Paz and can accommodate up to 110 migrants who find themselves homeless. It offers food, clothes, personal hygiene kits and Portuguese language classes as well as social and psychological support from social workers and psychologists. The house has a TV room, library, playroom and laundry for collective use by the residents.

The Pastoral and Mediation Centre is the axis of specialised support and services for migrants. Itis structured through the following themes: documentation and legal support; insertion for work in Brazil, training and citizenship; health; social service; and family and community.

The Centre for Migration Studies (CEM) has a library specializing in human mobility material for studies about migration and refugee status. It also edits and publishes the Journal Travessia (founded in 1988), offers online courses, organises seminars with national and international partner universities, organises the ‘CEM Dialogues’ with specialists, intellectuals and activists of migration, and supports the training of students and researchers interested in the theme of migration. In addition, the centre has a collection of documents regarding its own history, especially related to the 1970s when Missão Paz worked closely with the largest social mobilisations in Brazilian history for democracy.

CEM is also part of the international network of Scalabrinian study centres, which can be found in Paris, Rome, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, New York, Cape Town and Manila. Each centre is dedicated to researching the social, religious, economic and political dynamics within a ‘cosmic solidarity’.

Through the combination of research and activism – such as publication and dissemination of research findings, and lobbying and advocacy for the protection of migrants and their families – CEM also provides training for pastoral agents and leaders of civil society groups. Together with the Migrant House and the Pastoral and Mediation Centre for Migrants, CEM organises, records and archives the data on migrants who receive care from Missão Paz, always respecting their human dignity and protecting their personal data.

Missão Paz and the reception of migrants and refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as border closures and health and economic crises, have caused a clear decrease in migrants and refugees arriving in Brazil in general and in São Paulo in particular. Vulnerable migrants and refugees who were already in the country, however, have increasingly had to seek support. Self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs were left without income; informal workers were left with no means to survive; formal workers had their salaries reduced; and migrants without the proper documents were unable to obtain emergency aid from the Brazilian Federal Government. During this period, Missão Paz has done what it can to help these individuals survive.

Migrants visit Missão Paz for support during the pandemic (photo by Daniel Aratangy)

Our first step was to disseminate safe and reliable information about the pandemic and places people could turn to for support. We used radio, social media, our website and multilingual newsletters to explain to people how they can prevent contamination. As the situation worsened, services at our physical sites were suspended with the exception of distributing food baskets and other items of basic utility. The priests at Missão Paz, together with some employees and volunteers, handed out food baskets, nappy packs, powdered milk, personal hygiene kits, environmental hygiene boxes, clothes, blankets and masks.

Psychological, legal and social services were provided by mobile phone or e-mail. Migrants have to use an online portal to gain access to the Brazilian government’s emergency benefit system, but language difficulties along with a general unfamiliarity with Brazil’s bureaucratic systems make this unfeasible for many migrants. Without the support of social workers like ours they would, most likely, have remained excluded from governmental aid.

Our records show that we have served migrants and refugees of 72 nationalities during this pandemic. Haitians, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Paraguayans, Angolans, Congolese and Peruvians were the most common nationalities. Interesting too has been the shifting gender breakdown of those accessing our services. Between March and September 2020, it was nearly an even split between men and women, however in the same period a year earlier more than 60% were men. In other words, it is evident that during the pandemic the number of women who looked for help at Missão Paz increased.

Overall, being unable to access the emergency benefit from the Brazilian government, decreasing income, unemployment, difficulty in paying rent, and living and working conditions that exposed them to COVID infection all accentuated the vulnerability experienced by these migrants and refugees. Women and girls are invariably vulnerable when they migrate, especially Black and Indigenous women whose bodies tend to be overlooked as invisible. It is urgent, then, that they not only become visible but can also speak out. We need to consider their life stories, origins and families to appreciate their individual hardships and experiences. For these women to demand consideration and respect is not just an act of courage but also one of rights and justice. It is a political stance that is necessary for society to change.

Paolo Parise is Director and Clarissa Paiva is Project Advisor at Missão Paz. MMB Latin America is delighted to have established a collaboration with the institution to help disseminate each other’s research and expertise. You can visit the Missão Paz page on the MMB Latin America website here.

In 2021 MMB members Angelo Martins Junior and Julia O’Connell Davidson worked with Missão Paz to record and publish the life stories of nine women who migrated to Brazil in the openDemocracy feature, ‘To be a Congolese woman in Brazil’.

Migrar es superar: la lucha de la Selección Nacional Femenina de Venezuela

Por Mark Biram.

English version here.

Según Alejandro Domínguez, presidente de la CONMEBOL, ‘el fútbol femenino no tiene techo’. Hasta un punto tiene razón. El crecimiento vertiginoso del deporte ha visto niveles cada vez más impresionantes de interés en los partidos, en particular una asistencia de 91,553 fanáticos al clásico de semifinales de la Liga de Campeones Femenina entre Barcelona y Real Madrid. Este aumento notorio en la cobertura televisiva, el patrocinio y la inversión de los principales clubes ha significado, a nivel global, más oportunidades que nunca para las jugadoras. Desafortunadamente, este crecimiento ha sido profundamente desigual y ha provocado una versión exacerbada de los patrones de migración familiares en el fútbol masculino. En el caso de Venezuela – como muestra el excelente documental Nos llaman guerreras – las oportunidades pagadas para las mujeres futbolistas se encuentran casi en su totalidad fuera de las fronteras de su país. El éxito obliga migración, particularmente con una federación nacional que ha prestado muy poca atención al potencial enorme de su equipo femenino.

La práctica de organizar dos partidos en el mismo lugar dentro de dos o tres días es bastante común en el fútbol femenino. Esencialmente, permite que las federaciones nacionales limiten los costos de alojamiento y viaje de una manera que nunca harían de igual manera con el equipo masculino. Es más, en los casos de Colombia y Venezuela, jugar partidos amistosos, por si, se ha convertido en un evento cada vez menos frecuente. Las mujeres venezolanas han jugado solo seis partidos amistosos en comparación con los 38 partidos amistosos y competitivos de los hombres desde los Juegos Centroamericanos en julio de 2018. De manera parecida, la federación colombiana esperó 15 meses sin organizar un solo partido amistoso entre un amistoso de doble jornadas en Buenos Aires contra Argentina (9 y 12 de noviembre de 2019) y el próximo en Orlando contra Estados Unidos (18 y 22 de enero de 2021).

Deyna Castellanos (centro) de Venezuela jugando por Atlético de Madrid, febrero 2022 (imagen: Wikimedia Commons)

Los días 9 y 12 de abril de 2022, la selección femenina de Venezuela viajó para jugar con Colombia en dos partidos amistosos internacionales (inexplicablemente solo uno de estos partidos fue abierto al público) en el Estadio Pascual Guerrero de Cali. Los partidos tenían como objetivo proporcionar un calentamiento para la próxima Copa América Femenina que será organizada por Colombia en julio de 2022. Ambos juegos terminaron en empate, 2-2 y 0-0 respectivamente. En el primer partido, todos los goles provinieron de las compañeras de club: Deyna Castellanos de Venezuela y Leicy Santos de Colombia, quienes ejercen su oficio juntas en el Atlético de Madrid en España.

