Let’s look at the situation in another culturally recognized city with a majority of Caribbean Black people that’s a long distance from Bogotá, near the Atlantic Coast: Cartagena. Christian Howard, an activist, artist, and member of the queer Collective Corp. Calleshortbus located in the city, exposes the racism and exclusion inside two prominent cultural sector events that are offered mainly to the foreign public and the white elite—the International Film Festival of Cartagena de Indias and the Cartagena International Music Festival:
Our people will not find a space for resonance there: music doesn’t sound like what we want, viewers don’t look like what we are either, and when [viewers] see us, they perceive us as dangerous people. Those are spaces of racism and exclusion.
[Cartagena] became, markedly, the city of the tourists and the elites, and that has caused a deterioration of the quality of life of people living in the neighborhoods, among those cuir, lesbians, trans, and racialized transgenders, transexuals, and transvestites of the peripheral sectors that find in the film and music festivals spaces of rejection and constant conflict with them and their bodies. In those spaces we are understood as invading bodies that come to generate suspicion and discomfort to a tourist who comes with his mind sufficiently quiet to obtain cultural benefit from the show.
Exclusion is a social phenomenon that exists historically in Colombia and many other parts of the world. It happens because of the strong inequality in the area. The people who make their lives a dissenting choice and decide to work with endangered communities end up excluded, marginalized, and punished just for existing and daring to continue changing dynamics in a society that does not want to be changed.
All these sisterhoods and brotherhoods I just referenced play the vital role in keeping excluded people together. They join forces to work for the common good, for the possibility of change, and for focusing on the many meanings of life beyond money. Despite the struggles, from fight to fight, they show us one thing: we are much more than marginalized, invisible, and at-risk communities.
Several cultural organizations have proposed a rescue plan to the government for artists and managers who have been impacted by the pandemic, according to an article published by El Espectador on 21 July of this year. They mention shortcomings in public action, including reduced efforts focused towards the structural adaptation of priority issues in the context of the emergency, limited budget to deal with the crisis, lack of spaces for the development of all disciplines, ignorance of labor precarity in the cultural sector, and lack of research of the sector that prevents an in-depth approach by public authorities. However, these documents aren’t made by and don’t include input from any of the organizations focused on social justice.
Amidst all this, many persistent cultural centers and organizations in Bogotá produce work that speaks out against hate crimes and empowers trans communities with an artistic approach.
Ending the Cycle
Art, culture, and education are part of the struggle of being an artist from an at-risk community because they are immense areas of knowledge that enable understanding, community-based work, and social and political movements. But in the same way they function as tools for all of these aspects, they can also be used as tools, controlled and imparted by governments with a specific subject in mind that is primarily a function for capitalism. These dynamics change dramatically when communities take responsibility for building themselves, their sense of self, and their community because they know what they want and need.
“On this Thursday we celebrate 169 years of the abolition of slavery in Colombia, but the reality is that, amid the pandemic, black people remain a slave to inequality, indifference, and oblivion.” This is the beginning of the note from the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) published on their website on 20 May, a day before the celebration of the Day of Dignity and Resistance of the Black people in Colombia. “Today, the Afro-Colombian population of the entire national territory doesn’t have health care to contain the virus and can’t endure being in isolation because they live from day to day.” They go on to note that “if the aid is not reaching the displaced population living in big cities, it won’t reach the peripheral territories.”
Our social, political, and artistic movements exist in response to a life we don’t want to continue living. We don’t want to keep seeing ourselves and our siblings in unbearable life situations. Most people I know and knew who work in art live in an endless struggle to not starve or live on the street. None of us have a living wage, nor a multiplicity of jobs that give us peace of mind knowing we can live half a year, or even a month, without problems. Usually in our work we are hired without guarantee—there is no contract, we have no insurance, no health, and no pension. We live in fear of the day a job ends, while at the same time we have to buy our tools and maintain some kind of social life so as not to die sad and alone like all those racialized maricas and women—or both—who did the same as many great recognized male artists but were never appreciated, never read or seen anywhere. (Marica, like cuir, is a popular expression that tries to capture a specific Central and South American Latinx identity and experience. We are everywhere in the world.)