In recent years, I started to notice a lot about how the world moves and what moves us as humans. As most transformations do, this started with a trip: I left my home in Mexico to explore South America. This became a journey into myself as well as a journey into my roots: I discovered I knew very little about my country, and much less about my continent. It was essential for me to look southward, since all my life I had been facing north. As I turned my eyes toward Central and South America, I was surprised by how much I still had to learn about humanity, dignity, and togetherness.
I started to learn about the social movements that roar in all corners of the hemisphere and give voice to the voiceless (the Earth included). I fell in love with that strength and passion and decided to leave the art world to work on social and environmental impact instead. Yet, as a Spanish bilingual writer and translator, I noticed there were a lot of concepts that were not translatable and therefore not usable in my English communication.
Today, I share with you some key concepts from Latin American activism that could inspire your modern journalism:
Literal translation: To embody
Definition: The political act of showing up, physically, for the fight.
Over the past few years, social media has become an increasingly important tool for social movements. It allows us to speak up on a personal level, as well as to amplify the voices of those who are speaking up for themselves.
But how do we translate our on-screen support into on-the-ground action? And, just as importantly, how do we reclaim the human connections needed to survive the fight? Latin American activism tells us: by embodying it.
The verb acuerpar (to embody) refers to the political act of showing up, in person, for the fight. Putting our bodies where our tweets are, and coming together to demand whatever needs demanding, or to protect whatever needs protecting.
This political act of “embodiment” serves two purposes: on one hand, it gives physicality to the fight, which gathers public attention and puts pressure on institutions. But it also brings us together and allows us to feel supported and understood. It allows us to gather strength from each other and regain some vigor to continue fighting, even when it feels like we have nothing else to give.
In the words of Mayan community feminist Lorena Cabnal, “Acuerpamiento or acuerpar [refers to] the personal and collective action wherein our bodies, outraged by the injustices experienced by other bodies, self-convene to provide themselves with political energy. [This act of gathering] generates affective and spiritual energies. It provides us with closeness and collective indignation but also revitalization and new strength, so that we may recover joy without losing indignation.”
How to bring it into community journalism: When covering protests or public demonstrations, pay attention to how participants are interacting with each other. Maybe even interview a couple of attendees: how does it feel to be there, chanting in unison? A lot happens when people come together for a common cause, and there’s a lot of humanity to be found in collectivity.
Literal translation: Accompaniment
Definition: Set of practices built to provide company to individuals in their legal or political journeys
When something happens to us, when we are subjected to a crime or an injustice, the main course of action is to involve whichever institution is meant to deal with it. But our pain, our fear, doesn’t end once we file a report.
We’re human, and legal action doesn’t necessarily provide any comfort to our humanity. Moreover, most institutional interactions can be long and complicated, not to mention the risk of revictimizing and dehumanizing. Acompañamientos are all those practices that attend to the humanity of the person or individual that has been the victim of a crime. In short, to provide acompañamiento is to be there for the person, be it in terms of psychological support or of ongoing, case-specific legal and bureaucratic council — or, most commonly, both.
There are several different types of “accompaniment” in Latin American activism: a woman can accompany another woman in her abortion process by sharing all the relevant information (medical, logistical, legal) as well as by talking through what they’re feeling and offering moral support. An organization can accompany an immigrant family by providing advice on all the legal matters as well as by getting them in touch with local shelters, or looking for alternative housing options when there is no availability at the local shelter.
It is, essentially, covering the human needs that institutions can’t (or won’t) cover and putting a name and a face on the need — an actual human.
How to bring it into community journalism: By sharing the work of local activists or organizations. Is there a local shelter that is offering group therapy for people experiencing homelessness? Interview them! The more people who know about these resources, the easier it will be to embrace them.
Literal translation: Radical tenderness
Definition: To recognize and embrace each other’s vulnerability as part of the fight
Behind every protest, every public demonstration, there are difficult life stories. The injustices that give rise to social movements are far from theoretical: they actually happened, and they happened to someone.
Radical tenderness is about recognizing even the strongest and loudest member of the movement can be, and will be, plagued by trauma, grief and fear. That’s why it’s important to embrace that vulnerability, that potential fragility, as part of the fight. It is also about taking each other’s pain into our own hands, recognizing it as the fire that gives power to the movement.
The term first came to life as part of a performative exploration by the La Pocha Nostra collective and has since been used by feminist and LGTBQ+ movements alike. For the hooded Bloque Negro women in Mexico, for example, taking the National Human Rights Commision building was an act of radical tenderness: creating a space where they could feel safe among women and embrace each other’s pain and anger in a loving way.
To better understand the term, you can read La Pocha Nostra’s Radical Tenderness Manifesto.
How to bring it into community journalism: By sharing the personal stories of those involved in local movements: what brought them here and how they have been impacted by the issue. The more we understand the personal experiences that give rise to social movements, the easier it will be for us to understand their complexity.
When it comes to telling people’s stories, remembering their humanity is an essential part of the story. The terms shared here come from a strictly activist sphere, yet they can help us better understand both personal and collective stories: why people come together and how they carry the fight. I hope these terms help you reimagine what community journalism can look like.