Por más de un motivo, las goleadoras fueron sintomáticas de los flujos migratorios que actualmente están dando forma a ambas selecciones nacionales ante la falta de un apoyo más sostenido de sus respectivas federaciones. Por ejemplo, no es coincidencia ninguna que, además de mudarse a España en busca de mejores condiciones, ambas jugadoras también pasaron una época formativa en el sistema universitario de EEUU, uno de los pocos lugares donde los jugadores pueden trabajar y estudiar, según las jugadoras. Ver los resultados de los juegos me llevó de vuelta a mi propio trabajo de campo etnográfico realizado con tres clubes en Sudamérica (dos en Brasil y uno en Colombia). En ambos países me di cuenta de una presencia considerable de jugadoras venezolanas emigradas. Siempre fueron francas sobre la falta de oportunidades y la extremadamente baja probabilidad de ganar dinero en el fútbol femenino en Venezuela.

En gran parte de América del Sur, el término profesionalización se utiliza de maneras que lo vacían de significado. Las jugadoras de la llamada superliga femenina de Venezuela son nominalmente profesionales. Sin embargo, han informado que no tienen agua corriente en las duchas y que tienen que caminar distancias considerables solo para llegar al entrenamiento sin transporte proporcionado por los clubes. Muchas veces les tocaba utilizar uniformes ya usados por los hombres, y también tocaba entrenar en canchas en pésimo estado. Durante el primer año de COVID no hubo competencia femenina en absoluto. Solo en septiembre de 2021 finalmente se armó un torneo de transición extremadamente corto con solo cuatro equipos. El programa FIFA Forward afirmó que ‘nació un sueño’ después de que el torneo de diez días terminara con juegos a las 7:30 am casi sin audiencia.

Más allá de los problemas logísticos, en octubre del año pasado, más de 20 jugadoras venezolanas escribieron una carta que revelaba años de abuso y acoso sexual por parte del ex seleccionador nacional Kenneth Zseremeta. Esto ocurrió poco más de un año después de que el ex entrenador de Colombia, Didier Luna, fuera sentenciado a 28 meses de prisión luego de una serie de acusaciones de acoso sexual. En ese caso la sentencia se redujo a una multa después de que su equipo legal llegara a un acuerdo con la Fiscalía.

A la luz de políticas institucionales raídas o inexistentes, los flujos migratorios que existen son aún más notables. Los jugadores masculinos a menudo migran a Europa después de una amplia oportunidad de colocarse en el escaparate durante la temporada nacional. A pesar de la exposición relativamente inexistente, las jugadoras de Venezuela y Colombia han emulado a sus colegas masculinos y han hecho carreras de éxito considerable en el extranjero.

En la escuadra colombiana 12 de los 23 juegan su fútbol en el exterior (siete en España, tres en Brasil, uno en Israel y uno en México). Un caso mucho más radical es el de Venezuela. Ninguna de las 20 mujeres convocadas para los dos amistosos juega en un club en su país de origen. De los venezolanos, nueve juegan en España, cuatro en Colombia, cuatro en Brasil, uno en Chile, uno en Portugal.  Hasta hubo una que fichó recientemente con el CSKA Moscú, a pesar de los acontecimientos recientes. Por razones lingüísticas y culturales, España es el destino elegido (9 venezolanos y 7 colombianos juegan en clubes españoles). Esto, en teoría, suena como un conjunto ideal de circunstancias, pero desmiente la precariedad que caracteriza sus vivencias. Muchas de las jugadoras tienen contratos cortos y lo más probable es que jueguen en dos o tres clubes más antes de que termine el año calendario. Esto implica, por supuesto, mudarse a una nueva ciudad o incluso a otro país varias veces, y volver a instalarse en un nuevo alojamiento y acostumbrarse a nuevas colegas en cada lugar.

A partir de abril de 2022, las mujeres de Venezuela ocupan el puesto 53 en la Clasificación Mundial Femenina de la FIFA detrás de varios países sin antecedentes de exportación de jugadoras, como Myanmar, Uzbekistán y Papua Nueva Guinea. Esto se debe a que los puntos de clasificación solo se acumulan cuando una selección nacional juega en un partido amistoso o en un torneo reconocido por la FIFA. ¿Con esto en mente, cabe preguntarse dónde podría estar un país con una tasa de producción tan prolífica de jugadores de alto nivel con una federación y una liga nacional dispuesta a apoyarlos? Dado el nivel de potencial que han mostrado los jugadores al ganarse oportunidades en ligas más prestigiosas, tal vez sea razonable creer, bien como decía Alejandro Dominguez, que sí, el cielo es el límite. Sin embargo, se debe reconocer que hasta ahora, las instituciones nacionales y continentales no representan una ayuda sino un techo de cristal de género que frustra su progreso a cada paso.

Mark Biram es Profesor Asociado en el Departamento de Estudios Hispánicos, Portugueses y Latinoamericanos de la Universidad de Bristol, donde realizó su doctorado. Su investigación doctoral puso en primer plano las experiencias y perspectivas cotidianas de las mujeres futbolistas en Brasil y Colombia en tres escenarios distintos.

Migrate to win: the struggles of Venezuelan women footballers

By Mark Biram.

Versión en español aquí.

In the words of Alejandro Dominguez, the president of the South American football confederation CONMEBOL, ‘the sky is the limit for women’s football’. In one sense he is right. The breakneck growth of the sport has seen increasingly impressive levels of interest in club games – most notably an attendance of 91,553 fans at the Women’s Champions League semi-final clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Notable increases in television coverage, sponsorship and investment from major clubs have each meant more opportunities for women players than ever. Unfortunately, this growth is deeply uneven – in the case of Venezuela opportunities for women footballers lie only outside their country’s borders. Success depends on migration when the national federation still pays so little regard to the women’s team.

Double-header friendlies (when home and away matches are played in the same place a couple of days apart) are a common practice in women’s football insofar as national federations look to limit accommodation and travel costs in ways they never would with the men’s team. Moreover, in the cases of Colombia and Venezuela, playing friendly matches at all has become an infrequent event. Venezuela women have played just six friendly games compared to 38 friendly and competitive games for the men since the Central American games in July 2018. Similarly, the Colombian federation waited 15 months without organising a single friendly game between a double-header friendly in Buenos Aires against Argentina (9th and 12th November 2019) and another in Orlando against the United States (18th and 22nd January 2021). The matches were intended to provide a warm-up for the upcoming Copa América Femenina to be hosted by Colombia in July 2022.

