Reclaiming pride in Indigenous history and cultural identity

Written by: Sasha Hanson Pastran

Buenas!

As another month wizzes by, I can’t believe I already have to say that I am at the “mid-point” of my internship! Luckily, the end of September is my favorite time of year. I always look forward to the beautiful fall colors and harvest time back home; sharing a birthday with my twin sister Xochitl; and here in Estelí I have been enjoying the heavy tropical rains typical of this time of year that cool the air and help me fall asleep peacefully every night.

This month has been full of surprises and unexpected lessons that have challenged me in important ways. But in an effort to be concise, I will share just a small story from one of my favorite days of my internship experience so far. I’d like to share the experience of visiting San Francisco, Telpaneca for the first time through my eyes…

It is just past eight in the morning and leaving Estelí at 3:30am for these trips to Telpaneca and Quilalí has afforded me the reputation of the road trip sleeper on our work team. My co-worker Manuel nudges me awake, letting me know we are getting near as our truck swerves around the snaky mountain road to the rural community of San Francisco in the municipality of Telpaneca. The school of San Francisco de Paula is literally on the crests of three mountaintops, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains where the students and teachers live and trek from every day.

The school of San Francisco de Paula on the top of a mountain.

Today is the much anticipated History and Culture workshop that I am excited about not only because Telpaneca is an Indigenous community with a long history in this area but also because the students have led the planning of the entire workshop, so we are here simply to learn from them and provide the art materials for their reflection afterwards! The San Francisco students eagerly assemble themselves in one of the classrooms to begin the workshop in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and anticipation. After a brief introduction from the teachers, the students take it away with dances and stories of their community from pre-Columbian times to the present. Throughout the month they had taken the initiative to research their history by seeking out the elders in the community, speaking with family members, reading, and practicing traditional dances with their friends. The same students who months earlier blushed and hid away when asked their opinion now recount their roots, their traditions, and their reality with pride and confidence in front of more than 100 other kids, teachers, community leaders and FUNARTE staff.

Students present a traditional Nicaraguan dance to the school after a month of practice and preparation.

After the students’ presentations a special guest named Yader from the comunidad indigena, a local advocacy group for Indigenous rights in Telpaneca, shares his knowledge of San Francisco and Telpaneca with the students. He begins by respectfully correcting those who started their history presentations with the year 1521 when the community was officially founded, reminding them they were here for hundreds of years previous and that this territory was never ceded during Spanish colonization. He also provides the group with a critical and historical account of how ‘Indio’ came to be an insult word in Nicaragua, and how to reclaim an Indigenous identity based on pride and not on colonization. His message is simple: We should take pride in being descendants of the original inhabitants of this land, before there was ever a “discovery of the Americas” and before there was a Nicaragua. The students, teachers and us facilitators listen intently, taking his words to heart.

Yader from the organization ‘comunidad indigena’ speaks to the students about their roots.

In the artistic reflection session afterwards students paint maize, families, farms, mountains, artisan jugs, and lapas (a kind of parrot), with brilliant colors and utmost care. Afterwards we exhibit their art in the classrooms so the students get to continue reflecting on the colorful expressions of history and cultural identity they have created for months to come.

Art exhibition of the Lapa birds that are sacred but now rare in this part of Nicaragua

This was one of my favorite days of my internship because it filled me with inspiration and hope to see girls and boys who I was told were timid and self-conscious show such confidence in themselves taking back pride in their Indigenous history and cultural identity. It was also a powerful lesson on the value of passing on community knowledge and taking a stand for what you believe in. I’m looking forward to many more humbling lessons on the second half of my internship!

Thanks for tuning in this month!

Hasta la proxima!

***If you want a more general overview of the “Colors of Affection” project I am working on with FUNARTE you can check out my previous blog post and if this is your first time tuning in I suggest you quickly read over our IYIP Estelí introductory blog post to get a grasp of FUNARTE and learn about what the other interns are doing here.***

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