The reason behind my trip to Madrid was to participate in an Encuentro, a Meet-up/Conference of the Red de Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe en España. Back in August when I was feeling lost and without options, one person replied to one of the many pleading emails I sent out. Mercedes invited me to come to their Encuentro in Madrid from September 18-19th that would address violence against immigrant women, to which I very excitedly offered to come a week earlier to help out. Sadly, the incident with my foot forced me to stay locked inside my hostel in Madrid (aside from the unfortunate trip to the hospital) until Thursday, when I received an email from Mercedes telling me that she wished I would participate in their “Performance,” and gave me the address where the practice would take place.
At 5pm, I arrived at a beautiful center plastered with posters advocating for women’s rights. There were large meeting rooms, psychologist offices, and a spacious gathering room with comfy couches, handmade art on the walls, and a printed copy of “Una Habitacion Propia” by Virginia Woolf on a round table.
Spaces like this always fill me up with so much light and a tight embrace.
I found the place where I was supposed to be and finally met Mercedes, along with other women from the Red and the group of women–the majority of the women were much older than myself, passed their 50s–who routinely meet-up and at the center and get in touch with their bodies by creatively using them to express stories and emotions.
We were all given a task: think of three movements that represent violence. We got in a circle, looked away from each other, and came up with our movements, repeating them over and over again until they were seamlessly integrated into our bodies. Afterwards, we went around the circle and taught them to the rest of the group while we explained what they meant to us. I will never forget this experience. Every woman’s movement was drastically different from the next and was powered with opposing emotions. Some grew angrier from movement to movement, yelling, stomping their feet, kicking up high, giving the middle finger. Others shrunk, protected themselves from a blow, widened their eyes in fear. Everyone’s bodies told stories. Moving from pain to anger, fear to strength, hesitation to victory, enslavement to self-love.
Sometimes, as women explained their movements, they tapped into memory. “A guy held me like this once” as she wrapped her hands around her neck. Others didn’t have to say much because the intensity of their eyes as they yelled “¡Nunca Mas!” said it all. This happened too many times in the small room. But so did laughter and pleasure over our own disobedience and our victory of being alive, inside that room, despite it all.
The following day, we arrived early at the place where the Encuentro would take place. We hung a set of different posters, including some screen print style carteles shipped from Mexico, made by the badass Mujeres Grabando Resistencias. These incredibly powerful carteles are resisting the erasure of the feminicides in Mexico and demanding that #VivasNosQueremos.
The conference opened up both days with the Performance. Dressed in black, the women and myself stood in rows, holding a white bowl with a flashlight. The crowd entered the room and dispersed themselves around us so they could witness our movements up close. Songs and poems were weaved into the performance, culminating in a song that carried us all into the sitting area.
I’ve never done anything like this before, but not once did I feel scared or embarrassed. Before the beginning of each performance, the dance instructor Beatriz walked among us as we stood still in the dark, and told us to plant our feet solidly on the ground until we grew roots that connected us to one another. This was the source of my bravery, knowing I was connected to a group of amazing and fearless women.
The conference itself was really informative and the perfect culmination of my focus on stories of immigrant women and transition into my focus these upcoming months, on stories of women who are survivors of intimate partner violence. It was amazing to listen and learn from women involved in this work, and even more fulfilling to meet them individually during the entirety of the conference, and gain invaluable lessons from them.
After the conference ended, many of us went out to celebrate in the way you have to when you are in Madrid: sitting outside drinking cañas and sharing tapas! It was amazing to see about 30+ women of all different age groups take over an entire terrasa while cheering often “¡Mujeres libres y con derechos!”. It was even more amazing to be apart of it all.