The Decoloniality Cluster of the Rutgers Advanced Institute of Critical Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick is a group of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty that is committed to decolonizing knowledge, power, and being from within and without the University. Since February of 2018, the group has collaborated with the Lazos Community Center in New Brunswick on several projects that aim to serve the wider Latinx community. The Decoloniality Cluster is also organizing the 2018 Frantz Fanon Rencontre, which will be held at Rutgers and at Lazos on November 17th and 18th. The conference will strive to enact a decolonial praxis by bringing together different activist and community organizations from New York and New Brunswick, insurgent knowledge productions, and academic work around decoloniality, the paradigm of Non-Alignment, the spirit of Bandung, and Frantz Fanon.
On April 2nd, 2018, the Decoloniality Cluster organized an all-day event with Catherine Walsh (Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador) at Rutgers, which consisted of a lunch, a public talk entitled “On Decolonial How(s),” which was sponsored by the Program in Comparative Literature, and a meet and greet at the Lazos Community Center. Prof. Walsh is an internationally renowned figure in the theory and praxis of decoloniality, and co-author with Walter Mignolo of the recently published bookOn Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis(Duke UP, 2018). Over the course of the day, Prof. Walsh shared some of the work she has done to open academic spaces up to decolonial pedagogy, such as her work in establishing and developing the doctoral program in Latin American Cultural Studies at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador and her longtime involvement in different community struggles throughout the U.S., Ecuador, Mexico, and Latin America. Attendants traveled from near and far to join the Rutgers and greater New Brunswick community and listen to Prof. Walsh.
Below, we map the day’s events, reflecting the four “Decolonial How(s)” that Prof. Walsh shared during her talk.
1) DECOLONIAL HOWS OF SITUATEDNESS, POSITIONALITY, STRUGGLES, AND CRIES
The cries of different struggles are interwoven, and they resound in movements. How do we build relationships and think with those who are here and those who are not physically present –our ancestors?
Prof. Walsh began her talk by sharing her cries related to the disappeared students of Ayotzinapa’s Teachers College in Guerrero, Mexico and the silence surrounding their disappearance in the academic spaces she traversed in Mexico shortly after. Cries and responsibilities reflect our own positionalities, which consist of different historical and situated struggles. In order to reflect on our own positionality and act differently, it is essential to unlearn and relearn. Thus, it is not only our responsibility to cry; it is also our responsibility to listen and to abstain from speaking for, especially because, as Prof. Walsh pointed out, “Western society does not teach this strategy.” In our reflections, we must, Prof. Walsh proposed, use privilege “as a tool in praxis, not to speak for, but to speak out in ways that change.”
At the lunch and talk, Prof. Walsh invited us to consider our privileges, responsibilities, and cries. She invited us to reframe our research projects and to rethink our roles as scholars: rather than start with a question and “speak about,” we might start with our own positioned struggle and “speak out.” In the late afternoon, we visited Lazos, where the members of the Latinx New Brunswick community shared their cries and experiences of unlearning and relearning. There, we broke bread and listened to the Center’s founder, Teresa Vivar, and other community members. They recounted their struggles with living in the United States, organizing in New Brunswick, advocating for immigrant rights, and protecting the community from ICE raids. More than rethinking our scholarly work then, Prof. Walsh also prompted us to reflect on our positionality within and without the University and the ways in which we participate in community struggles.
2) DECOLONIAL HOWS OF WALKING AND ASKING, ASSEMBLING PEDAGOGIES AS METHODOLOGIES
Pedagogies as methodologies are open paths (Jacqui Alexander) of walking with, and pedagogical spaces are enclaves of learning, unlearning, reflecting, and acting.
Prof. Walsh shared with us some of her experiences in Ecuador, including her collaborations with Juan Garcia on Afro-Ecuadorian struggles and with the National Confederation of Indigenous Peoples on designing an indigenous university, and her fight for a space in the Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar for decolonial pedagogies. She also reflected on her times in Chiapas, Mexico, including when she participated as a first grader in the “Zapatista Little School”. Prof. Walsh described how each of these encounters asked her to dwell in its respective pedagogical enclave in order for her to unlearn, relearn, and walk with. Struggle, methodology, and pedagogy, Prof. Walsh told us, are all linked. Pedagogies-methodologies are thus practices, processes, ways of doing that those struggling consciously share, develop, and walk together.
