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”.
By Alessia Dro
(Part 1 — Part 2)
Alessia • According to you, how can music be this space capable of generating accompaniement and healing?
Let’s say that for me music was not a space in which I started to heal. I started because it allowed me to express myself. Over time, I realized that when I told my story over and over again, there would come a time when it didn’t stop hurting, but it didn’t hurt the same way anymore.
If I listen to my songs from 10 years ago, from when I started writing, and the ones I do now, I feel completely different, because I feel that when I started writing I had a lot of anger, a lot of anger, a lot of anger, a lot of very raw emotions. Later I did not want the music to come to me from this place of anger, pain, sadness and whoever listens to me stays sad. That was where I began to make a more conscious reflection, to understand that what I was transmitting had an energetic and political effect. I still have a lot of affection for my first songs as my stage of catharsis, I also realized that when I told my story others felt called to do it.
As unfortunately so many women are so traversed by violence in our territories, then the fact that one tells her story encourages the others to speak. In my country there have been complaints for cases of harassment, sexual abuse, within the mixed social movement, and the testimony of a help so that others can speak. When a woman breaks the silence she helps and inspires the others to say. And inspired by the songs, many have decided to make music as well or write a poem. There are many girls who send us, for example, illustrations inspired by the songs heard. Because they speak deeply to them, and this also allows them to express themselves through art.
I think that my most conscious reflection derives from a more advanced process of working on my traumas and my pain, but there are many colleagues to whom certain topics are very sensitive to talk about. So how do we create a song where we don’t revictimize ourselves? How to create a song in which everyone, regardless of the space we are in, can express ourselves? I think this is a conscious exercise taking into account the effects that music causes. Because at the beginning for me it was very spontaneous and unintentional: not that I said “I want to be a feminist rapper”. I started making music and those who started to listen and promote it were feminists.
Alessia • What is, for women in hip-hop and art, the importance of collective organization and communitarian transmission of knowledge?
For women in hip-hop, the creation of collective spaces has been fundamental.
I do not think that women in hip-hop would not have had the power that we have achieved if we had not articulated collectively, because within hip-hop our voice was marginalized. We had about fifteen minutes to open an event. Without payment, without recognition, and not even knowledge of our name: we were known as the girlfriend of, the wife of, the sister of. And in that inferiorization, a strategy from which we managed to put together our own scenes was to work together. Being aware that they are not going to invite us, they are not going to give us a good place in their event, they are not going to put us among the main voices, pushed us to say: then, let’s do our activities separately!
Although we continue to denounce what happens in mixed spaces, at some point we began to think that if they do not want us in their events and there are people who want to listen to us, there are women, above all, who want to listen to us, let’s do our own festival. So, let’s have our own meeting. When we started with the collective “Somos Guerreras/ We are warriors” about 8 years ago, exactly this need arose to ask ourselves: Where are women in hip-hop? What are we doing? Do we know each other or not? And above all: are we organized? So we organized festivals, workshops, and we started doing things among ourselves because also in hip-hop we realized that it was important not only the space of the stage where you do the performance with other people, but how you acquire knowledge.
Many of us went through situations in which we had to experience sexual harassment, where in order to go to a studio to record, you had to put up with the fact that the producer was telling you: “how beautiful you are” or someone was going to explain you a dance step actually just as a pretext to you touch your body. The graffiti women artists were given a much smaller space for their mural, because since they were women, then, surely it was going to be difficult for them to paint a large wall, not like men who are born with the great power to paint large on the walls!
So even in dance women and men have the center of balance in different parts of the body, men have it in the chest, we have it in the hips: that a b‑boy explain to you a step of a Dancing will not be the same as if a woman does it, because to perform this dance step your center of balance will be different according to the corporalities. I don’t want this to be biologistic. I just say that different bodies have different ways of moving.
Now there are spaces where women can learn rap or go break-dancing. More than a safe space, I would say it is a space on the making, a space where we are very aware of the problems that women have experienced in mixed spaces. And how to create separatist spaces where we propose that these problems are not reproduced, such as violence. We will create only between women, a space free of violence. But patriarchal violence also occurs among women. So let’s create a space where it is not allowed and is not tolerated, that we can talk about these issues.
In the end, the transmission of knowledge between women has been very loving, very generous, while in mixed spaces men usually say to each other: “if it was difficult for me to learn this, it must also cost you”.
I believe that creating loving spaces for the transmission of very generous knowledge has been fundamental because without this transmission of knowledge, cultures would not grow.
Because men have selfishly wanted to have this secret knowledge, to remain only the protagonists, many women did not participate in hip-hop. So I believe that the creation of this type of space is definitely important and this year, the pandemic, which has caused dismantling, has posed new challenges for us.
Alessia • You participated with a musical contribution to the first step of the International Campaign against Femicide, which we call as Kurdistan Women’s Movement. We are now thinking together in a new phase how to organize among women across borders. In your experience, what are the important elements that, from a new way of understanding internationalism, we can put in common in the fight against the violence of feminicide at the global level?
I think that one of the challenges we have is that the hegemonic feminist discourses are only counting on the experience of women in very particular situations, such as in Spain or Argentina, and we realize that it is mainly a white women’s movement, and there is not much awareness of racism within these types of movements, and even in Mexico, although it is a country where the majority of people are racialized. The discourse that is permeating now is a discourse that comes mainly from white feminism that has nothing to do with the grassroots movements. There are precisely various meetings such as those organized by Zapatista women, they do not even name themselves feminists. They are organized women. I think that even here in Guatemala, the place where we see a power to articulate the needs of women far from the most whitewashed discourses is that of communitarian organization and grassroots organization of defenders of the territory. Perhaps some, over time, begin to find a coincidence with the feminist movement, but they do not start by naming themselves feminists.
