Session 2. SYLFF 20th anniversary: On fulfilling the SYLFF vision and mission
January 16 (Tuesday) 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
2-1 Introductions and opening comments by the convenor, Dr. Yozo Yokota
The convenor opened the session with a review of the vision and mission of the SYLFF Program, and briefly reviewed the history and current status of the program. He emphasized that SYLFF fellows are selected not only for their academic excellence but also for their leadership potential in their professional and personal lives. There are many talented students throughout the world but only a few have a sense of vision and mission, that is, to contribute to the betterment of humankind, not for personal success, he commented. In addition, Dr. Yokota noted that humankind has marched a long way to reach the height of technological achievement and artistic values but we are also aware that the majority of the 7 billion people inhabiting our earth do not live a good life, but live in extreme poverty, suffering from curable diseases, natural disasters and other degradation.
He then asked the audience, "Why do so many people suffer from fear and want, when we have such resources and means?" and further commented, "We have the means, but lack will and leadership to better this." The SYLFF vision and mission, he reminded everyone, are to fill the great gap which makes so many people on earth today miserable and sad.
2-2 Presentations by 2004 SYLFF Prize recipients
Dr. Yokota introduced Dr. Egla Martinez-Salazar and Mr. Goran Svilanovic, and noted that the third prize recipient had to cancel her trip to Copenhagen due to unforeseen circumstances.
Dr. Egla Martinez-Salazar: (refer to Appendix 2) (from text)
Good afternoon, everyone. Distinguished members of the Tokyo and the Nippon Foundations, especially those in the Tokyo Foundation who have been extremely kind to me. I would like to thank all of you for this invitation and for opening up this space for me to be able to share some thoughts with you. My thanks and greetings extend to the people of the University of Copenhagen for organizing this event, and to all of us here for I want to believe that by being here we are perhaps showing some of the best principles, roots and history of academia, that is, its commitment to produce and reproduce meaningful knowledge with the purpose of contributing to equity-based social transformation. I think of public and engaged knowledge as the praxis (theory-practice) that treats life as a set of integrated human, social, ecological and political processes, which in their most profound expression seek to enhance the diverse human and ecological condition.
Today I want to honor the memory of my sister Milda Dinorah Martinez who died a year and a half ago in Toronto, Canada. She was tortured in Guatemala in 19861, and could not survive the pain and the unnecessary violence inflicted to many women, men and children, especially the violence of state terror, which in many instances has been promoted and supported by international powers in the name of democracy, human rights and progress. It is important for me to introduce the case of my sister as an entry point to invite you to think about the need to start off serious research and knowledge production from the lives of those marginalized and dehumanized to be able to produce a more meaningful knowledge. The sudden death of my sister Milda Dinorah, kidnapped, tortured and raped in 1986, sadly represents only a grain of sand in the immense sea of economic, racial, gender, and other injustices. She was left wounded forever as she told me many times "when the killers, the military raped me, when they tortured and accused me of being a communist lover, a terrorist, they killed me inside and this is what they wanted. They kill us inside and then they leave some of us physically alive but socially death". Milda Dinorah as many other Maya and Mestiza women, was violently kidnapped, raped and torture at times while many in the international community were celebrating the advent of 'democracy' in Guatemala. However, the atrocities perpetrated on the oppressed and marginalized very often do not appear at the centre of the scientific endeavor, and when they do they remain faceless and/or reduced to cold statistics under the entrenched belief that the only valid knowledge is the one that can be measured and quantified. This prevalent idea is based on another deep-rooted belief that reason is separated from the "chaos" and "irrationality" of the body and spirit. Nowadays and in many academic instances some schools of thought are trying to teach people that in order to be a good researcher and a good scientist we have to detach ourselves from our hearts and our spirits. What a wrong lesson to teach since the best change so far achieved, and the most prolific and creative humans throughout history have been those who intertwine history, concrete life, spirit, and imagination. Meltiox chewá wch'alal, xnesiq'iij' ewq'in, xtewq'axaj q'a, q'e, oxi nutziij, which In Maya-Tz'utujil means thanks for inviting me and for listening to my words.
1 European Spaniards colonized Guatemala in the 16th century and this colonization set the stage for the developing and consolidation of class, racial and gender hierarchies amongst others. From 1954 to 1996, diverse Guatemalans but especially so Indigenous Maya Peoples and progressive Mestizos and Ladinos were subjected to state terror, including genocide. More than 200,000 people were killed, 83% of which were Maya women, men and children. In 1996 formal peace was signed but the structural conditions that gave origin to social upheaval and to social movements demanding undivided human and citizenship rights have not been remotely addressed.