In thinking of how one walks with and practices pedagogies-methodologies, Prof. Walsh finds herself in the company of Afro-Caribbean thinkers like Jacqui Alexander, Frantz Fanon, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, and Sylvia Wynter, all of whom emphasize the centrality of one’s body as the site of relational thought and liberatory praxis. Decolonial work is ontological-existential: thinking and acting from the colonial wound opens up pedagogical-methodological paths, where unlearning and relearning is possible, resistance is nourishment, and self-affirmation is rebellion. The companions with whom we walk need not be perfect or present, and the paths along which we walk need not be linear. Walking with those who are not physically present but still with us in struggle, such as our ancestors, separated community members, or even previously foregone pedagogues, is essential. Listening to their interwoven calls and cries, to the possible similarities and affinities between them, to that which cuts across and re-assembles the past and present, may open up new paths and new pedagogies-methodologies. Learning, unlearning, and relearning together is thus always at least a spiritual, psychic, and circular process.
With these lessons, we left Rutgers campus and walked with each other to Lazos. We were then accompanied by those who were spiritually and physically present at the Center: the community members, and the ancestors, friends, colleagues, and children of whom they spoke. Sitting at Lazos’ table, we listened to their struggles and pedagogies-methodologies. We understand this listening to be the first step towards a decolonial praxis—the cornerstone of the Rencontre—and away from “civic engagement,” which is often oriented toward the external goal of assimilation or extracting knowledge and often presumes that individuals can enter and exit a community at will and easily. That evening, we began to walk together, paving an entirely new path for us to unlearn and relearn individually and collectively. Since this meeting, the Decoloniality Cluster and Lazos have certainly continued to traverse this learning curve together.
3) DECOLONIAL HOWS OF FISSURES AND CRACKS
Fissures and cracks are spaces of rebellious negation-creation. How do we work with the light that comes through the cracks?
Thinking with Sylvia Wynter, Gloria Anzaldua, and Aimé Césaire, Prof. Walsh sees cracks as spaces of rebellion that, by negating what is and creating what will be in the face of constant negation, make possible other modes of being, thinking, sensing, and living. Cracks are not closed or static, but rather processes of crack-ing that comprise intermediate and fluid spaces within a wall-like system. Unlike borders, which reproduce binaries and ask its dwellers to “occupy” them, Prof. Walsh affirms that cracks open strategies that enable fluid movement, facilitate coalition, and affirm life in the face of unbending negation. Where there is a crack, life cannot help but spurt through.
The Lazos Community Center is one such crack. Lazos has a mission to mobilize politically and socially: it seeks to increase the civil and legal rights of undocumented immigrants; to create a visible and vibrant community in a city that profits off their invisible presence; and to attend to the mental, sexual, emotional, and physical health of its members, who are often denied access to institutional services. Walking with Lazos and other decolonial thinkers and NYC activists, the Decoloniality Cluster aspires to think from the cracks in the spaces and institutions in which we dwell and so disrupt their sedimented exclusionary practices.
4) DECOLONIAL HOWS OF SOWING RE-EXISTENCE, HOPE, AND LIFE
Planting and sowing are ways of surviving, and to re-exist through planting and sowing is a collective being of resistance.
As Prof. Walsh articulated during her talk, decoloniality is not a new paradigm or praxis; rather, it reaches back to colonization and forward to imagined futures. Historically, colonized peoples have planted and sowed means of survival like preserving oral histories, creating and fostering collective memory, and cultivating alternative forms of resistance and community-building. For Prof. Walsh, to sow re-existence is to honor the past while also focusing on the long-horizon of survival and re-existence. The Decoloniality Cluster’s collaboration with the Lazos Community Center, the Fanon Rencontre in November, and Prof. Walsh’s visit in April are not ends in themselves. They are rather recent efforts in our sustained, long-horizon struggle to reimagine and re-assemble the Rutgers and greater New Brunswick community as a space for unlearning, relearning, and sowing re-existence.
We thank Lazos—its administration and members—for welcoming us into their space and for their sustained collaboration. We thank those present at Prof. Walsh’s talk and the Program in Comparative Literature for opening its doors. And we thank Prof. Walsh for her cries, her pedagogy-methodology, her fissuring, and her sowing. We will certainly continue to walk with her, and can only hope that she might, sometime in the future, walk with us again.