To Migrate Is To Resist Colonialism

Source: Originally Published by Revista Amazonas Translated by Awasqa

Interview with Amarela Varela Huerta and Soledad Álvarez Velasco

Illustration: Pilar Emitxin

This text stems from an interview with Soledad Alvarez Velasco (Ecuadorian) and Amarela Varela Huerta (Mexican) Their words show a common sisterly fabric, an intellectual, feminist, transnational friendship and, above all, their activism for a dignified and free migration. My intervention as interviewer was almost not necessary; the first question was enough to trigger the following brilliant and conspiratorial dialogue that shows us how these two thinkers weave their epistemological activism as they call it.

AM (Ana María): To start with, could you introduce yourselves and talk a bit about your work? I would like to know your shared complicities, activism, how did you meet?

AV (Amarela Varela): That question is a beautiful way to begin because, that’s right, it was like Cupid’s arrow, love at first sight. We were introduced when Sole was a master’s student here, in Mexico, and I had just arrived after living in Spain for 10 years. I was feeling very out of place and discovered that Sole was also feeling very out of place. I finally settled my navel here, at my house, but Sole continues to travel around the world

SA (Soledad Álvarez): But I want to add something. When I met Amarela, it was 2010 and the massacre in Tamaulipas had just happened, the massacre of 72 migrants, and Leticia Calderón, a researcher on migrations who led a workshop at Instituto Mora, invited several people who were working on violence against the transmigrants who were coming from the south. For me, that was a determining context because from then on, we have continued working hand-in-hand to capture how this violence has been accumulating and, at the same time, finding about other struggles.

AV: During that time, Sole was doing lots of field work on the southern border of Mexico, and I had started to accompany the Caravan of Central American Mothers. In 2011, we went to the spot where they massacred the migrants. I accompanied the caravan of mothers who wanted to place their bodies and pray at the place where the massacre had taken place. I remember my shock when a year later, at the scene of the crime, the clothes and personal belongings surely belonging to the massacred migrants were still scattered. So, yes, Sole and I met in that context, when I was still processing all that.

SA: And that was extremely important because Amarela also brought a story from Europe Frontex that we weren’t aware of then. That was when a ship sank in the Mediterranean, and we did not know what was happening in Europe and the migrant struggles and resistance happening there. On this side of the world, we had been unable to make a connection with the systemic global turn that was taking place in terms of new corridors of violence and struggle, and that South American borders had already become a global place of transit and of multiple resistances.

AV: I remember, yes. Later, Blanca Cordero invited us to Puebla to think about how we could use theory and ideas of the autonomy of migrations to think from this side [of the border]. Autonomism basically allows us to ask ourselves, from a Marxist political economy theory but without commodifying migrations, the issue of living labor, to question capitalism from the point of view of migrants and its current conditions. The view of autonomy of migrations comes also from a generation before ours, Marxists, activists from the 70s, autonomists from the 70s, Italian and French advocates, among them, as well as people influenced by social science cultural studies. That perspective caught my interest because many thinkers back then had forgotten about material relations and were stuck in the superstructure. Therefore, the most interesting thing about that endearing sect of autonomists for me was that they tried to move forward a conversation, as my mother would say, between the structure and the superstructure of neoliberalism. For me, the autonomism of migrations, among other schools, had called for weaving a dialogue between those who were studying capital labor relations with those who were studying institutions of cultural hegemony in neoliberalism and capitalism

SA: When we started that intellectual and activism journey that began during a workshop in Puebla, the one on autonomies, remember that some of us who participated also proposed updating the Dependency Theory of the migrant struggles to understand how our countries had been dependent on export labor since the 70? Because when that critical perspective arises, the view of migration already existed in internal migrations from the countryside to the city, mostly by indigenous people. But there was no reading of how the migrant labor force was already becoming a connector of the world system of our peripheral countries. So there is another legacy there, Amarela, that must be processed to understand how that critical view that came out of the 70s could be updated today, in light of a new form of world system configuration and its hypermobility. Moreover, in a public interview between Sandro Mezadra and Nicolas de Genova in London, they sought to understand the relation between living work, objectified or dead work, circulation, capitalism and control regimes. The question was whether this piece called migration control regimes, and the spectacle of border violence and the illegal production of migrants and their deportability, is part of this same piece to understand exploitable subjects, deportable bodies, functional for a system of accumulation; and how this system also takes advantage of a staged production of border control that multiples and becomes flexible. 