Deyna Castellanos (centre) from Venezuela playing for Atlético de Madrid, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

On 9th and the 12th April 2022, the Venezuelan women’s national team travelled to play Colombia in two such international friendly games (inexplicably only one of these games was made open to the public) at the Estadio Pascual Guerrero in Cali. Both games ended in draws – 2-2 and 0-0 respectively. In the first game all the goals came from clubmates Venezuela’s Deyna Castellanos and Colombia’s Leicy Santos who ply their trade together at Atlético Madrid in Spain.

In more ways than one the goal scorers were symptomatic of the migratory flows which are currently shaping both national teams in the absence of more sustained support from their respective federations. It is no coincidence that as well as moving to Spain for better conditions both players also spent a formative period playing in the US college system – the only place where players can work and study, according to the players themselves. Seeing the results of the games took me back to my own ethnographic fieldwork spent with three club sides in South America – two in Brazil and one in Colombia. In both countries I became aware of a considerable presence of émigré Venezuelan players. They would always be forthright about the lack of opportunities and the extremely low likelihood of making any money whatsoever from women’s football in Venezuela.

In much of South America the term professionalisation is bandied about in ways that empty it of any meaning. Nominally professional, players in the Venezuelan Women’s Super League frequently report no running water in the showers and having to walk considerable distances just to reach training with no transport provided by the clubs. During the first year of COVID there was no women’s competition whatsoever and in 2021 an extremely short transition tournament with just four teams was eventually hashed together. The FIFA Forward programme claimed that a dream was born after the ten-day tournament finished with games taking place at 7.30am.

Beyond these problems in providing a meaningful club calendar, in October last year more than 20 Venezuelan women players wrote a letter revealing years of sexual abuse and harassment by former national coach Kenneth Zseremeta. This comes just over a year after ex-Colombia coach Didier Luna was sentenced to 28 months in prison after a series of sexual harassment accusations – but had the sentence reduced to a fine after his legal team struck a deal with the Prosecutor’s Office.

In light of a threadbare to non-existent institutional polity, the migratory flows that exist are all the more remarkable. Male players often migrate to Europe after ample opportunity to place themselves in the shop window during the domestic season. In spite of relatively non-existent exposure women players from Venezuela and Colombia have made successful careers abroad. In the Colombian squad 12 of the 23 play their football abroad (seven in Spain, three in Brazil, one in Israel and one in Mexico). A far more radical case is that of Venezuela. None of the 20 women called up for the two friendly games currently plays club football in their home country. Of the Venezuelans nine play in Spain, four in Colombia, four in Brazil, one in Chile, one in Portugal and one has recently moved to CSKA Moscow in Russia, despite recent developments. For linguistic and cultural reasons Spain is the destination of choice (9 Venezuelans and 7 Colombians play for Spanish clubs). This, in theory, sounds like an ideal set of circumstances, but gives lie to the precarity that characterises their experiences. Many of these players are on short contracts and will most likely play for two or three more clubs before the calendar year is out. This implies, of course, moving to a new city or even country multiple times, and re-settling in new accommodation and getting used to new colleagues in each place.

As of April 2022, Venezuela’s women lie 53rd in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings behind a number of countries with no record of exporting players, such as Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Papua New Guinea. This is because ranking points are only accumulated whenever a national team plays in a FIFA recognised friendly or tournament game. With this in mind, it is reasonable to wonder where a country with a prolific production rate of high-level players might be with a federation and national league willing to support them. Given the level of potential the players have shown in earning moves to more prestigious leagues, maybe it is reasonable to believe that the sky is the limit. However, it must be acknowledged that in their own country and perhaps even continent, the women continually run into a gendered glass ceiling that thwarts their progress at every turn.

Mark Biram is a Teaching Associate in the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, University of Bristol, where he studied for his PhD. His doctoral research focused on the contestation and reproduction of a gendered social order within women’s club football in Latin America (specifically Brazil and Colombia).

The limits of interculturality: migration and cultural challenges in Chile

By Simón Palominos.

Migration in Chile has a diverse and complex history and has played a key role in the constant reimagining of the country’s national identity. In this post I argue that the discourse of interculturality contributes to the building of a racialised and exoticised representation of migrants that legitimises social hierarchies and reinforces national identities in contemporary Chile.

Since colonial times and until the early twentieth century migration was promoted by the state as a selective and racialised process. The state attracted mostly Western European migrants, imagined as promoters of civilisation, to create the public institutions of the country, industrialise its economy and ‘improve’ the race, thus creating the fiction of Chilean ‘whiteness’, in contrast to indigenous peoples and neighbouring countries. On the other hand, migrants from non-Western countries, especially Asian and Latin American ones, were loathed by the press, intellectuals and politicians.

During the second half of the twentieth century, particularly during the right-wing dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), the doctrine of national security determined the closure of borders and the exile of opponents to the regime, producing a negative migration rate for the country. However, the return to formal democracy and the economic growth of Chile during the 1990s, and the relative political instability and economic stagnation of the wider region, made the country attractive to Latin American and Caribbean migrants, who have been increasingly relocating to Chile during the past 30 years.

Peformers at the second ‘Festival Migrantes’, Santiago de Chile, 2016 (image: Natalia Espina on flickr)

Many of these migrants are of Afro-Latin American or indigenous descent and have been stigmatised by the media as associated with crime, degrading national values and negatively affecting the labour market and the availability of public services – a representation that has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrants have also experienced racist attitudes from some sectors of the Chilean population and the state, such as discrimination at the Chilean border, limited access to services and housing, and violence against migrant children in schools. Furthermore, migration policies in Chile during the last decade have become increasingly restrictive, exemplified in the new law of immigration passed in 2021, which reduces access of migrants to social rights, and exposes them to irregular migratory status and economic exploitation.

Aware of this situation, migrant and pro-migrant organisations in Chile have advocated for the introduction of the principle of interculturality in public policy. The concept of interculturality emerged in the 1990s as an answer to the much-criticised term multiculturality. Interculturality stresses not only the co-presence of cultures but also cultural contact and exchange. In Latin America interculturality has been adopted by some states such as Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Chile in the context of bilingual education policies and is seen as a tool for the cultural recognition of indigenous peoples within national societies. Interculturality is as much a descriptive concept as a political and epistemological project: it not only describes cultural exchange, but also outlines a future where diverse knowledge systems are recognised, and colonial power relations are overcome.

However, interculturality has also been criticised because it understands cultures as discrete units, and therefore reinforces their distinction and exoticisation based on national or ethnic identity and origin. Likewise, it has been criticised due to its instrumentalisation by national states as a device to control and reduce the politicisation of indigenous communities, therefore promoting their neoliberal policies. Authors such as Fidel Tubino (2005) and Catherine Walsh (2010) consider this a functional interculturality, and argue for a critical interculturality that would restore its political and cultural transformative potential.

Consequently, although interculturality has been promoted by some indigenous communities to claim their recognition as nations, some groups have resorted to other means. In the Chilean case, some organisations within the Mapuche people such as the Aukiñ Wallmapu Ngulam (Council of All the Lands) and the Arauco Malleco Coordination have openly rejected the intercultural approach opting instead for the direct territorial control of their ancestral lands, antagonising the Chilean state.

