The ‘Gathering on Gender, Childhood, and Youth on the Move‘ brought together grassroots migrant rights organisations, feminist’s groups, and youth-led collectives from across Mexico and Central America. There were a lot of amazing people in the room: every one of us dedicated to creating the conditions for more just, more safe, more inclusive communities from our different contexts.
It was humbling to be there. Some among us had flown to Tijuana for a few days in the midst of accompanying unaccompanied minors navigate the violence and trauma of the U.S. influenced policies implemented by the current Mexican government on the Mexico-Guatemala border. Others traveled north to bear witness to the catatonic silence of young children deported to Guatemala after family separation and detention in U.S. immigration facilities. Another shared that she had just been fired for refusing to stop organising her coworkers as a woman and as union member; she would be figuring out what to do next once she got home. Many of us carried the names of recent femicides on the tips of our tongues: Ingrid, Minerva, Isabel, and Fatima, a seven-year-old girl. It was hard to be there too. To hold it all, individually and collectively.
But unlike other forums in which I have participated as a codirector of ODA Otros Dreams en Acción, this forum felt purposeful, seeking to ‘connect to’ instead of ‘abstract from’ on the ground realities. There was an air of interruption in the air. Interruption of norms as an exercise in the interruption of power. The panelists and workshop leaders were the experts: women and young women who are directly affected or who are frontline allies of those directly affected by toxic patriarchies and forced migration, several of them from indigenous communities in Mexico and Guatemala. We all ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together (as opposed to just feeding the panelists, for example). There was a self-care room where we were invited to sign up for a fifteen-minute massage. On the third day, we traveled together to two physical sites of oppression-making: the San Isidro international bridge between Tijuana-San Diego and the physical wall that tries to even divide the sea along the international boundary, as well as two physical sites of justice-making: the offices of Al Otro Lado and the shelter-cultural-space of Espacio Migrante. And it was all punctuated by rituals and artistic performances led by Mam and Mayan spiritual leaders, activists, and artists.
It was an innovative, hopeful, imperfect space. The funders—Global Fund for Children, Fondo Semillas, Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres, the Seattle International Foundation, and the International Community Foundation—seemed to trust that in so far as we are feeling sustained as individuals and as collectives, we would connect and imagine and collaborate in order to strengthen our intersectional movements for dignity and justice. Although the balance could have been tipped even more away from control/management habits, such as the common tendency to overpack the schedule, this feels like powerful, cutting-edge investment towards real-time redistribution of wealth and resources. Relationships over indicators.
We got together for three very full days, and we go home to our communities just as fractured by patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism and nationalism as our communities were, as we were, when we got there. The difference is that now we know one another and we go home emboldened to imagine our work in conversation. The challenge will be for funders and organisations alike to take up the invitation to embrace grassroots creativity, local-led coalitions, and above all, trust, in the face of perpetual yet escalating crisis.
For now, Resistencia Migrante‘s rendition of Selena’s song ‘Como La Flor’ is still ringing in my ears. That singular moment when we all danced together from six years old to 60 years old and sang along, ‘ay, ay, ay, como me duele.’ As well as the beat of the spontaneous performance inspired by ‘El Violador Eres Tú‘ in front of the border wall, waves wetting our feet as we danced together, and in my head and heart, the refrain ‘se va a caer, se va a caer.’* The patriarchy and its walls.
*A common chant among Latin American feminists that translates to ‘it will fall, it will fall’ in reference to patriarchy.
Jill Anderson is Codirector of ODA Otros Dreams en Acción