As soon as I open my mouth

The language we speak is part of our identity. There is not such thing as a bad or good language.

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives”. Toni Morisson

Have you ever been in a scenario where you are afraid to speak your language because you can be judged by your accent? Often we hear that just Standard English should be spoken among us. But wait, let’s stop here. Who has the right or audacity to decide this? I think there is no such thing. 

English is the most accessible language globally due to the mass influence of films, music, and the Internet. It is also mentioned that it is the most studied language and probably 20% of the world speaks it. 

Regardless of these figures, there are no such things that there is just one English language that everyone should speak.  

Last year, during the holidays I travelled to the United States of America to visit my family. One day while shopping and paying my bill, I was asked by the cashier: Where are you from? I said: Where do you think I am from? She replied: From Africa or Jamaica. So, I said, from both. Her expression said it all, confusion. I did not clarify it because it is not right that as a human being you always got to give an explanation. My answer was not rude since my ancestors are from both places as the cashier later acknowledged.

Yes, as soon as I open my mouth, that question is often asked. I do not get intimidated anymore because I think that language is part of our identity and culture. We are the ones who mold it according to our use and convenience. Lisa Delpit says “language plays an equally pivotal role determining who we are: it is The Skin that we Talk”.

I was born and grew up in an intercultural environment in the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, Central America, where two Afro ethnics and three Indigenous groups share territories, culture, language, literature, and more. I learned to speak my native language (English Creole) at home and my second (Spanish) at school, which is the official language.

During high school, Standard English was taught to us. I remember that in the classroom along with my friends we spoke “smoothly”, but once we were out for recess our Creole English or Spanish was back. I guess this can be called a mask of language, which is slipping from one language to another. This probably was the most normal thing for us. 

My second sister has a Bachelor’s in Art (BA) degree in Spanish with a minor in Latin-American Studies. She teaches at a school in upstate New York, to 8th and 9th grade students. In various conversations with her, she had confirmed that for these students it is not the same scenario, as my high school, to change the language mask. 

African American children can do it and understand both languages distinctly, but white kids just can cope with Standard English, not African American English. 

In the book, The Skin that we Speak, Lisa Delpit describes in one of the chaptershow she was blown away when she heard her eleven year daughter (black) speaking African American English since Standard English was her mother tongue. She was worried that people were going to judge her based on the words she speaks. However, her daughter was confident saying, “Well that’s their problem”. Then Lisa realized that her words came back to her, “It doesn’t matter what other people think about you; you have to be who you are”. 

Another lesson her daughter gave her was that it is important that you learn to “code switch” language according to the environment. I, personally, agree with this because it gives you the confidence and capacity to manage more than one language, and most importantly, not to be ashamed to speak your mother tongue. For example, if I am talking with a Jamaican sister, I can say pickniny referring to children, and she will understand me because they use it, too. as pickney. 

Years ago, along with some young journalists, we produced radio reportage about Creole English in Nicaragua. It was interesting that when we were recording in the studio we did code switch according to the scrip. After all, that is part of our identity. Even though it is a rich linguistic phenomenon, a lot of people do not agree that it should be taught at school because they think it jeopardizes the learning of Standard English.  

Likewise, this same factor occurs, for example in the United States, where there is a big debate from well-known people like Maya Angelou, Rev. Jesse Jackson and others who do not agree that African American English should be spoken at school. “You don’t have to go to school to learn to talk garbage”, said Jesse Jackson. 

Despite the controversy of what language should be taught at school, without a doubt school curriculum and parents should encourage children to learn a second or third language beside continue speaking their mother tongue. Bilingualism or trilingualism is a plus because it gives a wider comprehension of the roots of your mother language and the opportunity to make a comparison between languages. Furthermore, it also gives you the chance to learn about the culture of languages. 

I am proud to speak my Creole language, which has given me the opportunity to understand the syntactic of other languages and have a better approach to Standard English which is like my passport to communicate when I travel. 

No language is correct or incorrect. Languages are part of communities. “We do language,” as Toni Morrison said. Worldwide, thousands of languages have died, so why should we let one more die?

