Arts & Features Writer
Within a small and unassuming loft in Downtown, powerful voices fill the air with the stories of migrants, as young as eight, along and within the U.S. border, beckoning for empathy and resonance among a crowd of 30.
“History tries to tell you that it is one person who does the work,” BeLoved representative Ponkho Bermejo said. “This is not true.”
Writers for Migrant Justice, held Sept. 4 at BeLoved’s Liberation Station, was one of several events the nonprofit has organized for the month of September. The organization also uses its resources for projects in Asheville, including help to families impacted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and healthcare services for homeless individuals.
Bermejo fights against the powers that be, the same ones that attempt to suppress cultures and transform them into a homogenous white blanket. Bermejo said that this fight against coloniality is won through community.
The Writers for Migrant Justice opened with BeLoved representative Amy Cantrell explaining the small altar adorned with images of children and families on one side of the small room. Cantrell discussed how the altar was placed there in honor of children who have died in the custody of ICE.
“It is our responsibility to scream when they cannot scream,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell then read the words and stories of children currently held in ICE detainment camps in Texas with no parents and no real way of taking care of themselves.
Cantrell described children, some as young as 3 years old, sick and unable to gain treatment. The older children in the camp, according to Cantrell, would be about 11 years old and would be the ones responsible for helping the younger ones.
Co-leader of the Latinx coalition at Warren Wilson College, Stephen Gifford-Bell, headed the event and served as master of ceremonies for the night in addition to reading some of his own poetry centered around what it means to be Latinx.
After introducing the night and reading a handful of original pieces, Gifford-Bell handed the microphone to Filipino author Pasckie Pascua, who read a selection from his book, Red is the Color of My Night.
Across several different speakers from varying backgrounds there were around 10 or more poems read for those in attendance.
Assistant Professor of Spanish at UNC Asheville Dr. Juan Sánchez Martinez was the closing speaker for the night. During his time, Sánchez Martinez invited his audience to follow along with his poems with booklets he passed out.
However different the writings were, the common thread which ran through all of them was a celebration of self and one’s culture, and condemnation of colonial attitudes.
The booklets Sánchez Martinez made were printed from right to left to serve as a small gesture against the power structures that exist due to coloniality.
“There is a lot of violence in language,” Sánchez Martinez said. “In law, in the Constitution. Violence has been supported by alphabetic writing. With that, the elites have been educated.”
Sánchez Martinez’s goal in printing from right to left was to destabilize this system which has been used to oppress so many.
This is a similar line of thought to that of Bermejo, who said that one of the missions of the nonprofit is to celebrate the Latinx community, as it has largely been repressed and made white.
Calling attention to the traditional artwork hanging on the wall, Bermejo described how the art is not something talked about in American schools. Cultures outside of the traditional American narrative are often overlooked, and Bermejo sees a problem with that.
“History in the schools is dominated by white people,” Bermejo said.
Bermejo is proud of who he is, in spite of a system which tells him to be ashamed. This was the purpose of Writers for Migrant Justice, as well as the rest of the events scheduled later in September.
Bermejo said he envisions a community where people can be proud to be who they are and feel welcomed as they are, regardless of heritage, and regardless of what society and coloniality tells them they should be.
A petition to the city of Asheville declaring a proudness of culture and requesting a time to celebrate that culture is currently in the works. If it goes through, the city would designate a time for celebration for the Latinx community in Asheville.
Gifford-Bell remarked, “Through our art we change people’s narratives, and if we change enough narratives, we change the culture.”
Students can donate or volunteer with BeLoved Asheville via their website belovedasheville.com.