Current Events, Volunteers

Bluefields, Nicaragua

dscf8484Bluefields, the previously prospering and booming colonial port in Nicaragua formerly ruled by Britain is now filled with slums and drug-trafficking.

Bluefields is the capital of the South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS) in Nicaragua. Composed of the largest population of people of African descent, Bluefields has a strong and direct relationship to Creole culture.

The British and Spanish held power in Bluefields during the 17th century. Spain conquered the Providencia settlement and inserted itself into the Miskito Indians’ African ancestral group. British then later extended control in Mosquitia and forced Africans to be slave labor, according to Disparate Diasporas.

Bluefields was sealed off from the rest of Nicaragua. This started with the British Protectorate of the Mosquitia (1710). The History Files website states that the Miskito natives claimed the colony of Greytown and controlled the indigenous communities. As the interest in the region declined, Britain assigned this protectorate to Honduras. Consequently, the Miskito rebelled against this, and power was transferred to Nicaragua.

A racial hierarchy prevailed alongside racial mixing of the various groups of people. For instance, the freed colored people were in the middle and the Maroons (unmixed Mosquitian former slaves of African descent) at the bottom.

Despite the British leaving Bluefields, slavery remained. Blackness was equated with servitude. Maroons defeated the British attempt to retain power over Bluefields by communicating to U.S. traders that they had been sold their freedom by Col. Robert Hodgson, a British imperialist of Nicaragua, and claimed direct descendancy from him. This confirmed their freedom and high social and racial hierarchy, according to Disparate Diasporas.

Separate from the directly oppressive colonial regimes, people inhabiting Bluefields referred to themselves as Miskito Coast Creole culture. The term described all the free English-Creole- speaking nonwhite people born in the Americas and residing in the Mosquitia. The Creoles that rose up held immense power and wealth. Among the Creoles, an elite held economic authority and possessed slaves. They used black and less wealthy populations as a source of labor.

During the late 1800’s, Bluefields became a trading center as a result of its trade with the U.S. According to BlackPast.org, Nicaragua established Spanish in place of English as the official language of the region.

It took approximately one hundred years until Bluefields regained its power from Nicaragua.

In 1988, the LA Times called Bluefields a “funky fishing port with a reggae beat and an Afro -Caribbean beat”. Now it is a region full of slums and run-down buildings.

Struck by Hurricane Joan and involved in the Nicaraguan Civil War in 1988, the population of Bluefields suffered economically. Essentially, the locals hold little social, political, and economic power. Although the Nicaraguan government is engaged in local affairs, it does not assist the local population.

Nacíon Comunitario Moskitia is an organization fighting for Bluefields’ autonomy and rights and is headed by Peter Moore. Through using a 1984 document, the organization will support the idea that the people from the self-governing region do not have to pay taxes to the Nicaraguan government. According to Tico Times, the document states “All income that the Miskito coast produces will be invested in their own benefit, preserving economic autonomy.

Moore states that Nicaragua does not respect the laws of the self-governing region by taxing it just like other regions of Nicaragua while not investing in Bluefields.

There is further division with the segregation of the four indigenous groups. Each group has their own institutions accorded to them.

Bluefields has changed but there are groups working on bettering the conditions of the region.

This article was written by RK, a volunteer at the San Jose Peace & Justice Center. Thank you for your research and sharing this important topic. 

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Current Events, Volunteers

“The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq” Forum at the Humanist House on 10.22.17

By Abiola A, a student volunteer from San Jose State University

This was a talk about Alesa Lightbourne’s experience in Kurdish Iraq where she went there to teach abroad but ended up learning about herself and the new country she was living in. Her book and her presentation were about her time there and the experiences she had with the people there in 2010.

Her story started with her son asking her a simple question, “if you could do anything, what would you do?” She turned her answer into action and decided to teach abroad in Kurdistan with the Peace Corps. She explained the origins and demographics of the Kurdish people which started with them spread out among the lands of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They are the world’s largest group of people without a country and have been a people since 500 B.C. The idea of “divide and conquer” was prevalent in the tactics of leaders like Winston Churchill and others like him, because they knew how much power people like the Kurds had if they united. Also, leaders knew the Kurds lived where the world’s major oil resource was. Having them split among their enemies’ lands made them easier to control.

When Alesa was there, she asked some men on the street what they wanted in life and they all said they wanted to be free and unified in Kurdistan. They were all once promised that they would be free but just like many other treaties, it fizzled out and the promise was never kept. Failed policies like that and the Al Anfel genocide are the reasons why Kurdistan is in the present state. The Al Anfel genocide led to the destruction of 4,000 of 4,655 towns, ruined their agriculture, and killed many men while placing women into concentration camps and brothels.

As for the Kurdistan Alesa lived in, she had an unexpected and last-minute change of plans in terms of her teaching. She expected to teach adults at a university but ended up teaching middle school because the students’ last teacher was kidnapped and they were without a teacher for two months. It was an adjustment for her because they have a stricter structure for teachers to follow for those grade levels compared to college students. For example, administrators and other staff would walk by the classrooms to make sure the students were on the scheduled lesson (by checking their page number) and made sure the teachers didn’t sit down every day.

