May 19, 2022

Cultivating Resilience Through Dance with Dr. Monica Rojas-Stewart

Dr. Monica Rojas-Stewart joins Jonathan and Britt for an illuminating conversation about how dance and other art forms can be vehicles of change, resistance, and bonding, the importance of sharing our stories and ancestral memories as a means of decolonizing, preserving, and transmitting culture, and the power of creating collective artistic experiences as a means of fostering radical togetherness. But most importantly they discuss all sorts of ways we can practice loving kindness in the face of cognitive dissonance, bigotry, and bias.

Join us on this wild ride, as we delve into the tough stuff and plumb the depths of our souls. You won’t want to miss it!


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Transcript

Jonathan [00:00:02] Welcome to Not Going Quietly the podcast where we inspire growth, beat down biases and get into all sorts of good trouble with co-hosts Jonathan Beale and Britt East.

 

Britt [00:00:11] No topic is off limits as we explore ways to help everyone leap into life with a greater sense of clarity, passion, purpose and joy.

 

Jonathan [00:00:19] So get ready to join us in courageous conversation because not going quietly starts right now.

 

Britt [00:00:30] Everyone, welcome to Not Going Quietly the podcast for outraged optimists and heartbroken healers all over the world, where we talk about the things everybody's dying to listen to but maybe too afraid to bring up themselves. My name is Britt East, and I'm here with my amazing co-host, Jonathan Beale. How the hell are you today, Jonathan?

 

Jonathan [00:00:50] Yeah, I'm good. Like, I was you know, I was saying to you earlier, I've been ill for a while. And so to come out on the other side and be sat here being clear minded and able to actually have a real conversation feels really good. So that's my British answer. Yeah, my U.S. Answer is perfect and improving.

 

Britt [00:01:08] There you go. Thank you for reminding everybody. So Monica, Jonathan and I joke around all the time that in the U.S. when somebody asks how you're doing, you just say good or you say something super optimistic, conforming like perfect and improving. So I've been trying to train Jonathan to get rid of all of his British reality and be a little less authentic. I'm so happy and excited to welcome back our featured guest today, Dr. Monica Rojas-Stewart. We had such a great time chatting with her and her husband, Jabali Stewart on a previous episode and I really hope all of you go and check that out. We got to chat with them about Huayruro, the organization they co-founded to help to utilize peacemaking circles as a social technology to bring people together. We learned all about that process and that organization, and today we're going to dive in deeper with Monica and her other projects and talk some about the diaspora experience and intercultural fluency and how to use dance and art as an embodied form to to bolster those social connections. So I think it's going to be a really great conversation. Dr. Monica Rojas Stewart originally hails from Lima, Peru, and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. Her areas of expertize focus on afro-latinx communities in Latin America, the Spanish Caribbean, their diasporas, and their performance traditions as transborder technologies of resilience and community building. As a community artist and activist, Rojas-Stewart devoted the last 15 years to extensive community based organizing and artistic work as a pioneer, performer and educator of Afro-Peruvian culture and of the Afro-Latina Arts Movement in the Pacific Northwest. She is the co-founder of Del Carmen Project and Movimiento Afro-Latino Seattle (MAS), two grassroots arts organizations dedicated to educating about the history and cultural contributions of people of African descent in Peru and Latin America, respectively. Rojas-Stewart is co-founder of Huayruro LLC and she is currently the Assistant Director of the African Studies in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Programs at the Jackson School of International Studies, as well as part time lecturer in the Department of Dance at the University of Washington. Dr. Monica Rohas-Stewart, welcome to the show. We are so excited.

 

Monica [00:03:33] Thank you're much for having me back and I feel special because this time is all about me and talking with you guys and talking about my projects and my vision mission in life. So I'm really excited and very grateful for the space. Thank you so much.

 

Britt [00:03:51] Thank you. Monica, why don't you start by telling us some about your music, your dance, current education? What are your favorite music and forms of dance? How you know, how has your journey been as an immigrant and moving to the U.S. and getting your, you know, your Ph.D. at the University of Washington? 

 

