Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dear Marie

One of my mentors passed away yesterday. I met Marie Aminata Khan on my first day of work at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) back in 2007. Over the years, we grew to be very good friends. She nurtured my passion for gender issues and has been a major champion for my doctoral pursuits. Losing a dear friend is a new experience for me, one I am unsure of how to navigate. So, I began by writing her a letter, a (slightly) edited version of which appears below. 

13 December. 2011

Dear Marie,

It's impossible to formulate words expressing what I feel right now. N told me that you'd died, only yesterday after falling ill on your way to South Africa for the climate change conference (UNFCCC COP). But in my mind, you remain vibrant, full of life, smiling that dazzling smile of yours, & thinking of how to slip in an astute comment or two about gender into the conversation.

I've always admired the mentorship role you assume to help young CBD staff navigate their way. You open doors & take chances, shining the light on others. Whenever I take newbies out to play shinny hockey at one of Montreal's outdoor rinks, I tell them that everyone is on a level playing field rink. The best, most skilled players go out of their way to make even the shakiest skater look like Sydney Crosby. The stars work hard so that the beginners can make great plays; they set them up with a perfect pass or protect them from goons on the opposing team. They don't hog the puck or show off themselves. But everyone else on the ice knows they're great; everyone wants to share the ice with them because they bring everyone to a higher level (all while having fun). These star players work to enhance other people's strengths. To me, you're one of those star players. There are so many examples I could give of the opportunities you gave me to contribute to initiatives and to pursue my passion for gender during my stint at the CBD.

You respected everyone as an unique individual with talents. You always make time for others, even when your office door is closed and you're furiously working to meet a tight deadline. You were never stingy with feedback, always delivering it with critical, thoughtful and eloquent poise. You go out of your way to help others, go to bat for the principles and the people that you believe in, even (and perhaps especially) when it is a steep upward battle. Thank you.

I admire the vitality, the life you bring to everything you do, to everywhere you go. Remember dancing in the hotel bar in Bonn at the end of the CBD COP-9? Or the many parties that you graciously hosted at your apartment(s)? So much delicious food & drink. A relaxing ambiance that puts everyone at ease. Great music. Best of all, stimulating conversation and company.

Do you remember all of the advice you (lovingly) gave me over the years? On relationships, jobs, professional development, the UN, family life, African jewelry? About gender, development, project implementation? And when I told you I was engaged ... to never give up on a career or rely solely on a man for money?

And you listened too. You're an excellent and astute listener. Perhaps that is why people love you so much and trust you. Good listeners are difficult to find, especially those who genuinely care.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention your extraordinary beauty (your physical beauty - I think it's already clear I think you are an extraordinarily beautiful person on the inside). When I first arrived at CBD, S, G and I were chatting. Somehow it came up that we were in unanimous agreement that you were the most stunning person at the office. We were later stunned to discover that you were over 40! How you manage to always look like you stepped off the cover of Vogue  is beyond me.

Marie, I will miss you very, very dearly - as I am sure many, many other people will too. The light and laughter you bring into any room you enter is a quality possessed by very few individuals. I will miss your love of life, your passion for gender equality, your drive to nurture the growth of others and your ceaseless ability to live each day as if it were your last. You bring joy and inspiration to so many people, especially to me.

My condolences to your family, friends and colleagues.


There are several official tributes to Marie on the CBD and the Global Environment Facility websites. This unofficial one, penned by a colleague, beautifully captures Marie.
*     *     *
In one sense I consider myself lucky. On my last day at the CBD I had left notes for my colleagues, expressing my gratitude for what they had taught me. My letter to Marie was quite long and heartfelt, so at least she knew how special she was to me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Solar bottles light up the homes of poor Filipinos

Here's an example of a simple and inexpensive innovation that improves the quality of life of people living in impoverished conditions. Coke bottles, water and people looking for work are in ample supply in the Philippines.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sandhill cranes and plastic pink flamingos

Full disclosure: I like birds. I mean, I really like birds.

As in, I travel with a pair of binoculars and a bird book, am easily distracted by bird songs and calls and often walk with my eyes scouring the treetops for signs of avian life.

As in, I spent the summers of my undergrad chasing songbirds through the woods across Canada and the USA.

As in, the first book I purchase before traveling to a new country is a bird guide. (The Philippines was rather challenging because the country has so many endemic birds and the only complete book is very expensive and is also the size of a 1990s telephone books ... not exactly conducive to slipping into a backpack for a weekend trip.)

Thus ends the preamble to this story.

*     *     *
Wednesday morning at the crack of dawn. Six am. The sun has been up for a while now, beating down on the campus track where a dozen or so runners are lacing up their shoes. Some are stretching out tight hamstrings and quads, others are gulping down Gatorade. No coffee for this crew pre-workout. Yet others are still trying to wake up.

