Comments, In Focus, Migrants, Multiculture

Claudio Chipana, from LARC: “We are Latin American, because of our history, our culture and our identity”

He has lived in London for two decades, because the first time that he came to the British Isles to attend a conference, the city and the country captivated him so much that once he had returned to his own country he began to think about the possibility of making  England his second home. There, he had studied Philosophy at San Marcos University, Lima ( Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos); and in the UK he successfully completed his Masters at London Metropolitan University.


Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín


However, this decision to deepen his studies and expand his knowledge, did not alter in the slightest his love and consciousness for his origins, and since then, – whenever it has been possible for him to do so and in different contexts – he has maintained links with Peru, his country of origin, and the whole of Latin America, the continent to which he feels deeply tied and whose history and processes of change he knows well.

For this reason, whilst academic (Spanish classes amongst others), cultural and political responsibilities take up a large part of his life, he also makes time to unite with his community.

He has taken part in various Peruvian community groups, he is a member of ‘Quinto Suyo’ (a member group of the Coordinadora Latinoamericana) founder of  ‘Perú Apurimac Project’, and similarly ‘Café Filosófico – Encuentros en Londres’, ( Philosophical Café – Encounters in London) –and the recent creator – along with other Latin Americans of the “ Instituto del Pensamiento Latinoamericano”, IPLA (Institute of Latin American Thought).

In other words, a man now in his mature years, has dedicated himself to do what is important to him, to defend what he believes in and to love and understand his continent. In this way, being a member of the “Latin Americans’ Recognition Campaign UK, LARC, and its current  coordinator, is something that he carries out with passion and knowledge. It is a subject that he understands inside out, and to which he can dedicate hours of study detailing what is Latin America, her reasons, her struggles and her different realities. Defending the raison d’être of the campaign is not something he takes lightly, he carries it in his blood. One notices this when he raises the issue. He does so in a measured, clear and simple way, hoping rather that the listener understands his arguments and convinces himself that Latin American identity is of vital importance, instead of being forced to accept the argument as a given fact.

Claudio Chipana Gutiérrez does not hold back on words nor details to explain what the campaign is looking for and what its demands are. Neither does he hold back on praising the effort and associative, gracious and supportive nature of the work carried out by each and every one of the members of this campaign of the Coordinadora Latinoamericana.

When was the campaign launched?

On the 17th of April 2010,  in response to a Conference called by the Coordinadora Latinoamericana (Latin American Coordinating Committee) regarding the issue of Latin American identity. The following day, 18th April, the campaign was formally set up. The first steps were taken to allow the campaign to begin to function, the structure of the campaign was discussed and commissions, coordinators and tasks were established.

Why is there a need for this forum?

The idea of organising an event to recognise the identity of the Latin American community came from various initiatives, amongst them the pronouncement made by Quinto Suyo (a member group of the Coordinadora) regarding Latin American identity in response to the desire of certain individuals to label us “iberoamericanos” (Ibero-Americans). The proposal was welcomed by the Coordinadora.

Was the campaign born in reaction to the Ibero – American Campaign propelled by the Alianza Iberoamericana (Ibero – American Alliance)?

Yes. But in all the documents, letters and communiqués that have been drafted, the LARC campaign has never mentioned a specific individual. It is a question of principles, that is to say, to underline that we are Latin Americans.

The campaign is based on the fact that the recognition of Latin American identity has been forgotten for many years now, above all by the British system.

Before the campaign began, none of us had taken into account the need to address the issue of the Census for example, or our community’s recognition by the Councils. We had addressed issues such as regularization and education, amongst others connected with our identity. But the focus had never been placed on recognition before. We had discounted it.

Do you (LARC) take a defensive position against Ibero-American identity in your campaign?

The controversy or debate around our identity has arisen due to the position the Alianza Iberoamericana employs.

What is this position?

That of identifying the Latin American community as an Ibero-American community, which we feel subordinates Latin American identity to that of the Ibero-American. Furthermore, under the category Ibero-American the name Latin America virtually disappears.

Are we Latin Americans a different group from the Spanish?

Not only in relation to a specific nationality, but also the fact that Latin America and Europe are two different realities and as such imply two different ethnicities, despite having cultural elements in common, such as language. For our campaign the premise of the Ibero-American position is based around a linguistic community, which in itself is limiting, because ethnicity is being confused with linguistic community. What we want is to see ourselves recognised as an ethnic minority not a linguistic community. For this reason the term “Hispanics” used in the USA is also incorrect.

