Interview with Rebeca Lane about the decolonization of feminism, territory and community.
“Art is a vehicle for the memory of peoples. Making art is making historical memory”.
(Part 1 – Part 2)
We meet in Guatemala City at the beginning of September, under a tropical rain in the green garden of her house where her firm and passionate words stand out.
Through the streets of many cities around the world, as well as in the international and Latin American initiatives of the Kurdistan Women’s Movement, we are accompanied by her art, music and poetry, as well as the dreams shared in the struggle.
Rebeca Eunice Vargas Tamayac, known as Rebeca Lane, is a committed artist. Her songs have had international recognition since her admirable and surprising artistic evolution in the last ten years. Rebeca takes her name from her aunt, poet and guerrilla who has been disappeared in the 80’s by the army in Guatemala.
In this interview, she shares with us with enormous sensitivity and critical view on the social struggle against disappearance, the capacity of music to accompany and heal, on hip-hop as a political movement in Guatemala, on the importance of the transmission of knowledge full of love among women, and the need to interconnect the struggles, between internationalism and decolonization.
Less than a month after this interview, on October 1, Rebeca gave birth to her daughter Valentina. During the interview we also discussed liberated and conscious ways of living motherhood, in the voice of Rebeca: “There is a lack of care for life that derives from capitalism. We have to talk about these issues. It has been very hopeful in recent years, breaking taboos and hearing about the pregnancy seen from other radical perspectives. “
At the end of the interview, Rebeca shared her voice for the liberation of our sister Nûdem Durak, a Kurdish singer, imprisoned in 2015 in the current dictatorship in Turkey for teaching and composing songs in her mother tongue.
By Alessia Dro
Alessia Dro is an activist for the Kurdistan Women’s Movement in Latin America. She has been traveling the Latin American continent for more than three years to build bridges from a dissident, feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist transnational solidarity. She shares collective words from the borderless community of the Kurdistan Women’s Movement, embracing its international significance.
Alessia • From the rhyme of the song called “Kixampe” where with Sara Curruchich you sing: “We are the fire that burns history” and “our threads weave memory”. For you, and from your artistic and personal experience, what is the link between Art and Memory? In Kurdistan there is an ancient form of improvisation with the voice: the singing practice of “dengbêj”, which transmits legends and tales of resistance through generations. Like rap, the art of the Kurdish “dengbêj” persists as a very important form of memory transmission in the 21st century.
I think that art has been a vehicle for the memory of peoples. If, for example, we want to see what happened in the Spanish Civil War, we go to the books, to the testimonies, but if we want to investigate the feelings of the people and how they thought at that time, we could go see Pablo Picasso’s Guernica: art has a way of collecting historical periods and moments that escape from official history, because many times what is traversed in official history is the history of the victors and a counter-narrative must be created. From people who have been more oppressed, more affected. And art has this capacity, because as an artist, you are connected with causes and with your community. We have to consider the issue of silence in art, which also speaks. For example, there is a song by an argentine songwriter called Charly García that says: “dinosaurs can disappear …” this is a topic that talks about the dictatorship in Argentina and the disappearances, but does not mention anything political, this song comes out in the context of an Argentina living a dictatorship where there were many disappearances. Not in all contexts people can be explicit. In fact, Sara Curruchich and I are from a generation in which we can express ourselves artistically, but here in Guatemala artists in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s even 90’s could not express themselves through art if they were not in exile or if they were not assassinated, or if they weren’t missing.
So I think that in all contexts art tells this thread of memory that escapes from books, from official stories and even unofficial ones. Because what an artist connected with community does is absorb what is happening. In Kixampe’s song, with Sara Curruchich, what we analyzed was that in recent years there have been popular insurrections throughout Latin America, where there are governments of the right and of the left, both in contexts of repression.
There are governments that, even though they are called leftist, continue to reproduce the neoliberal capitalist dynamics of extraction, there is still no respect for indigenous peoples.
The only thing that changes is the empire because here the right-wing governments are linked to the US empire, but the left-wing governments have sold the country to China, which is still coming here to do mining.
These governments of the left have not transformed the economic models that capitalism supports, therefore, although their governments are of the left and are involved in social policies, they really continue to be functional to the right. So when we see popular insurrections, we take these emotions and these feelings and translate them into a song. As artists we are not in an ivory tower writing, isolated from the world, we are between the struggles, where they are happening and we are in what happens around us, you go through it, you challenge it and then you transform it into something else. I believe that making art is making historical memory.
In 25 years from now, if someone listens to these songs they will know how we thought, how we felt, how we articulated ourselves politically, what slogan was heard in the streets, what happens to us now if we listen to the art that was made a few years ago.
Alessia • What you tell me on one side is closely connected with what activists and artists, such as Zehra Doğan and Nûdem Durak, are living today in Kurdistan, where art and music want to break down the walls imposed by all censorship and dictatorship. Zehra Doğan is a painter, ex political prisoner and Nûdem Durak remains in jail in Turkey to this day solely for having sung her resistance compositions in her mother tongue, Kurdish. But what you are talking about also has to do with the specific features of the memory struggle in your country. What is its history?
The war in Guatemala ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Agreements. Two years later, different investigative commissions began to produce certain reports sharing the findings of human rights violations during the war. For two more years, until 1998, there was still a dangerous climate of persecution. For example, Monsignor Gerardi, who headed one of these investigative commissions, was assassinated in 1998 just a few days after presenting one of the historical memory reports.