The hour-long workout passes quickly, albeit not without the addictive pain and breathlessness that characterises track workouts. Running intervals with a group makes the time and the laps fly by. The pre-determined workout eliminates the need for conscious thought. Runners need only breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Fast. Sometimes very very fast.

During the endorphin-filled cool-down someone spots a pair of leggy creatures moving purposefully along the edge of the soccer pitch just opposite the track. When they raise up their heads, they stand chest-high. The scarlet plumes above their bills catch the sun's rays, giving the creatures a regal aura. They make no sound. Another runner identifies the birds as Sandhill cranes. I think they're spectacular.

I make a mental note to bring my camera to next track practice.

*    *     *
For six weeks, I tried unsuccessfully to photograph the "track cranes". The camera was nearly always in my bag. But, if I had my camera, they were nowhere to be found. On the days that I'd left the camera at home, the pair would be strolling along the soccer pitch or eating the peanuts someone had left for them outside the nearby Cereal Crops Research Unit.

One Sunday afternoon, to my surprise and delight, the birds, the camera and I found ourselves together at the Cereal Crops Research Unit. The lighting was not great, but I was not about to miss out on this opportunity. Here are some of the photographs.


*     *     *
Post-script: Other birds you are likely to see in Madison and the surrounding areas include: Northern cardinal, house sparrow, mourning dove, cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, herring gull, bald eagle, turkey vulture, osprey, American goldfinch, American crow, raven, European starling, purple finch, tree swallow, nuthatches, blue jay, American robin ... and plastic pink flamingos.

The official bird of the city of Madison is the plastic pink flamingo. Back in 2009, city councilors voted in favour of adopting this unusual avian symbol to represent the city. This article has a short video explaining how this quirk came to pass.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Language learning through song

Music is a great tool for learning a new language - whether you can or cannot carry a tune. You get a feel for the rhythm of the language and word pronunciation. It can be easier to sing a song than to read aloud. When the song becomes an earworm and you can't get it out of your head, you begin subconsciously (and likely involuntarily) acquiring new vocabulary.

In my beginner Tagalog classes, we've been nurturing our musical talents. We listen to simple (slow-ish) songs, fill in the blanks of an incomplete set of lyrics, translate them into English (both word-for-word and by phrase), and practice many times. Here is a sample of the ones we have learned in class.

Biyahe Tayo! was made in the early 1990s as a shout-out to Filipino emigrants to come back and visit the Philippines. Twenty-one artists for Philippines Tourism contributed to the song. During my exploratory field season last year I experienced / visited roughly half of the places and activities they mention / show.

Apo Hiking Society's Pumapatak na naman ang ulan should sound familiar. The song is similar to Raindrops are falling on head. The members of Apo Hiking Society began their musical partnership at Ateneo de Manila High School, and continued making music together during their years at Ateneo de Manila University. The group became popular in the 1970s and are known for their humour and political outspokenness as well their their music.

Bahay kubo is a song about all the vegetables and legumes that you would grow in your garden. A bahay kubo is a traditional nipa hut (nipa is a kind of palm).

*     *      *
While yours truly has been tactfully told to avoid singing outside the shower, I am convinced that exceptions can and should be made when learning a new language. And so, if your ears happen across a not-so-melodic version of these or other Filipino songs, please make a small allowance. I am merely practising my limited repertoire of Filipino songs so that my spoken Tagalog will improve.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Montreal to Mayumi to Madison

My studies have taken me away from Montreal yet again, this time to the Madison, Wisconsin. I'm here to learn Tagalog (or Filipino), one of the main languages spoken in the Philippines. Tagalog was originally spoken by people living on the island of Luzon. The word "Tagalog" come from "taga ilog", which means "people of the river".

So why come to Madison when I live in one of Montreal's Filipino neighbourhoods? Why not just study with a language tutor or focus on language learning during my next field season? In a nutshell, it's because:

  • learning languages is a big challenge for me and the discipline of a formal course is extremely helpful;
  • the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a special Southeast Asian Languages Summer Institute (SEASSI) that attracts scholars from other American universities, as well as scholars from foreign institutions;
  • UW-M has an excellent collection of Southeast Asian library resources, which are not easily accessed in Canada (or even in Southeast Asian countries);
  • SEASSI is a great opportunity to network with other students and professors studying Southeast Asia. 

I am under no illusions. An intensive two-month course will not make me proficient enough to conduct my research without a translator. Understanding the nuanced meanings of a spoken or written language  (often) takes years of dedicated (informal or formal) study. Learning vocabulary or grammar doesn't confer the knowledge required to decipher culturally-embedded expressions or (in)appropriate ways of asking questions and expressing ideas. The beginner language course will, however, make life a lot easier and more enjoyable during the next field season. And it will open doors. More importantly, it will show respect and facilitate more intimate connections with people.

