Homecoming Reflection

Sunset in Colombia

By: Tomas Gomez

Today was my last day at home. Since moving from Colombia to the US to study, I have traveled back home several times, but this time was different. This time, I didn’t come to see my family and friends, or just relax in my hometown; this time I came to investigate and analyze solutions to land-owning inequality, one of the deepest-seated roots that has been driving the internal conflict in Colombia for almost a century. 

I have met with congresspeople, activists, functionaries, professors, and other experts in the field to obtain a comprehensive view of the issue and deconstruct all the potential and shortcomings of the Agrarian Reform being implemented by the current government. Carrying out such a project has taught me to see my country in a new light and provided me with academic knowledge that I will use in the future to help transform the reality of my country. 

I hope that my research, which I’m conducting and writing in Spanish (I will then translate to English) can be used by the interested citizen to learn more about this critical policy that could seriously transform the socioeconomic landscape of Colombia for the better, and by government officials who could use it as a frame of reference to inform and support policy changes and decisions. 

Tracing the Paths of the Forgotten Chinese in Colombia

By: Ziyi Billy Zeng

Hours before I boarded my flight to Bogotá, Colombia, I was frantically finishing my finals and desperately wanted to complete my second year of college amid the move-out rush. One final project I was working on was for one of my favorite classes this past Spring semester, Asian Diasporas to Latin America, taught by Professor Diego Javier Luis in the history department. My inspiration for conducting research in Colombia stemmed from the material we read in Prof. Luis’ seminar. The common thread across this course was simple. It was that Asian peoples have always existed in the history of Latin America, and more broadly, in the hemispheric Americas. As someone interested in Asian American history, my courses have taught me that our community’s presence was only limited to experiences on the West Coast of the United States and nothing more. Prof. Luis’ course directly challenged this preconceived notion. And so, I was set on researching the history of Chinese migration to Colombia and could not wait to uncover a forgotten part of a diasporic story. I decided to focus specifically on Chinese migration because I learned in Prof. Luis’ class that there was a huge concentration of Chinese migrants brought to the Latin American and Caribbean regions to work on sugar plantations. Also, selfishly, being Chinese, I wanted to learn more about my people’s history.

When I began my research, I was shocked to find out that barely any historians, sociologists, and other scholars in academia wrote about the Chinese migration to Colombia considering the history of overseas Chinese migration to the hemispheric Americas. I managed to find two or three scholarly articles that were written in the early 2010s that briefly explored the Chinese diasporic migration to Colombia. Unlike my classmates on this trip, my interviews and background information were not the easiest to find. I had to get creative about my approaches to how I wanted to research my topic in a short amount of time.

Luckily, a breakthrough came when I was doing deep Google searches of anything related to Asia or China in Bogotá and Medellín. At the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a new research initiative made of undergraduate students, master students, and professors in political science, international relations, history, anthropology, and other related fields, known as the Red Asia-Latin America was beginning to bridge the scholarship gap between Asia-Latin American networks. In recent years, mainstream media began covering the growing investments from Asia, specifically China, in Latin America. They covered these political and economic relationships, but never the sociocultural and historical approaches to Asia-Latin America. When I found out this group existed, I was beyond surprised and over the moon. I immediately cold-emailed them, waiting for someone/anyone to respond to me. Hoping I could finally have someone to talk to in Colombia about the Chinese community. To my surprise and luck, hours later, I received an email reply from Ivonne Espitia Montenegro, an anthropologist at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and a current graduate student at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana studying cultural studies. It just so happened that Ivonne was interested in the same topic that I was regarding Chinese migration.

We immediately set up an interview in a cafe in Bogotá, and I was so ecstatic to meet her and relieved that there are other people in Colombia who were asking the same questions that I am. Over the course of the hour we talked, I found out so much about the Chinese community in Colombia that no Google search could ever tell me. It turns out that Ivonne was tracing the history of a family who is of Chinese-Colombian descent. I learned more about general Colombian history and how the country’s overall history affected Chinese migration. From my conversation with Ivonne, I learned about how much of the Chinese migration historically has been located near the coasts of Colombia. Chinese migration historically has been in towns such as Buenaventura, Cali, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Ivonne told me that the modern-day business ports that exist in these coastal Colombian cities were because of Chinese influence. Many of the Chinese who settled in the mid-19th century to early 20th century settled along these coastal cities to carry out business and were very involved in the trading business. Ivonne was saying that these business relations were important and the basis for the Chinese migration to Colombia. She was also showing me pictures of a Chinese community association that existed in Buenaventura specifically and how there was an abandoned Chinese cemetery that exists to this day. This signifies that there were attempts by the Chinese to create a community in these coastal cities and create a home for themselves overseas.

We connected over the struggles of finding any literature, information, and archival sources that existed regarding Chinese migration in Colombia, but we were excited that we found each other so that we could work together to uncover these forgotten stories. I am so glad that I was able to have an in-person conversation with Ivonne and approach the Chinese in Colombia from a more sociocultural perspective! This bottom-up history is important to trace and adds to a bigger picture of the greater Asian mobilities around the Latin American region. I took so much away from my conversation with Ivonne, and I definitely plan on staying in contact with her beyond my time in Colombia to continue diving into the wonders of Chinese migration in this country!

