Migrant feminisms. Conversations (in)between Latin America & UK

On May 18th our colleague Jael Garcia participated in the panel Migrant feminisms: Conversations (in)between Latin American & UK.

Jael shared her journey, from Mexico to the UK, inspiring us all. You can read her story below:

“My name is Jael de la Luz García, a woman who migrated from a poor neighborhood in the state of Mexico to Mexico City to educate herself and get out of poverty. From Mexico City I then migrated to London with my children to accompany my husband when he decided to return to his homeland to care for his mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I think I have been a feminist since I was a child when I was fighting to be treated as a person, questioning domestic violence, God and the Bible.

Coming to the UK had not been part of my life plans. I was happy doing community work and grassroots feminist education to foster interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding. I was happy in the academic, cultural and social movements that I was involved in. My country was caught up in the drug war and many women experience the consequences of that pointless war. I was happy with my family in middle-class neighborhood Coyoacan, in the south of Mexico City.

Like many women, I left Mexico without speaking English, without knowing the culture, much less the immigration system. I was here six months on a tourist visa and then I had to return to my country to process a spouse visa. While in Mexico, the British government twice denied me a visa saying that my husband earned less than the annual minimum and so could not “keep me”. Desolation, pain and depression seized my life. Every day it hurt to know that what we were going through as a family, was state violence; the British government was forcing us to live forced separation. At that time I questioned this country a lot and all the false ideas about its respect for human rights. I already knew that at a global level there is a humanitarian crisis and that migrants are not respected, especially when we do not come from a privileged class. That is why I wanted to talk to the UK ambassador in Mexico and explain that my case should not be measured in financial terms but based on human rights for being the wife of a Brit and mother of two children with UK nationality. But that did not matter. Faced with his refusal to talk to me, I had to go on a hunger strike and sleep outside the embassy for a week, until he deigned to speak to me.

That time on the streets helped me to think about and meditate on the great force that women have to stop or move the world. I also thought about allies and sisterhood. For some, being there was humiliating. They could not stand that an “educated and feminist woman” was causing such drama. Others told me I looked too indigenous to be given a visa. Others still wrote in newspapers where they have columns, yet others signed the petition on Change.com and sent tweets to the ambassador. My younger brother, my non-feminist friends and my gay and lesbian friends sheltered me each night with their presence and silence …

With this direct action I was bringing the world to a halt, generating public opinion, support and solidarity at the international level. With that direct action I affirmed my feminist commitment of “who does not move does not feel the chains” “I am changing the things that I can not accept”. So that week a campaign was set up, thanks to friends who knew about my career and my family life. I saw how my friends and Latin American friends who do not know me personally, were supportive. My husband also moved at the same time, sending new documentation. After a month, I got my visa and here I am almost a year and a half later.

When I returned, I told myself: if I went through this hell that left me with serious problems in my mental health and in my English learning process. How many migrant women, Latin American women who represent themselves as I am, are going through similar situations and are silent for fear of being criticized? How many migrant women with academic training and a successful career, because they do not know how to speak English, feel disempowered, lonely and hopeless like me in this country? How many women come to this country looking forward to being integrated to the educating culture, but seeing the high rates of tuition in London universities, find it impossible to participate? Faced with these questions, I look for ways to continue my life here.

As a book lover, editor and social writer (I am a historian), I happened to meet the members of the Feminist Library in February 2015. My intention was to start reading books on feminism in English and to learn more about British feminisms and their links to our Feminisms and write about it on my blog. The welcome they gave me was warm and reciprocal. There I learned of Second Wave feminist campaigns on issues of abortion rights, peace campaigns, independent publishers, and how, over 30 years, a collection of newsletters, fanzines, books and many valuable materials have been accessible at no cost. It was at the Feminist Library where I regained self-confidence to seek volunteerism within my Latin American community. I wanted to talk in Spanish, work in my language and my personal story will resonate with other women with similar experiences to mine.

One day I searched the web and found that LAWA was looking for volunteer and in April 2015 I applied and joined. When I arrived at LAWA, there was an internal reflection process on the role of targeted organizations and working for women of color. For many years, LAWA has been known for its intervention on the issue of domestic violence among women in our community and for the Refuge we have, being the only one in Europe and the United Kingdom for women of our community and BME. Now, we have begun to work in a processual way: since women have elements of how to make a living in this country with counseling in all services, English classes, therapeutic service to a feminist training space with Women Weaving Change. Given the process we are experiencing, I realized that assuming a general discourse of feminism, makes invisible the overlap of identities and political commitments.

At LAWA, I started with my colleagues to think about the importance of having a discourse of Latin American, black and diaspora roots, with categories thought from our practices and words of us in opening with women of other legacies and trajectories in United Kingdom. We are intersectional feminists and we know that it is difficult times for women migrants of color for conservative policies and economic precariousness, but it is also a moment of creativity and take challenges. In the search for encounter and share knowledge came the Change Maker Programme that I coordinate. The idea is that among women we can train from a grassroots feminist methodology. In each workshop or activity we give way to the playful, resilient and build sisterhood, between generations where our differences of class, skin color or educational level are not barriers to recognition as equals. We want to take a step in the transformation of our community and change the views and opinions that British society may have of Latin American women. It is quite a challenge, because we are just starting out, but we have hope that change is underway.