Race and gender: Being same -being different

Black women facing racism in two countries across the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, a lot of discussion and debate are taking place about black matters in  society, on media, social networks, and panels. The varieties of topics go from racisms, discrimination, human rights, movie, music, to fashion. One day for example, I came across with an article that developed how it is being a black woman in a liberal city. While reading it I realized that things described by the writer didn’t suit me but others did. So it was an affirmation that a black woman does live similarities and differences labelling in Africa, America (continent), or Europe. Have you ever stop to think about this? 

People have the perception that Finland being a European Nordic country doesn’t have a black population, but it’s a mistake Finland has a native and immigrants black community that is active in society in different scenarios such as, performance, art, politic, activism, music, etc. 

The Finnish organization Anti-Racism Media activist Alliance (ARMA) is a three years project sponsor by Kone Foundation that combines academic research and activism. It aims that both be an equal tool to discuss racism in Finland thought innovated way in media, arts, and pedagogy. This is done through three pillars: creative publishing, international networking, and knowledge exchange. 

Monica Gathuo works at ARMA along with Leonardo Custódio. She is a native black Finnish woman, student, activist, freelance writer, who has been influenced by her mother regarding topics such as justice and equality witch, are hard-core elements that aligned her daily life and work.

As part of the international exchange programme from ARMA Monica flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She admits that it was a great opportunity to learn, debated different topics, had lifestyle experiences in the community, and most importantly she collaborated with their partner organization Criola. 

Months after with the coldness and beauty of Finnish winter Silvana Bahía arrived to Helsinki to have her exchange. She describes herself as a journalist, writer, actress, filmmaker, but most of all a curious person who likes to experiment and learn. 

Silvana’s is delightful to meet people and hear stories. Previously she worked on human rights in one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a city by itself stigmatize for its violence, sadness, injustice, lack of basic quality services for the people such as education, health, and opportunities. However, they “are also happiness, live, innovation, and a lot of people are looking for solutions toward problems they are facing day by day” confessed Silvana.

Nowadays, she works at Olabi as project coordinator of Preta Lab witch, works with black and indigenous women base on teaching them technologies and innovative tools such as server security. This lab was created when Silvana’s realized that she was the only woman of race in programming and coding space.

At Preta Lab besides, imparting workshops to women they also have discussions with different actors from the society about new technologies production because it is believed that everyone should acquire knowledge of the new technology. 

Photo: Heljä Franssila/Kone Foundation

The black society in Finland-Brazil 

What have you heard about Brazil or Finland? For sure, that they are spotted in two different continents, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Both are completely diverse in too many elements such as territorial area, population, language, culture, governmental structure, weather, and others. However, they also have far more similarities and differences in the black community. 

In Brazil, the black-skinned people represent more than 50% of the population distributed around the country. On the other hand, in Finland statistic is not defined yet, they are also spread in the different cities.

Silvana and Monica are part of this minorities group that day-by-day live blackness challenges. After sitting, laughing, and chatting about the exchange experience with these two strong women confirmed that there are differences but also likenesses among black persons in both countries.

Monica expressed that the meaning of equality is different “in Brazil is said out loud, there are overt, but in Finland is done in a Nordic way silence and covert”. 

In Finland there a lot of things that are not said regarding the minorities community because most people rather keep their emotions for they self or it is demonstrated by offensive microaggressions by using hateful language, gesture, comments, etc.  

On the other hand, in Brazil people discuss the issue openly even though they know it’s a high risk of being assaulted, threat or dead.  For example, in March 2018 Marielle Franco da Silva who was a political, feminist, and human rights activist was killed in her car on a street in Rio de Janeiro. 

Both Silvana and Monica coincide that black women are more safely in Finland. Walking on the street of Helsinki or Rio de Janeiro is totally not the same for black- skinned women. Being a black woman in Brazil means facing a vulnerable reality of sexual and racial harassments, rape, thread, or to be murder since the social iniquities have colour and gender. 

