Kar Wei Cheng
Students and community members gathered in a lecture hall in Centennial Hall to hear a panel organized for Women’s History Month Tuesday night. The panel discussed the ways colonization destroyed — and continues to destroy — knowledge and values of indigenous communities.
The panel comprised Sandibel Borges and Kong Pha, assistant professors at UW-Eau Claire and Karen Hanna, a graduate student from UC-Santa Barbara.
Professor Pha, assistant professor in Critical Hmong, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, opened the panel with a discussion on the ways Hmong American healing, in reference to medicinal and spiritual, takes place. He addressed the misconceptions tied to the healing practices of Hmong communities.
The book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” was a main focal point of Pha’s speech, as the novel has contributed to a distribution of wrong information about Hmong healing strategies. The book pits these strategies against those of western medicine, therefore attacking Hmong practices.
He then tied this to the bigger message of his discussion: how queer Hmong youth deal with their spirituality and their parents’ judgement. Pha’s main point was that society needs to bring healing practices to queer youth.
“(We need) a healing practice that takes into account differences in how people live out spirituality in their lives,” Pha said, “We need a healing process that does not perpetuate a strict version of sickness and pathology. Queering spirituality means treating individuals as complex.”
The next presenter was Sandibel Borges, an assistant Women’s Studies professor. She addressed the queer Latinx community in her discussion and started by stating that healing was needed to overcome trauma, colonization and violence.
Borges continued to say that because of colonization, Latinx practices have been silenced as well as other negative effects on Latinx LGBTQ+ communities.
“The impact of colonization on gender and sexuality is not something that happened in the past,” Borges said, “it continues to have an impact on how we view gender/sexuality today.”
In her research, Borges has had conversations about the concept of “the closet.” She has found that colonization brought the concept of the closet to indigenous communities.
“Sexuality is no real secret in the other cultures,” Borges said, “many communities support the person and accept them rather than turn away from them.”
Borges mentioned many different programs and activists who are working to tell the stories of past generations and extend them to future generations. Borges elaborated on an Instagram page called Bruia Tip. This page provides a platform for people to share stories in a informative way and in a way that will continue decolonization.
The final speaker was Karen Hanna, a graduate student studying Women’s Studies at UC-Santa Barbara. Hanna brought a presentation on Filipino communities and how they are impacted by colonization.
“Feminism helps to better address the issues in marginalized intersectional women,” Hanna said. “Many people are now talking about these issues, but the issue comes from the allies who have internalized the oppressive ways must work to get rid of and give up their privileges to help others.”
Hanna’s main question in her research is: How are Filipinos healing? She answered this by telling the audience that the healing is limited if the system that immigrated your people in the first place is not fought against.
She found one way Filipino people are healing is by bringing out stories from past generations. Hanna also found queer Filipino communities must band together to find a way back to healing in a community, as this was important to many communities in the Philippines.
“Do not romanticise this struggle of indigenous people.” Hanna said, “We need to remember that when we have a conversation of indigeneity liberation can only come from a multi-pronged approach because trauma is so deep and comes from so many different directions.”
When the panel came to a close, the three speakers opened up for questions. Jami Ruvelson, a second-year student at UW-Eau Claire, asked about reasoning for colonization perspectives to be taught in schools, rather than indigenous perspectives and stories.
“I came in not knowing anything on the topic,” Ruvelson said. “When I was listening to the speakers, I connected their discussions to my LAS (Latin American Studies) courses and saw how these things are still happening today.”