Monica [00:04:10] Let's see. So it's a long journey. It's been it's been a long time since I had arrived in the Pacific Northwest. But I guess something that has really shaped shape in my at my academic studies and in my activism here in Seattle is that I, I was when I finished high school back in Peru, I really wanted to going deeply into the arts and theater and music and dance and. So I, I got really I get deeply involved in the Afro-Peruvian community through dance. I was 15 years old and I saw this particular dance being performed, and that moment was magical to me. I was at a recital. A friend of mine from my neighborhood had was doing a dance for a recital for her dance school, and I went just to support her. And then I saw this is what is done by other people that really impacted me. And I said, I want to learn how to dance that that dance. And and that was the portal. That moment was a portal for me to to not only learn how to dance, that dance is called marinara. But also that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to understand the why, who, when, how, and then to this in that to discover that these particular things had a strong influence from the African descent population in Peru, which led me to the history of African descent people in Peru and the history of slavery, colonialism. And by getting involved with this community, I, I started to see, you know, inequities and racism and discrimination in my society. So then that brought new questions about why, how, when, and I became involved with a movement that was founded. But but back then, I'm talking late eighties, and it was a group of young black Afro-Peruvian intellectuals got together and form a movement called Movimento Negro Francisco Como. And I got involved with them and I was part of our dance revival. There was a table stands that the has its own history which is fascinating that there's table stances in many parts of the of the Spanish colonies right in the in the Americas in Latin America and the Caribbean. So this particular dance in Peru had been had been kind of this disappeared from the streets. It was transferred to the stage, but it disappeared from the streets in the 1950s due to a prohibition of of carnival celebrations in Peru. So then I was part of this revival of this dance that which brought even more information about, you know, that that the presence of all of the why why devils stands practiced by Afro-Peruvian thrived. And then I learned about the imposition of these days your colonial time. So I was I was without knowing in my teenage years, I was already doing it for musicology and anthropology. And so my, my, I'm telling these because when I came to study, I had a really this big, big background in music and dance and also history and get involved in the community, in activism, because many people get into college to to, to see what is going to be my project, what am I going to do? I'm interested in this, but I'm not sure. Right. I came here really with with a deep experience. So it was very clear. The path for me was very clear. The reasons how or why I ended up in the Pacific Northwest is a topic for another another another interview. Right. But I ended up in Oregon. I arrived in Oregon and got a scholarship for international students at Oregon State University. And when I got to the Pacific Northwest, I ended up coming also to to to the UTEP as a visiting scholar first. And then I got a scholarship to study. And it was to me what was fascinating was to realize that people didn't know that there were black people in Peru first, you know, black people in Peru. So when I came as a visiting scholar specifically to give lectures on Afro-Peruvian culture and music in this way I brought my musical instruments and costumes and, you know, talked about my experience there in in. And it was just incredible to realize that, you know, people didn't know about the presence of black people in Peru and then, of course, people in other parts of Latin America, right. Peru like Bolivia and Ecuador. And that region is is perceived as the Andean region of the and is, of course. And so there's a strong imagination of indigenous populations, but not necessarily a history of of African descent people. So I had really been involved in Peru doing this work, visualizing the history and fighting discrimination around this population. So I felt like my mission had to continue here to visualize in these communities. So I did my undergraduate in in Oregon, and then I came to Seattle to do my Masters and PhD in in 2000. And when I arrived here with my already undergraduate background, I had written an interesting paper for, for my undergraduate degree. And so my, my mission just continued here. But when I when I arrived here in taking classes more focused on the African diaspora in Latin America, which is in my area of expertize, I, I also want to see some of the artists somewhat I'm a dancer. I'm a musician. I wanted to I wanted to continue that and continue feeding that and found an opportunity for me to get involved with other Afro-Latino groups here or Afro Latino leaders or people. We're also practicing or doing things related to the African diaspora in Latin America. And that's how I got involved first with Grupo I.A., which is led by Sharon Cronin, an incredible woman activist, also in the community that founded this group that we're doing, Afro, Afro, Puerto Rican, Afro-Cuban dance. And with them, I met other people and then I got involved with Llano and met then Silvano. Mr. Silvano, who does from Brazil, who just appointed all in in this chain of of different parties and leaders in the community who are practicing or teaching, you know, Afro African Diaspora artistic cause. So I got involved in that while also doing my studies to complement my my studies at the university. And at this point, I forgot the fruit of the question.

 

Britt [00:11:23] That was wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. You've had such a rich journey. It's just fascinating. You know, I have this theory. I don't wanna speak for Jonathan, but I think this is one we kind of share. And I'm interested in your take, Monica, is that the art that you're describing is beautiful and important for its own sake? And I think when we talk about fractures in our in our social our community, whether that's the US or the UK where Jonathan lives, I think part of the time we get hung up in all of our kind of cognitive theory, like we have these deal breakers in our head, like if you think this, then I have to cancel you. Or if you say that, then I can't be your friend or or where are you on this issue? And that heady work can be really important in some facets of our lives, but it also has to be augmented, complemented by the 1 to 1 connections. And here's the theory, is that that best happens in in an embodied ways, through sharing stories, through through music and through dance, which I'm not a dancer. I'm a I have a background in music, but I have this affinity for dance and I can't help but wonder. And I would love to hear your experiences in dance or an artist and creator is like it just seems like there's something so powerful in setting down the language and the knowledge and moving our bodies and sweating together, especially when that art emanates from our folkloric traditions or our mythologies and our shared stories.

 