Here in Guatemala, for example, the urban feminist movement is growing a lot, except that, not even 5 years ago, there was not a very representative urban feminist movement, although there have always been organized women. The women’s movement in Guatemala began to articulate after the Peace Agreements, and it begins to articulate thanks to many women who participated in guerrilla movements or grassroots movements, who from the Peace Agreements found a space within their organizations and decided to become independent, because within the organized guerrilla movements it was said that women needs will be fulfilled when the revolution triumphs.
And this does not mean that at that time the feminist movement did not exist, but I think there was a very strong disconnection between the more traditional women’s movement, with the movement of younger women, university students, from different places, with different needs. So art has been very powerful to amplify these reflections.
We are also here discussing all of this, because art has been a driver, knowing that women in Guatemala are experiencing this in the struggle, and that the women of Kurdistan are also in a strong struggle, and we sometimes know this through murals, demonstrations, dances. I think about the choreography of LasTesis, in Chile, which was played in so many countries.
And there is something else also that allows us nowadays to find ourselves but that is a double-edged sword, which is social networks, since social networks can serve us or they can affect us.
And in the case of the feminist movement, I believe that social networks have been very vital to articulate, know and recognize what is happening in other territories. As in the case of the NiUnaMenos demonstrations, which were born in Argentina. I remember that when they made their first call for a march, in less than a week there were calls all over the continent and in the world, at least in Latin America and where there were women of Latin American origin in various parts of the world, and these demonstrations were also organized there.
But the case of the 56 children who were burned by the state of Guatemala, did not transcend the same as NiUnaMenos; The cases concerning the women of Kurdistan has not transcended the same as the cases of Argentina or Spain. For this reason, when I speak of hegemony, I speak a little about that, It should not have been given more light to some cases than to others, and this happens because there is no perspective of looking towards the South. I don’t understand it as a geographic south. More like an ideological south. The “civilized white” is still seen as an origin and as a civilizing objective.
Of course, the fight for the legalization of abortion is a necessary and fundamental fight, but in many territories, it is not the main objective. If you now think about what are the elements that unify the feminist movement, the legalization of abortion is one. But we must contextualize where this struggle was born and not think that it is strategically a priority for all women in the world. So, I believe that within internationalism it is important to decolonize the look of white feminism that we have well rooted, many of us reproduce it, I do not know if it is unconscious or automatic.
Because it is not the same when a rural woman from an indigenous community is murdered as when an urban woman in the city is murdered, it is not the same when a trans woman or a cis woman is murdered, it does not cause the same outrage. Here in Guatemala, fortunately, the comrades who denounce violence are being listened to, but it is not the same effect when a woman from an indigenous area makes this type of denounce. Society does not react the same. So I feel that these are the elements where we have to pay a lot of attention, to how we ourselves react in front of what we see.
Alessia • In the fight against racism and colonialism I feel that there is a strong energy that is generated from the sharing of experience between women, when from different contexts we share our sufferings and our struggles, recognizing the different needs and achievements, the collective joys that generate new horizons of the possible. I remember when I was in Guatemala two years ago, sharing Rojava’s experience of confederalism and autonomy. After this meeting, a multinational assembly of women was generated. I would love to know what you think of this process that is underway in your country, and in general of the commitment towards plurinationality in these geographies.
I think this has been one of the efforts in which urban feminism has not been very involved here. Starting a bit from the critical perspective that I shared before, especially as urban feminists, we are moving more around the following issues: legalization of abortion; for finding the perpetretaors of femicides. Because mainly these demands to build plurinationality and these analyzes in which the state is not seen as the horizon, come from comrades of indigenous peoples or rural women who are in another type of more communitarian organization, even mixed, that is to say: while in the city we are asking for legalization of abortion, we are asking for the intervention of the state, that it has to legislate something; likewise, when we ask for the law against femicides to be intensified, we are demanding that the state get involved in solving social problems. While, from a communitarian perspective, there is a whole millenary political practice, which has showed how the resolution of these issues is a community issue and a question raises to us, to those of us who live in the city, what our community is. If we were to hypothetically build a community space within the urban, it would be something this generation would do.
But it would be a realization that would not have in itself a transmission of generational knowledge, which does not have ingrained uses and customs, to the culture and the territory. In other words, most of the people in the city do not have territorial roots, or traditional community organization, and if we have it today in Guatemala it is very spontaneous: definitely this is what racism and coloniality have caused us. And because there is a contempt for other ways of organizing and this contempt can openly translate into racism that thinks that community organization does not work, based on ignorance. Many times this is the product of ignorance. But this ignorance in turn is due to racism. So I think that many of these more radical proposals for transformation come from women who have roots in the territory, whose grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers have lived there, and whose community organization has been operating for 100 years, where there are ceremonies for the transfer of command of authority. Although for a long time there was no participation of women there, now women are making there their struggles for their recognition and for the recognition of their rights. And there is a place where they can take their voice, which is not the state, so the dialogue is not directly with the state.
This is profoundly powerful when we think about plurinationality and I think that one of the limit that we have had as urban feminists has been not to recognize the power that exists in these communitarian political practices because these are the political practices that concretely are going to lead to decolonization of the territory and it is only to the extent that we think about decolonizing the territory and the form of community organization, that all the other demands that we have as women will be possible.
I understand why we have this disengagement, and for me it is one of the great challenges we have within the movements. It will not be within the framework of a state, where women will be able to live in full harmony. We will be given small prizes so that we can shut up, but in the framework of this state in which we are, our demands will not be resolved, if we do not transform the community form of territorial organization.
Interview conducted by Alessia Dro in collaboration with Rosa Rosano and Meztli Yax