*     *     *
Having no background in linguistics or the history of language, I am limited in what I can say about languages in the Philippines. The nation's two official languages are Filipino and English, although there are dozens of other native languages spoken throughout the archipelago. I am unclear of the selection process (and politics) that led to Tagalog and not other languages being named the national language of the Philippines. In an effort to assuage any bitter feelings harboured by non-Tagalogs, government officials decided to call the national language "Filipino", even though it is essentially Tagalog.

*     *     *
While my life here in Madison revolves around language classes, there is some time for other activities. I hope to share some of them here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Le coeur de Vancouver

Lorsqu'on visite un nouvel endroit, nos yeux voient des choses que les résidents ne voient pas puisque ces choses sont vues tellement souvent qu'elles deviennent "normales" et une partie de l'arrière plan de la journée quotidienne de ces gens. Des images des coeurs dispersés un peu partout dans des espaces publics m'ont attirés et j'ai voulu les partager. Voici donc quelques photos des "coeurs de Vancouver". Tous ces photos ont été prises dans le "Downtown Eastside".
Une mosaïque sur le trottoir.

Un coeur peinturé au bout d'une ruelle. 

Assis sur un banc au coin d'Adamac et Commercial Drive, Mike porte un chapeau "I ♥ Canada".

Un drapeau près du bibliothèque.

Une pieuvre et un coeur sur une fenêtre sur Commercial Drive.

La clôture d'un parc au coin de Franklin et Nanaimo.

Une affiche sur Commercial Drive.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lost and found

This is a good news story. And a déjà vu story.

*     *     *
I am currently visiting with my sister and her boyfriend in Vancouver. (Another tangent before beginning Filipino language classes next month.) They live in the notorious Downtown Eastside. The one made famous for sky high rates of illicit drug use, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, drug-related crime, and more recently, Insite (the supervised safe injection site). My recent experience belies such a reputation.

A lovely stroll through Granville Island: toy stores, flower stalls, produce stands, hat shops, quirky broom stores, Canada geese families. We stuff mangoes, strawberries, grapes, sheep feta, plantain, apples and pears into my shoulder bag and Steve's satchel. I slip my wallet into my jacket pocket.

The drizzle turns to rain. Out come the umbrellas. We speed home, trying to stay dry(ish). Dash across Terminal Road (timing the traffic lights is tricky). Make it home only mildly drenched.

I go to grab my wallet as we head out - except that I can't find it. Anywhere. We search inside and out. It is definitely gone. While personal security is not really an issue in the neighbourhood, a dropped wallet is unlikely to be returned.

The wallet would have been a pretty disappointing find for whomever picked it up as it contained less than two dollars cash. For me, the loss was more of a sentimental loss and a practical nuisance. The former because my one-of-a-kind wallet was made from recycled juice tetrapaks in the Philippines. The latter because acquiring a new driver licence, student card and health card is a tedious process (and I was nervous about boarding a plane without government-issued ID).

And thus begins the card cancelling process. My banks are surprisingly apologetic and sympathetic. In the future, if I ever want to speak with very helpful bank employees I will call the lost card hotline.

The phone rings, interrupting dinner. It's Dad. My sister jots down a phone number.

I call the security desk at the Tinseltown Mall. They had my wallet. A SkyTrain rider had spotted it at the Terminal Road intersection near the train station, and had brought it to the mall security. Security had contacted one of my banks, who then had contacted my parents.

Later that evening, after a riveting panel discussion on "Health, harm reduction and the law: the Insite case" at Simon Fraser University, we retrieve the wallet. Everything's there.

A sigh of relief and a smile. Not so much for finding the wallet, but for the evidence that people care.

*     *     *
I have no idea of the identity of the good Samaritan who turned in the wallet, or that of the other security and bank people who played a role in tracking me down. To you, I am grateful. Thank you for your honesty, kindness and time.

*     *     *
There's a déjà vu element to the story. A decade or so ago, I left my wallet in the back seat of a New York City taxi. And got it back. Fully intact.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Diaspora, an intellectual tangent

One of the perks of being a graduate student is the flexibility of your schedule. The academic life is rarely a nine to five endeavour. While the end-of-semester paper writing and exam marking crunch exacts very long days (and nights), in other periods, students may find themselves with the time to pursue what I call "intellectual tangents". This post is a reflection on one such pursuit.

*     *     *
Whenever I see the word diaspora, I'm inclined to speak the word aloud. Diaspora. It rolls off the tongue easily, yet it does not leave the mouth entirely. There's a part that remains, that clings on. Much like members of a diaspora - people who leave one place without severing all ties to that place.