Poster for the third ‘Festival Migrantes’, Santiago de Chile, 2017 (image: Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage, Chile)

Furthermore, the discourse of interculturality has complex effects for those whose subaltern position within Chilean society is built precisely through national difference: migrant communities. Throughout my research on migrant musicians in Chile, I have analysed how the Chilean state frames the cultural practices of migrants through policies based on the concept of interculturality. For instance, in 2015 the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage implemented its Programme of Interculturality and Migrant Inclusion, which among other activities organises the annual ‘Festival Migrantes’. The Festival Migrantes is a state-funded event aimed to promote the recognition and inclusion of migrants in the capital city of Santiago. The event promotes intercultural exchanges between Chileans and migrants, and includes crafts, literature, workshops and musical performances of mainly migrant artists coming from diverse countries around Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Nevertheless, despite the inclusive aims of the festival, the framing and representation of migrants emphasises national and racial difference (as can be seen in the poster images). Consequently, since Chilean cultural policies understand interculturality as based on discrete cultures, they enforce a national identity that cannot imagine the emergence of cultural identities were nation and ethnicity play a lesser role.

Image for Bolivian performance at the 5th ‘Festival Migrantes’, online, 2020 (image: Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage, Chile)

Moreover, even though cultural policies apparently oppose restrictive migration policies in the country, the exoticisation and racialisation of migrants that take place through interculturality locates migrants in a subaltern position as the Others of Chilean identity. This provides a cultural correlate to the restriction and exploitation of migrants. Consequently, in their current form Chilean intercultural policies share the same principles with restrictive migration policies, articulating with and reinforcing them.

This discussion is particularly relevant in the context of the drafting of a new constitution in Chile, where ideas of interculturality and plurinationality have been introduced transversally. Interculturality represents a specific moment in the struggle for political recognition of Otherness in Chile. However, its official state form deepens the oppression of cultural diversity, just as multiculturality did earlier. Although I do not advocate for a complete rejection of the term, I think it is important to be aware of the consequences of its use and explore alternative cultural and identity configurations beyond the nation and the state. In this sense, and paraphrasing Nandita Sharma’s Home Rule (2020), we can say that even though we know very well the negative effects of national identities, we are still far from imagining a world without nations.

Simón Palominos is a PhD student at the Department of Music, University of Bristol. His research addresses the narratives, representations and performances of migrant music in Chile.


For more information about the new migration law adopted in Chile in 2021 see previous MMB Latin America posts: ‘Inclusive language for exclusive migration policy outcomes’, which responded to the law as it was proposed in 2018, and ‘Chile’s new immigration law: an adaptable solution or further crackdown?’, which looked at the key aspects of the law in its final version. On national integration in Chile, see also our post ‘Mobility and materiality: contesting national integration on Chile’s Route 5.’

Nandita Sharma will be hosted by MMB as a Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor in June and July 2022. Information about her talks during this time will be available here.

Argentina’s Supreme Court and the Huang case: a hidden migration policy?

By Ignacio Odriozola.

On 7 December 2021, Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice handed down its decision in the Qiuming Huang vs. National Directorate of Migration case (Huang case). The decision confirmed the deportation of an immigrant from China who had entered the country irregularly. It reached this conclusion by interpreting Argentina´s Migration Law (Law No. 25.871) in a strikingly restrictive manner. In doing so, it opened up the following debate: do court rulings just interpret laws, or are they also a cog in the wheel of a state’s migration policy?

Palacio de Justicia de la Nación – Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice – Buenos Aires (image: Wikimedia)

Argentina’s migration law: pro-migrant legislation?

Law No. 25.871 was passed unanimously by the National Congress in December 2003. It signified a big move forwards from a century in which immigration had been seen as a matter of national security, whereby laws and decrees were aimed at excluding foreigners deemed undesirable (Acosta 2018). Law No. 25.871 thereby represented a paradigm shift: it was the first regulation at the international level to include in a legal text the human right to migrate (‘essential and inalienable right of the person’). Throughout the document its human rights perspective is evident: access to education, health or justice is guaranteed, regardless of immigration status, and the unity of the family is protected. Law No. 25.871 was welcomed by the international community and replicated by other countries in the region such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay.

In addition, this 2003 law includes within its ambit a central aspect that fits Argentina’s status as a country with extensive territorial borders. Instead of ‘making people illegal’ (Dauvergne 2008), it promotes migratory regularisation as a rule. It indicates that the state will take all pertinent measures to this end (Article 17) and it incorporates a permanent regularisation mechanism in Article 61, which states: ‘When the irregularity of a foreigner’s stay in the country is confirmed […] the National Directorate of Migration must order them to regularise their situation within the peremptory period established for this purpose, under penalty of deportation.’

Still, one of the main criticisms of this law is its lack of clarity: many of its articles, written in an ambiguous or vague manner, have given rise to conflicting interpretations. Article 61 has been no exception: according to the National Directorate of Migration (immigration authority), it can only be implemented when an immigrant has been admitted to the country legally (for example, as a tourist, worker or family member) and the reason for their being admitted no longer stands. On the other hand, for academics, migrant advocates and civil society, this article should be applied to any situation of irregular migration, regardless of how the immigrant entered the country, so that they can apply for admission under the category of temporary or permanent resident.  

The Huang case

The Huang case dealt with an immigrant from China who entered Argentina through an unauthorised crossing. Mr Huang had lived in the country for seven years; he worked, made social security contributions, had a clean criminal record and a permanent home. In accordance with Article 61, Mr Huang’s defence understood that the immigration authority was meant to ‘order’ him to regularise his migratory situation, but it had never done so. Instead, in keeping with its interpretation of Article 61, it decided to deport him because his unauthorised entry into the country prevented him from staying in Argentina. Following Mr Huang’s defence arguments, the Chamber of Appeals considered that – according to this same Article – he had the right to remain in the country. 

The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which had never previously analysed Article 61. The only precedent available, dating back many years, favoured Mr Huang. In the Cuesta Urrutia case (1944), this Court had said that irregular entry can be purged ‘by justification of upright behaviour in the country’ for a reasonable time and that the contrary would represent a ‘real and unjust expulsion’.

However, on 7 December 2021, the Supreme Court decided to deport Mr Huang. In its short seven-page judgement, it supported the immigration authority’s interpretation of Article 61: only those immigrants who entered the country through an authorised border crossing can regularise. At no point did it mention the human rights at stake or international standards on the matter.

A hidden migration policy?

Was the Supreme Court merely interpreting Article 61 when it made this ruling? The Court has analysed different articles of this legal text since it was passed in 2003 (see, for instance, Apaza León, Barrios Rojas, Ludueña Costa, among other cases). However, when looked at closely, different factors reveal why the Huang ruling may not have been just about legal interpretation.