Hence, in that dialog, a Marxist critique also sees the production of the control regimes as an important piece. I think that in that seminar that Amarela mentions we also talked about that. We were not only discussing the need to understand migrants beyond a labor force, but as living work, as political subjects, autonomous bodies with strength, power and that their movement is a struggle and a place of dispute. That is to say, it was essential to understand them beyond being a commodified force, modified within the structure of our contemporary capitalist accumulation within control regimes, that is, the neoliberal capitalist system in the Americas. We had a very powerful dialog in that seminar that Amarela is talking about because we came imbued with these readings, mostly in English, and effectively mostly made from the European context and more or less from the US context.

AM: And returning to your first meeting

SA: Amarela, you had a car, in Ecuador we say pichirilo and you asked me “Wey, why did you come to Mexico?” When I came to Mexico I wanted to understand how Ecuadorians made their transit into the United States, how they came, why they came, what they do. Ecuador is at a distance of almost 5000 km from the United States, so how is it possible that we have grown in a migrant country as complex as Mexico and yet the discussion of the migratory complexity does not exist. There are so many deaths. For example, when the tragedy of 12-year-old Noemi Alvarez, who died in the Ciudad Juarez shelter, became public or when Luis and Marco, two adolescents who fell from the plane’s landing gear that was going from Guayaquil to New York, died. I remember that I told you that Ecuador is a country without memory. Ecuador and Mexico are intertwined because there are people who are moving all the time from top to bottom. There are coyotes and there is a logic of local cultural religiosity that connects the Ecuadorian Austro with SigSig, Cochapamba and Girón with Brooklyn, and also with Mexico City and with Tapachula. I remember that the two of us talked about that, we were fantasizing between the madness of articulations, thinking about the possibility of making connections because, although the continent is so complex and so similar, it seemed that the discussions about migrations had been totally hijacked by a methodological nationalism that did not allow us to open our eyes and see that real spatial transformations and shared transnational struggles were not only possible but already taking place.

AV: It has been 20 years since I lived in Spain and duing that time to be anti-racist was rather marginal. I lived in Europe, then, I mean in Spain specifically, and I lived other rhythms, other priorities, other forms of protests, under other narratives and academic perspectivs and as a Latin American, my feminism was more related to migration. When I finished my doctoral thesis, Marta Malo [an activist researcher] gave me a loving and careful critical review. She told me that it was outrageous that only one chapter of my thesis dealt with women and that had a big impact on me. So after accompanying the struggle of “undocumented” migrants in Spain, who back then were mostly men, I retuned to Mexico where the issue of feminicide was on the rise and the Caravan of Central American Mothers was led by women. It was time to think from a point of view of feminism. To think genealogically and look at the “war on drugs,” which came during a time of mourning for Mexico, the one I was coming back to. People organized the National March for Peace, which was the first expression of a new political subjectivity where people looked for their loved ones, dead or alive, which was closely related to the issue of femicides. Meaning, it had mostly a woman’s face. Like I was saying, it was a time of mourning and pain. I remember that on March 8, 2021, there was a fellow searcher (a woman who together with others searched for her disappeared without support from the state of Mexico) who said that homicides in Ciudad Juarez had started 30 years ago. I believe that during that long arc of time, a time of rage and of pain as the philosopher Mariana Favela calls it, was consolidated in a political subjectivity that had to do with the women’s struggles in Mexico. Then she turned her focus toward women, the women’s struggle who are looking for their disappeared children or migrant children, who scratch at clandestine graves with shovels and there we bet each other to look at things not only from a less adult-centric view, but from a global feminist perspective.

