Chahim A’jam Vásquez Leal.
In the following document, I will share reflections that are the result of actions undertaken to defend life, in the first person, in the wide profusion of its expressions from a personal, communal, and political perspective—reflections that, like threads, come together in times of political transmutations, of emotions and thoughts that stay with the body and on the earth. These reflections arise from concerns raised by dreams, spiritual calls, and echoes of ancestral harmonization that were experienced in times of deep respect for the infinite and plural ways in which life can be harmonized.
I will name these concerns, but I will also enunciate proposals that seek freedom in order to defend life and the wide plurality of those of its expressions that inhabit the native territories in Iximulew/Guatemala, as we tread the paths of justice and emancipation. These proposals emanate from a diverse and quotidian epistemology that is also indigenous and spiritual, but which is unburdened by a [mainstream] political profile and pretenses of “correctness.” Instead, they are informed by the creativity that resists the violence perpetrated within the political contexts shaped by the system we call the Colonial Nation State, specifically Guatemala – Central America.
In the fabric woven by these written words, intimate moments of pain embrace each other to withstand the self-denial of our existence—regardless of the subject from whom or the space from which they emerge. In the tapestry of acute pain, we summon rebellion to emancipate ourselves, to awaken and refuse discourses that camouflage [injustice] and the political common sense that is part of our colonial and patriarchal inheritance. These words come together as a break away from the exercises of instrumentalization and the coercive behaviors prevalent in the different dimensions we inhabit; thus we stand up and walk in the conviction of our freedom.
Weaving the written word
I’d like to share that I’ve been resistant to write, not only because [writing] brings back violent recollections from my time as a student, but also because I’ve found that written words tend to lose their meaning and their political intention because they belong to a dimension that is only accessible to people who can read Kaxlan Tz’i’ / Colonial Castilian. Because of this, for many years I have practiced political orality, an ancestral element that has sustained us throughout difficult times. It is in ancestral orality that we find the elements to harmonize life into a fabric that is profoundly respectful to everything that exists.
Orality transports us to a dimension of profound thinking. The different faces, tones of voice, gestures and vibrations activate our sensory systems and summon us to infinite experiences. Orality is an indispensable path for our spiritual and political fabric and the sustainability of our existences. It allows us to get closer to the intimacy of the body and the earth—to listen, to feel, and to act.
In orality we find everyday decolonial and anti-patriarchal actions that are also genuine, emancipatory, and infinite. To some, it may sound like poorly pronounced colonial Spanish, but there is creativity in the way we speak this language, adding, for example, the letter E to personal pronouns [to make them gender neutral] and including an “A” to render [women] visible, [and we deploy it] in different spaces, where heartfelt and intense quotidian rebellions are woven.
To be fair to my existence and those of many others, I have called upon myself to weave the written word as a path of emancipation and personal transgression in the face of the instrumentalization of our existence. This happens when we are translated by those who do not inhabit our realities, by those who believe they, as saviors, have a license to write our words and garner attention in an individual and egotistical way with our stories. But we could harmonize, from a gyre, with all our words and communicate at the same time, without an established order, expanding our hearts, spirits, and energies. We could listen to many voices at the same time, which understand, feel, value, and accompany each other.
Who weaves this written word? Intersex woman, Jalanil Junxaqalil, Maya Q’eqchi’ Afro-Romaní, from her spiritual knowledge to defend Life in all its profusion of expressions
My name is Chahim Vásquez Leal, I am a Jalanil Junxaqalil intersex woman, Afro Mayan, and Romani. On this path, I’ve had the opportunity to claim and reveal my three cultures, which are exposed particularly during the hardest, most violent moments I’ve faced within the temporality of my life.
Three bloodlines, three threads, and three paths that scorch my existence, which at times ignited conflict within me due to the absence of a familial identity in a context of murder, displacement, and few opportunities—all of this the product of colonial and patriarchal racism compounded by ancestral disharmonization, resulting in the obliteration of memory.