In other words it would have no sense either…

Exactly. Because when we talk about ‘Spanish and Portuguese speaking’ and we include ethnicities as dissimilar as African, European and Latin American, we don’t get anywhere in terms of recognising ethnic minorities in the UK, such as in the case of the Latin American community when compared to other ethnic minorities such as Hindu, Chinese etc.

The Ibero-American campaign also takes into account racial mix…

The concept of an Ibero America is mistaken for us as a means to qualify our identity, as it reduces our identity to one of ex – colonies of Portugal and Spain. It is a concept which impedes Latin America advancing towards its own definition. However, the concept of Ibero America has some cultural concepts inherited from the colonial period, born from the relationship between these countries (Spain and Portugal) with Latin America. I stress that, at the same time, it is a question of differing cultural, historical, geopolitical and even linguistic  realities. I am referring to the Indoamerican languages. Latin America is a diverse, racially mixed, multicultural, multinational, open continent incorporating Africans, Indigenous peoples, Europeans, Creoles etc.

Does LARC share any common ground with the Ibero-American Campaign?

I wish it were the case but unfortunately it is not. Our respective positions are completely different. Our position supports the movements for change and transformation that spring up in Latin America, the political and social progress that is taking place the length and breadth of Latin America: new governments, progressive stances, positions calling for real Liberation, the defence of our natural resources, stances taken against interventionism, the struggle against poverty amongst others.

The Ibero-American position on the other hand, is one which does not emphasize this process. The Ibero-American campaign practically ignores it and places emphasis on an identity based upon a historical situation which has already been overcome; the colonial relationship between Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. It is a Eurocentric position.

Do we have to continue with the past being our present?

One way of overcoming this colonial past and our present dependence is to affirm our Latin-American identity. Under the Ibero-American banner, we continue to be on the periphery.

Power is once again recentralised within the Iberian Peninsula and facts show that Latin America is gaining more and more of a foothold in the world today.  Latin America is interested in a multi polar world, opposed to an all powerful hegemony. We can even talk about a new Latin Americanism by virtue of these social and political changes, whose central actors are the people themselves who are propelling these changes. There is a growing Latin American leading role on the International stage, evidenced in the case of Brazil and other countries in the region.

What defines a person as being Latin American?

As the campaign has already defined, we are Latin American, because of our history, our culture and our identity. That is to say we share our anxieties for liberty and for independence and the fact we have left behind Iberian colonial domination and we continue to be sovereign nations versus all powers. Latin America is the name given to our state of independence whilst Ibero-America still ties us to a European central power.

What defines a person as being Ibero-American?

You will have to ask the Ibero-Americans that. I imagine that an Ibero-American feels that (s)he is one because (s)he wants to emphasize his or her Iberian roots. I clarify that an identity is not assigned on language alone. For example, a Canadian, an Englishman or woman, a national of the United States would not say that they share the same identity, despite speaking the same language. Furthermore, Spanish is a global language, just like English and the error in the Ibero-American campaign is to centre the argument on a linguistic point.

But they also base their argument around mixed race…

Mixed race is precisely one of the characteristics of being Latin American, as Carlos Fuentes and other writers have pointed out. We are a mix of races and this mix is our strength. We have many cultural influences, not only hailing from the (Iberian) Peninsula and Europe, but also Asian, African and Arab influences. Latin immigrants speak many languages, not just two. This underlines another error in the Alliance’s argument: it is based only around Spanish and Portuguese.

For example….

A Latin emigrant speaks the language that (s)he adopts in the host country and this in turn generates new linguistic forms, such as Spanglish. In other words, Latinos speak all the languages spoken in the country they find themselves living in.

However, and this is the most important point, (s)he never loses his or her Latin identity. Further evidence: even on the Iberian Peninsula, Latin Americans continue to hold the same identity and ethnicity, despite speaking Spanish and holding Spanish passports.  Otherwise how do we explain the racism towards Latin Americans, when they call us ‘sudacas’ (pejorative term used to refer to Latin Americans, making reference to their South American geographical origins).

How will a UK immigrant benefit from being recognised as Latin American?

To be recognised as an ethnic minority means being respected, being taking into account as a community which contributes to British society and is therefore able to be considered for social security and education programmes, working rights, to be treat with dignity as immigrants, and above all to be visible and not criminalised  for the simple fact that we may lack the correct immigration documents.

¿Can these rights not perhaps, be addressed and defended via human rights and immigrant lobbies, independent of ethnic grouping?