On May 9, the University of Ottawa's African Studies and Research Laboratory hosted a free public workshop on "Migration and the New African Diaspora". It intrigued me for a number of reasons, notably its focus on migration and place-making and my long-standing  interest in the African continent. The workshop promised to foster discussion and debate on three issues:
  1. Identity: should we talk of the African diasporas as a single entity or are there a variety of African diasporas?
  2. The role of national and international institutions in making diasporas 'actors of development' in their countries of origin.
  3. Existing local initiatives, made possible as a result of transnational dynamics rather than institutionalisation of diasporas.
What is a diaspora? The official workshop documentation defines it as "a collective dispersed throughout the world whose members maintain relations with one another and who are involved in one or a number of projects concerning their home country". Each of the panellists added their own understanding of the concept, reflecting its diverse theoretical and instrumental applications: "an imagined community that is neither here nor there",  "a fractious collective that recreates institutions, cultural emblems and tensions found in the homeland", "a means to support co-development, in which diaspora members integrate into (Canadian) society and  help to develop their home country" and "a group whose money and minds can help to solve underdevelopment". Members of the diasporas can be refugees or asylum-seekers, students studying at foreign universities or economically-motivated immigrants. As such, a diaspora is a heterogeneous group.

Why is interest in diasporas growing? From a development delivery perspective, the African diasporas can infuse cash, skills and knowledge. Since the 1990s, the monetary value of remittances that the Africa diasporas send to help their families and communities and to invest has quadrupled. Remittances eclipse the amount of money that developed countries spend on development in Africa. The World Bank's diaspora program facilitates (1) the creation of an enabling environment (e.g. market-friendly reforms to attract investment), (2) increased remittances through lower transaction costs and greater transparency, and (3) brain gain initiatives. In other words, the World Bank values diasporas for their financial assets. It is shifting the burden of financing development from developed countries like Canada and intergovernmental institutions like the World Bank to individuals with a vested interest (emotional, financial or otherwise) in the African continent.

The African diasporas are also being courted by development agencies, funding organisations and governments. The opinions of the former are sought to inform policy, funding and investment decisions made by the latter. The power wielded by the diasporas is not unnoticed by African governments, some of which actively encourage diaspora members to lobby for particular policies in their adopted countries. 

Investigating African diasporas is a way of understanding blackness. As one of the panellists pointed out, there are no "Blacks" in Africa, only "Algerians", "Kikuyus" (in Kenya), "Namibians", "Congolese", et cetera. Blackness is not the defining aspect of one's identity until one leaves the continent. The basis for identity is transformed from a nation (or other defining quality) to a colour. The panellist drew parallels between the trajectory of becoming Black with the process of becoming a woman. When renown feminist scholar Simone de Beauvoir wrote that "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman", she asserted that societal influences trump biology in articulating what constitutes a woman and femininity. Applied to the African diasporas, this observation means that it is society - people, institutions, organisations, culture, norms, media, ... - that dictates what is means to be Black. The process and concept of blackness is not merely an academic exercise. It has real implications for citizenship and belonging in both origin and receiving countries.

Panellists and audience members alike were highly critical of underlying assumption of homogeneity. The motivation for migration for intentional migrants is clearly different from that of their refugee and displacee counterparts. Will all these people perceive the homeland in the same way? Will their children and grandchildren? Do Liberians living in neighbouring Ivory Coast support a development pathway identical to their compatriots living in China? If they differ, whose views should guide policy? The World Bank and other organisations seeking to invoke an entrepreneurial and humanitarian spirit in diasporas presuppose a singular voice. They do not recognise the plurality of voices, or "polyvocality" in the African diasporas. These organisations similarly presume diaspora members espouse common values, and do not account for differences based on gender, age, class, education, et cetera. This glossing over of differences is not unlike the popular treatment of Africa as a country, instead of as an enormous continent housing an incredible amount of diversity (see map below). (Herein the irony of this blog post's undifferentiated referral to "Africa" and use of an "Africa" label is duly noted.)  
Flag-inspired political map of Africa.
Source: Northern by Nature

*     *     *
As with any tangent, it is helpful to bridge a seemingly unrelated pursuit with the overarching one. For my own research on environmental displacement and migration in the Philippines, this "intellectual tangent" provides much food for thought. Migration, both internal and international, has long been a part of the Filipino way of life. Currently, the national government has policies encouraging its population to work abroad as "Overseas Filipino Workers" or OFWs. Not only do the remittances that OFWs send back to the Philippines help families and communities, but they are also an important source of foreign investment and foreign currency to grow the economy and to repay the national debt, respectively. These OFWs, as well as the Filipinos who have laid down permanent roots in other countries, also send back ideas. Thus, to understand national and sub-national disaster and migration policies and programmes requires, I must be aware of the networks operating at the transnational scale and their influence in shaping initiatives at the local to national level.

*     *     *
Postscript 1:
The workshop was bilingual, with presenters and audience members switching (nearly) effortlessly between English and French. Some things were better expressed in French, others in English. The bilingualism added a layer of richness and inclusiveness to the workshop. It made an impression on me. When I am frustrated by the limitations of my French language skills and am second guessing my choice to do a doctorate in a second language (which inevitably happens from time to time), I will picture myself in that workshop room.

