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Lessons on Solidarity

1) Solidarity is a journey into oneself.

I started the semester with the notion that activism/solidarity/anti-oppression work is entirely rooted in the proactive ‘doing’ side of things. It took awhile before I realized how the ‘doing’ was only one half of the equation and that more importantly, a look into oneself was integral. And thus a channel into the internal was opened, a journey into self in order to come to grips with how I am implicated in the perpetuation of the injustices of the world. Anzaldua poetically describes this journey as one’s path to knowledge: “Tu camino de conocimiento requires that you encounter your shadow side and confront what you’ve programmed yourself (and have been programmed by your cultures) to avoid.” This has been, for me, the most difficult aspect of this course but it has become clear that it is necessary to engage in reflection in order to determine a course of action.

2) Solidarity is about building community.

Activism/solidarity work should never be a solitary endeavor if only for the simple reason that it is easy for one to succumb to “exploding head” syndrome: the overwhelming helplessness when confronted with the power structures of our societies that seem to permeate every aspect of life. How can we ever even begin to tackle the globalized, invisible soft-power? How can we begin to examine our own place within these structures without compromising our status quo, our identity, our lifestyle? The antidote to this unfortunate syndrome was simpler than I would have thought: reaching out. Engaging in dialogue with others, sharing and putting thoughts to action is an instant antidote to feeling jaded. Working with the class I was able to connect with others who were grappling with the world and with themselves, just like I was. It brought to mind a quote I saw once on the wall of a restaurant on Main St., the catchy kind of quote that one commits to memory without thinking: “Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that has.” I don’t know if I can say our class created change in any real sense, but it was something amazing to be part of a communal space where consciousness was collectively being activated and shifted.

3) Solidarity is not motivated by guilt.

Many people (myself having been included in this) live in a coma of sorts, going our way through our daily lives without ever questioning how everything is interconnected, how privilege is balanced on the other end by oppression. But then again, maybe we do this subconsciously for reasons of self preservation – who could not be crushed by the guilt and helplessness of coming into the realization that one is inextricably a part of someone else’s oppression, the contribution to the gross inequality of the world, the knowledge that we are the scant 15% of the population that is exploiting 85% of the world’s resources? I suspect that for many, this guilt has instilled within themselves a commitment to rectify this injustice. However, a classmate shared an insight with me that has really put things into perspective: guilt as a motivator behind anti-oppression work never works. If guilt is the sole reason behind your work, you’re sure to burn out hard and fast. What gets people going is a positive driving force, be it mutual learning, understanding, or friendship. My positive force from this class is without a doubt the relationships I developed with Celia and Marla (in fact, there is a certain unfinished feeling of not being able to go to Chiapas and complete the exchange by learning from their surroundings and lifestyle). When organizing the events for the class, I was buoyed not by the guilt in learning how power imbalance is inherent in Canada’s foreign policy with Mexico, but rather the laughter around a kitchen table exchanging language and stories, busy hands readying enough tostadas to feed one hundred people, the heartfelt and moving thanks and hugs exchanged on our last days together. The warmth from a human connection is a much more nourishing motivator than guilt. It gives me a sense of purpose that I will continue to carry beyond this class.


“As a citizen, I can assume my responsibility for the public world – the world of politics – not as a spectator but as a participant who engages and shapes it.”

–  James Orbinski

Marla once likened the process of weaving to the moments in life in which we are brought together and brought apart, thereby connecting us.  In class, we have sought to trace the tangle of connections that connect Canada to Mexico.  However, I am interested in exploring the ways in which the intricacies of daily life are tied to greater social and political struggles, both local and transnational.  If the personal is political, then how can we live the routine of everyday life with purpose?  After all, we live in the commonplace of the everyday, and not in a grand, romantic vision of political struggle.