In ladinized societies, urbanized and intervened by the accumulation of spoils on our bodies and the earth, dispossession is also made manifest in memory, especially the kind of memory that guards our indigenous spiritualities.
I was born at a time when peace agreements were being signed in Guatemala. Racist even in its etymology, this peace also excluded the principles and values of our indigenous cosmogonies—a process that, in my opinion, to an extent homogenized our assigned identities as a result of the economic intervention of our personal, communal, and cultural processes.
What is peace? Is it a lived experience or a racist oasis whose purpose inclusion into a colonial system?
By treading many different paths, I, other women, compañeros and compañeres, and other people who embody the infinite ways in which life is expressed have come to a communal agreement: peace never came. It has never been present, except in the speeches that absurdly comfort the social mirage which stands in front of the historical repression, dispossession, and sustainability of the systems of oppression that engulf our peoples and the colonial nation states.
My accompaniment has been informed by the ancestral knowledge I inherited, but [it has also been informed] by that which I’ve discovered about the land, the wind, the water, as well as the urgent need to solve problems in my childhood, adolescence, and youth—[life stages] that were pierced by the Jesus Christ transnational, by a Western educational system, [and] by the shame and guilt of carrying the traits that my body carries. [These traits] I have learned to accept, love, care for, and respect in the company of other women. It isn’t a romantic process but a love conflict in which being up or being down is part of the constant search for awareness, the spiritual suspicion, about what I feel and experience. All of this becomes communal when I share with other women, with compañeras and compañeros, about the ways in which we can solve for the intimate and personal, so we can dare to weave communally, aiming at the harmonizations of life.
Wake up! Racism, colonialism, and disharmonizations
The image of a drop of ink falling into a glass of water comes to mind. The moment the ink touches the water, each ink molecule collides with the water, turning what once was a glass of water into a glass of ink. Thus do I understand and sense this, because I believe the origin of racism is a very old, hegemonic, and economic intention, which is also patriarchal. It evolves over time, regenerates, and adapts to each imposed hegemonic, political phenomenon, like a patriarchal certainty that is independently mobile and accommodates many other kinds of violence that become manifest in our bodies and on the earth.
Once, I went to a local store with a canche friend—by that I mean that she has blonde hair. The store clerk saw me and told me to wait because he was going to service the canchita first (what we colloquially call a person with blonde hair). The clerk was not aware that we were shopping together, and my friend indignantly told him to service me because I would be paying.
My most recent experience with racism happened in Antigua Guatemala. Many women had been invited to a space to talk, reflect, and contribute to dimensioning women’s different kinds of justice. When the activity was over, we decided to go dancing. We wore our clothes and try to go to two places, where we were turned away in what I assume they thought was a subtle manner: We reserve the right to refuse admission.”
After a while, we finally found a place where we felt comfortable. There was music, so we decided to go in to dance, eat, and hang out with other colleagues. However, as soon as we entered we began to realize that all the people at the bar were staring at us. Many were Kaxlanes and mestizo ladinos. “Have you noticed that everyone is staring at us? Have you noticed the way they’re looking at us? We’re just dancing…” “Yes, friend, they aren’t used to indigenous women having fun and having access to places like this. They are used to seeing us crying, cleaning their houses, and serving them. They have never seen us spending money to eat at a place like this while we enjoy ourselves. I think that’s what bothers them the most: to see us enjoying ourselves!”
We decided to concentrate on enjoying ourselves, dancing, laughing, and telling stories as the music played on. On one side, there was a table of young Ladina Kaxlan women; on the other, there was a table of gringos. While we were dancing, one of the gringos stood behind me and put his hand on my waist to the rhythm of the music. I stopped dancing, and so did my friends. I turned around and asked him—in the kindest way, while taking deep breaths and trying to keep calm when faced with his unwanted physical proximity and non-consensual touch—to get away from me and let us dance. They reacted by saying things like “mamita rica” and “Latina,” while trying to record us with their phones. When it finally sank in that we were actually saying no, they finally left us alone.