The Supreme Court did not establish any exception to its rule, thereby giving the green light to the immigration authority for deporting – from now on – any immigrant in violation of entry controls. It does not matter how long the immigrant has resided in the country, whether he or she has family living there or any other social or economic ties: no person who enters Argentina by circumventing immigration controls can remain. The Supreme Court thus created a clear-cut legal border that overlaps with the already existing physical border.

Furthermore, in December 2021, after the Huang judgement, the Supreme Court ruled in an unprecedented way on 108 other identical individual deportation cases. Not one of them examined the particular situation of each of these 108 people but referred – without exception – to the arguments used in the Huang precedent as being analogous. Moreover, of the 108 cases, 97 were against people from China, giving rise to the suspicion that this was a collective (judicial) deportation, contrary to article 22.9 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Thus, the Supreme Court demonstrated that migration policies, in addition to being established through directives from the executive or legislative branches, can also be shaped by judicial rulings. The Huang case and the 108 other rulings give rise to suspicion that the judiciary represents another cog in the wheel of population control and community membership, defining who can (or cannot) ‘belong’ to the community. They also reflect that deportation practices can be selective and deeply racialised when they are targeted at a specific national group.

Under the veil of interpreting the law, then, court rulings can have a fundamental – but often overlooked – role in shaping migration policy. This should be more widely acknowledged as it suggests that justice is not even safe from the courts that are supposed to guarantee it. In order to better understand migration policies, we must take more account of such court rulings.

Ignacio Odriozola works for the Migrant’s Commission of the National Public Defenders Office in Argentina. He is also a researcher for the South American Network for Environmental Migration (Brazil) and a Junior Lecturer in International Refugee Law at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He studied the MSc in Migration and Mobilities at the University of Bristol in 2019-20 and is an MMB Alumni Ambassador.

Cultivating capoeira: tensions in an Afro-Brazilian art ‘gone global’

By Gina Robinson.

Capoeira entered my subliminal consciousness as a teenager. I was watching TV when I saw two men performing kicks and acrobatics on a London rooftop. Barefoot, clad in red shirts and white trousers, their movements are in slow motion for maximum visual effect. Capoeira appeared again in a recent BBC Oneness ident, which features capoeiristas training at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since becoming a capoeirista myself, I have realised that these fleeting images on television are highly exoticised performances styled for a British viewing audience. They rarely capture the musicality, community, respect, ritual and history that is part of this Afro-Brazilian tradition. Capoeira has become a popular practice worldwide and a national image of Brazil, along with samba and football. Outside of Brazil, it is easily idealised as an inclusive and exotic practice but without really acknowledging its origins, which are fraught with tension and conflict.

‘Capoeira, or the Dance of War’ by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825 (image: Arquivo Nacional do Brasil)

Capoeira is an embodied and musical art form, often described as a dance-fight game, which is thought to have emerged among enslaved African peoples in colonial Brazil. It was historically prohibited by Brazilian authorities who feared it to be an insurgent Black counterculture. Capoeira leaders began leaving Brazil to teach the art form abroad in the 1970s, and it is now practised in more than 160 countries around the world (UNESCO 2013). Searching ‘capoeira’ in Google today receives 21,300,000 results. However, due to the constant movement of practitioners between groups and countries and the absence of an official governing body, it is almost impossible to verify how many people currently practice capoeira.

In 2014, UNESCO granted capoeira the status of intangible cultural heritage, which raised its profile and recognised its importance in safeguarding Afro-Brazilian culture. Today, it has become an international marketing tool for Brazil and for disseminating the Portuguese language worldwide. Capoeira draws thousands of ‘capoeira pilgrims’ to the country to experience the art form in its native Brazil. Holiday and accommodation companies have jumped on the band wagon, providing package deals for Martial Arts tourism.

Capoeira today faces the challenge of embracing new economic opportunities as well as artistic interpretations and adaptations to its new national contexts. Competing myths and narratives have emerged as international practitioners seek and publish information about the practice. The growth of capoeira abroad has highlighted the need to respect its ancestry as a Black art of resistance and oppose attempts to professionalise it as a national sport.

Capoeiristas on the South Bank, London, 2008 (image: Dale Harvey)

The reference to capoeira’s African ancestry is upheld in the songs and narratives that are sung by Mestres – the highest-ranking position in the capoeira hierarchy, and whose authority and knowledge are revered by their community (but not necessarily by wider society). As capoeira has grown in popularity, some leaders and practitioners have resisted its internationalisation and commercialisation. This is because they fear that it dilutes and detracts from capoeira’s origins as an art of resistance. In the 1930s, Mestre Bimba was accused of ‘whitening’ capoeira when he began teaching middle class students. His capoeira Regional supposedly legitimised a ‘cleaner’ version of the art form when he opened the first official capoeira academy and introduced uniforms, belts and codified training regimes (Assunção 2005). More recently, Mestres in Brazil have resisted attempts to professionalise capoeira by introducing teaching permits that leaders must pay for to be officially recognised as a capoeira school. Mestre Paulão Kikongo (2019) claims this is yet another example of authorities wishing to control and profit from an Afro-Brazilian art form for political or commercial gain, after suppressing and condemning it as a barbaric and marginalised activity for centuries.

Capoeira actively promotes and preserves a rich Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage. However, this must be done without undermining the art form’s appeal to a diverse range of practitioners. Sociologist and capoeira Mestre Paula Cristina da Silva Barreto (2012) highlights the tensions between continuity and change. She claims that capoeira faces a ‘new scenario’ of accepting practitioners who are not part of the tradition, namely those who are not male, Brazilian or Black. For example, the recent growth in female leaders and practitioners has led to a surge in online discussions and academic research into sexism and social injustice, both in capoeira and in wider society (see the feminist capoeira research group Marias Felipas).

In UNESCO’s introductory video, the roda de capoeira (the physical circle in which games take place) is characterised by music, playfulness, creativity and challenging movements. But its most attractive quality appears to be its democratic inclusivity. The narrator tells us:

‘The dissemination of the roda de capoeira practice throughout the world is an example of the concrete possibility of respectful and harmonious coexistence between different ethnic groups, age groups and genders. It is a practice that promotes cultural diversity and combats racism and other forms of prejudice.’

Capoeira practice on Dili Beach, Timor-Leste, 2010 (image: United Nations)

These attitudes are often upheld by capoeiristas who view the art form as a positive force for change, and an alternative view of a more inclusive, respectful social order. Due to its international inclusivity, capoeira presents a useful vehicle for discussing the lived reality of identity and cultural politics.

We live in a world where differences between cultural practices are blurred due to mass migration. This has led to the hybrid fusion and adoption of different languages, beliefs and customs that are not necessarily part of our cultural heritage. For this reason, we need to think critically about popular images of traditional art forms that we see. As with any story, that of capoeira’s evolution has many sides, some of which are not always easy to digest, creating tensions that cannot be communicated effectively in a ten-second ident on TV.