Yat Ming’s project provided me with much food for thought.  He found commonality, and, I would say, solidarity in the activism of indigenous peoples across Latin America.  He identified with their struggles over land.  For Yat Ming, the mode of capitalism that was dispossessing many indigenous groups of their land was the same as that which was dispossessing many locals of a cherished way of life.  So he began his experiment: for one year, he will not be patron to Hong Kong’s real-estate development companies, and their subsidiaries.  I witnessed Yat Ming’s politics in the details of his everyday life.  He buys his groceries from public markets, not supermarkets; and he uses internet services made available at a municipal building nearby.  He minimizes his use of public transit, opting instead to ride his bike.  This is because real-estate companies own a majority of the shares in the city’s largest providers of household supplies, internet services, and public transit.  Marla has related power as a subtle and insidious thing, and indeed, Yat Ming finds it in the most unexpected of places: in the most intimate, and most mundane spaces of our lives.

Yat Ming lead me to see that undoing privilege is a trying practice, one that involves mindful actions in the mundane routines of everyday life.  Hong Kong’s streets are hostile to cyclists, yet Yat Ming insists, choosing to navigate through unrelenting traffic; through the abuse of irritated drivers.  And to what ends?  The class, and Yat Ming have reminded me that the struggles for social and political justice are not waged in a noble and romantic vision.  It takes place in our everyday lives, in the commonplace, for that is where we write our present and script our future.

Contained in Yat Ming’s act of resistance is an act of cultivation—in the process Yat Ming has fostered a sense of community, albeit small.  I feel that we have done the same in class…and may we continue to build, continue to grow.

anxious reflections

Gloria E.  Anzaldúa defines, ‘Este quehacer’ as “internal work coupled with commitment to struggle for social transformation – changes your relationship to your body, and, in turn, to others bodies and to the world. And when that happens you change the world.” (574). This quote articulates my own struggles within as well as beyond Geography 495 to bridge the gap between my everyday experiences and larger collective efforts and relationships. Investigation of our simultaneous positions of marginalization and privilege denaturalizes dualistic essentializations and reveals constructed identities as multiple and often paradoxical.

Through her acceptance of hybrid identities, Anzaldua disrupts the normalization of the privileged ‘centre,’ as well as the conventional ‘downward gaze’ of academic research and social justice activism largely. Geography 495 is framed by a radical pedagogy that questions as well as makes visible the epistemological hierarchies that are active in Western academic institutions. These distributions of power become transparent as “the lechuza eyes of your neguala open, rousing you from the trance of hyper-rationality induced by higher education” (Anzaldua, 548). Moreover, the perpetuation of democracy, liberalism, Euro-centrism and masculine rationality is taken for granted and made invisible within my experiences of the classroom. Discussion of how knowledge is produced and whose is valued has hopefully allowed us to move outside and disinvest in the hierarchical commodifications of knowledge, people and place. The relationships built in solidarity with Marla, Celia and Jennifer; K’inal Antzetik, Jolom Mayatiek and la mano respectively, have enabled an interconnectedness and a space for new forms of agency.

Although the experience of this class has been overwhelmingly positive, fully stuffed with cheesingly delicious clichés, as many of us continue to state, “solidarity ain’t easy”. I feel unable to submit a gushing and fully satisfied admission. Thankfully, I continue to feel inundated by the fear of a personal deference into an apathetic comfort through the failure to preserve what we have learned. I included a bell hooks’ quote in my first journal entry, “Our struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting…; a politicization of memory that distinguishes nostalgia, that longing for something to be as once it was, a kind of useless act, from that remembering that serves to illuminate and transform the present” (147). Its relevance has blossomed and helped resolve my lasting anxiety post-graduation. This relevance became most apparent during our class de-briefing when Marla powerfully articulated that she sees Canadian youth as remaining less political because we do not have to be. Political activism and the questioning of our privileges are not necessary within our everyday lives. Anzaldúa likewise writes, “We are collectively conditioned not to know that every comfort of our lives is acquired with the blood of conquered, subjugated, enslaved, or exterminated people, an exploitation that continues today” (541). When we look to ourselves, our roles, our privilege we see these naturalized ideas and habits practiced in everyday life as no longer tolerable. Thank you, to all my classmates, but especially to Marla, Celia, Jennifer and Juanita for not only providing a space for internal and collective transformation, but perhaps more importantly encouraging the motivation for change in the future.