Monica [00:13:01] That's a big question. It's a very big question. And I can I can speak of what is what it is like for for for us, for Afro-Latino dancers specifically. And also, when I teach at the University of Washington, it's been fascinating to introduce these art forms to these students who come from different backgrounds, you know, ballet, modern dance. And something that I hear over and over and over about the power of Afro-Latin extends is that that the meaning behind is not about, you know, being physically fit or looking a certain way. And it's not as individualistic and competitive as these other art forms because that that that's the history behind these art forms really is resistance and resilience. These that these communities I'm going to talk about that is specifically Afro-Latin next dance because that's my that's my area of expertize particularly. Right. But I imagine that there are similar stories for other minorities, communities. These dancers have a history of figuring out how to continue being how to how to continue performing or being human, despite the fact of of you're experiencing that the worst conditions ever. Right. Imagine this. These communities were brought from Africa, you know, forcibly in in terrible conditions, you know, brought to a completely new continent where they they were not able to bring their drums. They were not able to bring anything they were forced to to to forget, you know, to their land, which they forced to to to embrace a different religion, different spirituality. And all these these things, clothing and culture and structures and everything. They they had to figure out how to continue being human and with dignity. Right. And there's a very powerful scene from Victor isn't because they can and other people I've heard these from other people. You can slave the body, but you cannot enslave the mind. Right. So memory. Memory has been a very powerful tool in the African diaspora to be able to continue holding on to to do whatever they could in order to to continue practice. So dance is is is been a powerful platform for them to express that. And it has taken shape different in different parts of of of that of that ask right. In in in. But the purpose at the end is always this is a way for people to to be together, to connect, to, to to survive culturally and remember together, you know, how, how to be, how to dance, etc., etc.. So you have all these different Afro-Latino dance forms that are practice in Peru, which look very differently from Bomba in Puerto Rico, for example. The Caribbean is very special because it's a very if you look at the map, the Caribbean is in a very strategic area, very close to Africa were many, which was like that. Like how do you see like a port or a place where people stop and then distribute it, you know, that enslaved people to different regions. So there was a lot of traffic and more so more information could travel through the Caribbean. So you see skin drums, you see the addition, religion very alive there, which is comes from, you know, from from the Yoruba people, from West Africa, etc.. But if you think for a minute where Peru is located, Peru is located on the west side of South America, on the other side of the Andes, completely isolated. Right. So in the case of Peru, the African descent people were completely isolated and didn't have that information travel as as easy. Right. So they had to go through a process of kind of re re memory and ancestral memory. Right. Ancestral memory to continue practicing some songs and practicing rhythms. And in in many of the inspiration that that spirit, that what we know today is Afro-Peruvian music comes from that many times from from from Brazil, from from the Atlantic for the Atlantic Coast, because it's the closest to Africa. So it's very important to Agustin that that that that resilience of these people for hundreds of years to be able to continue to practice their music. So when we talk about embody, you have to understand the history. You have to understand where all these dances came from. So when in in in that, in, in addition to the fact that part of the colonial project was to divide people, people from West Africa or people who were brought from from Africa were brought from different language communities, different, different area. So they couldn't communicate. So and they were mixed, right? So they couldn't communicate because communication is dangerous. So that drum dance became the source of communication in common, a common language, let's say. Right. So in Seattle, when I when I strike for women's Afro-Latino Seattle, part of the part of which, again, I connected with these communities during my studies and while doing my academic studies in white while I was dancing in these groups that I mentioned in connected with all these different local artists doing Afro Latinos, dances from different regions, Brazil and part of I'm, you know, Puerto Rican, Cuba, etc. there were some, some common things that I started noticing in terms of that the shape of a drum or a rhythmic patter or step dance sequences or things like that, or lyrics. Also in Spanish, it's a fascinating finding. Lyrics in Peru that are present in some current in Mexico and also Panama with Puerto Rico. So when I said, you know, we need to come together because the history that the African descent people have been denied their own history on purpose. They've been they've been blocked and said, you know, your your your history begins with slavery in there in this in this new continent is not true. Right. So there is there is a shared history of colonialism. There is there are things there there are elements that are part of this ancestral memory in the African diaspora that is important to connect, to understand, to also understand our our commonalities and also our own different experiences that different being. So there are so much that can be said about the power, the power of of this collective dancing and collective being together. Music because this is when the movie musical theater Seattle started. We had no idea that we were going to have that response that we did. We have community forums to figure out what, you know, what would people like to see in an Afro-Latino arts education season? What I kind of wanted to sense what people knew about Afro-Latinos, if people knew about African Latinos, and we had a huge response from the community. And thus that's what pushed us to to start this nonprofit organization, local commerce. But we knew the political system, but that the power of that of that movement was that people that are for Afro African issues and Garifuna people from from, you know, from Central America, from Honduras in the Sahara to the Panamanians in Puerto Rico, they started feeling like they were looking at each other in the mirror, like, wow, you know, they were you call it that way. I call it this way. And I move this way. You move this way. This is this is coming. It is being kind of a process of decolonizing because, again, colonization divided or purpose divided these communities. And in what we started was a process of decolonization through datas, like bringing people together and in and kind of uniting kind of uniting the diaspora again. So that's that's to me, the most powerful aspect of the work that we've been done around around music and dance. And again, teaching this at the University of Washington has been incredible because the students have been able to understand dance beyond the chance that the movement, the static of this dance is history dances, ancestral dances, is power, is resilience, is rest, resistance is dance, is organizing, is community building. So that's I hope I answer the question again. I get so passionate about this tonight because just keep talking, talking.

 

Jonathan [00:22:35] So it's great. I like to really kind of pick up on that resilience and resistance aspect. Like it really it strikes me how many forces were at play trying to embrace essentially culture and connection and community and to to to find this avenue to really support people in coming back together. And like you say, decolonize like, I just think it's incredible. And it's. It's it's wonderful to see that even through that that that the roots can be found and that the I don't know if I'm explaining myself right, but now you are.

 

Monica [00:23:19] You are.

