Day 1 of the International Exchange: Getting Grounded
We opened Cohort 4’s international exchange the way we always begin work that requires us to show up whole, take risks, and be present: we got grounded.
Our Guatemalan sisters in the room, led by Rosa Chávez of the JASS team, welcomed everyone with a powerful ritual grounded in Mayan tradition and in honor of the Mayan land we are on, territory that they have had to continually defend. They constructed a beautiful altar in the center of the room, made of local herbs, fruit, seeds, grains, and greenery. They invited us to bring in our energy through collective breathing and movement. They made music and sounds using traditional instruments. They introduced us to the Mayan calendar and nahuales, or spirits, and shared the significance of today’s nahual. They opened up the center circle so that sisters from the United States and Honduras could join in the candle-lighting ceremony.
The ritual grounded us deeply in the cultural and historical context of being in Guatemala without requiring words or explanations. It recognized the cross-border connections already between us without needing to know where we are each from. It dropped us quickly into our bodies and spirits without needing to think or analyze. And it demonstrated the powerful leadership of Guatemalan women activists who are leading the fight to defend their bodies, lands, and communities.
This moving opening lay the groundwork for the forty women in the room to introduce ourselves to each other. Our roots span five continents, with some stewarding land their family has been on for generations, while others mourn histories that have been lost due to slavery and colonization. We are poets, organizers, mothers, human rights defenders, protectors of the earth, healers, barrier breakers, and system changers. Our passions to end violence in all of its forms – including patriarchy, capitalism, and racism – run deep. The links between our struggles and approaches are clear – fighting state violence and resource extraction, working with young people and women of color, putting our lives on the line to be true to our values, and moving forward with the strength of our ancestors and our communities. Our desire for connection, solidarity, shared strategies, and learning were expressed over and over as we went around the circle. As was our conviction that dialogue, dance, art, and joy would be the ways for us to build relationships over the next several days.
Because language is an essential part of the way we communicate and share, it was important to also start with a framework of how we hope to practice language justice during our time together. Beyond just making sure that we can understand each other, language justice is a belief in the right of everyone to communicate in the language in which they feel most comfortable. It is an acknowledgement that colonization, racism, and genocide have made it punishable to speak one’s native tongue, and that thousands of Indigenous languages have been lost as result. It is a collective practice and commitment, not something we simply rely on our interpretation team for – but having a skilled and robust interpretation team does make a huge difference. One lesson we have already learned in practicing language justice is how important it is to invest in the orientation, team-building, and sustainability of interpreters.
These elements together on this first day didn’t merely plant a seed for what might be possible during our time on this Intercambio, or exchange. It has already sprouted leaves of connection around shared struggles, ideologies, and movements. We go to bed tonight full of positive energy and eagerness to dive in more deeply tomorrow.