SA: During our time together, our complicit intellectual and political bond has been key. Our intellectual, political, and activist connection as well as the permanent feminist ways of caring for each other. We’ve been there for each other during illnesses, births, and many paths taken. That is how you can explain such long parallel paths for both. Another important piece is that our generation was a very politicized generation in terms of understanding US interventionism in Latin America. In studying migrations we understood that interventionism was explicit in the 70s and 80s, but that in the neoliberal period of the 90s, the US immersion in migration and national security policies in our countries was much more subtle but still fully present. Our countries have been internalizing analogous ways of control over racialized bodies of impoverished people and asylum seekers from the Global South. They are forms of control that impact the lives of women, children, and migrants in transit. Our bet was to provide clues and reveal the complexity of the border control regime. We wanted to do an ethnography of how Latin American countries were playing an extremely perverse game to control borders mobility and people’s lives. That is where I think we became more radicalized. For me, particularly, and something that marked me was learning about the stories of women who were looking for their disappeared children on the southern border of Mexico, the stories of children who also were traveling alone, the stories of those who drowned in the sea. Those stories about death were stories about my own country. It was the story about Ecuador that wasn’t being talked about by advocacy groups nor the feminist struggle in Ecuador. Even now, it has not become part of its agenda as a fundamental issue. There are so many Ecuadorian children who are left under the care of their grandmothers, who are responsible for that triple level of care, who are in charge of social reproduction in indigenous communities, some of the poorest, and nobody talks about it. We saw a connection with what was happening in Mexico and the production of death that had to do once again with that downward intervention, that externalization of the US border across the continent, not only in Mexico. It was echoing down south, into the Andes.

AV: Yes, like the parents of the disappeared Ayotzinapa students say, “The State was and is responsible.”

SA: That’s right! And that is why the journey of migrants is a decolonial struggle because keeping an eye on migrations means keeping an eye on the State, on its borders, and that connection is better understood as part of the historical postcolonial and racist violence generated and triggered today. That is why I say that this is, without a doubt, a feminist struggle, an approximation and an outlook from distinct particular feminist angles. 

Amarela was accompanying those mothers looking for their disappeared children, or caravans of single mothers with their children. While I was working with caregivers, which is an issue that for me was very emotional because they are mostly women. They are grandmothers who become orphans of their children, orphans of their grandchildren, and as they themselves like to say, the land is becoming orphaned to the extent that they are the ones left behind to sustain daily life in these indigenous communities. We have also become very radicalized after learning from the children and adolescents who have been resisting and resenting this control regime and this regime of oppression and violence that is being reproduced incessantly. It allowed Amarela and I to build a collective agenda and a collective view to push many things forward. I’m telling you, she is my fortune teller because we are always plotting together.

AM and SV: What is happening now is unheard of because it has reached such extremes. In 2010 there was the massacre of the 72 that destroyed us emotionally. It left us breathless, and we have been narrating these stories since nonstop. . .the massacre of Camargo, the mass graves in the Mediterranean, the caging of children.

AV: Yes, or the emergence of more and more street children (migrants and racialized) in Europe or the familiarization of violence, of children dying in cages in the United States or in Mexico. But also all those stories we have access to about kidnappings, trafficking… That’s why I think we have become very melancholic, because it is very difficult to digest that lived reality on both shores. I think that all these forms of violence are a symptom of neoliberalism and they are exacerbated, such as during the virtualized exploitation of labor-capital. Violence has exacerbated. So yes, we have to be ready because we are going to see a process of barbarization of the West through technologies of death that have been applied on our territories. But I also believe we are going to see new ways of resistance.