 

Jonathan [00:23:20] Yeah. Yeah, I it's it's I'm so pleased that it has survived and that through this route that it gets to thrive again and bring people back together. Right. And not only that, but expose expose the colonized while the colonizers. To this culture as well at the same time. Right. The yeah. I hope that makes sense.

 

Monica [00:23:49] Yes. Yes, no, definitely the root their convictions are there that the tricky part is organizing people to to and walk them through with a path that will help them understand that because some people are not they're some people some people aren't want to ignore their blackness because we know we've been told that black is is bad and black is in Latin America. We suffer of racism within ourselves like we deny that we want to be Europeans. We want to highlight, you know, the our European background. And we are not indigenous, we're not African or, you know, maybe some indigenous computer stuff there, you know, and that's where that word they engage Mandingo comes from. But I explained later that that's the title of this production that I've put on multiple, multiple years. So we are all mixing in Latin America. We are mixed, but there's a lot of a lot of denial, too. So, yes, the root is there there's possibilities. There's a way to to reconnect and unpack this history. But you also need to meet people where they are. Right. And some people are not there yet. So it's it's been a very interesting path to put on this movement. And and through this movement, I see people finding a platform where finally they can say, oh, there is there's a space for me to be black and Latino, because that's a that's a that's another thing, you know, for African still Latinos here feel like because of the way they look are assumed to be black Americans, that there's a there is a very difference. There's there's a big difference culturally, not only in language, but the history of this country is different from from different regions in Latin America and so on, so forth. So but they don't sit there, but also they don't fit in the stereotype of what a Latino is it so because because of racism, anti-blackness in Latin Americans are left in the Phenix communities, you know, Latinos, you know, denial so that, you know, you know, you're black, there's racism. So this this this group, this population is kind of in the middle of, you know, in this in this confusion about who am I and what's my history. So, yeah, I think I again, I went somewhere else from your comments.

 

Britt [00:26:14] No, no. You know, I was thinking of the technical aspect, too, when you were talking like when you are teaching the dance, the choreography of a particular dance is part of it, also the cultural transmission and storytelling, and maybe you can use that kind of stuff. So different to being going.

 

