My name is Manuela Valle-Castro, I was born in Chile and I am a newcomer to Treaty Six territory. I moved to Canada from Chile in 2005 looking to pursue graduate studies, and moved to Saskatchewan in 2014 with my two Canadian born daughters. As an international student and an immigrant, I have faced some social and cultural challenges and financial vulnerabilities; however, I am also aware of how my class privilege, if yet precarious, provided me with the choice to migrate here, voluntarily, and with more relative social and cultural capital than most immigrants in Canada. I was already fluent in English, had two university degrees, and had family financial resources to cover for most of the cost of the move and settling in Canada. Also, I encountered a country familiar with Chilean recent history and often sympathetic to Chileans.
In Chile, I grew up under a military dictatorship until I was a teenager. The year before I was born, a military coup ended with the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, as a result of a conspiracy between the national elites and the U.S. government. Allende had nationalized resources like copper that had long been exploited by English first and U.S. based capitalists later, and Washington saw with horror the possibility of a referent for a democratic path to socialism in the Americas (and the world). So instead of growing up in the socialist democratic utopia that my parents and their generation had fought (and died) for, I grew up in a totalitarian government, with a militarized society that guaranteed the neoliberal experiment of Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys. My parents were Marxists, so I grew up listening to a lot of conversations about class contradictions, class conscience, fascism, and the exploitation of men by men. I grew up angry and uncomfortable about many things like the militarized culture at school, police repression and violence, and class discrimination. But there was more going on that I didn’t know how to articulate. Today I know it was also the culture of misogyny, homophobia and violence against girls and women that is normalized in Chile. And it wasn’t until much later, after I came to Canada, that I came to understand how my socialization involved also the internalization and normalization of racism. It wasn’t until I was confronted with Indigenous issues here in North America that I was able to better understand processes of racialization in Chile, and the Chilean state as a settler colonial state. It wasn’t until being racialized as a woman of colour myself, that I started to understand how racism really works.
See, in Chile I used to be white. I grew up watching Disney cartoons where Indigenous and Black people were caricatured as ridiculous, anacronic, barbaric, hypersexual, infantile. Popular culture fed me all kinds of Orientalist racist stereotypes. I grew up “looking up” to the North as a site for imagining the future based on Eurocentric ideas of settler colonialism, in which Indigenous people only have a place in a romanticized past. I was taught by popular culture to identify with the subjectivity and the gaze of the colonizer and to view whiteness not only as desirable, but as a goal in itself. Most Chilean mestizos like me think of themselves as white, especially in relation to racialized peoples in neighbour countries like Peru and Bolivia, to afro-descendent immigrants from Haiti and Colombia, and to their own Indigenous peoples (most noticeably Mapuche). The phenotypic features I have allow me to be racialized as white (as having mostly European ancestry) when I travel in the Caribbean and the Andes, where there are more identifiable Indigenous populations. In countries like Cuba, Bolivia, and Peru I often get asked if I am from Spain or Argentina (coded as white). And in the North America, I get to be racialized as a woman of colour, a brown woman, and a Latina, all labels that are loaded with exoticized meanings and sexualized images. People rarely realize that my name doesn’t “mean anything” because it is a Spanish colonial name, imposed by patrilineality, erasing all traces of Indigeneity. I would love be able to say that my name means flower in Guarani (Anahi) or laughter in Mapuche (Ayelen). But I am a colonized person with a colonized name and a colonized subjectivity, daily confronted with her own contradictions.
By moving to Canada, I have become implicated both in processes of gentrification that mean further spacial displacement of the poor and Indigenous, and in discourses of multiculturalism, which are a key component of the Canadian settler nation-building narrative. By embodying the non-white settler and the model minority at the same time (gaining a Doctorate in Canada), I contribute to further legitimize the myths of the multicultural state and of meritocracy. My decision to move to Saskatoon looking for an opportunity to buy an affordable house for me and my daughters, invoked the same narrative of social mobility, betterment, and hard-work that moved Europeans settlers into the New World. Canadian multiculturalism is a function of the settler-state, which is guided by the rationale of extracting wealth from the land via immigrant labor. As Patrick Wolfe notes, the only role of the Indigenous body in this system is to disappear.
But not all non-white bodies are racialized in the same way. Racialized bodies that make it across the Canadian border are classified and perceived around hierarchies of class, gender, sexuality, ability and more. Some bodies are perceived as threats and criminalized, others are commodified as cheap labor, some are celebrated in their compliance with Canadian values, and some are perceived as passive victims. Racialized bodies come here with complicated stories of belonging and unbelonging within their nations of origin. They become people of colour only once they are here. The model of multiculturalism hides these hierarchies by presenting a level field in which all minorities are ‘equal,’ come in unproblematic neat cultural packages and can be consumed in yearly multicultural events by white people. The model of multiculturalism follows the Star Trek model of 60’s social and racial utopia: a crew where you have a representative of every minority, and at the centre, Captain Kirk, representing the persistent centrality of whiteness. We can always add another minority member to the colorful light diversity of the crew, but nothing substantial is unsettled until the assumed (male, able bodied) white center is challenged.
There are some ways to resist settler colonialism and to be allies with Indigenous struggles and other racialized groups who experience marginalization and oppression. None of them includes the narrow understanding of Reconciliation that the state has put forward, as a monumental “move to innocence” (Tuck and Yang, 2009) complete with apologies and spectacles of sentimentality featuring the master of performative politics Mr Prime Minister himself. The issue of land and resources needs to be constantly recentered in discussions about decolonization. Standing Rock cannot be seen as a failure, at least yet. The utopian relationships of reciprocity in difference, mutual respect and solidarity that were fostered during the long six months of the stand-off of the camp with the government cannot be undone overnight. People across the world witnessed water protectors and their allies coming together, following Indigenous protocols, sharing resources and reclaiming relations of spirituality and radical interdependence with the land and water. As the Canadian settler state moves forward its policies that protect a predatory extractive industry, the narrative of reconciliation and all its apologies are nothing but empty gestures. The celebratory tone of Canada 150 is already being interrupted by voices that point at the unresolved issue of Indigenous sovereignty and governance. The anxiety of the settler state in relation to these issues is evident in its rush to declare the Treaties as a thing of the past or museum culture.
When we frame our relationships and actions with others in this land through the lens of decolonization, our responsibilities become more clear. Racialized folks can refuse to be a token minorities that represent Canada’s multiculturalism and instead support initiatives that promote Indigenous sovereignty and governance. To denounce and boycott the attempts of banks and corporations to co-opt social movements. To explore the interconnectedness of our struggles. To establish conversations and solidarity networks between folks of colour and Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks outside the settler state. To me, it also means resisting the colonizing impulse of the Canadian and Chilean settler states and all of its forms of violence. To understand the (human) forces behind neoliberalism as racist, masculinist and patriarchal practices, instead of viewing the economy as moved by natural abstract forces that make neoliberalism inevitable.
In this way, when multiculturalism gives us the image of the PM crying at the airport at the arrival of the Syrian refugees, decolonization offers the possibility of connecting the events that caused the displacement of the Syrian people in the first place, with the ongoing imperialist military campaigns of the Canadian state. When multiculturalism defends the right for all religions to be accommodated in public spaces, decolonization calls to resist all forms of religious racism and religious colonialism, and to uphold the proliferation of Indigenous spiritualities that are connected to the land. When multiculturalism is insistently tempting us to become the exemplary model tokenized minority in exchange of the bone of “integration,” let us use that space to raise Indigenous voices and to resist colonialism both in Canada and at home.