SA: And I think that it is important to say that aloud. When you were talking about the brutality, I was remembering something that Ana Tsing said. She a is brilliant anthropologist who follows the trading route of a type of mushroom, the matsukates (see The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins), and she says that the most beautiful thing of how the growth and export of mushrooms in the world operates is to realize that in a world in ruins, in absolute ruins, there is life under the earth that sustains the creation and multiplication of bacteria and mushrooms. In a way, that is how it is: in a world in ruins life goes on, life is sustained, and I think it is something we were not ready to witness and is happening in South America. For example, in the last five years we have received 5 million Venezuelans in Latin America, and we still can’t comprehend the dimension of it. We cannot understand how that is transforming us as societies. We do not know that we are living in an incessant exodus that brings us back to reflect on past conversations with you Amarela, about post-neoliberal leftists who say little or nothing about this issue. They do not see in Venezuela a clear example of a country that is both strangled by the US intervention and a broken and collapsed internal regime due to all the contradictions of the Chávez and Maduro regimes. And now, those who suffer daily are the five million people who walk on foot up and down the continent. I have conducted virtual interviews and what Venezuelans are going through is unheard of: they set up and dismantle tent cities, cross by boat, by foot, they stop and continue in conditions where a shopping cart has become their house, or a baby stroller that they use to push the family forward. What is happening in the southern corridor, the one connecting the Andean region with Southern Cone, is that people are not willing to migrate separately. People leave with their families, mother and son, families of three or four people, new families organizing themselves with their neighbors, with grandma. They travel in families, and it is whole families that are in these transits, moving through the highlands, through the desert. I think that South America today is witnessing what we witnessed in Mexico a few years ago. What we are seeing is barbaric scenes of death in the highlands, death in Chile’s desert before entering Peru. The death toll might not be the same as the Central America-Mexico-United States corridor but in the equatorial and Andean zones we already have disappearances, deaths, and homeless people living on the streets. The street has become their home, their life, and when I say people, I am talking about millions. In Ecuador alone there are 400,000 registered Venezuelans plus all those who went to Colombia, Peru, Chile. It is a mass of wandering people; this is what is happening in the south.

AV: That’s right Soledad. And we should add to that the caged children, the young Central Americans deported for “looking like” gangs in the eyes of the gringo police and once they land in their countries, these young people are recriminalized in the eyes of communities that do not shelter them. They abandon, reject, and fear them. In other words, there is a perpetual foreignization of these young people. What I want to emphasize is that while becoming familiar to the flows of moving people as strategies, governments have built devices that affect families, therefore we are also aiding to the familiarization of the administration of terror. At the same time, this violence and other echoes of resistance have made struggle and caring for each other familiar for the organizations of walkers in Venezuela, the nuclei of people who walk together in the Darién with blood ties or those built on route on the highways and on the borders. As Valentina Glockner says, there are examples of collective care that are agreed upon between strangers and caring has created what Soledad calls “communities of care in movement,” which are maintained even after the exodus has ended and everyone manages to settle down. We have caravan friends who have stayed together as single mothers insisting on staying together, for example. The caravans of Mexico were for me what the EZLN zapatismo was for my mother. She was a survivor of 1968 and then in 1994 she regained hope with the indigenous uprising against neoliberalism. Something similar happened to me with the caravans. For me the caravans are that exercise of open rebellion against everything we’ve been talking about. They were made up of families of all kinds, many were single parents, families assembled by several single mothers.

SA: I think that in that familiarization of resistance that you talk about, there is a radical transformation about access to the digital space. When I worked with migrants who were arriving from Syria, Asia, Africa to Ecuador, their life was in the digital world. The digitalization of migration must be viewed with caution because it also provides an opening for the control regime to see and understand them. Because we already know that Google and Facebook sell data, but it is a way for migrants to connect. All of a sudden, Facebook has become a virtual community space to find work. It’s a place where Venezuelans borrow Uber and Glovo accounts to be able to work, to advertise temporary jobs, to advertise migration routes, to announce exits with coyotes. I think that digitalization, the virtualization of our existence has allowed for these lives in ruins to continue supporting themselves because, otherwise, we would not understand how caravan migrants, trocheros, walkers know super updated information about routes and how to keep connected to their transnational networks and affections. Additionally, I believe that we are witnessing a moment in which migration is not only intra-regional but a global diaspora arriving as a result of the proliferation of wars, of religious and political conflicts, the effects of global warming, the fortification of Europe and the millions of deaths in the Mediterranean. One way of seeing this struggle, which sometimes can go unnoticed despite what their moving bodies are telling us, is to see how the migratory route is being diverted from Europe to South America, and this is a response of care to those migrant bodies. It is saying “I am not going to risk my life. I am going to that other continent where I can somehow find a safe place.” I think this is a struggle that we are permanently seeing and that brings Amarela and I, and a larger group of people, closer together.