Latin American immigrants specifically turn to their community based organisations to obtain this help. We have organisations which have worked for years in the UK giving legal and workers’ rights advice, groups which support women’s rights and others which support senior citizens. However, we need to advance more in order to consolidate the rights of our community and to ensure that the Councils where we live take us into account in their social security, health and education programmes…

And is that not already happening today?

Yes, but not throughout the whole community. Many people do not know where to go if they have a problem and they look for help amongst other communities. For example, we need more support for Latin Americans who are detained by Immigration.

How could this ethnic recognition benefit an illegal immigrant?

(S)he could have better defence options and access to specific assistance as well as a more effective help. Then we would have better options to act in favour of the affected. Recognition as a Latin American – and not as an Ibero-American or European – would imply that I had someone of legal standing to defend me at all stages to do with a specific legal problem. For example, if there is Council Housing where I live, the Council would have to make room for me or an assessment that recognised my rights as an individual and as part of an ethnic minority.

As an Ibero-American, can’t I obtain similar help from my Council?

No, because they would tell me as an Ibero-American I already have the right to live in this country without any problem, to obtain social security benefits, to travel freely without restrictions and as an Ibero-American I would not be included in an ethnic minority category as in this country there are specific laws such as the Race Relations Act and dedicated offices which monitor the issue of race relations in the UK. If I say that I am of European or Iberian identity, I will have less advantages, I cannot call upon these laws designed to protect ethnic minority citizens.

Six months on, what has the LARC campaign achieved?

It has made positive steps towards the recognition of our community. For example, through the distributing of flyers we have come closer to the community base, and in particular, through our meeting with the Mayorship of London, who listened to us and noted our campaign, indicating they wished to continue talking to us. In our meeting with Southwark Council, they proved to be enthusiastic about the campaign objectives.

In fact, Southwark Council has already included the category of Latin Americans in its community programmes. As a result of this meeting, proposals for mutual work have been put forward: the Census, the topic of immigration and other aspects concerning our community.

When you talk about having come closer to the community bases, which ones are you talking about?

The Latin American ones. For example, we have established contacts with people from the Evangelical Church in Elephant and Castle, and we have carried out social activities, such as the Identity Party, the Latin American Picnic, the Identity Forum and we had a significant participatory presence in Carnaval del Pueblo (London’s Latin American Carnival).

What are you currently working on?

As far as the Census is concerned, a campaign so that all Latin Americans register their identity as such, writing “Latin American” in the Census brackets, as a way of advancing towards official recognition. Secondly, as a result of our contact with Southwark Council, we are about to register within a programme run by Southwark Council for immigrants, the Southwark Refugee Community Forum.

What does it consist of?

It is assistance for immigrants with different training needs such as ICT for example. The office is located in Camberwell. They have offered us office space and use of their resources, something which will greatly help our work in making contact with the community. Once the campaign is a member of this programme we will be able to give more accurate information and of course there will not be any restriction on anybody in the community having access to it.

What other progress do you foresee for the campaign?

It is improving in its ability to reach the whole community because we still have a long way to go in this respect and we have our limitations. But in the first phase of the campaign we have achieved unity.

We are also making contact with the Brazilian community, because we want the campaign to create links with this community and we have seen many examples of support from them, because of course, Brazilians consider themselves, without a doubt, as Latin Americans.

You talk about a first phase. What is the second?

What we have begun with Southwark Council. In other words, hoping for concrete results from those charged with decision making in the Boroughs where there is a significant Latin American population. We also consider the meeting on the 8th September with Lambeth Council to be important. In addition we are fine-tuning and improving our own organisation.

Is LARC considering debating its differences with the Ibero-American Campaign?

We are upfront about a debate and always have been. We would like to be given the opportunity to clarify different points of view. A public debate would be the best way to approach this.

Who can participate in the campaign?

Every Latin American without any restriction whatsoever, including people of any nationality, as we already have people of different countries than our own supporting the campaign. Neither do we put as a condition that they must speak one language in particular. It is not necessary to be part of a specific group, it is enough to express a desire to freely participate. Joining us is voluntary and free.

Does the campaign have a political orientation?

We are driven by a higher politics, that is to say, a greater objective, which is to consider Latin America as a continent of self worth, as a reality of which we are part and which unites us. This is our greatest point of reference, despite the enormous diversity within her borders. That politics is called Latin American identity.

Could this driving spirit strengthen the current spirit of unity in Latin America?

Of course, but the campaign is not the only group which aims in this direction, as we are one of many Latin American organisations working in this respect.

(Translated by Maria-Anne Moore. Contact: Tel 07714 220 159) – Photos supplied by the LARC campaign.

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