Gina Robinson is an LAHP-funded PhD student at King’s College London in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies. Her research focuses on women’s agency in capoeira in Brazil and Europe. Gina is also a member of the capoeira group Núcleo de Capoeiragem and has been training with Mestre Claudio Campos in Bristol since 2014.

Discriminatory approach to border closure and mobility restrictions: Brazilian government’s handling of Venezuelan migrants

By Jáfia Naftali Câmara.

In an unprecedented effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, South American countries implemented border restrictions. While most recognised the urgency to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic and said that closing borders was a ‘hysterical’ move. Nevertheless, Brazil partially closed its borders with Venezuela on 18 March 2020. By that time, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela had already adopted stricter border restrictions. On 19 March, Brazil’s federal government announced further mobility restrictions by limiting the movement of foreign nationals across its land borders; however, airports remained open. Brazil only halted the entry of all foreigners via land, air and water transport two months later.

Considering that Brazil’s government was reluctant to impose any mobility restrictions at all, it is significant that Venezuela was singled out as the first country subject to border closures. This measure restricted the entrance of foreign nationals coming from Venezuela via Pacaraima in the state of Roraima, their main point of entry into Brazil. However, the transit of goods was exempted from these restrictions. President Jair Bolsonaro explained that allowing the movement of goods to continue across that border was crucial to prevent Roraima’s economy from collapsing. In order to secure the border, Brazil deployed its army to monitor the Federal Highway Police checkpoint.

People attempting to cross the border on foot between Venezuela and Brazil, in Pacaraima (image: Ricardo Moraes)

Brazil’s restrictions on the Venezuelan border seem to be based on the premise that the political tensions in that country have led many to cross the land border into Brazil searching for refuge and resources. President Bolsonaro said that closing the borders with other South American countries would not have been a practical solution against COVID-19, but that the situation in Venezuela required an exception. Moreover, the federal government expressed its concerns that Brazil’s decentralized national healthcare system (Sistema Único de Saúde, SUS) would have difficulties providing treatment to immigrants suffering from coronavirus infection.

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Venezuela – already tense as President Bolsonaro refuses to recognise Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader – further deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. On 5 March 2020, the Brazilian government ordered the return of four Brazilian diplomats and 11 officials. Similarly, on 28 April, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered 34 Venezuelan diplomats to return to Venezuela within five days. In response, the Venezuelan government informed Brazil that their diplomatic team would not abandon their posts and functions.

Selective mobility restrictions targeting Venezuelans

On 22 May, the Brazilian federal government published the Interministerial Ordinance No. 225, halting the entry of foreign nationals into Brazil by land, water and air. The ordinance included an exception for immigrants with permanent residency status and foreigners with Brazilian spouses, partners, parents or offspring, among others, who were allowed to continue entering the country. This exception, however, did not apply to people coming from Venezuela. Furthermore, Ordinance No. 225 allowed foreigners to travel between twin cities (international border municipalities) but excluded those alongside the Venezuelan border.

Brazil’s Public Defender’s Office (Defensoria Pública da União, DPU) filed a public civil action on 27 May to request the repeal of Ordinance No. 225 for its discriminatory nature against Venezuelan migrants. The DPU argued that the ordinance was causing considerable challenges for hundreds of thousands of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Brazil. Mobility restrictions implemented by Ordinance No. 225 also permitted border authorities to reject any request for refuge, as well as carry out deportations and forced repatriations. The ordinance made it impossible for people arriving from Venezuela to seek refuge in Brazil, thereby neglecting the needs of vulnerable migrant groups such as young and elderly people and potential victims of human trafficking.

Selective reopening of borders

Venezuelan citizens were singled out again during the process of border reopening. On 30 June 2020, Brazil relaxed its mobility restrictions and allowed foreign nationals to enter the country via the Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo, the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, the Viracopos International Airport in Campinas, and the President Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport in Brasília. The Brazilian government reopened its air space to all international flights and foreign nationals on 29 July. International flights could enter all airports in the country, except for those located in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraíba, Rondônia, Rio Grande do Sul and Tocantins. To enter Brazil, foreign nationals were required to present proof of health insurance valid for the entire period of their stay and a negative COVID-19 test result.

While some airports reopened, Brazil’s federal government continued prohibiting the entry of foreigners of all nationalities by land or sea for an additional 30 days. Authorities also made an exception for foreigners who needed to cross over into Brazil from neighbouring countries to board a return flight to their home countries; however, this did not include foreigners arriving from Venezuela.

The new regulations clarified that those who entered the country without permission would be subject to ‘civil, administrative and criminal liability; repatriation or immediate deportation; and inability to request refuge. This meant that asylum seekers, fleeing persecution and war, would not be able to seek refuge in Brazil.

Furthermore, while most immigrants who have residency in Brazil could cross the border, those arriving from Venezuela were selectively prevented from entering the country. The DPU and human rights organisations have criticised and challenged these discriminatory mobility restrictions, saying that such policies do not follow the international treaties which Brazil has signed. On 6 August 2020, the Brazilian government finally authorised the entry of 36 people, mostly Venezuelans, who had been stuck at the border between Brazil and Peru and living in limbo for three months, unable to move one way or the other.

Nevertheless, discriminatory mobility restrictions continued to target Venezuelan migrants. On 24 September, Brazil’s federal government released an ordinance prohibiting the entry of people of all nationalities into Brazil for a further 30 days, due to the uptick of COVID-19 cases in the country. These mobility restrictions applied only to people arriving by land or sea while flights continued coming in. The ban also exempted immigrants with permanent or fixed-term residency in Brazil, international organisations’ employees, foreigners who were granted permission of entry for humanitarian reasons, and residents of twin cities whose governments reciprocally allowed Brazilian nationals to cross over.

Once again, this last exception did not apply to Venezuelans, who could not claim their family ties to Brazilian citizens to enter the country either. Venezuelans continued to be singled out with the extension of these mobility restrictions for another week in December. Brazil’s discriminatory mobility restrictions and border closures during the pandemic clearly show how international relations and politics have played a role as important as health considerations in designing public health policies in the country.

Jáfia Naftali Câmara is a PhD student in the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research investigates young refugees and their families’ experiences of education in England. She is also interested in how migration and mobilities relate to ongoing socioeconomic changes in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. This post was originally published by in March 2021 by The MoLab Inventory, an ‘open knowledge repository’ that aims to make mobility and migration studies more innovative and collaborative. 

Mobility and identity in the Patagonian Archipelago

By Paul Merchant.

Cast your eyes over a map of Chile, from top to bottom, and you’ll notice a strange development. South of Temuco, the lakes become more frequent and larger, and eventually, after Puerto Montt, the land fragments into hundreds of islands, some quite large, like Chiloé, and many that are very small. You can travel by road as far south as the town of Villa O’Higgins in the Aysén region, but beyond that, unless you cross into Argentina, a boat is the only option. In Chile’s far south, the Andes seem to gradually sink into the Southern Ocean.