AV: I would like to end with this idea that Sole and I have mutually tainted each other; we are weaving a vital political and academic hope to build a feminist, BIPOC, radical view to migrations in our contemporary world. Because we still need to incorporate a radical feminist perspective to this world of migrations and discourses that criticize the global government of migrations, just like third world feminisms, Black women, and women struggles did in Brazil. They positioned themselves in popular struggles from a place of being a woman. We need to make a critique of the global and total war against migrants from radical feminism and to get closer to other struggles of women, those who are looking for their disappeared children, those who cook large potlucks in times of neighborhood confinement during COVID19, those that go out to the streets every March 8 around the world. I think we have to become tainted with their hypotheses, their ways of fighting, we have to let their experiences pierce through us and vice versa. I would like this interview to reach to all the feminists who read this magazine to taint them with this restlessness, to start a dialogue with other migrant women who already think like feminists, as evidenced by the two assemblies organized with the Immobility Project in the Americas. And, at the same time, I hope that questions from the feminist comrades of NiUnaMenos or other collectives make migrant women uncomfortable, challenge them and us to think about how to crack the patriarchy, how to conspire together on inspire fear into capitalism.

SA: To close this conversation, I think that a very important struggle in the region, most of all in the Andean Region, is the bridges being built by the indigenous movements of our region. Political bridges must also be built with the migrant movement. Those who have historically migrated have been indigenous people from Ecuador who have not stopped leaving and, yet, migrant justice demands are not part of the agenda of the indigenous movement. I am talking about the case of Ecuador but it seems to me that it is a reality that can be extended to other countries. That is to say, the struggles of indigenous peoples and migrant peoples should converge, as well as for Afro-descendent people who resist capitalist colonial racism in all its ways. During the massive anti-neoliberal mobilization in October of 2019 in Ecuador, the indigenous movement led that struggle by putting their bodies at risk. And we also witnessed a moment of hyper xenophobia against the Venezuelan population. We are a migrant country, we are a transnational country, we are a transnational Americas crossed by migration, we are an indigenous Americas, a Black Americas, an Americas of mixed race. How do we get these struggles to converge with feminism? That is a pending question for all of us.



Migration and the Question of New Political Possibilities: Nicholas De Genova and Sandro Mezzadra—In Dialogue

Soledad Álvarez Velasco

Soledad Álvarez Velasco

La Dr. Álvarez Velasco es Doctora en Geografía Humana de King’s College London, con Maestría en Antropología Social de la Universidad Iberoamericana (México) y Licenciatura en Sociología de la Universidad San Francisco (Quito, Ecuador). Es integrante del Colectivo de Geografía Crítica del Ecuador, un colectivo de geógrafos, científicos sociales y activistas preocupados por responder preguntas teóricas y prácticas sobre las crecientes tensiones territoriales en el Ecuador; Colectiva Infancia, una red internacional de investigación especializada en analizar las dinámicas contemporáneas que operan en la migración infantil a través del corredor migratorio extendido desde la Región Andina a través de Centroamérica y México hacia los Estados Unidos; así como ObservaLaTrata, el Observatorio Latinoamericano sobre Trata de Personas y Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes. La Dra. Soledad Álvarez Velasco es actualmente investigadora postdoctoral en CCS.

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Ana María Morales Troya

Ana María Morales Troya

Ana María Morales Troya, antropóloga feminista ecuatoriana. Actualmente vive en Buenos Aires, aunque siempre tiene una excusa para volver a su corazón andino.

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Amarela Varela Huerta

Amarela Varela Huerta

Amarela Varela Huerta es Doctora en Sociología por la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, ​​Especialista en Migraciones por la Universidad Pontificia Comillas de Madrid y Licenciada en Periodismo y Ciencias de la Comunicación por la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Desde 2008 se desempeña como profesora/investigadora en la Academia de Comunicación y Cultura de la Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México. Es integrante del Sistema Nacional de Investigadores de México. Se ha desempeñado como periodista y productora de radio y televisión en el ámbito informativo en México y como corresponsal en el extranjero. Sus áreas de investigación son las migraciones y los movimientos sociales, las migraciones de mujeres desde una perspectiva feminista. Ha publicado el libro Por el derecho a permanecer y a pertenecer, una sociología de la lucha de los migrantes (Traficantes de Sueños, Madrid; 2013) y coordinado un volumen colectivo junto a Alejandra Aquino y Fred Decossé: Desafiando fronteras. Control de la movilidad y experiencias migratorias en el contexto capitalista (Frontera Press Oaxaca; 2013). Ha publicado artículos académicos en revistas indexadas y de divulgación científica.

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