Then, in 96 an open armed conflict between guerrilla forces and the state of Guatemala ended, which does not mean that the war in Guatemala has ended. I think this is important to say: the left groups are officially demobilized but the state has never dismantled its counter-insurgent strategy. All the Peace Agreements that were fulfilled, yes they were fulfilled, worked to disarm the population that was up in arms. The people who were uprising were demobilized and what happened in other contexts happened, we even see it in Colombia, when the negotiations began: when the population begins to be disarmed, which is in armed resistance, then the companies enter, with their private security and with the complicity of the armies and national police forces, then they can fully enter the territories without encountering resistance.
For this reason, in my opinion the war in Guatemala did not end because the state never stopped having this type of repressive practices. But there were definitely things that changed after the Peace Agreement. One of these was the possibility that through art and in general I would say through freedom of expression there is a very marked difference between people who made art in wartime and people who started making art later. I believe, as I mentioned earlier, that it was very visible that during the war art itself and the discourses that were armed through art were understood as subversive and therefore artists were seen as internal enemies and were treated the same. that the rest of the population that was up in arms, disappeared, murdered, exiled.
Alessia • In this context and in the context of hip-hop as a cultural and artistic movement in Guatemala as in your songs, difference and power, discrimination and privilege, colonialism are questioned not in static terms but in terms of stories and experiences that also weave us together.
In the 96, many artists not only expressed themselves artistically, they were also politically organized, which is why they were dangerous because they did not just deliver a speech, they were people who had collectives and were in other organized activities apart from what they could show through art . I’m going to talk about the city, which is the place where I am from and the one I know the most – because I was 12, 13 years old at that time – at that time I was already very aware of what was happening, I didn’t understand it. in the totality but I witnessed a generational change. The first thing that one begins to see in the city are groups making music, in whose speeches the theme of peace was generically, not justice. They were even speeches that perhaps came from a privileged middle sector. But despite being speeches without much depth, there were moments in which there was repression in this type of concerts
In the city’s neighborhoods, many demonstrations of community theater and hip-hop began to appear: young people who until then could not organize because they were seen as enemies by the state. Most of the young people who live in the city’s neighborhoods are young people who had been demobilized from their communities because of the war, or because of a very strong earthquake that occurred here in 76, and also because there was no work: the war caused a very strong poverty. Here in the city an impressive number of people begin to come who have to abandon their identity: they could not say where they came from, what their last name was, what their languages were, because the Mayan people of indigenous peoples were also seen as internal enemies.
This is how the possibility of articulating oneself from these types of artistic manifestations arises and a sense of community and identity begins to be created in the uprooting, and hip-hop is one of these cultures. Hip-hop is a culture that is beginning to be born in these neighborhoods and that gives young people the opportunity to enunciate themselves and tell their story and where they come from.
Hip-hop for me is the voice of a generation of neighborhood youth who begin to use art to express the effects of the war from their lives and over the years little by little these artistic expressions that begin in a space of fun, they begin to articulate and problematize more. Then hip-hop begins to be a voice to speak of injustices and there it begins to articulate as a political movement that, however, is not politicized: most of the young people who are part of hip-hop do not have a political conscience of the structural reasons for poverty, or of the situations that they have had to live in, but they live them, and they tell them, and this makes it a political act for me, because they are no longer in silence. They decide: “I want to tell my story.” Hip-hop is a political movement.
Alessia • Your artistic work integrates and gives voice to the practice of memory recovery in your country. In Kurdistan this is a very important issue, I think of the Saturday Mothers who, like the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, in Argentina, continue to oppose the forced disappearance of their daughters and sons fighting every day without surrendering.
This year, a few days ago, within the framework of the International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearance, you participated in the creation of “I will search this way”, recently released. How did this song come about?
It was about 4 months ago that I was presented with a song from the 70’s that had been adapted by taking the phrases of the families who were in search of their disappeared relatives in Guanajuato, in Mexico.
The search for disappeared persons in Guatemala has occurred in the context of the war. For me, seeing groups in Mexico that are actively looking for their relatives today is like going back to the war years. Many people who are seekers in Mexico have been murdered, they have to go looking in clandestine cemeteries and dig up with their own means looking for the DNA of the relatives, that is, it is a very cruel job. The same happened to the relatives here in Guatemala. The first people who demanded to search for their disappeared, as in the case of Nineth Montenegro, who was the first person to make civil resistance, chained outside the Guatemalan Congress and had to be dragged out. They kept asking: where are they, where are they?
For the Kixampe video, the place that we chose in Guatemala is a ceremonial space in Word, guarded by CONAVIGUA, which is the National Coordinator of Widows of Guatemala. This place is a former military convent converted into a ceremonial space where there are several skeletons that were exhumed. Some were identified, others were not, but they were in a dignified way, and for this reason it is now a ceremonial space.
But to see this cruel search happening today in Mexico is very strong, to see how this cruel fight continues. Families should not be searching clandestine graves, this should not be happening. I think that precisely because of my family experience and the experience of my country, it was also important for me to join the project of the song “So I’ll search for you”, assuming the challenge that was one of the last projects I was going to participate in, for the last weeks of my pregnancy and because I am recording a new album. So we covered a song from the 70’s based on a new version. The traditional song was more folk and this one that we did has more modern overtones. What we did was a reinterpretation, respecting the lyrics very much, understanding that it comes from a situated experience. In these processes, it is important for me that people can listen to themselves. More than a song in which I put what I thought, it has been a song in which we tried to make the families’ words be heard through music.
>> Part 2…