The goal of this Fulbright Canada-U.S. Embassy in Ottawa Community Leadership Program project, led by Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Professors Victor Armony and Bernard Duhaime, was to foster a conversation about the legacy of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Latin America, particularly as part of a collective memory shared by many Canadians of Latin American heritage. The project’s core idea was that, by creating opportunities for the expression and exchange on these issues, it may become possible to preserve and help disseminate accounts of individual experiences by victims, to engage participants in understanding and discussing the history of state-sponsored political violence, persecution, and discrimination in Latin America, and to consider the implications of a duty of remembrance for Latin American diasporas—specific to their national origins but also as part of the larger Canadian story of inclusive citizenship and global responsibility to protect. The Latin American population in Canada is rapidly growing and integrating into the larger society. Compared to Hispanics in the United States, Canada’s Latinos constitute a much smaller, recent and diverse minority, one that as yet has not developed a full sense of community. However, there are some elements that point to an emerging common identity among Canadian Latin Americans, which are in part related to a shared experience of “low-intensity citizenship” and “incomplete democracy” in their countries of origin. In order to explore how the (personal or transmitted) memory of injustices committed by Latin American governments brings together individuals of different backgrounds, allows them to discuss their lasting effects, and also encourages them to formulate their idea of what a fully realized citizenship means, several activities were planned.
A first event was held at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, on March 12th, 2015, under the title “Beyond Borders: Latin Americans in Canada and the Legacies of Human Rights Struggles”. This activity was organized by Fulbright’s Community Leadership Program grant recipients, Professors Armony and Duhaime, in collaboration with Professor Jorge Nallím, also a former Fulbright scholar, and received further support from the Université de Montréal’s Canada Research Chair in Latin American History and Chair in Contemporary Mexican Studies, as well as from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Arts, Department of History, and Canada Research Chair in Human Rights, Social Justice and Food Sovereignty. During the first part of the seminar, several speakers, including Armando Perla, a curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Professors Eugenia Allier (National Autonomous University of Mexico), Alex Freund (University of Winnipeg), Patricia Harms (Brandon University), and Cynthia Milton (Université de Montréal), talked about the legacies of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Latin America, and argued that such legacies are not confined to the countries where those crimes were committed: they can also be traced in the individual and collective past of Latin Americans and persons of Latin American descent in Canada. That is why, during the second part of the seminar, several first- and second-generation immigrants of different backgrounds were invited to share their memories and thoughts with the scholars and the other participants. Although the discussions were not recorded and no notes were taken because of the sensitive nature of the matters discussed, some of the participants sent comments after the seminar, describing it, for example, as “a space of respect where it was possible to talk about our history and to learn about the experiences of other members of our community” and as “very meaningful from and academic and personal point of view”.
A second series of events took place at UQAM’s campus on April 22nd, 2015. In the morning, a workshop was held under the theme “Legacy and Contemporaneity of Human Rights in Latin America”. After a talk by Professor Nallím on the challenges of preserving memories of human rights struggles, Raúl Gatica, an indigenous rights advocate from Oaxaca, Mexico, spoke from his own perspective as a former political prisoner and a victim of torture. Then, about fifteen individuals of Latin American background addressed two questions that were sent to them in advance: Is the legacy of political violence, exclusion, discrimination, and authoritarianism in Latin America a part of the migrant Latin American identity in Canada? Is there an obligation for the Latin American diasporas to examine, preserve, and communicate the memory of such injustices? Some of the participants accepted to circulate their answers in writing beforehand, so they could be used as discussion material during the meeting. In the afternoon, three simultaneous workshops were held in collaboration with the “Ayotzinapa Caravan”, a human rights tour of Canada raising awareness about 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The topics were: Forced Disappearances and Democracy; Impunity, Corruption and State Violence; and Students’ Movements: The Case of Rural Teachers’ Training Colleges in Mexico. In the evening, Hilda Legideño Vargas, mother of one of the missing students, and Jorge Luis Clemente Balbuena, a student and activist at the Rural Teachers’ Training College in Ayotzinapa, gave their testimony and talked about Mexico’s current human rights crisis in front of over 200 people.
The activities with the Ayotzinapa Caravan at UQAM, which also included art performances and exhibits, were made possible by a collaboration with the Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), and with several other partners: the Latin American Studies Network of Montreal (RELAM); UQAM’s Nycole Turmel Chair on Public Spaces and Political Innovations, Department of Sociology, and Institute of International Studies (IEIM); Québec’s Coalition on Socio-Environmental Impacts of Transnationals in Latin America (QUISETAL); Entraide missionnaire; and McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America (MICLA).