Postscript 2: 
There will be a follow-up workshop (date and specific theme TBD). I will post any links to summary reports or other workshop-inspired material as it is made available.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Over half of the world's population now lives in cities, sites of educational and economic opportunity, of escape from diminishing livelihoods in rural areas, and of violence, ingenuity, hope and despair. My graduate geography seminar on imperialism, globalisation and citizenship devoted  one week to untangling emerging themes in modern-day Latin American cities. The following critical essay reflects on our urbanisation texts.

En investiguant l'urbanité en Amérique latine, les textes d'Achugar (2009), de Peixoto (2009), et de Pedrazzini et Sanchez (1998) abordent plusieurs thèmes, notamment : la violence, les différences entre la ville et le métropole, la création et l'exploitation des espaces de résistance par des groupes exclus, la tension entre l'État et ceux qui subvertissent le capitalisme, et la nécessité de créer une nouvelle façon de conceptualiser l’espace-temps pour prendre compte de la nature dynamique et mutante des villes contemporaines d'Amérique latine. Cependant, cette analyse n’abordera que deux de ces thèmes.

Comme nous avons vu avec les textes sur les espaces gouvernables et non-gouvernables, les auteurs sont d'accord que la violence est un attribut caractéristique mais n’est pas l'attribut caractéristique des villes d'Amérique latine. Chacun des textes dévoile un différent côté de la violence, soulignant sa nature complexe et multidimensionnelle. La violence en Uruguay -  «  un Eden démocratique » -  est diverse,[1] planifiée et visée d'un côté à exécuter un agenda néolibéral et de l'autre à effacer la violence historique de l'État (Achugar 2009: 188). À Caracas la violence des malandros, des enfants de la rue et des membres de bandes est directe, sanglante et ne peut pas être ignorée (Achugar 2009). C'est une manifestation symbolique et réelle de la culture d'urgence : c'est un moyen de survivre, de s'inventer et de résister à la culture dominante.  Peixoto traite la violence à São Paulo d'une manière plus subtile ; il limite sa discussion à la violence structurelle imposée par le marché. Ces textes affirment qu'une analyse des espaces urbains en Amérique latine est incomplète sans une analyse profonde de la violence comme un outil stratégique employé par des groupes marginalisés ainsi que par l'État et ceux et celles en positions de pouvoir.

Malgré la gravité des sujets abordés, chacun des textes laissent entrevoir des rayons d’espoir pour l’avenir. Ceux et celles qui sont opprimés créent et exploitent des espaces de résistance à l'hégémonie du capitalisme. Peixoto propose que ce sont les nomades agiles qui sont les personnes les plus capables de profiter des espaces interstitiels dans la ville pour défaire lentement les éléments d'exclusion qui sont à la base de sa cohésion. Les malandros, les enfants de la rue et les membres de bandes prennent un rôle semblable aux nomades ; en exposant étourdiment l'échec de l'État d'honorer sa dette sociale envers les plus pauvres, ils écaillent les barrières qui relèguent leurs barrios à la périphérie (Pedrazzini et Sanchez 1998). Achugar affirme que la résistance peut aussi être soutenue par les immeubles : des espaces marqués par la violence historique et sociale, comme la prison-devenue-centre d'achats, préviennent l'oubli collectif du passé. Les auteurs soulignent que les expériences des gens marginalisés sont les expériences de la majorité en Amérique latine, donc la somme de la créativité et de l'adaptabilité de ces gens peut fournir une cartographie pour le succès des villes d'Amérique latine.

Les trois textes et l'espoir auquel ils font allusion provoquent certaines questions : 1) Est-ce que les villes et les métropoles d'Amérique latine offrent enfin une occasion de remplacer le paradigme de diffusionnisme européen avec un paradigme endémique? 2) Comment peuvent les expériences des nomades instruire une nouvelle cartographie de la métropole fluide basée sur des événements et non les objets? 3) Y a t'il une telle chose qu'une «violence d'espoir»?

H. Achugar. (2009). On maps and malls. In R. Biron (ed).  City/Art: The Urban Scene in Latin America. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Nancy B. Pleixoto. (2009). Latin American megacities: the new urban formlessness. In R. Biron (ed).  City/Art: The Urban Scene in Latin America. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Yves Pedrazzini and M.R. Sanchez. (1998). Malandros: Bandes, gangs et enfants de la rue - la culture d'urgance dans la métropole latino-américaine. Paris: Editions Charles Léopold Mayer/Desclé de Brouwer.

[1] Achugar n'utilise pas moins d'une quinzaine de mots pour décrire la violence en Uruguay, incluant: "original symbolic violence" " inaugural violence" "geometric violence" "extreme violence of cannibalism " "constitutive violence" "historical violence" "enduring violence" "political violence" " economic violence" "social violence" "violence of regional and world reorganization" "normalized violence" "current violence" "criminal violence" "organized and legitimated violence" "violent imposition of collective forgetting".

