HomeInterviewGladys Obelmejías, maroon scientist, speaks from the Ivic: I have double consciousness

Gladys Obelmejías, maroon scientist, speaks from the Ivic: I have double consciousness

Daughter of the coasts of Aragua and the UCV, she is a sociologist who remembers how her Afro mother taught her to read to a Spaniard

Gladys Cueva became a normal school teacher at the time when the migration of Europeans during the second post-war period was a tree. Venezuela was receiving, by then, a wave of migrants, especially Spanish.

Many of these people found accommodation in the houses of Venezuelans. Gladys Cueva would tell her children some years later that a good part of those Spaniards who came to our country were illiterate. But perhaps that will not be the most striking memory that she had in that period of her life as a teacher of migrants. Nor was it the joy of a new literate person, rather the case of a Spanish teenager, who, at the end of her training and when she already knew how to read and write in the land of Andrés Bello, recited a series of expletives to her teacher because she did not She would publicly acknowledge that “a black woman” had taught her to read.

Gladys Obelmejías, Gladys Cueva's daughter, heard that story dozens of times and always in the midst of words that denoted the wound that it had left in her mother's heart. But as the years went by, that family history, that sad memory of her, would serve to reaffirm the idea of ​​never letting herself be discriminated against.

Today, Gladys Obelmejías Cueva is a renowned sociologist who is dedicated to scientific activities, in areas such as Human Ecology, Ethnoecology, Ethnobotany, Ethnobiology, Medical and Health Anthropology. She has also carried out Ethnopolitical and Cultural studies, and Historical Ethnography, as well as Heritage, Cultural Bioheritage, Collective Intellectual Property and Third Generation Collective Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and Afro-descendants.

It has its office in the Anthropology Center of the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC), and there he receives us.

—Hello Gladys. It's a pleasure to meet you.

—I thank you for the opportunity… I receive you as my Yeye Ifalokun blesses me, Olodumare Ibukun O [It would mean the blessings provided from Heaven by the Creator], and may my Iya Yemaya provide you with much Ashe...

—Hey, thank you very much, for those words… I have some questions related to a topic that seems to be foreign to us, I mean the Venezuelans. I would like to get there...

-Your question…

-Good. I would like to tell you that I felt intimidated when reading your resume. But after the initial shock it occurred to me to ask you What is your social origin? And if it was that origin that determined your interest in academia?

—My social origin is culturally diverse, but diverse within the context of minorities who were radicalized by their culture and ethnic origin.

—What do you mean, specifically?

-Notice. My parents, now deceased, opted for the path of professionalization. My mother was a normal school teacher and my father was a double-A baseball star, but both later obtained degrees at the Central University of Venezuela, in the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences. What I mean by this is that my mother and father chose to provide their children with a middle-class standard of living, between the 70s, 80s and 90s of the XNUMXth century. This standard, seen as a family value, was inserted in the scope of a country project that sought to standardize cultural diversity, in the terms of "equality", but from the invisibilization, floklorism and discrimination of ethnic and cultural in Venezuela, as a continuum of thought and habitus colonial in modernity. This must be understood within the framework of the “social class” discourse without sociocultural relevance, as a device in the minds of the colonized. This explains, in these terms, not only racism as a large category in the practice of social relations, but also its ramification in endorracism, which involves discrimination between the oppressed of the same origin.

—And how is this invisibility of ethnic realities portrayed?

—I could explain it to you this way: Many of my ancestors, both indigenous and Afro, were enslaved and culturally assimilated. You can understand that in the origin of my surnames: Obelmejias-Cuevas Briceño. In particular, I do not know the African and indigenous names of my ancestors, and not on purpose, but because the discriminatory practice has been systematic for centuries, and managed to erase that important aspect of our lives. Therefore, I deeply value my re-indigenization process, from spirituality, through my name and practices of the Afro-spiritual Yoruba matrix: Omi Tinibu, for which I have also been discriminated against.

You say, discriminated against because of your religion?

—Yes, just for that reason. Two fellow IVIC scientists, a Catholic and an evangelical, told me during lunch in the dining room that mine was not God's way... I agreed. Iyawo, It is the year of initiation in The Rule of Oosha and some of us must dress in white...