Monica [00:26:33] Again when I, when I'm teaching, for example, when I when I teach at the University of Washington, many of these students, again, they they have no idea about the presence of people of African descent in Peru or other parts of Latin America because they don't teach that in the schools. So definitely when I when I went there learning the dance steps that I'm teaching, they they now they understand that there was a process of erasure and a process of using ancestral memory to revive and kind of rescue these dances and continue practicing them. So there's there's a bright we're talking about Corrales explaining how in Peru things kind of broke. And there has there had to be a revival of this tradition, especially in the 1960s. So definitely I have to I have to talk about history for them to be able to practice it. The step dance in the movements, the meaning of the movements where they come from in a way. Right. Definitely. I have I call them babies. I have many babies since in my journey my journey here in the Pacific Northwest one was the project. When I use the horn drawn to us as a as a pretext to start teaching classes in Houston to tell of our history of African descent Peruvians. So that's one project I launched in 2009, inform, accompany, you know, music and dance company with, with whom we performed throughout the Pacific Northwest. Then there's mass movement for Latino Seattle, where I decided to expand my activism here in the Pacific Northwest in brought together along with other artists, you know, the African diaspora and migrant communities here to educate the community, kind of to activate these communities by that presence and cultural contributions of people of African descent, not only Peru, but other parts of Latin Americans. And my third baby is Amy Malinga, which is a more me, is also a kind of movement that is more from the artistic point of view I in. In in 2011, I brought I brought an Afro-Peruvian artist called me Gilbert Ambrosio. And she comes from a black community south of Lima. If you were in Lima, you drove south 2 hours and then east 20 minutes. You get to a small town that was originally linked in case. Is that the place where runaway slaves hid in? And so it was originally a link in that town and the development were into into a village. Right. And so there is a there is a strong black community in that in that area of Peru. And they have a particular dance school actually integrate those, which is is like Christmas caroling, but dancing, stomping, using a bell and is very indigenous that the melody, the violin and these very African rhythmically in that stomping in there is very Spanish because of the way that this is structured and the lyrics are in Spanish, right? So there are these particular traditions so intensely living. I put them together in Brazil to try to to introduce that to the community here as part of the home project. And while he was here, I decided, you know, maybe why don't we put on a show that talks about the history of this particular dance and why, you know, people don't know much about Afro upper Peruvians. And so that's when when we talked about saying, okay, let's let's put on a concert theater productions that talks about the history of colonialism. So what I did is I created a list of standards from the Afro-Peruvian tradition because I wanted it to be from the perspective of the black Peruvians telling this history of colonialism, because that's another aspect that we always hear about the story from the corn, from the colonizers mind about slavery, at least historically. If you look at a text from colonial times, the voices that we hear in the tell the stories is from the perspective of the colonizers. So what about Afro-Peruvian is telling about colonialism from their perspective, from their music repertoire. So. So the Indian mandingo emerged from that. They they mandingo is a phrase actually a short for a longer sentence that is says and cannot be anything at the end of the mandingo which talks about the mixture of of blood. I was explaining how some people deny sometimes their African roots or indigenous roots. And in Peru this this is that this is a phrase that was coined in the 1800s to say, oh, come on, if you if your your your makes, you either have black or indigenous black. Right. That's where they inga. Inga is a customization of the word inka. So indigenous and Mandinka is a reference to West African people. So they engage Mandingo. So I have mixed. But that's, that's what this phrase means. So I said, let's talk about this mixture of cultures, this let's put on the show. So in 2012 was the first concert at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Theater. We put a beautiful concert. We thought the Carmen Project Company, and we got away in Brazil, from Peru, to to talk about the history of colonialism ending with the visas, which is a perfect tradition that again makes us all and counter of indigenous African in Spanish. And it was a huge success and I incorporated children because mentoring is important and also kids need to find their roots. Being away from Peru and many of the kids who participate in the show, our Peruvian descent, first generation, second generation who found it in the creative process of thinking. But they is their participation, the whole being part of this production. So a connection finally found like, okay, this is this is where I come from. This is mine. This is right. And they they perform in oh, it was it was just a very powerful production, intergenerational, bilingual, combining music, repertoire and dance. And also we projected the lyrics, translation, poetry, narration And it was such a success that the leadership of Lake City said, you know, this needs to be a holy day performance for every year. We need to bring this title the following year. So the following year we put it on again. And this is 2013. So my mind was already into mass writing to connecting Afro-Latinx community. So in Damian Malinga 2014 was the first time I push a little bit. My artistic kind of vision and incorporated. It wasn't not only about Peru anymore. I incorporated Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and along with Peru. So I brought artists from Peru. And then we collaborated with local Colombian, Venezuelan, Argentinian artist Panamanian and put on a new Malinga version. That was the talk about that I did that this little girl looking for her identity in travels from country to country with this music, these songs that were stuck out of the repertoire of these different countries to tell the story. And we had a map project that that showed a hand drawing, you know, a map of Colombia, then a line to Venezuela from Venezuela to Argentina. So it was also multimedia, multigenerational again, and to tell to tell the story. So the thing is, it's been my artistic way. So my home has been more hands on community organizing things, even being I speak more like an artistic platform for people to come to the theater and watch these this theater production and learn about the history of colonialism. So 2014 was the last time I put I put that production on because it's a lot of work and it is a year long, full time kind of endeavor because it involves 20 something artists coordinating rehearsals and deciding repertoire, etc.. Until I met Augustine Harvey, the executive director of Early Music Seattle. I met him in 2018 and in in in our, you know, sharing in collaboration. So I brought up that I had put on the show, but I didn't have the capacity to lose any more. And that's what he said. Well, how can early music Seattle help you bring this back? Because this this is needed. And so here we are. You know, we we started planning a new version of the new marina. It's been a while. It's been several years. So artistically, I also think as I've I have develop I've grown. So new ideas emerge. And in in the current project, we have a couple of Jewish musicians, singers who have been part of the current project, and they haven't been that. And we've never really kind of cater to, to their communities or included them, you know, in the, in the music process, sitting in that conversation, we realize that there is there's a whole history of Jewish culture in Latin America and migration from the Iberian Peninsula. 1800 So we said, let's incorporate what about incorporating Ladino music and Sephardic music into into the story of thinking within that? Because there's also been that cultural mixture. So, so this new version of I think we've been working on it, it incorporates African Afro diasporic music with Sephardic Latino music. But then we came. And we've been trying to put this show in 2021, and then we were going to put it on in 2022. But it was really challenging for us to to rehearse. And because because a big aspect of the engagement thing in my work and my artistic vision is the process more than the end product process is really important. That creative process where everybody has a voice in, in, in decision making, in the repertoire and relationship building, in exploring a room, histories of of as a strong city and putting on the show because we're talking about that then control is this disclosure so process important putting they one thing that together is really really important not so much the end product if that makes sense. So I want to be mindful of that and I don't want to rush and take our time to to really continue building together as opposed to putting on a concert. So that's why we want to take our time, just like the circle process, you know, trust the process. Let's slow down. Let's build meaningful relationships in l love to hear all the voices in the creative process of a human being. So right now we paused and we hope to put it on sometime in the next few months, maybe early next year. So that's where we are.

 

Jonathan [00:38:45] At the time. It sounds like such incredibly powerful and important work and and sorry if I spoke over you, then I think I might have heard you. So I apologize for that. And it really like there's something about it. And especially with with that, with the circle work and all of all of that, that kind of democratizes and and brings a way for people to truly connect and truly see each other. And, and to almost a Brit's point, it's like an embodied connection, relation, and a way to connect and be reminded of our common humanness. And and really, you know, there's no better medium than than dance and music. And and so and using that as a platform to to share our culture, our history and our yeah, I'm kind of going I'm do I do these tangents to Monica so so you know and yeah and I think the question that could raise a question in there and that is like from a because it sounds incredibly healing to me is in many ways and I kind of wonder the impact from that perspective in terms of what you've seen or the conversations that you've had surrounding it. Like what has the impact been from from from from a healing perspective?