The Chile-Quebec connection

The major political party leaders (except Gilles Duceppe) are trying to woo the "new Canadian" vote in the upcoming election. Indeed, immigration is an important issue for people in both sending communities (abroad) and receiving communities (in Canada). For example: how many foreigners should Canada admit? Should they come as asylum seekers and refugees or immigrants? Economic migrants, be it temporary foreign workers or more permanent skilled workers? Should Canada grant family visas, and who exactly is family: spouse? children? siblings? parents? cousins? grandparents? ... How long must they wait? What support should be afforded to new arrivals? 

José del Pozo
Image from Editions Boréal:
The theme of immigration was broached in my graduate geography seminar on imperialism, globalisation and citizenship. Here are my reactions to the week's assigned reading Les Chiliens au Québec by José del Pozo, a Chilean-born professor at the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Dr. del Pozo joined our class as a guest speaker for the week, and provided additional insight into the issues facing Chilean migrants in Quebec. This piece was written mid-February 2011, just after the Harper government announced a reduction in family reunification visas.

Dans son livre Les Chiliens au Québec, José del Pozo souligne la diversité et l'évolution  de la politique migratoire du Canada (2009). Il décrit une migration transnationale des Chiliens (et des Chiliens-Canadiens) entre le Chili et le Canada qui est entremêlée avec la gouvernance transnationale. Il examine comment les structures présentes dans les deux pays, ainsi que celles dans plusieurs autres pays influent sur les « choix » des individus et des familles. Les manchettes de cette semaine annoncent que le gouvernement Harper va réduire de 5% le nombre de visas octroyés aux immigrants.[1] Cela démontre non seulement l'urgence d'une discussion honnête et ouverte sur ce sujet, mais aussi la pertinence des analyses scolaires telles que celles de del Pozo envers les politiques d'immigration actuelles. Cette analyse critique est concentrée sur cette intersection.
Image from Editions Boréal:
Comme souligné par del Pozo, la politique migratoire du Canada et ses relations diplomatiques avec le Chili ont beaucoup influencé la nature des mouvements transnationaux entre ces deux pays. Les vagues de migration ont été poussées par la situation politique et économique au Chili ainsi que les changements  du système d'immigration et de réfugiés au Canada. Avant 1956, le nombre d'immigrants Chiliens qui sont venus vivre au Canada était très bas à cause d'une politique migratoire canadienne très restrictive et  de la préférence pour des immigrants provenant des États-Unis et de l'Europe occidentale. Après l'ouverture des portes au continent américain en 1956 le nombre d'immigrants a augmenté de façon importante. Les Chiliens venus au Canada avant 1973 et après 1990 sont des « véritables immigrants », tandis que ceux arrivés dans les années immédiatement après le coup d'État étaient plutôt des « immigrants politiques » ou des « immigrants forcés ». La vague de gens admis comme « réfugiés » qui a débuté durant la seconde moitié des années 1980 était motivée plus par des difficultés économiques que par la persécution politique. Puisque nous entrons dans une nouvelle période d`immigration restrictive (une cinquième étape?), des questions comme « est-ce que nous allons voir une nouvelle étape de migration chilienne vers le Canada et le Québec? » et « si oui, comment est-ce qu’elle va se distinguer des étapes antérieures? » sont très pertinentes.

Malgré le pouvoir et la rigidité des systèmes canadiens et québécois d`immigration et de l'asile,[2] il y existe encore des espaces d'agence pour des individus et des groupes. Le texte présente plusieurs cas où un ambassadeur particulier, des religieux(ses) québécois(es), la communauté chilienne au Québec et les lecteurs de la presse montréalaise ont réussi à protéger certains Chiliens et à faciliter leur entrée et leur intégration au Canada. Comment est-ce que ces espaces d'agence se transforment aujourd'hui dans l'âge de l'internet? Grâce aux technologies informatiques, il existe plus de moyens qu'auparavant pour échanger l'information et de créer des communautés d'activistes.  Del Pozo soulève le point que les immigrants et les réfugiés chiliens se servent déjà de l'internet pour s'informer sur le Canada et le Québec. Il distingue les immigrants de la quatrième étape comme étant les plus informés, grâce à, parmi d'autres facteurs, l’internet.  Alors, il faut poser la question « comment est-ce que les citoyens des deux pays vont exploiter ce monde virtuel pour s'assurer un flux migratoire d'immigrants et de réfugiés, malgré les restrictions imposées par le gouvernement actuel? »

José del Pozo. (2009). Les Chiliens au Québec. Immigrants et réfugiés, de 1955 à nos jours. Montréal: Boréal.

[1] Louise Elliot.(14 février 2011) «Immigrant visas to drop 5%: records» CBC News. Accédé le 14 février 2011 à cbc.ca/canada/story/2011/02/12/canada-immigration-rates.html. Les commentaires racistes et anti-immigrants m'inquiètent.
[2] L'application des règles n'est pas uniforme et illustre le racisme et les préjugés enfoncés dans les structures canadiennes (et peut-être ceux des gens qui travaillent dans ces structures). Del Pozo compare le temps d'attente pour acquérir un visa de résidence et le statut de réfugié. Les joueurs d'hockey provenant de l'Europe de l'est reçoivent un visa de résidence deux jours après leur entrée au Canada, tandis que de véritables immigrants et réfugiés du Chili doivent attendre plusieurs mois, voire des années.

