Sandra Moran, a Guatemalan activist, artist, lesbian and feminist, will speak at Ithaca College on April 7 as part of her East Coast tour, Women’s Right to Live through the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.
Moran has worked in feminist activism for almost 20 years in Guatemala. Before returning to her home country, she has established many feminist organizations and worked as a musician. Currently, she is part of a feminist band from Central America called “Cantarte Vida.”
Staff Writer Elma Gonzalez spoke with Moran about her passion for human rights activism.
Elma Gonzalez: What was your childhood like?
Sandra Moran: I grew up in a working family, and my mom was the one who worked a lot and helped us to go to school and helped us develop our capacities. My father was a man who was violent against my mom a lot.
EG: What got you interested in activism?
SM: Well, I was born in the 60s, and the [Guatemalan Civil War] started in the 60s, too. I also I grew up in a very Catholic family. My mom is Catholic, and from her I learned to look for justice and to look to help others. It was something I felt that I should do, and so I started joining demonstrations and political activities in high school at the age of 14.
EG: What are some issues you stand for?
SM: Justice and being able to enjoy life and being able to exercise all the rights that we have as women and people.
EG: I understand you were living in exile in Guatemala for 14 years. Why?
SM: I was persecuted by the army in ’81. I was part of the university students and one of the associations of the economy school at the University of San Carlos. At that time the army had already been persecuting professors and students at the University of San Carlos, and I have friends who were part of the associations who were killed, for example, in the embassy of Spain in January of ’80. From then, until I left — and after I left, too — there was a lot of persecution against all the students who were organized — even in the small organizations. There was a general persecution against any organization. Any students who stood up for something or any professor who wanted to talk about the rights or talk about the freedoms of [professors.]
EG: What did you do during your exile?
SM: First of all, in Mexico, I worked helping support the refugees who came to Mexico, especially the refugees who came to stay in the south of Mexico, and then I joined a musical band. I started playing music as a way of calling for solidarity and talking about our struggle and our rights as women, the people’s rights. Then I spent five years in Nicaragua also working in the musical field as a musician with the Kin-Lalat band, which was a revolutionary band, a cultural music band from Guatemala. Then the last three years I went to Canada, and I became a refugee. While I lived there, I worked in solidarity with women in Guatemala. I learned English. I learned all the stuff that was helpful for me when I went back.
EG: When you went back to Guatemala, why did you feel it was needed to form feminist organizations such as the Women’s Sector, the National Women’s Forum and the Artisan House?
SM: When I went back was the time that the [Civil Society Assembly] was forming. I just joined different women’s organizations to be in the process of forming a women’s sector. I was one of the delegates who participated in the founding of the women’s sector, and I was part of the women’s sector effort to get laws and policies for women. But also, during the years, I’ve been part of different efforts to build women’s movements and also musical movements
[Artisan House] is an idea that we put together with Andrea Barrios — from her ideas and from my ideas, we put together that — and we co-founded Artesana in order to have a space for everyone, and to build from there our contribution to a life without violence for us and for everyone. We will work now with women in jail and their families, especially the children. Knowing and believing that women in jail are also an effect of the violence, and we want to continue to break the chains of violence because then we can support the children in different ways than their family. Also we promote art and music and painting as a way to express ourselves and express our wishes, dreams and contributions to society.
EG: What urged you to form the organization “We Are Women?”
SM: In 1995 I was the co-founder of the first lesbian collective in Guatemala called “We Are Women.” The name came out of the idea that lesbians are not women, and we wanted to say: “Yes, we are.” That collective wasn’t a public collective; it was more of a support group for us at that time. It was difficult — we found that we didn’t need a support group, but to be able to go out and be out of the closet, and not just for us, but also for the movement. Right now we have five different lesbian collectives in Guatemala.
EG: Does the Guatemalan government support your cause?
SM: No. In Guatemala, it is not a tradition that we receive funds or money. It is not a tradition that we receive that from the government, but also, until 1996, we were persecuted by the government. From 1996 until now, the way that we work with the government is demanding programs and demanding laws and demanding actions that help the people to survive or to develop their capacities to be able to enjoy and exercise their rights. We also demand the state stop violations to human rights.
EG: Why are you holding this tour in the United States?
SM: I am part of the efforts of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, which is the one that is organizing the tour, and in the Women’s Right to Live program. It is always important to raise awareness and also to call attention to the problems that we have in Guatemala, but also to call attention to the movement that we have in Guatemala. My goal is to call attention [to the fact] that we are facing the same problems [in the United States] as much as in Guatemala — here [there] are also problems.
Talking about movements; we need an international movement that can confront the ideas and actions that the system imposed on us and ask for the possibility to live without violence, to live and enjoy life. It is not just denouncing and calling for solidarity to us. That is one part, but also asking yourself, “What are your actions here, and how you are committed to grow and build a movement here?” We need an international movement because we, by ourselves, cannot do the change that we need. It is not just Guatemalan struggles, because if part of the system is here, then we need you, too.