Immediately, the group of women called them and told them: “You can sit with us,” a suggestion that was not heeded by the gringos, who returned to their table. The [Ladina Kaxlan] women looked at us indignantly and said in a low voice: “Who do these Indians think they are rejecting gringos?” “They’re bitter?” “Why do they even come here?”
Once again, we took deep breaths together. We exchanged looks of indignation, but we decided to prioritize our [leisure] time because it isn’t easy for us to make time for fun since, and the alternative was to stop everything and wear ourselves out due to the situation. So, we kept dancing until we returned to our work space.
I can interpret racism as two licenses granted for social behaviors, which negatively intervene the intimate and the personal. [Racism] turns the most natural life experiences into a back-and-forth of emotional, spiritual, and physical pain, inferiority, dispossession. and emptiness. Even though the meaning of the word “racism” can become apparent in different actions, when it arises and we say “Hey! That’s racism!” [the word] really seems to fall quite short of being able to clearly state all the emotions and thoughts that we experience as this concept pierces our bodies and the earth.
The first license is grants some bodies permission to be racist; that is, they have the social, religious, state, legal, economic, legislative, family, and cultural support to be able to exercise racism over other bodies and the land.
The second license is granted to the bodies and territories that systematically made targets of racism and coloniality through these negative actions; that is, we are given permission to endure, keep quiet, adapt, internalize, and even smile when these situations arise. We are taught and required to remain calm so as not to offend our aggressors and [to believe] in racism’s best intentions. We are limited in how far our indignation can go and what channels we can use to voice it. What would our genuine reaction be if these licenses weren’t covering our bodies? How would we genuinely act in situations of racism?
I have talked to many women who belong to different indigenous peoples, women who are now named as indigenous, black, sexually diverse, or who name themselves defenders, feminists, and activists because of the plurality of life in the native territories. In our conversations, when we reflect or achieve catharsis, we always conclude that racism goes hand in hand with the patriarchy and capitalism.
Being assigned an occupation in an economic system that historically adapts to serve hegemonic positions from a structure that measures the value of our existence according to arbitrary criteria and foists on us a negative aspiration that makes us distance ourselves from our own existence and in a violently aspirational way calls on us to be something we’re not [sic].
Our cultural, indigenous, personal, and communal identities are biased to nullify and expropriate our identities from us. Likewise, our sustainability models are submerged in an economic model that has a different structural foundation, whose purpose is to systematically coerce us into abnegating our quotidian practices, dispossessing us of everything that represents weaving life from a profusion of standpoints. On the contrary, [this mode] shapes us with internalized rejection and normalization.
Therefore, racism becomes the prevailing logic, and it is self-animating; that is, [racism’s] violent actions no longer shock us the way they did in the early days of the colonial invasion. These actions now conform a corporeal system of cultural aesthetic consciousness that upholds the path and evolution of racism—and the productivity, legitimization, and assimilation, and maintenance of what has been configured as exercises of power, by which each person can acquire real estate in this structure, depending on how far they believe their expression of life to be from their roots, in the hope to be assimilated into something that doesn’t exist. This [non-existent] model of economic humanity would allow us, according to [colonial] logic, to perceive the blows of racism not as pain but from an assimilationist perspective, as if they were keeping score. What requirements must we meet in order to not suffer racism? Anesthetize our consciousness and defamiliarize the harmonious emotions and thoughts that allow us to weave life from a profusion of its expressions?
Freedom and the profusion of harmonizations that serve life
It is important to recognize that there are exits, paths, and infinite ways to emancipate ourselves from all the violence that pierce our bodies. Before continuing with this reflection, I would like to state that coloniality and racism are not the only problems that indigenous women around the world face. There are other dimensions we face that do not come from racism or coloniality. In that regard, it is up to us alone to struggle against them, always with respectful complicity [with our peers] of course, but [it is up to us] in the first person as individual, communal, and political beings.
