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UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

10/05/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/05/2021 04:04

Interview with Camila Rivera: Co-founder of the Luanda Afro-Descendant Women's Collective from Chile

Camila Rivera studied law at the University of Tarapacá and is one of the co-founders of the Luanda Afro-descendant Women's Collective from the city of Arica, in northern Chile. Her thesis was titled "International protection instruments for the recognition of Afro-descendants in Chile." The study provided a theoretical framework for the working group that culminated in the approval of Law 21.151 that recognizes Afro-descendants as a tribal people in Chile, promulgated in 2019.

The law holds that the State values, respects and promotes knowledge, traditional knowledge, traditional medicine, languages, rituals, symbols and clothing, recognizing them as intangible cultural heritage of the country. Regulations also establish that "the national education system of Chile will endeavor to design a programmatic unit that enables students to have an adequate knowledge of the history, language and culture of Afro-descendants, and to promote their artistic and cultural expressions from the preschool, school and university."

"Being Afro-descendant is what guides me in my life experience"

Camila Rivera

1. What does it mean to you to be of African descent?

The term Afro-descendant comes to vindicate a denomination that has left us to social detriment. Before this legal concept came into effect, they disparagingly called us black, putting us on a social pyramid scale, minimizing our existence by virtue of the heritage of slavery that to this day has harmful effects on our lives.

That is why being Afro-descendant means resistance to all the negative conditions that the system imposes on us.

It means being the daughter of the strongest, of those women who managed to survive slavery, homogenizing political projects, social whitening and exclusion. Being Afro-descendant is what guides me in my life experience, because I know where I come from, that in my walk thousands of ancestors accompany me in spiritual ways, in my present it defines me in each of the processes that I face, from external ones to the deepest parts of my being, and is a political projection that I want to draw for the benefit of all my black people.

© Colectivo de Mujeres Afrodescendientes Luanda

2. How was the foundation of the Luanda Arica Afro-descendant Women's Collective?

The Luanda Afro-descendant Women's Collective was born in 2010, and stems from the need to eradicate sexist stereotypes imposed on black women, to promote the needs of Afro-descendant women, and to strengthen the struggle of the political process of the Afro-Chilean people. In addition, the Collective seeks to incorporate the existence of Afro-descendant women into social movements to ensure that our ancestors´contributions in our struggle are known and heard.

The work of the Luanda Collective is also based on resistance to patriarchy and to the impositions that we have inherited from colonization. Indeed, we denounce the fact that black women were objects for the consumption of capitalist, racist and colonial systems. Our conviction that we are diverse and integral was forged during the birth of Luanda; we can position ourselves from our bodies, but also from our intelligence as we are able to generate strong ideas and bonds just as women in Africa did. We take the name of Luanda, because according to our records and the oral accounts of our elders, our ancestors came mostly from Angola.

The main objective of our organization is to exercise political influence in public and private social spaces in order to eradicate the inequalities that affect black women as a result of colonialism. Through identity, we want to contribute to the construction of a more democratic, inclusive, equitable and non-sexist society. Lines of work to fulfill these objectives are the following: vindication of the Rights of the Afro-descendant tribal people in Chile, promotion of the human rights of women, especially those of black women; training and political participation, and the rescue and enhancement of Afro-descendant heritage.

"The need arose for us, Afro-descendant women, to write our own stories"

Camila Rivera

3. Your thesis entitled "International protection instruments for the recognition of Afro-descendants in Chile" served as a framework for the round table that culminated in the enactment of Law 21,151, which grants legal recognition to the Chilean Afro-descendant tribal people. How do you remember that process?

University of Tarapacá, where I did my undergraduate degree, is an institution that is located in a border territory, where multiculturalism is the essence of social relations. Notwithstanding that, Afro-descendant history was not a subject that was widely addressed by the academy, even less by the legal sciences. In this context, one of my strongest intentions was to generate an instrument that would be an input for the political actions of my people, at that stage I was a student with years in the militancy of the black people, so my conscience was inclined to generate contributions from blackness. It was very difficult to find a teacher who wanted to be part of this research as a director. Racism and ignorance were present in this process. Luckily, together with my research partner Carla Rubio, we found Professor Marta Contreras, who wanted to join this research and who was key to the projection of the work.

The investigation was delivered to Deputy Luis Rocafull Lopéz as input and theoretical framework of what later became Law No. 21,151, so this work was the sum of many contributions.

I remember it as a process where structural racism manifested itself in the university institutions, but finally we managed to transform this situation into an action for the benefit of the Afro-Chilean people.

4. In 2019 you were co-author of the book "From the ancestors to the present: black women of Arica and their resistance". What stood out to you the most in that investigation?

This book is also born out of resistance. With the Luanda Collective we were realizing that there was a lot of extractivism from our knowledge, from our stories by social science professionals who carried out research on black (...)

(...) people in Chile, but that the results were not returned to the community. In relation to the above, the need arose for us, Afro-descendant women, to write our own stories, from our experiences, stories and investigative processes. What caught my attention the most was understanding that our political struggle begins when the first enslaved African woman forcibly arrives in what we now know as Latin America, that our organizational processes are special, with a strong community component (intergenerational and interterritorial).

5. How is the African cultural legacy manifested in northern Chile?

In presence, there is an existence that cannot be denied. The cultural legacy not only reaches the north of Chile, in this extreme part of the national territory it is more visible because here there was a process of greater expansion of the African presence, but it was also able to resist whitewashing more.

The cultural legacy is manifested in our entire context from the meals, dances, music, words and customs. It is a heritage that, despite constant denial, emerges stronger and stronger, because in each cultural manifestation there is an African root and that is impossible to deny.

"The role of young people of African descent is key to the transformation of our cultures and institutions."

Camila Rivera

© Colectivo de Mujeres Afrodescendientes Luanda

6. What is the role of young people in building a culture of peace and human rights?

The role of young people of African descent is key to the transformation of our cultures and institutions. From the contributions that we can make in the cultural sphere, in the political incidence and in the generation of knowledge, we can gradually strengthen the perspective of human rights that the States try to install, but due to the political systems their enjoyment is difficult. We have been the young people who have taken to the streets to demand peace for our people. This sector of the population has catalyzed social changes, seeking to establish a culture that respects human rights.

Young Afro-descendant women began a political process from a very young age, watching our elders fight for dignity and justice. When we reach the youth, we find tools that allow us to influence with force and foundations to guarantee the common good in the entire community.

7. What message would you like to share with those who read this interview?

That ancestry unites us, there is a history and a connection with Africa that transcends the territories, connects us with the sea and tradition, so the principles and values that we can transmit to our communities are important. Afro-descendant women respond to this appreciation and we are key to changes in our societies, from the elimination of violence, sexism and the empowerment of our girls and young people to build a more egalitarian world. Our existences are great, many of ours had to sacrifice many affections and we must honor that struggle, contributing from all spaces, with conscience and love.

The challenge is to strengthen these principles, always looking at the mother continent, with respect, in order to delineate a future that seeks the common good that recognizes all the claims of the Afro-descendant population.