 

Monica [00:40:16] Oh, my gosh. That's a that's a great question. And. Oh. I do know something I regret all these years is not having journal. I should have been journaling because I. I had so many reached out to me telling me that an event changed her life. You know, a dialog, community dialog that we had about identity. What that means has been healing to them. So many people have come back to their parents, back to grandparents to find, you know, I know an African descent. Why why has this story been denied to me where, you know, I know Auntie, blah, blah, blah. I've had endless, endless stories like that. But one particular one one particular example is the current the current director of the movie musical, Athena Seattle. Her name is Media Pacheco and she's an Afro Venezuelan woman. And she when she was in Seattle, she she wasn't she said mother dance or she's been dancing mother dance since her teenage years and has toured and lived in Argentina, 1 to 2 to New York as a as a modern dancer. And and she's she's expressed how one of the reasons why she was doing more than a dance because is that was the whitest thing she could do. Right. Denying her blackness in trying to to deny her blackness. And when she got to Seattle, she she became a mom. She had a baby. And and she says her, you know, she was she was in some way lost because. She wasn't really didn't have a clear path. And then when she found my son, when we made the policy to Seattle, if that became the path her the path for her to to heal and heal and find herself and fight and identify herself a flag and start unpacking all that racism that she had towards towards herself and hurt her. Her path for healing began with with this movement in finding community and finding in finding a platform that spoke of her identity with dignity, empowering her and others, you know. And so that that's probably the biggest example. And now she's she's become the executive director of the Miami School for Latino Seattle. And she's doing amazing, amazing work, not only healing in her own path, which continues, but also in bringing in other people, connecting with other people, reconnecting with Venezuela, which she hasn't gone back to. But now, you know, she's reconnected to to now her the traditions that she remembers, you know, growing up. There is there are stories like that. So, so many stories. So thank you for that question. That's at my my even my you have students who are now this Australia palatinate state. They you know they they've mentioned how they now are seeing dance. They're understanding dancing. That's a completely different way. Now they they want to understand more about their privilege and which is also part of who we are. We all need to heal, right? Not only every Afro-Latino, but everybody needs to heal from this history that we all have been part of. So. So, yeah, there are definitely healing has been and I have so many examples in the process of being human being as well. I'm telling you above it that the kids who have been coming, mothers mother's there is a mother particularly who told me, you know, that they never gave their kids rootedness and pride because, you know, in schools, they in the school, they are they are bullied or they are not or, you know, because of the way they look. But these this gave them these kids kind of like clarity of who they are, you know, why they look different, who they are, what their roots are in having something to hold on to. So there has been healing across, you know, populations in age. And yeah, it's a very powerful work. Very, very powerful work. Thank you again for the question.

 

Jonathan [00:44:44] A pleasure. Yeah.

 

Britt [00:44:46] I was struck with your story about how we all stand at the intersections of multiple identities and are complex mixtures of privilege and adversity. You know, and that's really why we started this podcast to surface those issues that we don't have time, capacity or desire to discuss, like race. Like our true complex, rich tapestry of stories and histories. And then to find ways to come together. The podcast is really heady because it's a podcast, and so that's one medium, but I'm one I'm so captivated by. And your story and your journey is the immense value that you're providing for the for our global community. When you think about the ripple effects, because you are at least inadvertently, maybe on purpose, preempting a lot of issues we discussed in our previous episode with you where some people might feel intimidated by conversations on race. Some people might feel it's too depressing to talk about gender inequality. Some people might say, Well, it was so long ago. Why is this a part of my life today? I'm busy, I'm tired. I'm trying to put food on the table. But what you're doing is like this celebratory, artistic expression that carries with it, that is borne of the true stories that have been passed down throughout the years. So it carries all of that education with it intrinsically. And so, you know, we have this theory like the world would be a better place if there were more public singing and dancing because we kind of come together rather than saying stuck in like this theorizing and focusing on our differences, we come together and are you know, archeologists know they found humans when they find art. And so we tap into those really deep seeded parts of our human design. And it's just fun, like you described. It's not maybe the classical art music experience where you go and you sit in silence and attention. You look at the stage, you have this kind of art presented at you, and it's more interactive. You talk about singing and dancing and and getting up and moving together. And I'm just struck by the immense value in that and the beauty of of the healing stories that you were sharing from multiple dimensions, the artists themselves, but also the audience members, whether they're seeing themselves for the first time or they're starting to develop curiosity and empathy for people that come from different walks of life. It just seems like a a really beautiful here, a healing experience. And I'd like to hear some new alluded this to a minute ago how it has changed your life personally and maybe the way that you view your.

 

Monica [00:47:44] Yeah what you said a lot there in brief that is is this is very relevant the first the first thing is the joy. Absolutely joy. Joy is is is something that has been part of the resistance of these communities. Right. The joy. And in having everybody experience that together, the collective the collective participatory aspect of of the arts, I think is, is really important as opposed to a passive absorption of social consuming art. From a passive perspective, where I go, I see my teacher and I sit down and I, which they Malinga has has, has that but in that I would say that before we but the Afro-Latin Afro-Latin mixing MOS in the home has looked for more opportunities for that collective kind of participatory joy that where everybody's welcome because again, everybody needs to heal and everybody needs to to participate in this healing process.

