We have all been placed before many beautiful human beings in our life but they are a few who I have walked away knowing with certainty that they are a messenger for our people, that they are protected and own a special light that makes you think, grow and love as you stand with them.
I stood for six days in the special light the ancestors have passed on to Francia Marquez. When she shared at the Lecture and Discussion, “no other option but to fight for my people” you believed her. She is a fighter that carries Africa deep within, nourishes the sounds of Afro Colombians and makes all Afro descendants stand up and say, we see you, we hear you, we support you.
Francia shared how gold mining has been in the family for centuries and how they have lived off this land. When she speaks of this land in Cauca, you find yourself wanting to reconnect with the earth, with the soil that feeds us. You want to jump in and swim in this river that feeds her community and cleanses the soul.
She connected all our stories, all our realities. She made us want to go back and read how decisions in this country are affecting our brothers and sisters in Cauca.
Francia made every Afro descendent that met her on her visit to Boston, think and reflect on how far we have come but how much we have to do. She shared how surprised she has been at the lack of knowing our own history, the lack of Black Consciousness. “We should never forget” she said, ‘what MLK, Malcolm X did to get us all in this space.” She makes the connection with these great men and the women warriors in history because the bodily harm, threats to her are her reality but it has not slowed her down because she knows that this is bigger than her.
As we moved from space to space she would say things that would make me stop and go, that’s it, you just put it out with such clarity. Francia is clear on who she is and what role she plays in the betterment of her people, her community. When she speaks of falling in love with Malcolm X’s words you find new fire in them. “The chains on our minds are still present” she said “and it is an individual process that we each need to go through.”
We realized that we were both impacted very deeply by the words of one Afro Colombian leader Carlos Rosero. Francia shared her own transformation and how Carlos’s mentoring guided her. I met Carlos early in my journey in the movement and his words still ring in my ears. His voice and words are those of a man grounded in his Africanness.
Her ancestors speak to her through the stories that have been passed down for centuries and she holds them close and shares them with a passion that takes you back to being that young child sitting at the foot of your grandfather as he told his story.
At the event, a young student asked Francia why she would stay more in the country and not in the city. Francia shared an exercise she has done with the youth in Cauca and those who move to the city, Cali. In the city we may have the movie theater, we may have the paved roads, modern things, but in the country we have a river we can jump into when we want to swim, we have our plantains and yucca that we grow on our land, we have community, we have family. That gets lost on many levels when we move away from home.
The most impacting moment for me and I would dare to say for Francia was her exchange with the young women of the HER Project. We are in the early stages of formation identity with the young women. Francia’s words at the event and her presence at group the following day got the girls closer to making the connection of who they are here in Boston, the history of their country and the connection to Francia’s story. My young women found their internal light in Francia’s words and walked away with a name of a new woman who inspires them. I saw the young women transform into the leaders we will continue to develop in this space. Francia congratulated them, shared her story with them that goes deeper than the activist we see. The ancestors were present in that room and felt great pride that their message was delivered to the future of our community.
In each space we entered, Francia made us take a look at our pettiness. She made me and many stop to think what we really need to build community to be self-empowered. She shared how the women make these beautiful bags to sustain themselves. They don’t wait to get funding to survive, they finds ways to survive that move past who gives you money because this is about life and death of the people and the community and once again her line, “there is no other option” enters your thoughts.
The reality of racism, the impact of the world and our people sounds off in Francia. We reach to call it other things and she brings you back to name it for what it is. When she attended a community meeting with me, she supported a position I have stated for years. Latinos need to stop naming the problem as only an Immigration problem and name the racism that is deep within it. If we did, then we would do less of the statement, “African Americans are about race and Latinos is about Immigration.” The root is the same my people.
The other position that was validated with Francia and through her words is how we use the word “Latino” in this country. She was so surprised at how the word gets thrown around. I shared how it is the term used to describe the community. She, like me, struggled with how when the word is used it is not just about culture but it creates a hierarchy and a separation from our African roots. It is in thinking more deeply about this that as we move into the New Year, we hope to lean more on the term Afro descendent or Afro Colombian, Afro Panamanian in speaking of our communities.
Francia touched the core of those in NY at the PANAFSTRAG meeting. If there was any doubt that the Durban Declaration has not had a real impact on our communities, Francia’s words about the pain and struggle of her community and the government decisions that continue to disregard a constitution that states that these lands are ancestral lands, then we have a lot of work to do. We both felt pain when we spoke of the fact that many of us when we travel and want to visit the Black communities are told not to go. I was left with this sadness as this is said about my own community in Colon. I then ask, how do we get to know each other, make the connections in our struggle if we are told to stay away from each other. My Nigerian family as I refer to the General and his family received her with open arms. She felt at home in this special African space.
My favorite moments with Francia were our private moments that will be mine to hold on to for life but I will bring you closer to one moment that speaks to the depth of love of this amazing woman.
When we would sit in silence I sensed a great calmness come over her and I would stare wanting to know, “donde estas mi amiga.” Our moments were also girlie moments of talking about our hopes and dreams and our loves. But the moments I will cherish with a smile and hope you can visualize it through my words, is when she would begin singing a song by Mercedes Sosa or from what is now my new favorite group, Herencia de Timbiqui.
As I sit and share this with you, my love for this woman, what she stands for fuels my movement. It is a love that we can have for each other when we know that our ancestors struggle is not in vain.
Francia’s light is special, it is real. Her light is filled with love and pain yet it is the combination of all of it that when she speaks you know she is on this earth for a reason. Francia’s footsteps on this soil are guided and protected by that light of our ancestors who know the meaning of JUSTICE and LOVE. Esa luz de los ancestros que le da fuerza y la llena de mucho amor.
May she continue to deliver that beautiful message. May she be safe and may they continue to shed that light of courage and hope on her. Blessings to you, mi Hermana.