I am woven through the people I know, the people I connect, and the lifeways, pains, and laughs we share. I’ve been taught. I’ve been affected. I’ve been drawn. I’ve been passionate. I’ve been sick. I’ve been relieved. So many waters have I drifted in my dreams. But seldom have the emotional and carnal energies- that flow through my body as the most vital breath- been invited to the academic grounds. This is where the meaning of this experience rests. This course invited us to go beyond the classroom. This course was filled with lively hearts and strong hands that came together, and walked together. This class invited us to be fully- with joy and fear- to speak and be kind- to know your limits and walk paths before unvisited.

our inner voice is constantly surfacing. and it sparks with the world that surrounds us. we are because of the lines that make our lives, meaningful, spread, tied, and united. the lines that connect us to the smells, songs, sweets, and springs that make us strong. the lines that so fine, so gentle, so vital, make us who we are. know your lines. choose your lines. create your lines. strengthen those lines. power them with genuine intentions and attention. as the poet Fernando Pessoa says “todo vale a pena, se la alma no és pequeña” – share your energy and let your soul expand the outer layers of the body, let it reach others and reach through the energy from the winds and warm soils.

lines have two ends. or two beginnings, one can say. or multiple ones. connected through, with more or less energy channeled through at times. I roam back in my memory of the dialogues and moments we shared amongst our class, and with Jen, Célia, Marla, and the people that sprouted around this movement that came to life. solidarity isn’t an end or achievement to be met. solidarity is a bond that arises from our encounters. our minds can create achievements and goals, but what makes it so that it matters beyond the ends? being together, acting together, sharing spontaneous energy and ideas. our shared visions merged into beautiful gatherings and events.

Swiftly, I left the city. To be nestled in a Valley where fresh water is plenty and running through. Me and Célia talked about this place one afternoon while she taught me how to weave on the backstrap loom. Two lines broke off since. Patience much needed. Gentle but with precision. And the loom opens itself, as you open yourself to changes and others. Once I’m done this piece I’m waiting until Célia and I meet again. So I linger on it- each day when my hands are free to weave in the afternoon breeze.

the river flows- the water we drink, the water we drift,

everywhere is the same, every path meets again,

what makes it worth is the people you meet along the way~

hasta la próxima,


Call Out – by CW

Initially, I stayed quite emotionally distant from GEO 495 because of a doubt in the abilities of the classroom environment to really promote more thick interactions between classmates, instructors, and community partners. As time went on, I could feel myself softening, watching as classmates took on different forms of leadership in quiet ways. I realize that this is what I learned the most from Weaving solidarity, an affirmation again of how much an environment can radically shift the interactions that are possible between people. Rather than conversing with classmates, Celia and Marla, Juanita and Jennifer ideologically (or on the plane of ideas), the class structure gave me a chance to witness myself and other people in the ways that they stepped up to act. Facing fears often, going beyond what they thought possible for themselves, trying something completely new and going for this without knowing what the transformation may bring.

This is not to say that the breaks in connection weren’t jarring for me at times, although from doing organizing in other contexts I have become more familiar with them. That moment of leaving the classroom always hits me, when people pack up and are just barely able to talk to each other, efficient and organized in their own ways to cope and get things done. I often found myself lingering after class, just waiting to see what the room felt like empty, waiting to see how I felt after the semblance of a more community oriented space, a sense of collective yearning passed and moved on quickly as it manifested. I found myself being more forgiving of this transition moment, a neplanta, than I have before. In the past, I would have likely felt more distressed or depressed at the break between this very context-specific community building that occurred within the structure of a classroom but struggled to bleed outside of that. Thinking this, however, only would have barred me from seeing the myriad of ways that GEO 495 constantly blurred beyond the classroom, with the majority of learning and spaces I felt most connected to people being outside of class. Many people gave their time, energy, and a consistent sense of dedication in this class in ways that I have not seen in other social justice organizing contexts. Because the identity of Weaving Solidarity, and an understanding of what we were doing grew as the process developed, I noticed people giving what they could first… really concrete stuff like the willingness to listen, learn, bodies being present, helping out serving, cleaning up, just being there. I can’t even begin to stress the importance of this… the power of just showing up, through all of the challenges, self-inquiry, awkwardness, messyness, newness, amazingness that solidarity work can bring. Many of you all showed up in extremely meaningful ways that imparted many lessons to me and I am thankful to all of you for that.

