Interculturalism for Self-Determination

The 2010 United States Social Forum is officially over.  The Forum ended with the National People’s Movement Assembly (NMPA)—a chance for many of the groups that organized around specific movements throughout the week to move forward with the resolutions they came up with around their important issues.  I was struck by the resolution given by one group that touched on issues of U.S. territories and the U.S. relations with Latin America. I am interested and engaged in many issues that have to do with Latin America, not just because I am a 1st generation Chicano of immigrant parents, but because I realize the United States has a presence all over the world, in many ways through media.

National People's Movement Assembly

Toward the end of the NPMA I encountered the Beehive Collective, an organization that created a media area at the back of the venue.  Rooted in Eastern Maine, the Beehive calls themselves a decentralized swarm, their mission in a nutshell: To cross-pollinate the grassroots, by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools. They create and teach visual narratives on posters and cloth that have to do with many issues in our hemisphere, including Latin America.  When I read the narrative graphic poster along with their pamphlets I felt like I was reading a graphic novel—I immediately found the things I often hear about in the media: drug wars, civil struggles, guerrillas.  Then, when I looked closer I saw many of the things I rarely see in the mainstream media—a multiplicity of diverse groups collectively struggling to dismantle the corruption of power violently affecting their way of life, their health, and their self-determination.

Beehive Collective Graphic Narrative: Plan Colombia

While there, fishing through graphics and reading up new projects they’ll be unveiling soon, I got to meet David Hernández Palmar, a filmmaker, and award-winning photographer from the Wayuu region, an indigenous community from the Venezuela/Colombia border area along the Carribean.  After telling him about my work on communication rights in New Mexico, I asked him to give me his experience with media in Latin America, specifically Venezuela where he lives and works.  He spoke to issues of inclusivity in media, the framing of stories through a western lens, but as well as the importance of asserting a community’s right to be included in issues of media policy.

On issues of inclusivity of the Wayuu culture in media, he spoke to me about the importance of making media for our own communities in the face of media that tends to criminalize and stereotype Latinos of African descent, and indigenous people.  In making media for our own communities, oppressed communities can fall into a trap of using a Western lens, of telling a story for an observer, and as an observer. David spoke about the need to make media as insiders, as participants—by us and for us. He explained that we need media for our benefit and acknowledged that some communities cannot share certain stories and traditions with the outside world.  He says there are different ways we interpret media, and that cannot always be looked at through a Western lens. He mentioned a story about how he was once told by an outsider that a film piece on the way of life of the Wayuu seemed to focus on something that “was good, but took too long”, he responded, “Well that’s the way it is, we’re a contemplative people.”

He discussed how interculturalidad (interculturalism) plays a role in making media inclusive. It made me reflect on how often privileged groups of people expect certain things to get done certain ways, and do not create space for the many ways and realities of the rest of us.  Really as a first-generation Chicano, I have to use certain methods of media to make a stand on certain issues affecting my community, and I also recognize that there are many different ways to use media and an array of media forms that stem from my own culture that need to be recognized and elevated.  I believe what my experience at the U.S. Social Forum has provided me is that I can participate as a media maker, and I have a story to tell. The Social Forum reminded me about the healing power of media, and my plan is to bring that inspiration back home to New Mexico.

Candelario Vazquez, Media Justice Organizer, Media Literacy Project

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