And among these feminist pieces of knowledge and practices in the United Kingdom from my Mexican-Latin American identity, other spaces and projects are also being added in dialogue with Queer, decolonial and combative in Maricumbia, London Latinxs, campaigns against gentrification, and opening other spaces as the Latin American Feminist Collective and the magazine Feminopraxis, of which I do not leave my commitment to my land of my birth.”

LAWA’s statement on our participation in the Women’s March on London

On the past 21st of January, the Latin American Women’s Aid, together with other Latin American women, marched on the Women’s March on London. We decided to join the Women’s March on London because we Latin American women and other Black and Minority ethnic women and migrant women have been for long but are now more than ever being particularly threatened and targeted by racism, xenophobia and sexism both in the US but also in the UK. Trump embodies these hate discourses, policies and practices as much as Theresa May or Nigal Farage in the UK austerity scenario and post-Brexit vote scenario in which cuts to Domestic Violence services, racism and anti-migrant practices have been legitimised and widespread. The attack to our rights and the rise of hate is a cross border reality and we, women of colour and migrant women are the hardest hit. That said, we felt interpellated to join an International movement of women in one of many Sisters Women’s March happening in the world.
As a Latin American BME organisation, as black feminists committed to intersectional feminism, we understood the Women’s March on London as an opportunity to take the streets, raise our voices and self-represent our struggles. Our journey of taking action is not limited to this march, we have been for decades resisting and collectively building spaces to transform the oppressive structures of power, nurturing the collective empowerment of migrant women of colour and the self-determination of our communities. However, although the Women’s March on London at first seemed to call for a collective action in favour of the rights of women, in fact, it did not properly allowed for all voices of women to be represented. We regret that the prevailed discourse has been a white feminism one that reinforces privilege, reproduces power imbalances, and silences the voices of other women.
One of our lessons learnt at the Women’s March on London is the urgency to bring to the forefront of the debate an analysis of race, class, borders, disability, power, privilege and other oppressions that we, women of colour, experience in opposition to a white washed feminism that prevailed in this march. As a BME feminist organisation we believe that feminism has to be intersectional. We believe in a feminist movement that deeply acknowledges intersectional forms of oppression and brings the voices and concerns of migrants, black women and women of colour; working class women; disabled women; LBTQ women and non-binary people to the heart of this movement by allowing space for self-representation.
We regret that the Women’s March did not fully reflect such principles. We stand in solidarity with other women of colour who have raised very important critiques to the organisers of the Women’s March London, raising its lack of intersectionality and inclusivity and eventually deciding not to attend to the march. We recognise their decision not to attend the march as a political act of resistance. We stand in solidarity with all women who felt unrepresented and excluded from the organizational process, and despite this, challenged the organizers of the Women’s March on London writing powerful statements denouncing the vices and practices that permeate feminist spaces, which are based on privilege. We hope that in the future, together we can build more inclusive and intersectional feminist spaces and movements truly based on sisterhood and solidarity. Our protest and resistance did not start and does not end with the Women’s March.

Be a change maker!

Change Maker is a new project by LAWA, which aims to encourage Latin American and BME women that speak Portuguese and/or Spanish to become change makers.

What is the Change Maker programme?

It is a space for women to find empowerment (and help other women to do the same) and be more active within their social environments, triggering change.

Within a feminist space for women only, we will offer tools to raise awareness about the connection between gender-based violence and inequality (social, economic, racial and cultural) that affects us.

Why should you be a Change Maker?

A change maker is the bridge between culture & knowledge. If we recognise our abilities and knowledge in a personal and collective way, the possibilities to change realities of injustice and inequalities into fair and inclusive ones are much higher.

How?

Through a community space of feminist learning, we will provide strategies of self care, autonomy and empowerment.

When?

The project is structured in four parts, each one lasts two months, with two activities each mont. Day and time can be arranged according to the personal availability of each participant.

Where?

The workshops and activities will take place at LAWA’s headquarters in Dalston as well as other community spaces, but we will keep you informed and let you know in advance.

Who can take part:

  • Latin American and BME women of all ages, sexual orientation, migrant situation, of any social, politic and economic background
  • Spanish or Portuguese speakers
  • You need to have an idea for a project, or be wiling to develop one. A project that will contribute to personal and collective empowerment
  • You will need to fill a form and attend an interview
  • If you are selected, we ask for your commitment and availability

What we offer:

  • Confidentiality and respect
  • A safe space to develop your project
  • Workshops and classes in Spanish and Portuguese
  • Materials and other resources
  • Personalised guidance and group discussions about the projects and initiatives of Change Maker
  • Meals
  • Creche

If you are interested, please get in touch with Jael: jael@lawadv.org.uk