1 October 2015


by Fabina Benites Colon

I remember like it was yesterday. The Summer of 1989. All I could hear my mother chanting over and over again was "agarrense de las manos!" So, we held hands tight--me and my four siblings, my grandmother and my mother--as we ran confused and lost across the airport to find our airline to board the plane. I was excited to leave Lima, Peru, but I didn't expect what was waiting for us in the United States.

I was 7 years old when I arrived to the Bronx, NY with my family. Being the youngest child in my family, my cultural history and identity was nurtured through all the amazing stories I heard from my siblings, parents, and my grandmother. Although I don't remember much about Peru, the stories took me through a mental journey that felt so real and triggered all my five senses.

I know we left our home village in the Andes mountain of Peru because of a civil war where Peruvian and U.S. sponsored military were persecuting indigenous families and barring us from our rights.

Identifying as an indigenous person has been an interesting journey. I remember about 20 years ago, it was explicitly tied to being inferior, savage, under-developed, illiterate, poor, ignorant, etc. I always got the emessage that our goal was to "mejorar la raza," which actually meant to "whiten our race" and leave our traditions, language, values... our entire CULTURE behind. This was an act of violent cultural rape,which is present today and a living function of colonialism.

Today, I realize that not much has changed except for the additional component of people romanticizing with indigeneity. It's still all those negative things,but it's now also exotic!

But, resistance also exists in ways that have sustained cultures through strategies that created an illusion that we surrendered and our indigenous cultures are extinct. One strategy my family used has been the power of stories and art. Growing up, I always felt fascinated by the stories my parents would tell me, some of which I thought were fictional,but overall great stories.

It wasn't until I was in high school when I started hearing repeats of my mother's stories. These stories came from "professional experts"--mostly white men with Ph.D.'s--that take indigenous knowledge and present it to the world as if they owned this new breaking discovery.

One day,as I helped my mother cook, she told me a story about her adventures when she was a young girl. I listened carefully as I pealed potatoes that still had soil on them. My mother stopped to tell me that it's good to eat the peel. I explained that the potatoes still had soil. And, she followed to tell me that soil is good to eat too. She told me that she and her friends used to go down the hill to the lime trees and they would split a lime, sprinkle a little soil and suck on it. Of course, tomany, this story didn't really sound normal.

Actually, this practice has been associated with an eating disorder called "Pica." Most recently, our genius P.h.D's are now "discovering" that soil is beneficial to our health.

In a recent issue of YES Magazine, I read an article written by Daphne Miller M.D. How to Eat Like Our Life Depends On It which talks in more depth about soil as a natural way to support the immune system and flex your internal mechanisms. So, now that science agrees, and it's been "proven by an expert" it's officially normal... and is now even part of high-end restaurant menus!

Ummmm (sigh!) If you come visit my mom and dad, they can teach you a few more things that may take you another decade to "discover."

I used to just laugh and ignore these "new breaking discoveries" that are currently (and historically) informing leadership development, community capacity building, pedagogy, physical/ mental health and nutrition, neuroscience, social justice movements,etc.

But no more. I will no longer allow colonizers to exercise continuous violent cultural rape in my presence. So, now I am in the practice of re-informing and reclaiming what is rightfully indigenous knowledge.

These are NOT "new discoveries." We will acknowledge, embrace, and honor the impact and position that our indigenous knowledge has had on guiding equitable and inclusive social, environmental, and human sustainability.





Fabina Benites Colon

October 2015

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