Bolivian and Tanzanian perspectives on gender

Here is another short essay I wrote for a graduate geography seminar on imperialism, globalisation and citizenship. This one explores the gender question. The essay draws on two very different kinds of texts. Domitila Barrios de Chungara's Let Me Speak is a gripping narrative of key experiences in her life. The "plainspeak" writing compels you to plunge into her life in Bolivia as a miner's wife. Though she asserts that she is not a feminist, her actions, beliefs and activist strategies belie the claim.  The second text, Richa Nagar's Mapping feminisms and difference tackles gender issues from a much more academic perspective, in terms of writing style, analysis and situation of her case study in the broader literature. She investigates the practice of mut'a (temporary marriage permitted under Shia Islam) in Tanzania, arguing that it illustrates the intersection of race, class and gender inequalities. These inequalities have been produced and reproduced through colonial and neo-colonial globalising processes. Both texts elicit questions about safe spaces for fighting injustice.

De manière très différente, Domitila Barrios de Chungara (1978) et Richa Nagar (2004) soulignent l’impératif de la question du genre. Malgré la distance temporale et spatiale qui sépare les deux textes, les thèmes qu’ils abordent sont semblables. Ils examinent la construction et la déconstruction des rôles de la femme, le contrôle et le pouvoir, l’hétérogénéité des femmes (et des hommes), les espaces pour contester le discours dominant, la biologie ou « la nature » comme une justification pour créer et maintenir des inégalités, et la reproduction du néocolonialisme par les institutions religieuses, économiques et politiques à plusieurs échelles. Les textes exigent que le lecteur perçoive le message explicite ainsi qu’implicite de nos religions, gouvernements, industries et normes sociales.

Un thème omniprésent est celui du contrôle. En Bolivie, Barrios de Chungara (1978) affirme que le contrôle fait partie du quotidien. C’est autant quelque chose imposée par des acteurs externes pour maintenir des inégalités, que par l’individu lui-même pour survivre
à son oppression. Dans le premier cas l’auteure décrit, par exemple, des mesures prises par les compagnies minières pour assurer la pauvreté des travailleurs et de leurs familles et de massacres sanctionnés par l’état dans le but de réprimer une révolte communiste. Dans le deuxième cas, elle explique que les travailleurs des mines mâchaient du coca pour affaiblir leur faim, et lorsqu’elle était emprisonnée à La Paz elle a dû éteindre son désir de garantir la sécurité de ses propres enfants ou risquer condamner des personnes innocentes avec sa signature sur une page blanche. L’histoire racontée par Barrios de Chungara soulève les questions « comment est-ce que divers acteur ont utilisé le contrôle de soi-même et des autres pour atteindre leurs buts? » et « comment est-ce que les victimes d’un contrôle injuste peuvent s’échapper de ce contrôle? »

Comme en Bolivie, le contrôle exerce des impacts en Tanzanie. La pratique de « mut’a » (le mariage temporaire permis par l’Islam Shia) dévoile l’intersection de plusieurs facteurs historiques, religieux, politiques, ethniques et sociaux, qui produisent une exploitation sexuelle basée sur la race (Nagar 2004). Il expose un double standard : l’homme, par sa nature, ne peut pas résister ses envies sexuelles et donc, est permis de les satisfaire hors de son mariage permanent (nikah), tandis que la femme doit contrôler ses désirs. Ironiquement, la même pratique qui entrave la liberté (sexuelle) des femmes ithnasheriennes permet à des autres groupes de femmes marginalisées d’améliorer leur situation.

« Où se trouvent les espaces pour contester des injustices? » Selon Nagar (2004) pour la plupart des femmes ithnasheriennes de la classe moyenne ils se trouvent dans la sphère domestique. La construction de la supériorité culturelle et morale de ces femmes, ainsi qu’une reprise religieuse et son contrôle sur les femmes les empêchent de dénoncer le mut’a publiquement. Par contre, le tabou public ne se transfère pas dans la maison, où les femmes expriment sans fard leurs sentiments à ce sujet avec leurs maris. La situation en Bolivie est différente. Les protestations contre les inégalités devaient êtres publiques – sur la radio, dans les espaces publiques, près des mines, dans les publications – pour réussir à transmettre leurs messages (Barrios de Chungara 1978). Cependant, en manifestant dans les espaces publiques, les compañeros et compañeras risquaient la fureur du gouvernement, de l’armée et des dirigeants des compagnies minières. Le risque était réel. Dans sa vie, Domitila Barrios de Chungara a observé et a vécu elle-même des arrestations, des détentions, de la torture, des massacres « de sang » et des massacres « blancs »  (des licenciements massifs).  Alors, nous devons nous demander « comment créer et exploiter (pour des buts positifs) des espaces sécuritaires pour contester des injustices? »