Is obvious that there is a huge gap in percentage regarding the figures concerning this social problem. According, to a study released in November 2018 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that 4 women dead for each group of 100 thousand women. 

On the other hand, a resemblance between Finnish and Brazilian black women is that they are “constantly fighting for the rights, there is an inequality no matter where you are whether it is in a Scandinavian country or in Latin-American” said Silvana. 

There are different countries far away yet, it matters that the black women movement and community can find ways that connect them, understand one another, and work toward the unification of a stronger black community.  

In Brazil black women have a history of long slavery struggle, hierarchical, and invisibility.  They had been marginalized by race and gender. They don’t have the same background as white women; they had been working long before. Thus, they have a lot of challenges in reality, such as be recognize as a human being and not being stigmatized like party women and sexual objects. They need to have more opportunities in society. The black feminist looks toward including more women “we need to take care of our self since we always take care of everyone” manifested Silvana. 

Take away

During her visit, Monica was taken away with the black community in Rio de Janeiro. She admitted, “is the first time I feel in the correct place as a black woman. It was funny for me because I never feel that I fit anywhere because of being mix-black. {…} when I go to Kenia witch is my other home country I am white, but in Brazil people think I was from there, they didn’t believe me”. She also added that the warm welcome of people is something she loves. 

On the other behalf, Silvana considers being a privileged woman during her three months stay in Finland by learning a lot of new things. When I ask her what she is taking with her back to Brazil, she laughed and said that is a good question. Silvana said, “is a bigger country than I thought, we need to stop looking at things in a small way there are more possibilities out there”. 

Black-skinned women day by day are looking for stories that match the lifestyle, way to develop their race and gender identify, learn new methods to dismantle perception, and most of all have influencer or heroes examples. 

So when I ask from both women advice for other women Monica said: “take care of your self and support each other”. 

My advice to younger black women is “continue to dream for a better future, dreams make people move and change” expressed Silvana. 

It matters that young black people continue the core and believe that they can create a more fair-minded and humane world. 

12 things for 2020

Take care of yourself and your sisters.

2020 is here. As women, I think that this year we need to think of ourselves and our girlfriends’ wellness and actions, so we can continue our fight. Please keep in mind to give and receive.  For this year, we can achieve more if we work in community. 

Catherine Walsh, frequently says that to unmask and confront the complexities of a society we need to put in practice “the essential of collective knowledge, collective analysis and collective action”.

1- As an activist and feminist, I recommend being active in the movement, but taking care of yourself and our Pachamama. 

2- Help to build a sorority or sisterhood. 

3-Dismantle structures, don’t be afraid. We need to use the right tools. 

4-Decolonize our mind as a woman.

5-Read books and watch movies produced by women.

6- Share your thoughts. Talk or express ourselves of issues that bore you. 

7- Recognize and be inclusive of other women’s needs, ideas, and priorities. 

8- We need to stop complaining about issues, instead take an action. 

9- Leadership and power are not forever, pass it on. 

10- If you are part of a women’s moment, do things that you like and learn more, but don’t make it be a burden.

11-We need to stop being competitors among us. 

12- Explore, explore, we need to travel and learn from other women. 

2019: Females who crushed it

In 2019 we took the streets to continue our fight. Here are some of the best moments.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photo: Al-lami-Ali

This year has been convulsed by a series of social protests by or for women’s rights, fight for policies, environmental, and other future issues. There were moments where women held the power, took over the show, inspired action, won a game or a prize, or simply enjoyed the moment. 

In 2019, we gave one more step; we know how far we have come, and where we still need to go. Here is a look back in frames of these unforgettable moments.

Nancy Pelosi, a congresswoman from the Democratic Party in the United States of America, became in January the speaker of the House of Representatives. She is the first female to hold this position. 

Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, showed a strong commitment against the shooting of two mosques in Christchurch City. She pushed for substantial gun reform laws and also was firm in not mentioning the shooter’s name, just the victims. 

Yaritzia Aparicio, a Mexican actress was the first indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress Academy Award for her role in the movie, Roma, produced by Netflix. 