This remarkable landscape (though perhaps seascape would be a more appropriate term) is home to communities whose lifestyles and methods of travel offer visions of identity and belonging beyond Chile’s current political order.

Quellon on Chiloe Island (image: Wikimedia Commons)

My research project ‘Reimagining the Pacific: Images of Ocean in Chile and Peru, c.1960 to the Present’, which is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, explores how cultural responses to the ocean reveal contemporary ecological challenges and neglected local histories. In Chile, the last ten years have seen increased interest on the part of documentary filmmakers in the past and present of indigenous communities in Chile’s watery south. These communities, such as the Kawésqar and the Yaghan, suffered terribly as a result of the arrival of European explorers, missionaries and colonisers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with many dying from disease and malnutrition, and some groups disappearing entirely.

Yet not all is lost. In Patricio Guzmán’s documentary El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button, 2015), we meet Martín González Calderón, a Yaghan man who explains how the Chilean Navy’s strict control over maritime space has made it almost impossible for him and his family to travel by boat using the skills and techniques passed down over generations.

Guzmán also speaks to Gabriela Paterito, a Kawésqar woman who recounts a long journey by canoe that she made when she was a girl, and the director prompts her to state that she does not feel Chilean at all. In Guzmán’s film, indigenous mobility by water in the Patagonian archipelago is presented as lost to the past, and impossible in the present (I’ve written elsewhere about how Guzmán consistently relegates indigenous experience to a separate timeframe, or even a separate world).

Other filmmakers have taken a different approach to these issues, however. In Tánana, estar listo para zarpar (Tánana, being ready to set sail, 2016), for instance, we meet Martín González Calderón again, but this time at much greater length. The documentary’s directors Alberto Serrano Fillol and Cristóbal Azócar do not provide an explanatory voiceover. Instead, the camera follows González Calderón as he goes about his daily life, and then seeks to build a boat in which he can recreate a childhood trip around the False Cape Horn, near the southern tip of the continent, that he undertook with his father.

Another documentary from 2016, Alas de mar (Sea Wings) exhibits some similar characteristics. Here, the director Hans Mülchi does provide a voiceover, but it is intermittent and reflective. The film follows the journey by boat of two Kawésqar women, Rosa and Celina, back to the region where they grew up. The voices of Rosa and Celina are much more prominent than that of Mülchi, or indeed that of the European anthropologist who is travelling with them.

Yaghan bark canoe, Wuluaia Bay, Chile (image: GrahamAndDairne on Flickr)

It is not only the human voice that counts, though. Both Tánana and Alas de mar contain long sequences in which the only sounds audible are the sounds of travel by sea: the flapping of a sail, the rush of the wind, the crash of waves against the hull, or the roar of a motor. This openness to the sounds of the marine environment allow the spectator to share in the embodied experience of the protagonists in a way that escapes any definitions that might be imposed by spoken or written language.

It is precisely because Alas de mar and Tánana do not offer definitive answers to the question of the relation between indigenous identity and Chilean identity that I find them valuable to think with. The people whose stories are told in these films have been displaced from their childhood homes (as is the case for Rosa and Celina), or are held in place by the state’s unwillingness to allow maritime travel outside of specific, limited purposes (in the case of Martín). And yet we see them strive to retrace past journeys and reclaim certain modes of mobility as an essential part of their heritage.

In fact, indigenous identity itself appears as fluid and mobile in these films. Martín notes that while he understands much of the Yaghan language, he cannot speak it well himself, and in Tánana we see him teaching boatbuilding techniques to family members who are clearly of mixed heritage. In Alas de mar, Rosa and Celina share weaving and construction techniques with their fellow travellers.

At a time when the Constituent Convention in Chile is determining the form of the country’s new constitution, with the participation of many indigenous groups, including the Kawésqar and the Yaghan, these films’ visions of mobile and changing identities present a source of inspiration for a plurivocal or even plurinational political order.

Brian Russell Roberts and Michelle Ann Stephens have suggested that an ‘archipelagic American studies’ can offer a way of ‘decontinentalising’ our understandings of space and identity. A way, in other words, of recognising the cultural and political value of apparently marginal or ‘in-between’ spaces like islands, seas, beaches and inlets, and the people who live in them. Perhaps a decontinental understanding of Latin America might allow a similarly generous approach to its many voices and perspectives.

Paul Merchant is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Film and Visual Culture at the University of Bristol. He is lead researcher on the project ‘Reimagining the Pacific: Images of Ocean in Chile and Peru, c.1960 to the Present’. The project is running an event, ‘Redrawing the Ocean‘, as part of First Friday at the Watershed Café and Bar in Bristol on 5th November.

‘Moving difference’ (Diferença em movimento): Brasileiros em Londres

Este post faz parte da série ‘Raça, Nação e Migração’, do blog do MMB, a qual visa reformular o pensamento sobre movimento e racismo.

Por Angelo Martins Junior.

Versão em inglês aqui.

A liberdade de se mover de um lugar para outro é um privilégio no mundo contemporâneo e, portanto, ideias sobre mobilidade humana e diferenças estão necessariamente entrelaçadas. Quando pessoas do norte global (especialmente aquelas racializadas como brancas) se movem ao redor do mundo, normalmente são imaginadas como turistas, estudantes, intercambistas, viajantes a negócios, expatriados e assim por diante, enquanto aquelas do sul global (racializadas como não brancas) são consideradas ‘migrantes’. Assim, para este segundo grupo, a condição de migrante – o fato de terem se deslocado – passa a ser aquilo que os definem na nova sociedade onde vivem, sendo frequentemente representados como grupos homogêneos. Acadêmicos, bem como formuladores de políticas públicas, políticos e jornalistas, muitas vezes falam a respeito de ‘migrantes do sul da Ásia, da África’ ou ‘requerentes de asilo’, por exemplo, como se constituíssem um grupo indiferenciado de pessoas.

Muitos já discutiram, contudo, como essa tendência de homogeneizar ‘migrantes’ está conectada a estereótipos racista presentes em falas anti-migração (ex: ‘eles’ são todos criminosos, traficantes e estupradores). Porém, mesmo entre aqueles que têm uma visão mais positiva acerca da migração, ela pode também estar associada a estereótipos que romantizam ou exoticizam o ‘migrante’. Nos estudos sobre migração, tal visão, muitas vezes, se traduz em suposições romantizadas sobre ‘comunidades migrantes’ – as quais seriam constituídas a partir de uma experiência migratória compartilhada ou de uma pátria/cultura comum, o que resultaria em relações de solidariedade onde conterrâneos apoiariam uns aos outros na nova sociedade.