 —This is something personal, but I'm asking you... you are mother?

—I haven't had children yet, but I am Iyalorisha, which means “mother of Saint.” Mothering is not just biological reproduction. Involves caring for others. I consider myself many things, among which is the link with the maternal archetype with Iyemoyá.

—Gladys, these are topics, I imagine, that hurt much more when you delve into them… in history, through study…

-Indeed. That determines my interest. I try to provide answers to both a personal and collective search. A response to about us?

I tell you something. Having my status as a “middle class UCV student,” I returned first for my studies and then for my trades, to live and understand the life of my ancestors on the coast of Aragua, more specifically in the towns of Chuao, Cata, Cuyagua and Choroní… and from there everything changed.

I lived in bahareque houses, I ended up building one, I cooked on the stove and lived together, especially with people from the Chuao community, whom I will forever be grateful for. That experience allowed me to understand, in practice, what “intersectionality” means, that term coined by the American lawyer and academic Kimberlé William Crenshaw, for an Afro/black woman, in my case Afro-indigenous, which is how I recognize myself. The term tells us about the oppressions or privileges that an individual can experience or hold as multiple social categories.

—And now you have acquired the status of a scientist... also, I read on the Internet that they call you the “maroon scientist” How do you perceive that adjective?

—I consider it a recognition. The marronage of our ancestors implied the material and cultural survival of the enslaved and “the outcasts” of the colonial system. Because enslaved Africans and their descendants were not the only subjects of the marooneras, cumbes, quilombos and palenques. There were also indigenous people and “white people from the shore”, who generated great economic conflicts, due to the resistance of the social organization of smuggling on the central coasts of the country. Cocoa, for example, was the flagship item. A concrete example of what I am telling you about was the case of the “burnt town” in the town of Chuao in the 18th century.

These people, discriminated against, racialized and part of a political minority in the decision-making of the colonies, were the ones who constructed the socio-material reality through oppression. And the act of becoming a maroon implied the search for libertarian spaces to recreate a dignified life, in the face of mistreatment and contempt, for not being white/venezuelan/criollo/colonial elite.

—So the use of discriminatory language survived the colony…

—Our Venezuelan academy, for example, has deep colonial roots. If we see the University of Caracas, current Central University of Venezuela, it was founded by King Felipe V, by means of a royal decree in the year 1721. I do not think that my ancestors could apply to graduate in law or in protomedicine, only for being “black and Indian.” But when reviewing some historical documents from the haciendas of the province of Caracas, such as the case of the Obra Pía de Chuao, anyone could realize that medical practices for the enslaved were carried out by healers, midwives, sobadores, prayers and curious people, who They drove. And they drive! deep traditional medical knowledge, from their environmental, cultural, family and community contexts. Knowledge intended to provide health to the collective.

—But now you are at the academy, right? What does it mean to you?

—Being in the academy from a notion of maroonage or as a scientific marronage, means for me to have a double consciousness, as defined by WEB Du Bois. Double consciousness that involves not only living within the framework of that hegemony of racist mentality, but also in my intersectionality of being: an Afro woman, an academic and an Iyalorisha. This may bother the “coloniality of the mind” of some, because by self-recognizing my roots, I am a conscious subject of discriminatory practices, which have been made invisible in “equality.” It is not an epistemic/economic/social/cultural problem to be “equal”, but rather to promote equity and affirmative actions. I no longer want to be “the same.”

 —Gladys, your father was a baseball player (Víctor Ramón Obelmejías Pedroza “el monote”) and your father's cousin (Fulgencio Obelmejías) was nothing less than a world super middleweight champion… What does it mean to come from a family of outstanding athletes?

—I feel deeply proud of them, and I consider that each generation has its challenges. My father, Víctor Obelmejías, had to work since he was a child to help his mother and brothers live, but he found in baseball, not only a space for recreation, but an enclave for his human development. Among other teams, he played with the UCV team when AA baseball was extremely important in Venezuela, and that relationship with his teammates, who were teachers, plus my mother's insistence, led him to professionalize as a public accountant. Let us remember that baseball among Afro-descendants in Latin America has become a stereotype of social advancement, but linked to the notion of the global north and the “Major Leagues.” As for Fulgencio Obelmejías, he brought a lot of joy and pride to our people for his victories. They are stories that will remain in the sporting memories of our country.

