April 25, 2019 | 52° F

Guatemalan poet Rebeca Lane discusses artistry, activism


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Photo by Dustin Niles |

Within the opening remarks of Guatemalan activist, poet and hip-hop musician Rebeca Lane's talk Tuesday afternoon in Tillet Hall, she gave her sharp perspective on the presence of migrant caravans in the modern day, and spliced the issue together with current perils in her homeland of Guatemala. Against the backdrop of the expansive Mayan population of Guatemala, Lane spoke out against a history of colonization and cited the legacy of United States intervention to create a dangerous outside reputation of the U.S.'s "backyard." 

Lane's own background story describes the consequences of larger geopolitical powers wielding influence around the world with the smaller, domestic details of her personal life growing up. She spoke about an aunt who disappeared, likely kidnapped, with a level of straightforward tone and direction. Her parables describe a social landscape where hip-hop, a medium she has championed throughout her work in activism and poetry, serves as a potent and direct means of political action. 

Lane spoke about the bridge between hip-hop's roots in the Bronx in New York and the youth culture within 1990s Guatemala. The strength of the youth as an identity became a substantial platform for youth to respond to the closing events of the Guatemalan Civil War as it reached its end in 1996. Lane described how youth disappearing was founded on a prejudice to their own causality alongside an immensely frustrating lack of power or public faith to the age demographic, especially for young women.

Hip-hop granted a solid platform for Guatemalan youth, a place where they could show pride in their heritage. "It was the first place I didn't feel like I had to come from money, or that war had not touched me in ways it really had," Lane said. There within the music scene, the spirit of open vulnerability and free discourse created a hopeful image for what students and young activists could achieve.

Lane also mentioned the restraints that existed within these creative spaces, limits that women have to fight daily. In activism, Lane describes being assigned "invisible work," silent work with capacities largely attributed to conventional gender roles. 

"Men are very comfortable about women supporting them but not providing knowledge despite sharing the same necessities and spaces," Lane said.

Too often, the unequal exchange of support, time and effort led to moments of exploitation. 

“For knowledge, we would have to negotiate with our bodies,” Lane said. These negative interactions with established artistic figures and experts created a harrowing cycle, speaking both about Guatemala and sexual harassment that's rampant across the globe. Hip-hop, as Lane described, became a space where artists could "name our violence instead of normalizing or internalizing it.”'

Limits were found once again, even in Western pedagogies of feminism. Lane described how some Guatemalan spaces don't lean too heavily on words like “patriarchy” because in Guatemala, these forms of feminism "don’t exist by a book or a theory, it was more survivalist and active." She described fighting aggressively for peace in life, far away from internal unrest. 

"It is important to tell them that they are loved," Lane said, describing women creatives. These communal forces are represented by groups such as the "We Are Warriors" movement. When asked why such a name was chosen after the war, she said that she "did not choose the war, but she can decide and defend for (herself). It is in blatant contrast to ongoing Western pressure to conform and stay silent. 

“We are being colonized as we speak,” Lane said.

Lane warned that any creative expression can be too focused on frustration to a cycle of violence and causality rather than an awareness of the safe spaces needed from violence, war and destitution. In hip-hop, Lane said, "making links between oneself and the wisdom of the space and ancestors," works in addition to fighting for broader rights, encapsulating not just equal pay or individual rights, but also natural rights such as water. 

As the talk concluded, Lane described the concept of “self-funding," an imperative presence in a movement for economic independence. It's the importance of remaining separate from foreign industries that rally behind transnational corporate interests of companies such as Red Bull or Nike. How to finance one's own political power is the banner of her fight, for a homeland's territory and resources, and most importantly, its name. 


Jordan Levy

Haolun Xu

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