Yumi Ishikawa, is the creator of #KuToo  kutsu (shoe), kutsuu (agony). This hash tag became the icon for Japanese women in a fight to stop using high heel shoes at work as part of a dress code in a conservative and patriarchal nation. Her campaign got over 28,000 signatures on petition to raise awareness for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, about the problem.  

Sudanese women, thousand took over the streets to overtrow president Omar Al- Bashir after 30 years ruling. A lot of women led the manifestation. One of them was Alaa Salah, a 22 year-old student dressed in white, who made her voice to be heard in the social uprising.

Joy Harjo, was named Poet Laureate of the United States of America. She is the first indigenous woman to hold this award. She is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In her writing, she incorporates feminist, social poetic traditions, indigenous myths, symbols, values, land, and tribal history. 

Women’s World Cup Football, one of the biggest events in sports, was held in France during the months of June-July.  At the final match between the Netherlands and the United States of America, the crowd shouted “Equal pay! Equal pay” Why? Because for this tournament, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) awarded $30m, but for the men’s team they granted $400m last year, which is almost thirteen times more. The same issue happened with the money given for preparation cost and club compensation.

Olga Misik, age 17 years. This teenager´s photo went viral on news and social media after reading the Russian Constitution to the riot police during a protest against the government for banning the opposition candidates from running for the upcoming elections. She was imprisoned for 12 hours even though she is a minor.

Photo: Vera Oleinikova/BBC

Greta Thunberg, the teenager environmental activist said, ” charge is coming whether they like it or not”. During her visit to the United States of America in September, she inspired millions to join climate strikes globally.

Waad al-Kateab, a Syrian filmmaker produced a documentary titled For Sama, which records her life at a hospital where she met her husband and gave birth to her child during the rage of the brutal war in Aleppo.  It was filmed over five years.

NASA had the first all-female spacealk.  Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir went outside the International Space Station to restore a controller. The mission lasted over seven hours.

According to the New York Times, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has 12 female astronauts in ranks from a total of 38 active ones.

Simone Biles, at age 22 became the world’s artistic gymnast in history.  She owns twenty-five World Championship medals, of which 19 are gold and five were won at the Championship in Stuttgart, Germany this past October in these categories: team all-around, individual all-around, vault, balance beam, and floor.

Northern Ireland made progress on abortion to be decriminalized by March 2020, and same-sex marriage will be legal from January 2020.

Emoji Period, menstruation,   periods,   monthly time, etc. Call it how you want, but there is still a taboo to talk about it with family and friends. Since the emoji is a growing language, Plan International from the United Kingdom created the emoji and partnered with others.  So now, it is available on your phone. 

Las Tesis, a Chilean feminist collective, created the performance A rapist in my way, which was sung and choreographed in many American and European countries. 

Photo: Social Media

Sanna Marin, at age 34 she is the world’s youngest Prime Minister. She was sworn in early December. Marin, is the third woman to hold this position and the youngest in the Finnish history. The government in Finland is a coalition of five parties all headed by women; four of whom are under 35 years old.  

Political prisoners

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball

In April 2018 a political and social crisis broke out in Nicaragua, Central America when the government of President Daniel Ortega issued a decree to cut pensions and raise social security payments, which led to massive demonstrations. President Ortega responded with deadly force.

Over the past year, at least 325 people have been killed, shot dead on the streets by police snipers and paramilitary troops or executed out-of-sight. Dozens of victims were children. Over 500 persons are missing. Doctors and nurses have been fired from their jobs for merely treating wounded protesters in hospitals.

Over this past year, things have not returned to normal. Thousands have fled the country. Activists and journalists have reported ongoing arrests and harassment by the government.

Approximately, 130 political prisoners remain imprisoned, of which nine are brave women who stood against the authoritarianism government. There are:
María Guadalupe Ruiz Briceño
Amaya Coppens
Olga Valle
Ivania Alvarez
Neymar Hernández
Wendy Juárez
Olama Hurtado
Katherine Martínez
Mayela Cruz

Do you have women political prisoners in your country? Name them before 2019 is over.