Through teaching her students she learned the harsh reality of female genital mutilation. A girl went up to her and asked how Alesa felt when she was mutilated. Alesa was shocked learning that such a young girl thought it was normal all over the world for girls and women to have their clitorises cut off. Alesa found herself in conflict of learning to be tolerant of aspects of other cultures, including genital mutilation. She also was aware of how Kurdish women weren’t allowed to do things many women could do freely in the states like even riding a bike. She dressed like a man (or more gender neutral than she usually dressed) and explored Kurdistan on her “Blue Angel,” bike. While exploring she met a woman named Bezma, who was studying to become an English teacher. Alesa became well acquainted with Bezma and her family and learned how similar her life can be with people on the other side of the world, despite their apparent differences.

I don’t want to give too much away about her book but after attending her presentation, it was clear that it was a life changing experience. So much so that enriched her life in a way that motivated her to tell her story to the world in her book, The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq.

If you haven’t read it, go check it out!

Current Events

In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte

Within the intimate beige walls of History Park’s Arbuckle Gallery, History San Jose is currently displaying In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte, an exhibit with hard-hitting oral histories and sobering photographs that bring to light the mistreatment and poor working conditions migrant workers face in trying to make a life for themselves.

This exhibit, translated into both English and Spanish, is a collection of works by David Bacon—a photojournalist, activist, and former union organizer. For over 30 years, Bacon traveled with these laborers during harvest seasons and even crossed borders with them as they searched for work.

Upon entering, the crackling of old black-and-white footage coming from a small television in the back greets visitors. The sounds of a rousing speech delivered by Cesar Chavez during the Delano Grape Strike and the voices of the United Farm Workers of America singing in unison fill the gallery.

The photographs on the walls depict workers of all ages toiling in the fields. Men, women, and children alike are shown packing celery and picking jalapeño chilies. The angle of the photos is what is most striking. Bacon gets up close and personal; he chooses to take many of the pictures from either at or below the eye level of the worker. This low perspective makes the photographs immersive and almost authentic. It is as if we are also bent over, laboring alongside the other workers in the field.

Bacon also delves into the home lives of these people, capturing photos of them in shacks and workers’ cabins. In these pictures, the workers stare directly back out at the viewer with intensely somber expressions as their eyes tell of sacrifice and struggle.

Scattered throughout the gallery are snippets of the oral histories of some of the migrant workers, including an aspiring rapper and a mother who longs to go back to school. They are touching, visceral, and raw. As they speak of the hopes, dreams, sacrifices, hardships, and pain of the workers, they also force us to confront the stories that make us most uncomfortable. They serve Bacon’s purpose of reminding us to not forget the humanity of those who produce our food.

Further into the gallery, there is an area for people to sit and read books relating to the lives and labor of migrant workers. This space is complete with beanbag chairs, bookshelves, and tables. It is a place for visitors to contemplate what they have already seen and to explore those topics from a different perspective, whether it is through one of the picture books, the biographies, or the informational books.

As a whole, the exhibit challenges people’s stereotypes about migrant workers and the perceptions that these workers come just to take away American jobs. It shows us that despite the arduous nature of the labor, migrant workers continue to endure it for the hope of a brighter future and a better quality of life for their children.

Bacon makes the point that awareness needs to be brought to the plight of migrant workers, but at the same time, he demonstrates that they are a resilient people; they are to be admired, not pitied. They have always found ways to overcome their hardships through solidarity, whether it was street protests or the formation of social justice organizations.

The next time you visit the grocery store or the supermarket, the next time you take a bite out of that strawberry, take a moment to think about where your food came from and the people who made it possible for you to complete your meal.

In fact, it is best said by Alma Flor Ada’s Gathering the Sun, one of the picture books in the gallery bookshelf: “Gracias te doy, campesino, por los frutos de tus manos.”

“Thank you, farmworker, for the fruits your hands have brought me.”

Take a visit to History Park’s Pacific Hotel to see this thought-provoking exhibit for yourself: History San Jose Website.

It will be on display until June 3.

Thank you Lan, a SJPJC Volunteer for writing this piece and sharing these important reminders.

Current Events

Genocide of the Rohingya People

In wake of the recent catastrophes occurring in and around the Gulf of Mexico (including Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, Katia, AND Jose; both earthquakes within Oaxaca and Puebla; and the United States’ political controversy of North Korean engagement) the attention of the United States media has retracted from the genocide of the Rohingya, which continues to this day.
The Rohingya, a Muslim-majority group of people situated in the north-west of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh, have faced wave after wave of violence over the past half-century. For many years, the Myanmar government has consistently been placing pressure upon the Rohingya to evacuate. The government has restricted their rights to work and travel, and only limited numbers can enter certain professions like law and politics.

This conflict has resulted in many outbursts between the forces. It is believed that at least 1,000 Rohingya deaths have occurred to date from the Myanmar government. More than 270,000 people have fled to Bangladesh from the pressure of the Myanmar military, with others trapped on the border. Meanwhile, Bangladesh repeatedly denies them refuge as they view the Rohingya as an economic burden.

