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  • Writer's pictureAl G

Perspective and Change

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

tldr: learning about the lived experiences of the Mapuche community, visiting human rights organizations, facing more micro-aggressions

TLDR: too long didn't read. I will include this at the top of my blog entry every week! I understand. We are all busy. I appreciate you all taking the time to even read just a couple entries of my blog!


Hello to all of my blog followers....thank you for dropping into this space with me. A moment filled with pure gratitude, love, and bliss. I haven't caught up with you all in a brace yourself....I have a lot to say....

I really can't begin to describe how transformative this past month has been for me....hence the reason why I have taken a step back from the blog to truly take time to reflect and process my recent times in Buenos Aires as well as my excursion to the South (San Carlos Bariloche and Esquel) and to the North (Tilcara, Salta, Rosario). About a month ago, we started our Human Rights seminar with SIT. However, instead of just learning about the different organizations that fight for human rights in the classroom, we visited them in person - dialoguing with members of the group about their fight for equality and truly learning about their own lived experiences in Argentina.

First, we visited Agrupación Xangô, an organization based in Buenos Aires, dedicated towards elevating, recognizing, and making the afro-diasporic culture more visible. They facilitate anti-racist conversations with youth and in educational centers and college universities. For more information on what their missions and goals, you can visit their website here. Throughout reading their work on their website and dialoguing with people in the organization in person, I came to understand how the afro-diasporic people and culture have been consistently pushed to the margins within the Argentinian narrative. However, this type of invisibility has become normalized within porteño culture (porteño refers to people who are from Argentina). For example, tango, a dance that originated in Argentina, in fact has African roots; however, you never would have guessed that based upon the lack of representation within present-day. Furthermore, during our excursion, we talked extensively about how racismo does not "exist" in Argentina, according to people here. In fact, Carlos Menem, former President of Argentina, has publicly claimed that there are no afro-descendent people in Argentina ("no hay negros"), which completely ignores both systemic racism embedded within this society, not to mention the lived experiences of all afro-descendent people living here today. To be "negro" or to be called "negro" in Argentina for porteños does not solely rely upon skin tone. In fact, one can be called "negrito" or "negrita" because of one's lack of socio-economic status or educational level. Furthermore, a "bad" neighborhood or "bad day" could be called "negro." This harmful rhetoric, in my opinion, leads to the erasure of hundreds of thousands of lived experiences here in Argentina, in turn strengthening the systemic racism entrenched within this society. I was extremely thankful for Agrupación Xangô for allowing us to enter their space and have the opportunity to learn from adults involved in the organization, as well as youth participators who are inspiring the future generation.

That following week after Agrupación Xangô, we visited several other organizations, including Etcétera (a group of social activists and artists that uses dark humor and irony to touch on relevant political and social topics), AMUMRA (an organization that helps empower migrant women in Buenos Aires), FUSA (an organization that focuses on reproductive rights with a perspective focused upon gender) , and Mocha Celis (an organization created with the mission to include trans-people within the educational system and combat the structural discrimination they face). After all of these conversations with these organizations, we were able to understand in a deeper way, the problems that they are facing and how they are combatting them, using different forms of activism (such as art, educational lessons, cultural events, etc).

During one of our free days, I rode horses in the mountains with my friends in Esquel!

Next, at the end of September, we went on our first week-long excursion to the South! We traveled to the area most commonly known Patagonia (recognize the brand name?!??!) First, our group flew into the town of San Carlos Bariloche tucked into the mountains. We stayed at this wonderful cozy little hostel for half of our time, then spent the rest of the excursion in Esquel, a less-touristy town around 2 hours away. San Carlos Bariloche is one of the most touristy towns in the South--filled with expensive little chocolate shops and clothing outlets, you would think that you are back on the main street of Hanover, New Hampshire (the little college town where I went to high school) However, being a program centered upon social movements and human rights, our excursion focused on highlighting the narratives that hide between the cracks, ones that are NOT featured within the traditional Argentinian narrative taught in schools here.

Throughout the week long excursion, we talked with an environmental organization/radio station called Piuke, an activist group called "No a La Mina" (No to Mining), and finally, we had the immense privilege to be able to enter the space of four Mapuche communities: Lof Quintriqueo, Lof Melo, Pillán Mahuiza, and Nehuelpan. During all of these visits, but especially the ones where we entered indigenous territory, it really made me question many things, such as:

How do I take up space? What is my positionality and how does it give me privilege? How do I enter such a sacred space with respect and intention?

As a group of 16 people, all from the United States drawing from relatively privileged backgrounds, I really questioned my positionality throughout my time with the indigenous communities. How can I occupy space in the most intentional way possible? When people usually think of Patagonia, they think of the "name brand" that you see on people's puffy winter jackets or hiking hats in the United States. When I think of the name Patagonia, right off the bat, I think of people in the United States who have enough socio-economic privilege to rep the popular expensive name-brand. Yet, seeing these people fighting every day for land rights and territory reclamation made me realize the immense individual privilege I have in this world, in addition to the copious amount of privilege we all have as a group to even BE here in Argentina in the first place. It redefined the way I think of this brand and the narrative that it so breeds within the United States.