 

Britt [00:48:53] Yeah. How is it impacted your own life and maybe even changed or enriched, like witnessing all this healing and joy being transmitted and people participating in experiencing? How has it enriched your own life and maybe your understanding of where you fit into the cultural history going?

 

Monica [00:49:11] Because community community work is is, is, is hard. It's really hard is many times it's not sustainable. Right. This is about there's been there's I've been dedicated to these work for so many years and it's not necessarily I wish I could devote myself to doing this work, but unfortunately it's not sustainable. It's not sustainable financially, but it's been sustainable for me in many ways. Gives it keeps me keeps me going, doing, doing the work that needs to be done. But. But you know, specifically to answer your question, what about me, myself? This is what has given meaning to me being away from you. When I launched Take a Home Project in 2009. It emerged because my realization that I wasn't going back to Peru. I came as an international student that had my international passport and I had, you know, my my visa to study and my plan was to go back. But then I got married. I had children. You know, the system just swept me, you know, and I became a citizen. We bought a house and and one day I woke up and realized that I wasn't going back. And I had to figure out how am I going to how am I going to continue doing the work that I was doing back in Peru? You know, I told the story about me being so involved in the Peruvian community as an artist, but also as an activist. But now I was here in the Pacific Northwest. So this has been part of my own personal healing. Absolutely. You know, it it it it gave meaning for me to be able to be away from home. It became it it kind of shaped my mission of being so far away. So like a home project. And then we meet the collective. You know what? I teach at the University of Washington and now these students at the University of Washington, but also the community I'm teaching garden right now, percussion. And I had so many people come and so many people show up and. And every time I'm in a situation like that, people come to learn from me or I have the opportunity to share what I know. Every single time it keeps meaning for me being away from away from home, because I miss I miss being Peruvian. The musicologist I work with in Peru told me in America, go study, get your degree, but come back because we need you here. When we need you here, please come back. But life, you know, did what it did as I as I explained. So I live with that with that feeling. So how am I going to continue working for the Afro-Peruvian community and the people that I that I, you know, share so much with me? How am I going to make that, you know, good for me to be away? So this has given meaning meaning to me so that that's what makes it gives meaning for me being in Seattle, being in the Pacific Northwest, and also is the force, the energy that makes me keep going again and again and again and again, doing this community, community work.

 

Britt [00:52:24] That's so beautiful and such a poignant story. I had a I had the privilege to sit down and interview the leader of a dance company in Minneapolis who is an Indian American. And she and her daughter formed the dance company and have been, you know, around for decades and extremely successful and continuing a lineage from southeast India. And, you know, they they've your story kind of reminds me of that in terms of that poignant, celebratory, but also sad and beautiful story of diaspora and what they mentioned. And I'm curious if this resonates for you, Monica, as they talked about, you know, the art form in India keeps advancing and progress progressing is not the right word with art, but keeps changing and evolving and and deepening and growing, as does their art form in Minneapolis. And so it gets further and further apart. And then they try to find ways to kind of come together. And it becomes this beautiful dance in a way. But there's a poignancy there to a sadness and a beauty that it's not what it was exactly and the country of their birth. But in this new country it's something different and also extremely beautiful and powerful and meaningful. But it is different. Does that feel true for you? Does that wrestle with.

 

Monica [00:53:51] Your journey here? Interesting question. This is a very interesting question. I think of different different ways, different layers, because many people, for example, maybe in the case of Peru, many people who migrate in, has been in this in the U.S. But Peruvians, I mean, for many, many, many years, they have a memory of what traditional dance music is. While in Peru, things have evolved and change, you know, things because culture always is it always evolves in response to different situations. So there is people in Peru who are pushing and challenging, you know, the ways things were practiced back in the sixties. And there's a there's a there's a very complex history of how when these traditions were staged, black black traditions were stage in the sixties and seventies. It had a narrative of slavery in it, because people of Peru is very interested in telling the history I the history of colonialism. Right. But then when when commercialization is permitted, things that are problematic that way because people are consuming this narrative of colonial identity. So there are people in Peru who are pushing that emerging and things are changing. But Peruvians who have migrated to the U.S. and other parts of the country, they still remember that how to how Afro-Peruvian music and dance was practiced back then. So they they had their perception of creation. So to answer your question, there are people who continue practicing things the way they were practiced back then in the they have changed at a local level in Peru. But then there's other people who are doing trying new things, and I think that's been part of it. The whole project. I try to be aware of this and also I sense apologies and being connected with those communities despite the fact that I'm physically removed or a way, you know, I've been attentive of the evolution and the things that have occurred because also it's my area of studies. So I try to parallel the efforts in Peru to kind of challenge that problematic identity and proposed new things that. Many people, even within Peru, don't perceive as traditional. So I've been doing the same thing here, kind of responding and being walking along with those who are proposing new things, new costumes, new narrative, new you you black identity projected on stage the same. But at the same time, I cannot deny that I am in the Pacific Northwest and there is a huge person in the group and there's people in the project who are not Peruvians. And my husband Jabali, you know, he's he's he's black American but also black Caribbean. So he has a veterinarian component in him. So we've incorporated that complaint for free music, you know, music from other from from influences from there. And then he's also a punk rock musician. So we've, we've incorporated in our daily Matenga is the rock and we've put it in now we're exploring Ladino Sephardic music. So, so of course that in the eyes of a Peruvian or in Peru are going to say, well, baby Molina, it's not so much Peruvian anymore. Right. So so, yes. So there's people who continue practicing things the way they were before this whole evolution. And then there's other people who are also pushing boundaries, the premiere things, experimenting based on their new reality, which is which is my case. So that was a very interesting question. Yeah. Because I know Peruvians were trying to stick to the very, very hardcore what they perceive as traditional, what they should be. That should be what in Peru is is not like that anymore. It is not in the I'm talking about Peru because of Peruvian. I don't want to talk about our cultures, but I know that's the case with Cuba. And, you know, I've seen that the Cuban people in Africa are going to Cuba to to learn how things used to be in Africa, in West Africa, because in Cuba things have been preserved that are evolving in Africa and West Africa. So that transnational dynamic can is fascinating. So very good question. You guys are amazing. Very good questions.