In an effort to investigate the genocide, the UN has been denied the visa rights to enter the country. British Prime Minister has ordered to cease training the Myanmar military until the forced migration and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya halts. But in the meantime, where are the Rohingya people to take refuge: India and Australia have refused entertaining their company and only Thailand has offered temporary shelter.

With news of the natural disasters flooding United States airwaves, we must still keep in mind the atrocities being done in the world and take action against institutions that place human rights secondary to politics.

By Cameron, a SJPJC Intern.

Current Events

Referendums Refuted

World maps may seem different in a few years, adding more national identities and differing country borders to the existing diagrams. Many movements for national sovereignty have surged within the past few months, especially in Iraq, Cameroon, and Spain.

While the call for an independent Kurdistan has been apparent for over a decade with a referendum taking place in 2005, Israel has just recently openly supported the idea, legitimizing its plea for independence. Even though 92.7% of voters within the Kurdish northern region of Iraq supported annexation, the rest of the Middle East opposes an independent Kurdistan, especially to those nations with a large Kurdish population, including Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Syria. The majority of opposition relates to a concern of the large oil deposits where Kurdistan would be located. Additionally, validating Kurdistan in Iraq allows for other Kurds to substantiate secession from their respective countries. Facing extreme opposition, the future of an independent Kurdish nation looks wary; however the resilient will of the Kurdish people shines brighter with hope than it ever has.

The most televised referendum occurred recently in the Spanish state of Catalonia. Though the Spanish government claims that the demonstration was illegal, 2.3 of the total 5.3 million citizens within the state of Catalonia voted, and just under 90% of them backed Catalonian independence. The Spanish government tried to intervene, injuring 844 people and closing off 319 of the 2,300 polling stations in the process. While the Spanish government claims the vote to be illegal, the extent to which they opposed it seems questionable: At what point does separatism allow violent conflict by government-sanctioned police?

The most explosive and yet least covered calls for independence happened within the last week in Cameroon. Over the past decades, conflicts between the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions with the French-speaking eastern regions. Last year, protests flared up with the national imposition of regulated French-taught schools. Within the last week, calls for independence from Cameroon have been violently throttled, resulting in 30 deaths, 50 wounded, and more than 200 arrested. The government has even sanctioned the restriction of internet use within the western regions in order to silence the separatists.

Rather than administer to the interests of the separatist groups, the national governments of Iraq, Spain, and Cameroon are completely disregarding the struggles of their constituents. This conflict of independence or national unity is larger than simply the idea of freedom and concerns existing economic ties, religious sects, GDP contribution, and political majority. However, government efforts to address minorities’ struggles seem virtually nonexistent, harming national unity, which is evident in how fervently these separatists are fighting to claim independence.

 

If you would like to learn more of the latest news on any of these situations, read the articles below:

Iraq: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/iraq-rouhani-turkey-erdogan-meeting-1.4327874

Spain: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41503429

Cameroon: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cameroon-politics-separatists

 

This article was written by Cameron, a SJPJC Intern.

Current Events

Take a Knee

Last September, quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem. Amid a flurry of criticisms asserting that his action was un-American, he stated that he could not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” (CNN) He specifically cited the issue of police brutality as a prominent motivation for his action.

The practice of kneeling in protest can be traced back to MLK Jr., who would often do so before marches or rallies. The gesture itself is a respectful one, often used by soldiers, and was deliberately chosen because of its history and meaning. Eric Reid, who took a knee alongside the Kaepernick, stated in a NYT editorial that, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” Since last fall, athletes have repeatedly protested in the same manner, igniting a debate regarding the role of athletes, protest, and race relations in America.

More recently, President Trump called on NFL owners to fire any players who chose to “disrespect our flag” by sitting or kneeling during the anthem, referring to protesters as “sons of *****s” during an Alabama rally. The comment was quickly condemned by many politicians, players, and citizens alike, leading to larger protests during Sunday football games. Dozens of athletes kneeled or locked arms during the national anthem, with some teams even staying in their locker rooms while it was played. In solidarity with the NFL players, celebrities Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, Dave Matthews and Pharrell Williams also took a knee on stage.

However, the reason for the demonstrations is becoming increasingly obscured as they are put into terms of Trump. By rebranding the act of taking a knee as anti-Trump, its original purpose of calling attention to racial injustice in America is lost. NFL owners can avoid discussing race by condemning Trump’s words as divisive or disrespectful without acknowledging that there were targeted at African-American athletes. A recent statement from the President on the topic also seeks to blur this line, claiming that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” While they were in response to Trump’s harsh comment, Sunday’s demonstrations of solidarity should not be interpreted as nothing more than another anti-Trump action. If they are, we run the risk of forgetting their greater mission as protests against police brutality and racism.

In a time when the president picks fights with the NFL, we urge you to remember the original meaning of Kaepernick’s protest and continue fighting for racial justice. For more information and opportunities to get involved, visit http://blacklivesmatter.com/getinvolved/ and http://www.naacp.org/find-local-unit/ or follow https://www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatter/ on Facebook.

Written by Sam, and SJPJC Intern.