Colombia Connections

By: Liani Astacio

The morning was a day of a lot of prep. I continued to read articles and parts of books I brought on my topic to prepare myself to ask the right questions for my upcoming interview. My first interview of the trip was with someone from PBI international which provides accompaniment to human rights defenders in Colombia.

I met my contact through a Tufts alum and scheduled to meet him at their office. Once we got there, I was amazed by the structure of the office. It was a house with offices with in it. My contact later explained that since it’s an international organization, some of their volunteers will live upstairs in the house while they are in Colombia. The house/office served as an important base for their operations. We went to the courtyard for our interview. I learned about the concept pf international accompaniment, which is when international volunteers will serve as a deterrent against violence against human rights defenders because the amplified attention a violent attack would bring in a place with international witnesses who could bring the event to the attention of the international governments they are a citizen of.

My contact described to me the strict procedures and protocols the organization has in order to maintain trust amongst both the human rights defenders they work with but also with the military. They never denounce anything and are non participatory in order to maintain legitimacy amongst all potential parties. Some human rights defenders wish the organization would take more of a stance on things, but in order to maintain their relationships and not interfere they cannot do that.

I learned a lot about the organizations relationships with foreign governments which are one of the main sources of their funding, and how the Norwegian federal ministry had been one of their main Allies. This set the stage for understanding the organization of my next interview Witnesses for Peace, which has a similar but also fundamentally different model. At the end of the day, my contact gave me a book on the history of international accompaniment in Colombia through their organization.

Graffiti as Public Art in Bogota

By: Audrey Jaramillo

Today, during my visit to Bogota, I had the incredible opportunity to conduct an interview with Gabriel Ortiz van Meerbeke, the author of the article titled “Graffiti takes its own space: Negotiated Consent and the Positionings of street artists and graffiti writers in Bogotá, Colombia.” I was particularly thrilled about this interview since our research interests intersected, and I was eager to gain not only Gabriel’s insights but also learn about his personal journey throughout his research. As it turns out, Gabriel currently serves as a cultural manager for the city of Bogota, which provided a fascinating alternative perspective, more focused on the government’s involvement in commissioned art and the ongoing debate surrounding the legality and respect of graffiti. 

After the interview, I was joined by Angel, where we went to visit Camilo Lopez, director of Vertigo Graffiti. The company is known for its exceptional work in designing and producing captivating public art. Our meeting with Camilo took place in the Bronx, a low-income neighborhood within Bogota. Camilo unveiled a new project—a remake of their infamous mural depicting a moment between a homeless couple sharing a kiss. This project is connected to the transformation the city of Bogota has planned for the Bronx. 

From the Unknown to Home: A Journey of Research and Reflection in Bogotá

Members of LAC at the USAID offfice in Bogotá

By: Dzheveira Karimova

Embarking on a research trip to Colombia was a dream come true. In the midst of the chaos of finals and moving out of my sophomore dorm, during any free time I could get, I found myself fantasizing about my first visit to Latin America. We were supposed to leave to the Logan Airport at 2:30AM. At around 11PM, my friend Billy and I were running last-minute packing errands, while also mentally preparing for the trip. Our excitement mixed with anxieties, but after a thorough discussion, we decided to eliminate any expectations and just open our minds to whatever is to come.

After a quite long journey and many unsuccessful attempts to catch up on sleep on the airplane post-finals season, we finally set foot in Bogotá. Throughout our stay in Bogotá, I just could not believe that I was in Colombia—this South American treasure with its diverse ecosystems, intriguing history, and warm-hearted people. I am the first one in my family to receive the opportunity to explore this unique country with such a rich history. As I reflect on our stay in Bogotá, I realize that a part of my disbelief was caused by the overwhelming feeling of familiarity with my home country of Kyrgyzstan. Despite being located more than 8,500 miles away from my hometown of Bishkek, Bogotá’s vibrant culture, infrastructure, and kind locals felt like I had lived there my entire life.

This observation only enhanced my passion for my research topic, as the issues related to labor migration are very prevalent both in Colombia and in Kyrgyzstan. Nonetheless, I found that the discussion of the effects of labor migration on the children of labor migrants is much more common in Kyrgyzstan than in Colombia. Sometimes, I found myself desperate for information on any efforts to promote this discussion and create programs for Colombian children whose parents are labor migrants in other parts of the country or the world. However, this continued pushed me forward because I realized how understudied yet critical this topic is. Luckily, our visit to USAID’s office in Bogotá and our meeting with the Elizabeth and Alejandro–the manager of the inclusion program and the manager of the youth program—were both extremely informative in my understanding of the international organizations’ efforts in promoting youth advancement initiatives in Colombia. Elizabeth and Alejandro gave us fascinating presentations on the youth and indigenous communities advancement programs that change the lives of thousands of Colombians across the nation. I had not heard of these programs being realized in Kyrgyzstan. That day, I discovered another potential for my research–to facilitate an exchange of multi-national mechanisms to protect the children of labor migrants in different parts of the world, which could be influential for global organization to recognize the issues related to the effects of labor migration on the children of labor migrants and identity strategies to mitigate them.

Our stay in Bogotá taught me to embrace the unknown, while traveling and conducting my research, as well as to look for the familiar and the new no matter where I end up.