To get you closer to the frontlines of radical community organizing in this country, we're bringing you the Amplify series (formerly called "Lift Up"). This series highlights the work and members of one Resist grantee, up close and personal. In our last installment, we profiled the adé Project (1), a multi-generational, intersectional, and grassroots cooperative bringing together indigenous and artists of color to actualize equity, spark creative inquiry, and reclaim the narrative of the South.
Today, we're amplifying the work of CEPA (Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action), a healing justice project based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. CEPA’s mission is to foster decolonization through varied initiatives including reclaiming ancestral traditions, healing ourselves and the earth through shared practice and deep commitment to change; and creating alternatives to build a sense of economic abundance over scarcity and individualism. CEPA’s purpose is to build an intellectual and political home that strengthens our capacity to live in interdependent, healthy and loving communities of care while building collectivities that center women and gender-nonconforming people from the island and its multiple diasporas.
Dr. Melissa Rosario is a healing justice practitioner, cultural worker and facilitator born and raised in New York. She received her PhD from Cornell University in Cultural Anthropology and Latinx studies in 2013. After spending more than ten years studying social movements in Puerto Rico, she moved to Puerto Rico to shift her approach to change work. She has now dedicated her life to transforming cultures of resistance and supporting activists, organizers and artists to deal with root causes of colonization, separation and inequality so that they may live in wholeness despite the systems collapse they are witnessing. She is the founder of CEPA (Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action), a project that imagines and practices a world beyond the colony with Boricuas living on island as well as with those in the diaspora.
What impact does your work have on you?
This project is co-coordinated by partners Melissa and Lau. For both, the work has expanded their perception of the world itself and the possibilities for healing through self-love and reciprocal relationships. Lau, a visual artist who was born and raised in Boriken, had this to say, “Through the project I was able to connect with the diaspora in a way I never had before. The relationships I’ve made have shaped me own development as a queer person and helped me to discover my identity as a non-binary/gender non-conforming person and I appreciate this immensely.”
From Meli who is a nuyorican rematriator, “This project helped me to shed myself of many the wounds that I acquired as an english-speaking kid from the diaspora longing to know Boriken the land of my ancestors where I never felt authentic enough to belong. It has also healed some of the distance I felt as an academic talking about but never practicing decolonization in my life. It has helped me to understand that I am an important part of the just ricanstruction of this island. Most importantly, it has helped me get a glimpse of my people’s liberation.”
What small steps have you taken that have a big impact on your life and other people's lives?
Decolonizing for Organizers
Over the summer, we co-created a “Decolonizing for Organizers” curriculum and held a two-day pilot workshop in Central Florida where a significant portion of the diaspora lives. The organization who hosted us for the pilot were able to identify and speak long-held feelings of frustration and pain that helped them get right for transforming their organization as a group. Upon our return, we began to facilitate healing circles for a group of youth who are birthing just ricanstruction projects all over the island, and hope to continue teaching the content of the manual to support movement leaders and organizers deepen their commitment to decolonizing both here and abroad.
[ Click here to enlarge the "Connecting to Lands Exercise" from CEPA's manual]
A year and a half ago we set up a pilot center that we affectionately call la casa-taller . It’s a hybrid between a home and a working space, a part of what happens when you are making things happen with little institutional support or funding. We are blessed to have this space where we have rooms dedicated to practice—healing arts and movement—a garden and an apartment to host visitors. To date, we have hosted seven solidarity visits with mostly diaspora-queer-ricans who were reconnecting with the island after years, or generations away. We also hosted three local Boris who were in a place of transition in their lives and needed somewhere to land. Our casa-taller is a place where we are intentionally recovering a relationship with the earth, and creating space to process the hurts, challenges, and promises of return.
Our work is by its very nature -- long term, generations view so it can feel “slow” or like not much change is happening. But, the plants in la casa-taller always remind us, and so does our growing network. We are in the process of unveiling a new stage in the project which will intentionally bring together people from across the island and diaspora(s) to intentionally craft a collective dedicated to shared practice of decolonizing our lives. We are excited to see what answers emerge in the process of this question: how can we restore the connective tissue of a network of our people and harness the power and wisdom of a collective? Stay tuned!
What narratives do you want to shift and why?
“There is no alternative to: capitalism, United States intervention, separation, isolation and competition”
Puerto Rico has been a colony for more than a century, and we often hear that there’s no point in trying to break away from the United States (if we get free, we’ll just get f*cked by the IMF or the United States but then we will have no “claims” to our rights). We want to show people that we are always interdependent but that we have to reclaim communities and our togetherness to reveal other alternatives and options. We are remembering abundance is not related to profit, but is about how well we can share together.
“Suffering and illness are the only possibilities for activists living as oppressed people”
Many activists get involved in movements where they are directly impacted. The weight of what they have suffered becomes the fuel that mobilizes them but it’s tricky. One can get stuck in victimhood and in pain because its very difficult to witness all the inequality in the world and feel good. We think that many people believe that they’re only down for the cause if they are also suffering, broke or sick. But we are working for a world where our freedom and our beauty is unlocked and centered, no matter what the conditions we are living in. The system benefits whenever we are sick, or suffering.
How can people get involved with your work?
People can get involved in many ways, including and not limited to the following:
- We are looking for a woman, queer or nonbinary woodworker, preferably BIPOC to lead the process of building our table in the apothecary-healing arts space. Must have knowledge of joinery and would be great if they knew how to work ecologically and with found materials. They would have to teach us and involve us and other folks interested in the process, but they would ultimately do the bulk of the work. We are offering housing as a trade (it’s a private studio adjacent to our home where the work would be done). Would need to stay for a minimum of 2 weeks.
- We need someone to revamp our website (must have familiarity with Squarespace). If you can donate your time, that would be amazing, but we can pay something to honor your time, or discuss another exchange.
- Become a member of our Patreon page and sustain the work and join the community. This support encourages us to continue creating, and will also feature exclusive photo essays and content about the day-to-day process of decolonizing our lives.
- Make a land donation! Our long-term goal is to secure lands for Puerto Ricans within a context of rapid gentrification and widespread displacement all across the archipelago. If you are a Boricua whose family has land or a property not being used and you want to support by gifting us the land we need to grow our community, please get in touch!
- We would like to adapt and translate our “Decolonizing for Organizers” Curriculum for Puerto Rico. Write us if you can support this stage of the work.
Puerto Ricans are constantly being sold a myth of our colonized nature — that we’re dependent, incapable, and broken forever. But we know these falsehoods are simply a tool of oppression. Because the healthier we are, the stronger the resistance. This is an invitation to think about, support, and amplify the work of the diaspora not just today but 365 days a year.
Learn more about the work of CEPA, here .
Director of Communications and Storytelling
p.s. A smarter way to give: make a gift in your will for FREE. Need help? Contact Kendra Hicks .
- adé Project: https://conta.cc/2Ein8UE