 

Britt [00:58:37] Oh, you're too good. You're too kind. It has been such a pleasure to talk to you today. What a beautiful conversation. And I don't know. But Jonathan, you can chime in here, Jonathan, but you have filled me, Monica, with so much hope. There's so much darkness in the world always. And I spend and you alluded to this earlier, Monica, to this work is depleting and I'm kind of maybe a natural pessimist. So it really I can go dark quickly and I can kind of dwell in the darkness, which doesn't help anybody. But the work that you're doing, the art that you're creating fills me with so much hope and joy and and reminds me that this can be celebratory. You know, like you said, the joy is an act of resistance in and of itself intrinsically. But because that was part of what was trying to be stolen and to lead to subservience and slavery. And so I had never thought of that before. That was a huge aha moment for me in our conversation today. So Jonathan, I don't know if that resonates with you, but I just I just feel so, you know, like uplifted.

 

Jonathan [00:59:46] After there's a certain amount of pessimism comes, right, when when we look at history, like when I look at my history as a as a as a home of colonialism, like there's there's a level of pessimism, disappointment, frustration, anger that comes with it. And so to to have this essential ray of light that is that is essentially it wasn't lost like. It wasn't lost like. There's a there's a way for us to to experience this now for people to understand that their pasts and their history and where their culture comes from and and to connect on that level and learn from each other and, and, and find community in the process of healing like. Yeah, that. It fills you with hope.

 

Monica [01:00:34] Yes. Reflecting on history and making this history, it doesn't have to be it doesn't have to be angry. Right. Yes. Anger has its definitely has its place. And that's one path. That's one path. But there's this. This is this. I'm proposing a different a different path that also has its place. I think there are different ways to heal. It's all about healing. So so the arts, I think, is a very, very powerful tool for social change. I truly believe that. And different people approach that work in different ways. And yeah, enjoy. I think is that is a is that is something that we all need, especially after these years and where we are right now and everything that's going on. I want to nurture joy in art can bring joy in healing.

 

Britt [01:01:32] Definitely. Absolutely. I absolutely love that. And thank you again for your time today and for sharing all of your knowledge and your journey and your history, your stories with us and and your art. We're going to include links to all of these projects in the show notes so people can learn more about you personally, professionally, and if their local can get involved in the art and maybe find some of your work online. We'll include all of that in the show notes. So listeners, please make sure you check that out. Again, we've been talking with Dr. Monica Stewart, who is just an absolute hero in this work, and we're so thrilled to have her on the podcast today. We encourage you to tune in to other episodes because we do these kinds of conversations, you know, every episode that's well, that's what our podcast is, is, is about is focusing on these connections and points of healing. So please check out other episodes on our website and wherever you like to listen to your podcasts. We're there. So on that note, you've been listening to Not Going Quietly. I'm your host, Brett East, with my amazing co-host, Jonathan Beale. Thank you so much for your time today. And stay tuned. Thank you. Thanks, everyone. Bye bye. You've been listening to. Not Going Quietly with co-hosts Jonathan Beale and Brett East.

 

Jonathan [01:03:07] Thanks so much for joining us on this wild ride. As we explore ways to help everyone leap into life with a greater sense of clarity, passion, purpose and joy.

 

Britt [01:03:15] Check out our show notes for links, additional information and episodes located on your favorite podcast platform.

Monica Rojas-Stewart Profile Photo

Monica Rojas-Stewart

Co-founder of Huayruro

Monica Rojas-Stewart (Lima, Peru) holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Washington. Her areas of expertise focus on Afro-Latinx communities in Latin America, the Spanish Caribbean, their diasporas, and their performance traditions as trans-border technologies of resilience and community building. As a community artist and activist Rojas-Stewart devoted the last 15 years to extensive community-based organizing and artistic work as a pioneer performer and educator of Afro-Peruvian culture and of the Afro-Latinx arts movement in the Pacific Northwest. She is the founder of DE CAJóN Project and Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle (MÁS), two grassroots arts organizations dedicated to educating about the history and cultural contributions of people of African descent in Peru and Latin America respectively. Rojas-Stewart is co-founder of Huayruro LLC and she is currently the Assistant Director of the African Studies and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies programs at Jackson School of International Studies as well as part-time lecturer in the Department of Dance at the University of Washington.