The evolution of a praxis and methodology as something that organically happens in connection with action and figuring out things practically is something the class offered, which I appreciate so much. It made me think of research, and how paralyzing that process can be. Gathering information from so many sources, reading many other people’s points of view, and then trying to piece together some sort of creative self connection and generation to this whole web that you work with. This class was cathartic in that it trusted us, to be able to do good work without really knowing (I mean that in a formal sense) what we were doing. It trusted that we could find capabilities to deal with challenges and to honour systemic barriers and inequalities between each other. I think starting with this trust, this sense of possibility is essential. It doesn’t mean that the trust validates everything that happened between us, or that everything we did was good work, but I think initial trust gives people the space to operate (at least on some level) intuitively around what works and doesn’t work in a particular space and time. It also honours that we are somehow connected despite all of the divisions, categories, differences, and violence that separates our realities… the trust is like a quiet whispering that can give someone courage to stay even when it feels absurd or like they shouldn’t be there.

On the other hand though, there were very different exposures in the class to solidarity paradigms and practices, and I think it would have been beneficial to spend some more time on developing common ground between us… if anything, to build that trust more. I don’t think that necessarily comes from ideologically having a collective or common understanding (I think this builds), but from working in connection with each other, to foster thickness and an understanding of people being valuable in different ways. For a class that focuses on re-valuing alternative forms of knowledge, I think it would have been beneficial for us to be practicing some of this from the beginning. A lot of this learning started to get practiced through our organizing, but activities like cooking together, building something together, working with thread/colors/patterns together, trying something new together, going on a field trip, having different people teaching their skills, and giving each other workshops (connected to solidarity building and learning) are just some ideas. The class did this in many ways, but I’m really starting to see that it’s this shared sense of doing things collectively that builds people’s abilities to share, grow, change and also some of the hardest and most barrier breaking moments come from the challenge and humility of shared practice (where you don’t always get to do what you want or find the most interesting for the good of a whole project or goal).
I very much appreciated the class’ humility and understanding that we were a beginning stone in the path (as Marla expressed). All of the work that was brought about by us (which was of hugely good quality) can be and should be built upon by future manifestations of GEO 495. I am extremely grateful to have worked with all of you, and only wish we could have had more time together to keep growing the momentum that steadily built all term. I know it will carry with each of us in different ways and I wish you all strength, patience, and a hug for all of your run ins with different stages/forms of conocimiento. Hasta luego!!!

To end off, below are lyrics to two of my songs that I sung at Slams, Songs and Stitches.

Call Out
Teach me how to live in honour of brokenness
Kiss the breaking fight…. for your right
To be seen as something supported to change

Learning to accept the multiple deaths
Inherent in growing, in growing
In going where you never have gone before

Come on out pretty white girl
Look at your skin
See where it’s been, see where it’s been
Admit, the power carved dream casket spaces
Pale like you, pale like you
Watch domination continue
To secure the grip of your race
Know your place, know your place
Work, tirelessly to shift
To shift conditions for change
In silence unpaid

Teach me how to live in honour of brokenness
Kiss the breaking fight…. for your right
To be seen as something supported to change

Beyond You, Un-clotted
There’s something simple
Amidst all of this clatter
The right words make me feel safe
But it’s their meaning that matters

Live with integrity you say
Every moment you can of every day
It’s goodness, just goodness

Call me to the movement
Where children are our teachers
And single mothers are
Artists, scholars, organizing preachers
Body bear the burden of busting expectation
I dream of paths unfolding
Chosen by next generations

Suspended, by the hold of your eyes
They transmit pain that transcends time
Can’t forget this…won’t forget this

In that same stare
Lies a moment to choose
Responsibility comes in familiar blues
You can’t know this…. can’t know this

Call me to the movement
Where children are our teachers
And single mothers are
Artists, scholars, organizing preachers
Body bear the burden of busting expectation
I dream of paths unfolding
Chosen by next generations

I dream of paths unfolding
Chosen by next generations

Wrap Up!