Domitilia Barrios de Chungara. (1978). Let Me Speak! Paris: F. Maspero.
Richa Nagar. (2004). Mapping feminisms and difference. In Staehi et al. (eds.). Mapping Women, Making Politics. London and New York: Routledge.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    On the conceptualisation of nature

    The short essay below is a commentary on the conceptualisation of nature. It is based on Arturo Escobar's book Territories of Difference. The research interests of this Colombian-born professor span political ecology, development, social movements and Latin American development and politics. I've read a number of his articles and books as part of my graduate studies at both the University of Guelph and l'Université de Montréal. His ideas intrigue me, and force me to reconsider the development and environmental movement discourses. His works aren't exactly easy reading, but do provoke serious reflection - particularly for someone who has worked with the Convention on Biological Diversity. A little cognitive dissonance, anyone?

    The essay was prepared for a graduate geography seminar on imperialism, globalisation and citizenship. 

    Tous les textes d’Arturo Escobar que j’ai lus me déséquilibrent. Ses analyses de l’écologie politique en termes de « place », de « capital », de « nature », de « développement », de « l’identité » et de « réseaux » sont fascinantes, mais elles sont aussi  des critiques très sévères de notre système-monde actuel et, en particulier, du traitement de la nature et du développement. Ce qui rend ses textes si inconfortables est qu'ils agissent comme des miroirs : je me reconnais comme un acteur qui perpètre une modernité qui marginalise et homogénéise. Permettez-moi d’explorer cette tension avec quelques thèmes bouleversants qu’Escobar aborde dans son livre Territories of difference (2008).

    Une tension importante que soulève Escobar réside dans le concept de la biodiversité. Les institutions dominantes, telles que la Banque mondiale et la Convention sur la diversité biologique, traitent la biodiversité de façon réductive et décontextualisée ; toute la diversité peut être expliquée en termes de gènes. Leur discours sur la nature et la conservation n'est qu’un autre projet de colonisation. Par contre, pour plusieurs activistes et peuples autochtones, tel que le mouvement social Proceso de Comunidades Negras dans la région pacifique de la Colombie, la biodiversité fait partie d’une série de processus plus larges qui fait partie d'une processus plus larges, ce qui changent la compréhension et les pratiques reliées à la nature. Dans cette optique, elle consiste non seulement de plantes et d’animaux, leurs gènes et leurs écosystèmes (partie tangible), mais aussi des pratiques culturelles et du contrôle du territoire (partie non tangible). De cette perspective, un projet de conservation qui n’est pas aussi un projet de décolonisation est destiné pour être un échec. En vue de la croissance de la perte de biodiversité, il est impératif de se demander «  comment peut-on intégrer et mettre en fonction un concept de la biodiversité plus compréhensif et qui reflète la réalité dans les institutions dominantes? »

    Une deuxième tension se concentre sur deux objectifs apparemment liés. Selon Escobar (2008), la poursuite simultanée de la paix et du développement (comme il est souvent mis en oeuvre) est futile parce que les deux concepts émergent d’épistémologies vastement différentes.  D’un côté, la paix reflet « une série de processus économiques, culturels et écologiques qui provoquent une mesure de justice et balance aux ordres naturels et sociaux » (Escobar 2008 : 17). De l’autre, le développement cherche à créer des sociétés modernes, dont la modernité célèbre l’universalité, l’unité, le scientifique, la totalité et le rationalisme, et rejette l’intégration des mondes naturels, humains et surnaturels. En supposant que la paix est un objectif louable, il nous faut une reconstruction de la théorie du développement, ainsi que ses politiques et ses programmes : « comment pourrions-nous reconstruire le développement, et pour qu’il avance la justice sociale, écologique et économique, et qu’il reconnaisse la diversité culturelle des sociétés? »

    Les solutions que proposent Escobar pour résoudre ces tensions ne sont pas faciles. Il nous demande de poursuivre (1) un développement alternatif, (2) une modernité alternative, et (3) des alternatives à la modernité. Ces projets sont à la fois contradictoires et complémentaires. Pour faciliter cette tâche décourageante, il fournit un exemple de chaque projet et explore pourquoi chacun a réussi ou a été un échec.  Il lance le défi de viser à créer des alternatives à la modernité, même si on ne réussit qu’à « bouger quelques pouces sur la piste des deux premières dimensions » (Escobar 2008 : 198). Alors, pour répondre à son défi il faut commencer par articuler les caractéristiques d’un développement alternatif et d’une modernité alternative, ainsi qu’élaborer plusieurs alternatives à la modernité.

    Arturo Escobar. (2008). Territories of Difference: Place, movement, life, redes. Chapel Hill: Duke  University Press.