New Diasporas Senegal: Daniel Lima and Raquel Borges
The coordinator and the production director of the Episode New Diasporas talk about the phase of the project happening in Senegal, situating this new season in the context of the previous episode, produced in Haiti.How did you come to choose Senegal?
Raquel Borges (production direction): One of the reasons is that Senegalese represent the second largest group requesting refugee status in Brazil. And they are living in temporary situations because they are not achieving this refugee status. Our choice is also related to our desire to do research on Francophone Africa and what this represents for Neo-imperialism, what French occupation represented in Africa, Senegal having been France’s point of entry into Africa. And what this represents for new migration patterns today. And how this plays out among the countries of the Global South.
We are also retracing a relationship that exists between Senegal and America, which is linked to the colonial period. The blacks who were enslaved were brought to Senegal, to Gorée Island, and they left from there. All of us left through that door, as well, on some level. So, what we were seeking was to have a relationship with the past, with the process of America’s settlement. We chose Senegal to represent the research, to represent Neo-imperialism, given the importance the country has currently and that which it had in the past.
Daniel Lima (coordination): The question also has to do with our travel conditions. It seemed more possible that in Senegal we would be able to develop our work within the timeframe and structure we had. Since Francophone Africa (Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali) has a very large presence here in Brazil, through the example of Senegal we can connect, in the same episode, these other participations – not only exclusively Senegal’s, but also others’ who communicate well with one another through a common language.
Our challenge working on immigration, and I have constantly stressed this since the beginning of the project, is to try to create lines of questioning that rather than remaining confined within the perspective of the discussion on immigration, try to create these cartographies. In other words, how Haitian immigration, for example, is related to Haiti’s history in the context of all of America? How it is related to the military presence and the processes of military development and technologies of control in America? How to broaden perspectives, spanning the issue of immigration (without focusing on the technical and specific discussion of immigration, especially because many NGOs and researchers already do this very well)?
We try to avoid a very technical discussion about legislation and rights, because this is not our perspective. Our perspective is to bring the subject to a cultural, artistic and geopolitical discussion. When Senegal comes in as a point of inquiry, Senegalese immigration comes along with research not only on French Neo-imperialism, but also on Neo-imperialism in general in Africa. How does this happen? What mechanisms make this noticeable in everyday life? What forms does Neo-imperialism take on in people’s daily life in a city, in a cultural relationship, in interpersonal relationships? So it is a macro-political approach, albeit one that has this micro-political side, which is how people perceive this, how this affects each individual. Our research perspective is to understand this issue of migration, always from an intertwined perspective.
On the question of process: how do you imagine participation? It’s activism, right? What is the participation like in the workshops?
Daniel Lima: I don’t use the term “activism,” because it seems to consider negatively the idea of coordination that we do as a campaign. What motivates my coordination – I am not Senegalese but I am black and a product of the black diaspora in the world – is discussing immigration as it is intertwined with the question of Neo-imperialism, intertwined with the question of Haiti. It’s talking about these technologies of control, about how they are disseminated across the world. This is a discussion that interests me and I believe it interests a set of people who are investigating and experiencing this. I am not refusing my role in “activism” in the sense that, yes, I am one of the driving forces for this research to take place. What we are trying to apply in this case is a pedagogical process of horizontal knowledge production. I mean, what social technology could be invented in order to produce knowledge collectively and horizontally or, in other words, not hierarchically. In this respect, our project is a laboratory that is continuously in search of these paths.
In terms of travel route, what are you prioritizing in Senegal?
Raquel Borges: We mapped out a few cities, but we had to stay around Dakar and nearby. This decision has to do with our timeframe: we’re going to have little time, the trip lasts about ten days, so we can’t go too far. We’re seeing some nearby cities: maybe Rufisque, St. Louis, Thiès, which is a field of baobabs.
Daniel Lima: The biggest baobab in Africa… considered the biggest baobab in Africa. This is all very symbolic and we have to use it. What do they have there that is triggering action or a question, a way of relating to people based on this symbol? We are going to work with these symbols: one time with the image of the baobab in the background, another with Gorée Island…
We are trying to work over triangulations, like that which exists between Africa, Brazil and other countries in South America. In this context, Haiti’s situation, in the previous episode, was different because it is a country in the Caribbean. In the case of Senegal, is there this triangulation involving Africa, Europe and Brazil?
Daniel Lima: Yes, I think there is a suggestion of triangulation in this work on Senegal, given it was trained by Europe (represented by France) and there is, moreover, the Senegal-Brazil relationship. This history is interconnected, whether in contemporary processes or in history. In the case of Haiti, we had a relationship that was more Brazil-Haiti-United States. What is interesting regarding the New Diasporas, when you think of a third episode, is the triangulation between those places (Port-au-Prince, Dakar, Haiti, Senegal) and a third point, which could be Colombia, speaking of the black population, or the Andean countries, Bolivia and Peru.
Throughout all of Andean America there is the expression “cabecitas negras,” which for these populations operates just as the word “black” does for us: excluded from the economic and political elite, from the social dynamic that tries to impose societal progress. Of course all of this, fortunately, is in a state of transformation in the Global South. This South as the countries that experienced the traumas of colonization: slavery, extermination and religious persecution. Even without including black populations per se, we can try to relate them and point out, in a cultural discourse, that there is a certain complicity between these peoples, in the sense that these peoples struggled and continue to struggle against the traumas of colonization. They are different perspectives following the same path of continuous struggle.
Lorena Vicini is publisher, cultural producer and coordinator of the project Episodes of the South.