Before coming to the first GEOG 495 class in January I expected the class to be very similar to GEOG 395.  After the first 5 minutes of class I realized how completely different it was going to be.  We were a small group of students and it was necessary for us all to discuss, participate, and share.  At the time, I was not very comfortable with this these thoughts and didn’t know if it would be the best class for me.  But, as the classes went on I started enjoying it more and more each week.  By about the fourth class I absolutely loved it!  It was way more about just reading articles and discussing them, discussions brought out emotions and feelings in people every day.  We would have some discussions that would take me way out of my comfort zone and have me thinking for days after.  These sorts of discussions taught me not only about Latin American geography and culture, but also about myself.

I believe that all of the students in the class will say how awesome it was every week.  We were lucky enough to have a small group of eclectic students with fascinating thoughts, along with a fantastic professor who was able to bring me to appreciate my thinking and trust myself when it comes to my thoughts.  Overall, this class has taught me more than many of my lectures I have taken so far!

last words

What an amazing way to end my collegiate career. GEOG 495 has been like no other class for me. I have taken seminars before but never a Community Service Learning course. Before we had even begun the class there were plans in the mix for Celia and Marla, (representatives of Jolom Mayaetik and K’inal Antzetik respectively) to join our class each for four weeks during the semester. Thank you to the Dean of Arts for the grant that paid for their airfare and visas! It was truly a privilege to have our community partners working directly with us in Vancouver. This class gave me the opportunity to use my hands as well as my mind and voice. This is extremely important to me because, as an arts student, my undergraduate degree does not stream me directly into one line of work. I now have a degree in international relations and what work I find after I graduate is not specified in the very least. I feel that this class gave me the opportunity to utilize the skills that I have learned in the five years I have been at UBC. It took group work to a new level. We broke off into different working groups over the course of the semester as we organized our various events – the exhibit, the weaving lunch, rhizome fundraising night, and the final event. Depending on what was needed for the event, we all looked within ourselves to see what we could offer as well as out into the world, to see what we could glean from it. I feel that this process has helped me to learn more about what I have to offer the world and has also helped me to envision myself applying my skills outside class and after I graduate.

Our class was the first I have ever taken that has helped me to question the system which I live in, my own privilege and oppression in my society, and the power structures that keep those in place. At the beginning of each class and event we held, we made an acknowledgement that our class was taking place on unceded Coast Salish territory. At first it seemed awkward and a bit fruitless to me. But now I see it as a way of inviting consciousness and spirituality into the class. I think that it seemed awkward to me because I had never done it before but also because it acknowledges a conflict that has yet to be resolved or seriously recognized by the majority of Canadians. The acknowledgement opens up a space in class that works toward listening, discussing, and learning about how indigenous peoples are marginalized and oppressed in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the world. I then have the choice to be compliant or indifferent to this marginalization or to take a stand against it.

This class was never easy. We discussed highly political and heavy concepts in class. These discussions did not fully answer the questions I had, rather they gave me new questions about the world I live in and tools with which to answer them. Thank you to all of my lovely classmates for trusting each other, challenging each other, opening up to each other and working together to help establish a new relationship between the students of GEOG 495, la mano, Jolom Mayaetik and K’inal Antzetik. Thank you to our inspiration prof Juanita Sundberg, to Jennifer Boundy for helping to dream up this relationship, and to Marla Gutierrez and Celia Ruiz for having the courage to put your trust in us students and to come to Canada.

Throughout the term we’ve been encouraged to reflect on THE PROCESS. I think reflection is great but putting down your thoughts is tough because it requires that you think and reflect some more!!!

I think the main things that this class has blessed me with is:
1) trained diligence in writing down my thoughts and experiences
2) an appreciation of knowledge (not eurocentric knowledge but indigenous knowledge)
3) delight in the various talents, personalities, and HEART of my classmates.

I think our class has been seeking to be compassionate. Gloria Anzaldua writes that “compasssion triggers transformation” I think this has been true of our class.

We all rave about how great a course this is! I think it’s true that the students are awesome and Professor Sundberg is wonderful but it’s really the knowledge and thinking that comes from this class that counts for something. This processes of learning has been tough, exhilarating, and rewarding and it has changed me. I think that is what sets this class and this education apart!