This autonomy that these indigenous people are advocating for and working towards every day is inextricably linked to mining and extractivism that the state is pushing for every day -- something that again, you don't think of when you hear the brand "Patagonia."

And, although they are all fighting for land reclamation, the four mapuche tribes each have their own distinct vision of their ultimate goal with the state and with the territory. For example, some of the indigenous communities want reclamation in the form of formal documentation with the state, whereas, other tribes (such as those in the Chubut province, one where there is more repression and assassination of indigenous people) only want recognition within the community and have no interest in official documents.

Finally, these visits to these Mapuche communities grounded me in a way that I can't even really begin to explain in words. Seeing their relationship with the earth and the spirits around them (one that is interconnected and inextricably linked) made me think about my own relationship to spirituality, religion, healing, food, and the earth that surrounds me. I am so grateful for my program for providing us the opportunity to enter into such a sacred space. At the end of our last visit with Pillán Mahuiza, we went on a hike to see a vista point within their territory. It was a surprise, as I was not at all prepared to embark upon the journey that I did that day. We walked through the forest as the leader of the community told us about the history of the land, pointing out different types of trees and important markers. For example, from the perspective of the Pillán Mahuiza, the pine tree signifies capitalism as it a type of invasive species that the colonists planted when they arrived and took over the indigenous territory.

As I walked through the paths during this hike, I was so moved by the presence of the natural elements that surrounded me. It felt like they were talking to me and I was one with them, breathing in together this tranquil spirit I felt and this cultivation of love for the earth -- a very different type of energy than the bustling city of Buenos Aires. It was almost like they were telling me directly to breathe, stop, and slow down.

Ever since my transformational experience with these indigenous communities and activist organizations in Patagonia, I've never felt more in touch with my body, my spirit, and my mind. I've been able to draw boundaries and listen to what my gut has been telling me. I have felt so grounded in myself and so in awe with life, grateful for every opportunity to take in this fresh breath of life. I returned to Buenos Aires with a renewed perspective of life, ready to embrace each moment with love and gratitude.

This empathy, love, and intense care for life, those around me, and for myself served as integral survival tools during the weeks in between my excursion to the South and the North. While in Buenos Aires, I continued to speak my truth, allowing myself to really fully embrace my boundaries and forge bonds of love with those in my life. I celebrated my friend's birthday (we went to a spa and a rooftop dinner!), dyed my hair, and danced my heart away at many boliches (parties), letting myself really sink into the rhythm of the present moment!

This past week, I embarked upon my second and last excursion to the north western part of Argentina. We first spent time in the province of Jujuy in Tilcara and then spent one night in Salta, and then flew to Rosario -- a town on the river. Throughout the entire excursion, our main focus was upon hi-lighting the experiences of the narratives that often times are overlooked. We visited the Salinas Grandes (salt mines), the Mountain of 7 Colors, Inca Ruins, and I hiked to a sacred waterfall in the mountains (Garganta de Diablo - Throat of the Devil) with a group of friends. After listening to the perspectives of the indigenous communities on mining and extractivism in the north (where all of the lithium batteries come from), it completely changed my perspective on name-brands such as Tesla, that claim to "save the environment" but in reality, are destroying the territory of these people, often times with permission. We also visited social movement activist organizations such as Soccoristas en Red (focused upon making abortion accessible and a legal right) and Red Puna (an agricultural community and network for indigenous tribes) and also heard testimonials from people that had members of their family die from institutional police violence and brutality in Rosario.

In retrospect, the excursion to the north-western part of Argentina was more draining in different ways than the excursion to the south. However, both trips changed my perspective in a profound way, forcing me to not only recognize my own positionality and understand how I occupy space, but also to really delve into topics such as mining and extractivism from a different (and more critical) lens. While in Salta (one of the most European influenced city in Argentina) I faced many micro-agressions from various people on the street and felt extremely exoticized as one of the only Chinese women on the street. Luckily, I have such an incredible support system within my program. I was able to take time and space to process what happened and give myself the medicine I needed in that now moment (I wrote a poem, drew art, and took myself out to lunch).

All in all, I've learned so much within this month and many of the lessons that I've embraced and taken with me, I really can't explain in words to give them proper justice. I do know that I feel extremely grateful in each moment for the community I have cultivated in Argentina thus far. I'm so thankful for my friends I've made in this program for supporting me, for my parents for sticking with me, and for people I've kept in contact with from all sides of the United States and beyond. You all have helped me ground myself in such a new place and I am eternally grateful.

If you have read this far, thank you. Regardless, sending you all peace, love, and gratitude. Thank you for dropping into this space with me. Until next time. Thank you for showing up just as you are.

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Oct 29, 2022

Hi, Alice! Just catching up with you now. Such amazing and varied experiences! It is great that you are reflecting upon these new experiences relative to your place in the world. The world and its inhabitants (not just people) are very complex and with competing needs. You are being exposed to much more global issues and learning more about them than I did at your age. Seems you are making the most of your education outside of the classroom. A worthwhile study abroad adventure!


Oct 19, 2022

Bravo, Alice! Enjoyed your descriptions and pics — and especially your many occasions for introspection and reflection upon positionality & privilege — from start to finish! But hey — I hope you learned at least SOMETHING inside the classroom! 🙃 J. Fenton

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