Como um brasileiro que trabalhou e depois estudou em Londres, fiquei impressionado com o fato de que a literatura acadêmica que enfatiza a comunhão e a solidariedade entre os migrantes não dialogava com a minha própria experiência. Esta observação motivou a pesquisa sobre brasileiros em Londres na qual meu livro, Moving Difference, se baseia. A pesquisa envolveu trabalho etnográfico e entrevistas com homens e mulheres que, embora todos sendo ‘migrantes brasileiros em Londres’, diferiam-se em termos das regiões do Brasil de onde vieram, suas formações socioeconômicas e educacionais e suas identidades racializadas. Tais diferenças deslocaram-se com esses brasileiros, moldando não apenas suas razões para migrar e como eles navegam por diferentes níveis de oportunidades e restrições para se moverem, mas também as maneiras pelas quais eles se veem e interagem uns com os outros, em Londres. No entanto, o Reino Unido tem suas próprias hierarquias sociais e políticas e, em Londres, os participantes da minha pesquisa se viram não apenas considerados como ‘brasileiros’, mas também agrupados entre os ‘migrantes’ do sul global em geral.

Mover-se geograficamente rompeu o privilégio racial de muitos brasileiros de classe média (de pele mais clara e branca), que nunca antes haviam sentido a possibilidade de serem percebidos como um ‘outro’ inferior, desvalorizado, como um ‘problema social’. Para eles, ser posicionado como um ‘migrante’ implicava a possibilidade de experimentar uma degradação de classe, ‘racial’ e social. Em Londres, eles tinham que negociar sua posição em duas matrizes de diferença – uma ‘aqui’, no Reino Unido, e uma ‘lá’, no Brasil. Enquanto alguns refletem criticamente sobre essas hierarquias e expressam solidariedade política com outros migrantes, muitos dos participantes da minha pesquisa procuram se distanciar de identidades estigmatizadas ‘aqui’, enfatizando sua posição superior ‘lá’. Como muitos disseram, eles não são os ‘verdadeiros migrantes’, não eram pobres, sem educação e qualificação, ‘ilegais’, promíscuos ou criminosos, como os outros brasileiros em Londres. Além disso, muitos diziam não querer viver entre a ‘comunidade brasileira’, em áreas de Londres consideradas onde os ‘migrantes’ vivem, mas sim em áreas onde há apenas ‘pessoas bonitas [em outras palavras, brancas] falando inglês na rua,’ onde ‘tudo é limpo e você não vê lixo no chão, ou um monte de gente feia e fedorenta que te faz sentir que está na África, não na Europa.’

Moving Difference documenta as maneiras pelas quais os brasileiros em Londres negociam e recriam a diferença em termos de classe, região, gênero, ‘raça’, ‘cultura’ e status documental, e examina as histórias e os imaginários sociais de ‘raça’ e degradação que nos permitem compreender a visceral repulsa racial, de classe, de gênero e regional expressa pelos brasileiros (especialmente membros da classe média branca) ao falar de seus conterrâneos e de outros migrantes e seus ‘espaços’. Embora tal repulsa seja expressa ‘aqui’, em Londres, este sentimento tem suas origens na presença colonial de europeus e africanos escravizados ‘lá’, no Brasil – um passado que historicamente moldou projetos brasileiros de ‘raça’ e nação, e que continua a influir na vida de brasileiros que vivem em Londres hoje.

Como sabemos, após a abolição, em 1888, o Brasil embarcou – influenciado por pressupostos raciais eugênicos – em um projeto de embranquecimento da população, o qual que incentivou a imigração europeia como forma de ‘civilizar’ a nova nação, ‘melhorando’ seu ‘sangue misto’. Essa nova população de migrantes europeus (e japoneses) concentrava-se predominantemente no sul e sudeste do Brasil, regiões que, desde a independência, foram adquirindo posição central na economia nacional, especialmente com a produção de café e, posteriormente, industrialização. Ao mesmo tempo, sem acesso à terra ou qualquer forma de indenização estatal, toda uma classe de negros – os ex-escravos e seus descendentes – e também de brasileiros pobres de pele mais clara (muitas vezes nordestinos) foram marginalizados tanto na configuração do espaço urbano e político, quanto no mercado de trabalho, lidando com exclusão cotidiana, discriminação, degradação e violência estatal.

Vivendo como ‘subcidadãos’ nas periferias urbanas pobres das cidades do sul, eles têm sido usados pela classe média e a elite como uma força de trabalho barata e precária para realizar atividades consideradas ‘não qualificadas’ – atividades tidas como ‘sujas’ e ‘pesadas’ para homens e trabalho doméstico e sexual para mulheres. Eles são socialmente imaginados como corpos repulsivos, culpados pela classe média e a elite pelo suposto fracasso do Brasil em não se tornar totalmente desenvolvido/ moderno/civilizado, e muitas vezes executado nas ruas pela polícia. Como forma de lidar com essa exclusão histórica, muitos brasileiros constantemente negociam o racismo por meio de hierarquias de cor/cabelo e posicionamento de classe, tentando se distanciar de qualquer traço de ‘negritude’/ pobreza que pudesse levar à sua identificação como um ‘corpo degradado’.

Hoje, as histórias colonial e racial do Brasil desempenham um papel importante tanto na geração do desejo de migrar quanto na forma como as jornadas migratórias se desenvolvem. Muitos brasileiros acreditam que a mudança para Londres lhes permitirá alcançar os ideais materiais e culturais de um estilo de vida ocidental ‘moderno’, o qual seria impossível de se alcançar no Brasil (considerado como um país não completamente moderno). Além disso, os descendentes dos europeus participantes do projeto de embranquecimento do Brasil no passado desfrutam, hoje, de maior liberdade de movimento na Europa e, portanto, encontram mais facilidades para realizar sua ambição de se mudar para Londres. Contudo, uma vez no Reino Unido, eles se encontram realinhados na constelação de ideias sobre raça, modernidade e valor humano de forma a ficarem precariamente perto daqueles que são socialmente imaginados como nojentos, degradados, incivilizados. Enquanto isso, brasileiros de pele mais escura (mas que não se identificavam como negros no Brasil), negros e membros da classe trabalhadora que conseguem se mudar para Londres, percebem que sua mobilidade física (anteriormente imaginada como um marcador direto de progresso e privilégio) também traz a ameaça de imobilização social e racial: eles passam a ser socialmente e racialmente fixados ‘aqui’ de maneira que não eram rigidamente fixados ‘lá’.

Assim, tomando a configuração do mundo social como um continuum, feito de conexões, ambivalências e paradoxos, Moving Difference oferece uma lente sobre como o presente global móvel está conectado aos legados globais do passado colonial. A vida dos brasileiros em Londres ilustra como ‘aqui’ e ‘lá’, “presente’ e ‘passado’ estão entrelaçados, criando e recriando desigualdades e diferenças racializadas – como o acesso desigual ao privilégio da mobilidade.

Angelo Martins Junior é Pesquisador Associado na Escola de Sociologia, Política e Estudos Internacionais da Universidade de Bristol. Atualmente, ele trabalha no projeto de pesquisa ‘Modern Marronage: a busca e prática da liberdade no mundo contemporâneo’, financiado pelo European Research Council.

Você pode comprar Moving Difference: Brazilians in London no site da editora Routledge.