It is unbelievable how fast time has passed, four months ago I walked into a classroom atmosphere that was unlike any other I had experienced at university. The style of teaching was not a linear model where the professor pours their knowledge into students, but rather an atmosphere where each individual can learn from his or her peers through class discussion. The amazing Professor Juanita Sundberg facilitated this kind of learning environment by creating a safe space where each individual could express his or her opinions, thoughts, and experiences. To me this learning experience was tremendously valuable, but at the same time it took me a while to get used to.  I want to acknowledge the great contribution that each and every one of my classmates made to my learning experience, and the overall value of this course. I also want to thank Professor Sundberg for a tremendous job in stimulating interest in the subject matter, and passionately presenting us with  the social, political, economical and cultural processes that are taking place in Mexico.

In my opinion the best aspect of Geography 495 is that it takes the form of a community service model, where I could apply what I was learning to real life situations, and event organizing. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with our community partner La Mano from Vancouver, and put solidarity into action with Jolom Mayaetik from Chiapas. It was an amazing time working with Celia and Marla the two representatives that joined us from Chiapas, Mexico. Throughout the term our class put on four main events; each event had the goals to raise awareness for women’s autonomy, educate individuals about weaving as a form of creative resistance, and help Jolom Mayaetik sell their weavings. In my opinion, the class reached their goals in all four events, and had an amazing time, and unforgettable experience in doing so.

My most memorable events throughout the term were at Rhizome café, and the final event. At the Rhizome café I was happy that I had the opportunity to witness the amazing talent of my classmates in this energetic and well-planned event. It was also special because both our visitors from Chiapas, Mexico where with us for this event. I am happy that they could both enjoy what geography 495 had planned. The next event that is most memorable is the Final event. This event took a lot of work the night before, most of the class got the opportunity to cook with Marla until 1am! Which was such a fun experience, to be with your colleagues in a kitchen until 1am. The event itself was a total hit, it included, dancing, food, prizes, silent auctions, weavings, and a very emotional and well articulated speech from Marla Gutierrez.

To conclude, I find it adequate to thank all my classmates for the contribution they made in making this an amazing class. I would also like to thank our community liaison Jennifer Boundy founder of La Mano for helping us establish this relationship with Jolom Mayaetik. A huge thank you to Celia and Marla from Jolom Mayaetik for all the knowledge, and friendship they gave us, and finally a Special Thanks to Professor Juanita Sundberg for all her hard work in creating this class, and all the administrative processes that take place behind the scenes.

Acquiring the ability to critically locate oneself within global social, political and economic processes is truly invaluable in understanding the role solidarity plays in shaping one’s interpretation of their surroundings.  Reflecting on my experience in geography 495, I feel as though I have become more critically aware of the interrelation between individual and social processes, and the role that knowledge and power play within this.  By examining how knowledge is produced and within what context, I feel as though the relationship between perspective and the impact of such, has been integral in broadening my understanding of solidarity in the sense that I may position myself within a more global context.  In recognizing the role that I play in reinforcing unequal structures of relational divisions, I believe has deepened my understanding of what I understand solidarity to mean.

Reflecting on the term, “Songs, Stitches and Slams” stands out to me perhaps the most.  In exploring the politics of North-South solidarity, the meaning behind the practice of weaving for me has evolved greatly from the first day of class, as I feel I am now more in touch with the processes which act to represent a culture and history behind each piece of art, and with that, an individual struggle.  Not only engaging with the weaving on a more tangible level, we were able to bring together the community, communicating through forms of art, poetry, song and weaving, and creating a space for open dialogue.  This I feel, demonstrates weaving as truly a lived practice, the embodiment of solidarity which has acted to strengthen my own understanding.

I feel extremely privileged have been given the opportunity to be involved in a collaborative community partner based class in my final term of study at UBC.  Through our partnership with Celia and Marla, the knowledge and experience I have gained through forming these cross-cultural relationships has been something I will not forget.  While when I walked into the classroom at the start of the semester I did not expect to become this involved, I am very appreciative to the experience it has given me and the perspective I have gained.  I feel extremely fortunate for the experiences I have shared with the class of geography 495.  Through our incredible teamwork, we were able to turn a vision into a reality.

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