I feel in my heart the need to clarify the words freedom and harmonization, since in my experience and in the accompaniment I provide communally these are words that have different paths and can help us understand in a different way the structure and performance of violence over time. In this sense, freedom is not the same as harmonization, and the profusion of experiences, freedoms are not the same as harmonizations.
Harmonizations were woven in very ancient times when it was possible to inhabit time and the territories in a different way than we do now. There was a deep respect for the different ways life expressed itself, not only as cultural or spiritual-political dimensions, but as a dimension that allowed us to acknowledge other consciousness. This basic respect for the life’s profusion of expressions was the crucial bare minimum we needed to coexist with the earth and other bodies in all their diversity.
I believe that because there was a greater connection with oneself, there was a greater connection with everything else that existed; there was respect and there were no intentions to exert power over other bodies, nor to control, nor were there the ghosts of egos or narcissism to interrupt the harmonization needed to weave life.
At the time when the first disharmonization in the world took place, the first freedom came into being. That is, I understand and apprehend freedom as all the processes we must carry out to free ourselves from oppression. That is, freedoms are born when oppressions are born.
I consciously enunciate the first women who stood up against the first acts of racism and coloniality. The countries, hegemonic empires, first trialed repression in their own territories. Before they could export this violence to other territories, they carried it out in their own lands. As regards the European invasions, we can see in their history that the first disharmonizations were carried out by men in their territories when they burned witches, for example. Only to then invade another territory and continue to perpetrate the same violence on the women of our territories.
It is important that we acknowledge these processes as accumulated burdens on our bodies, which wear us down and lead us to a dimension that nullifies our existence, as long as this leads us to weave spiritual-political certainty in our infinite quest for rebelliousness. Those first women and those first bodies that sowed dissatisfaction with their actions sowed knowledge and suspicion, thereby beginning the construction of paths that we continue to walk and cleanse so that every day there are more and more emancipatory paths of freedom and harmonization.
In these times we’re living in, I strongly encourage all those bodies that are challenged by oppression—not just the ones that are seen, but also those who are down below this perverse chain of power that alienates us and makes us vulnerable—to wake up and lift up with love, strength, respect, and patience.
[I would also like to encourage] those bodies who have struggled and endured several attacks to acquire real estate [in the structure], acquiescing to the legitimacy that these systems offer, to not forget their roots and to free themselves from the fear of refusing power, power exercises, and their own instrumentalization, which can occur when we accustom our bodies to the aspirational feeling that [the possibility] of power induces. This aspiration is a mirage that projects a moment of satisfaction that numbs our consciousness and makes us used to justifying ourselves—even though we are the ones disharmonizing life.
Let us lift our spirit, our gaze, our consciousness. Let us take our ruptures and our agreements responsibly and generate proposals with principles and values, with conscious acquisitions that are not fueled by patriarchal, colonial, and racist certainties. Let’s not undermine the work of those who have it worse in these times. Let’s consciously rise together, not with romantic but conscious and actual love, to embrace and enjoy each other and to accumulate memories of pleasure, enjoyment, rebellion, and emancipation.
“Racism is not being excluded by a system; racism is the denial
of the infinite ways that exist of weaving and expressing life.”
Threads of the word
These reflections were woven together with the paths of consciousness that were awakened through dialogue, living together, and defending life with women in indigenous territories, criminalized women, survivors of physical and sexual violence; young women, artists, weavers, market sellers. Women defenders of life in their territories, with trans women, diverse women with a profusion of expressions evident on their bodies, identities, and sexualities; diverse women with disabilities, migrant and indigenous women around the world, with compañeros and compañeres who rebel against their own existence, black women, she-birds, and Afro-Q’eqchi women who acknowledge themselves as feminists in the profusion of their dimensions.
We are fueled by rebellion in the face of the accumulated violence of these times and sustained by openness and the awakening feelings of deep respect to sustain the infinite and plural ways that we can weaving life.