—Without a doubt, sport is an important aspect in many spaces of national life… but, Since most sports involve the idea of ​​competition and you come from a family of outstanding athletes, how do you live with that spirit of competition?

—Competing involves not just winning. For my father, competition led him at the end of his life to provide support for sporting glories through institutions founded by Hugo Chávez, such as Fundaexar, but they also came to help many older adults without public policies to support them, and these Activities, carried out between my father, my mother, who was a social worker at the UCV, and María Palomo, channeled a series of social programs. Living with the spirit of competition has more impact than winning or losing, because human life is complex, and I hope to have more wisdom than knowledge.

—Gladys Do you define yourself as black or Afro-descendant?

—I define myself as indigenous afro because I have more clarity about my Cuica roots than my African ones. I would love to know which indigenous or native peoples of Africa my ancestors belonged to, but I re-indigenize myself from the Afro-spiritual Yoruba matrix. The slave trade process was very efficient and systematic in erasing “who we are.” For me, the self-recognition of that history that fragmented us is important, but we also had elements and capacities to remain human.

“There are people who call me: “black”, “my black”, “negrita” or “negro de…”, among all these expressions, I have conflict with feeling like I am “owned” or being insulted or humiliated for being of African descent.”

—I understand what you're telling me, and I also believe that many times we speak from ignorance of this reality and its history, that's why it occurs to me to ask about everyday things that might seem innocuous... If I say you are black, am I being racist?

—This is a topic of constant debate. The word “black” is a colonial category that derives from “black pieces” as an economic objectification of those kidnapped and enslaved in Africa by the slave trade, which considered them as property. In the Catholic theological and philosophical sphere of the 1551th century, the practice of enslaving our ancestors was justified for “not having a soul”, that is, for not being human. As an example, we can find the dispute between Sepúlveda and Bartolomé de las Casas in Valladolid (2011), to define the situation of the “Indians” and “blacks” after the genocide in the Americas, in the so-called “Metalist Strategy”. So, “black” is pejorative and linked to the “Doctrine of Discovery.” There are people who continue to recognize themselves as “black,” and it is even one of the categories in the XNUMX Census in Venezuela. So, to answer your question, it depends on the intersubjectivities associated with the use, and the intentionality of the expression “black”. There are people who call me “black”, “my black woman”, “negrita” or “negro de…”, among all these expressions, I have conflict with feeling like I am “owned” or being insulted or humiliated for being of African descent.

—I realize something, Gladys. Many times I tend to greet, using in an “affectionate” way phrases like: “épale negro-negro!”, “hello my negro”, and I do it as a way of creating closeness… so now that I listen to you I wonder, am I being racist?

—I believe that decreeing affirmative actions does not erase the colonial practice that remains in our collective representations, and the recognition of being subjects/objects of discrimination is difficult and complex.

For me, as I would say ogan Gladys Quiroga, Ayaba, Oriatesa and Iyanifa Ifalokun Omi Toke, life is a process and not an event. Recognizing ourselves in the practice of discrimination is intersubjective and deeply human, and achieving affirmative actions is as much an academic exercise as it is in everyday life.

—Gladys, but There are groups that try to resemantize blackness, that free themselves from the pejorative use of the term black... what is your opinion?

—Just as we Afro-descendants exist, the groups that recognize themselves as “black,” as a protest, deserve respect and consideration. They are important in the history of the anti-racist, pan-African and reparatory struggle. “Afro-descendant” also emerges from black social movements, mainly Latin American and Caribbean, which in 1997 agreed on this term to elevate it in the Durban Agreement in South Africa in 2001, as a way to consolidate a “politically correct” category, which would account for the historical process of millions of people who descend from a very complex historical-social process.

It is very common to hear that in “Venezuela there is no racism.” What do you think?

