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This Was Also the Year of Citizen Heroes in Latin America

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“I am not a joke” is an artistic campaign in defense of LGBTQ rights. Image used with permission.

Latin America is home to many stories of resistance and heroism. Some are set in minority communities fighting for equal rights, others come from places devastated by natural disasters, in other cases groups expand their horizons through music, dialogue, and more.

Wherever you encounter resistance in Latin America, you find people working to change perceptions and reject the definitions propagated by fear, isolation, and the kind of reductive headlines found too often in the mass media.

Over the past year, Latin American society has discovered many heroes, like the women who resisted Uruguay's 12-year civil-military dictatorship.

Global Voices’ Fernanda Canofre spoke to the film director behind a motion picture honoring these women and the ways their story is still alive today:

About a group of about 30 former political prisoners who accused a large group of military officers of sexually abusing them systematically. The case is still resting in some court’s drawer. This group of women, who were hardly over 20 years-old, besides being tortured through traditional methods [they] were also raped by their executioners. After 30 years of silence, they decided to talk about it. Breaking the powerful taboo that precludes certain subjects and breaking this sickening silence that, somehow, blames them for being victims.

Actress Justina Bustos, who plays the young version of leading character Liliana | Photo:

“Migas de Pan” (“Bread Crumbs”) tells the story of Liliana, a Uruguayan woman who was arrested and tortured by the military and has to face her memories 30 years later. In the film, after returning home, Liliana becomes the center of a national debate about memory and justice.” Actress Justina Bustos, who plays the young version of leading character Liliana. Photo: Manane Rodríguez's personal archive and used with permission.

There was also the work of two Argentinian educators searching for alternatives to their   damaged public school system. They traveled, shared various experiences, and brought everything together in a film. As Romina Navarro wrote, you can witness their journey online, too:

The project is based on a journey, in the literal sense of the term. With help from family members, friends, and other collaborators, they prepared their truck and left Buenos Aires on August 11, 2015, heading out on an extensive journey throughout Latin America, in order to get an up-close look at the educational projects of these social movements inside the diverse communities of the region. Their goal is to study them, learn from them, and ultimately reveal them in a documentary that they will edit after returning. The film will be available for free distribution.

People put their differences aside to face natural disasters together

2016 will also be remembered regionally as the year Ecuador was hit by a powerful earthquake that devastated most of its coast. The country was in shock and many parts were reduced to rubble. But, as Daniela Gallardo wrote, it also facilitated reconciliation between factions in a deeply divided country, mobilizing powerful organizational capacities to help victims in need:

This event has made people forget about their political and social differences. Personal approval or rejection of the national government's policies were put aside in order to help the most affected provinces: Esmeraldas, Manabí, Santa Elena, Guayas, Los Ríos and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, all belonging to the coastal region. Hundreds of buildings were reduced to rubble in just minutes. Roads were damaged. The touristic center of Ecuador was devastated.

"¿Cómo puedes ayudar si no puedes poner manos a la obra? Enviar donaciones al consulado más cercano o depositar dinero en la Cruz Roja te sabe a poco. Quieres estar ahí, y ayudar a alguien. Conversar con alguna persona en busca de desahogarse del susto que se ha llevado. Llevar a los niños a jugar al parque, para que se olviden un momento de la tristeza y sus padres puedan poner en orden la cabeza." Donaciones tras terremoto en Ecuador. Captura de pantalla tomada del video hecho en Cruz del Papa el 16 de abril.

“Social media has served as a great support not only for Ecuadorians abroad, but also for those on the ground […] Likewise, volunteers coordinated using the hashtag #SeNecesitaEC (#NeededEc) for collecting food, clothing and medicine. Photo: A screenshot of video taken in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where people organize themselves to send water and food to those affected by the earthquake.

Powerful communities that rise despite challenges

Young musicians from Mexico and Paraguay also faced their share of difficulties. Mary Aviles followed the stories of two orchestras, describing how poverty led to music and growth:

The world generates about a billion tons of garbage a year. Those who live with it and from it are the poor – like the people of Cateura, Paraguay. And here they are transforming it into beauty.

News from Colombia was a regular presence both in coverage by Global Voices and the world media, thanks in large part to the country's complex and troubled peace process. Colombia's struggles have also provided stories about how resistance campaigns turn to art, such as the popularization of hip hop, to preserve collective memories.

As seen in this article written by Dylan Tsenak:

“Seeds of the Future” unites approximately 60 youths from Comuna 13 who together practice “AgroArte”. In other words, they link agro (or sowing) with art (hip hop). In this way, they teach young women and men to sow seeds, to work the land, and cultivate gardens. At the same time, the participants write and sing their own musical hip-hop creations, and they use their lyrics to document events and feelings in their own lives. By planting seeds, moreover, they take ownership of physical spaces that have been marked by violence. The spaces then are transformed into “scenes of life” that symbolically capture the theme of resistance against violence.

A song made by the youths belonging to “Seeds of Future” can be viewed below:

Hitting conventions where it hurts: challenging representations

Yessika Gonzalez introduced readers to Argentinian traditions practiced to question the ways society understands issues like dance, justice, and love.

Although at its inception only men danced the tango, in the traditional milongas of today, same-sex partners have been victims of discrimination and even expulsion from the dance floor. In fact, the birth of many “queer” milongas came as a response to these attacks […] For many, the tango is a macho dance that relegates women to a passive role. Nevertheless, in recent years with the emergence of this new style of tango, the role of women has become more participatory. In fact, many women enjoy exercising the role of leading the dance. In the Queer Tango, women can lead or be led when dancing with a man or another woman.

Daniel Arzola‘s story also involved LGBTQ discrimination, as well as internationally celebrated visual work:

The focus […] remains the defense of the dignity of people who step outside of the generic norm, who refuse to be objectified, or to be part of dehumanizing stereotypes. It is followed by those who, despite not being a part of the cause, defend it, and those who refuse to be silenced by government or private oppression.

All these stories, as well as countless yet to be told, revolve around popular challenges to violent realities. Told through the eyes of activists and artists, these are stories of heroes, not victims.

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