Educator and activist Constanza Eliana Chinea explains that her decolonization lessons aren’t designed with white people in mind. Rather, the classes are for people of color; those who “have been colonized” and are “trying to move away from assimilation.”
Chinea was born in New York, then moved to her parent’s birthplace in Puerto Rico at around 8 years old. The family moved to Chicago when Chinea was a teenager, which she says helped her to understand the immigrant experience and the experience of “otherness.”
She says that she uses the Caribbean and Puerto Rico in her work as a kind of “landing path” to show her students the systemic ways in which colonization exists.
“I think a lot of people think we live in a postcolonial society, which isn’t true. Once we start to dismantle what colonization is and how it exists in ourselves and how we perpetuate it, then we can really start to talk about how we break it down systemically,” Chinea says.
Chinea says that when it comes to the theory of decolonization, it starts with the self, and with the mentality of colonization. Then it moves toward the action.
“I think a lot of times we think we have to become an activist. Anyone can be an activist because they’re taking action in the streets or they’re signing bills or they’re protesting. But it doesn’t mean they’re doing it in a decolonial way,” she says.
She explains that she starts with decolonial literacy and then begins the conversation about the systemic structure and how to change it and evolve from it.
“I’m working with people of color to really help them to understand what that means. Decolonization has really turned into a marketing tactic at this point. So I’m really trying to help people understand that it’s not about marketing. It’s not about just using the phrase as a throwaway phrase. It really is an actionable journey that you have to go through. And it’s very personal,” Chinea says.
Her clients are those who are on a journey. “They’re mixed folks who have been raised by white parents or have been adopted into white families … visibly Black and brown people who come to me wanting to reclaim Indigenous practices, but not sure how to start.” She adds it’s also for those looking to “unpack white supremacy and how that has affected them.”
She says colonial mentality is something that people of color absorb as adopting the practices of the oppressor, turning it into culture, turning into lifestyle by way of capitalism. “I think it really comes from a place of they’ve been traumatized, and they want to figure out how does that trauma manifest.”
Chinea warns that this work isn’t easy. Divesting from colonization means actively and thoughtfully putting your money, your vote, and your energy where your mouth is. Doing the research on the companies where you spend, where you travel, and what spaces you inhabit that support or deny colonization.
“This is the de-glamorized view of decolonization. … Divesting actually takes effort and it’s very uncomfortable. If we’re still looking at success through Western supremacist view, divesting is always going to be the last resort, because people don’t want that. [What] they want is to look like they’re successful; to have money, the big house, and be able to travel,” she says.
She explains that what people don’t understand is that you can get to a place of financial freedom through divesting.
“But it’s very uncomfortable at first because you have to divest. Even your thinking around, ‘How do I get financial freedom without investing in all of these colonized and capitalist ways?’”
One of the small ways Chinea suggests people can divest from our colonized society is to leave traditional social media platforms—although she herself has had to keep a presence on Instagram. But she did create a platform similar to Instagram called the Anti-Oppression Social Club.
“It’s a place for people, for myself to share decolonized news and politics and pop culture and kind of dismantle all of those things. It’s also a place for other activists and educators to post whatever it is that they want to post without fear of being censored or blacklisted or anything like that,” she says.
The Good Fight is a series spotlighting progressive activists around the nation: Those who are battling injustice in underserved communities and the folks fighting for democracy everywhere.
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