—“Equality” understood as a discourse in the Puntofijista democracy and modern Venezuelan thought of the mid-20th century, made invisible, or rather concealed, racial discrimination in Venezuela, but in certain contexts and political-social tensions, the “ghost” has emerged. of the colonial socio-racial structure”, extremely alive in our lives and practices. Let us remember the oil strikes and coup d'état within the framework of the Fifth Republic. When Hugo Chávez promulgated some laws that deconstructed the privileges of the Venezuelan elites, especially the land law, immediately pejorative colonial categories emerged in the matrices of communication opinion such as “brute Indian”, “black”, “zambo”, among others. .

—I want to tell you this. A few months ago we took our daughters (10 and 9 years old) to the pediatrician. We ask about the early appearance of armpit odor. We didn't want to start with the use of deodorants... The doctor told us that (more words, fewer words) the more Afro features a person has, the sooner the "bad smell" appears. What is your opinion on this type of conception?

—That racism, apart from being a disease, is a paradigm in our post-colony. Already the use of “bad smell”, associated with the Afro ancestry of your daughters, as a discourse in the practice of a biomedical specialist, can account for the coloniality of the mind and the hegemony of knowledge, which is also rancidly positivist during the Venezuelan 19th century: To what extent is a physiological characteristic considered “bad”? But the opinion of the “doctor” is respected for her academic merit and role as a doctor…

That for me is a warning and I would impertinently recommend that you change your pediatrician and express your difference to the doctor. I would not like, personally, if I had sons/daughters, they were segregated by discriminatory evolutionary paradigms, based on the idea of ​​phenotypes, traits, race or cultural practice that supported colonial and early modern thought.

Could you give us a concrete example of how racism manifests itself in our country?

—It manifests itself mainly in the self-denial of those cultural roots in people, in social relationships, in the lack of orientation of ethnic relevance, in spatial marginalization, access to resources, public policies, in situations of exclusion that range being created through discrimination and great vulnerability. A clear example occurred last year when some people in Caracas were accused by the Public Ministry of discriminating, racializing and verbally abusing her neighbor for being “black,” and her friend for being of different sex. These people considered that “the black woman” had no class merits and should move to January 23, a popular area, instead of living in the same building as them.

The Venezuelan State, as a historical process, has recognized Afro people to discriminate or include them.

Gladys, you work for the recognition of the rights of Afro-Venezuelans. Are they not recognized by the Venezuelan State?

—The Venezuelan State, as a historical process, has recognized Afro people to discriminate or include them. Let's remember. Well into independence, slavery was abolished in 1854, but it was abolished as an economic phenomenon, rather than a human rights action. The beginning of the XNUMXth century calls us to reflect on the existence of migratory restrictions on Africans in Venezuela, or the plans to create agricultural societies of European origin, such as the Colonia Tovar, without disrespecting my word, because the ancestors Of the current families of Colonia Tovar, they were most likely marginalized by the elites of their country. Faced with these historical facts, we Venezuelans put our hand on our hearts as we discover ourselves in a process of discriminatory complexity, which we have not fully assumed, because it is painful and which requires not only repairing, but also healing in multiculturalism, without appealing. to the catchphrase of “I am mestizo,” as a category that will alleviate the lack of equity in differences due to “having a little bit of everything.” The key to the Fifth Republic, for me, has been to provide spaces, legality, institutions, proposals and public policies that make these struggles of social movements emerge and become visible, in this case the Afro-Venezuelan movement and its various variants. Therefore, I would say that, although there is no constitutional recognition of people of African descent, and not because the current State has not proposed it.

—…but maybe Aren't we all Afro-descendants?

—Life comes from Africa, and therefore we descend from humanity that emerged on the continent, and we phenotypically/genotypically adapted over time to environmental stress. Humanity is one in diversity, racial discourses tarnish it and we have been ruthless with ourselves as a species, as bearers of culture and with nature.


Ernest J. Navarro He is a journalist and writer, author of three collections of poems and the novel Puerto Nuevo. Winner of the 2015 National Journalism Award. RRSS: @ernestojnavarro.

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