When I received the SYLFF Prize in Tokyo in 2004, I said that this prize was very significant to me at different levels but most importantly because it recognized the relevance of, and the need to encourage and validate publicly engaged research and scholarship. Paraphrasing sociologist Michael Burawoy (2006), I would say that at the heart of public research and scholarship lies a concern for the well being and survival of societies, especially the most forgotten and marginalized in a transnational yet more unequal world. This concern must have as a goal the protection of those social relations through which we recognize each other as humans, instead of continuing the practice of putting more value on some humanities invented as superior while excluding others deemed unworthy. It is in this sense that I find relevant the vision of the Nippon and Tokyo Foundations to invest in social sciences and in the humanities, at times where in many parts of the world − and this is certainly a trend in some North American universities − , much of the investment goes to only computing, business and accounting programs. Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that those fields are not important. What I am trying to say here is that social science and humanities' research should be more important than ever because alongside technical knowledge we have a responsibility to educate new generations with a strong ethics and social responsibility, and with a strong love for life and a commitment to social justice, which includes a survival of all species, not just humans.
Mr. Sasakawa in the document celebrating the 20th anniversary of the SYLFF Program, implicitly recognizes the importance of public and engaged scholarship, when he says that good academics, good researchers are those who ask questions that are not apparent to others, things that are hidden from the surface, and I would like to add that for me committed responsible academics very often have to ask questions that many in the world do not want to hear.
This afternoon I will ask some of these questions that come from my concrete research in Guatemala with and about Indigenous peoples, women and those forced to live in poverty.
Recently, I was sharing with some of my colleagues that there is something deeply wrong and threatening if we continue to accumulate hundreds of computers, chemicals, and other items we ordinarily identify only as expressions of development and progress. And that there is also something wrong if we continue to allow the most powerful their very destructive path to our planet and to all its eco-systems. Most privileged citizens must recognize their own implications in this destruction through the maintenance of high consumerism and of social inequality; the latter is perhaps the most dangerous threat to human and ecological sustainability. I have asked my colleagues and now I would like to ask all of you, would accumulated dollars in fewer hands protect us from an ecological collapse? Can we plant bills and expect food in return? No, we cannot because that is simply impossible. To my students I repeat that we can erase inconvenient truths from our heads but that does not mean we are erasing them from concrete reality. Yet, many believe that discourse replaces crude socio-ecological and human devastation.
I would like to extend an invitation to all of you and others about the need to ground and reframe what do we mean by ethics, human rights, justice and equality in an increasingly unjust world. As Professor Yokota − a member of this panel and distinguished scholar said, at this precise time of our gathering there are millions who do not have a decent meal a day. Certainly I did not have three decent and nutritional meals a day when I was growing up, and for 12 years I could only have sometimes, a piece of meat in a month or two if we were lucky despite the continuous low and unpaid job done by our mother and father, who everyday debunked the myth that impoverished people are inherently lazy and that they lack the will to succeed. My parents dreamt about a just Guatemala, a just world all the time and because of their dreams they sacrificed everything they had to provide us with some formal schooling.
I believe that we need to seriously rethink and reframe the epistemological and methodological tools through which we produced knowledge to at least partially disrupt what I call "rational madness," one of which expressions is the invention and use of 'smart bombs,' for I ask myself why is it that at times when we have the best written documents on human rights are many people being discarded and their cultures vilified in the name of an invented superior civilization?
Why is it that the hierarchy of humanities introduced in many places through slavery and colonial capitalism and reinforced by modernity, continue to be reproduced nowadays with sophisticated rhetoric and technology but with the same destructive results as 500 years ago? Perhaps if we examine the histories, lives and visions of those most marginalized such as diverse Maya women of Guatemala we might find some answers. Many of these women generously accepted to participate in my research project supported by SYLFF, who are in the picture below are also survivors of state terror. I call it "state terror" because we cannot deny history by masking oppressions and inequalities under other names, something that is being done by a number of experts, nowadays. Some of these experts forget that in many contexts there have been states, which in collision with other dominant powers, have planned, and executed and implemented different modalities of state terror, including genocide. Many sites in Latin American attest to these issues. In consequence, we should name things as they are even though I recognize this is not easy.
Guatemalan Maya-Tz'utujil women from Santiago Atitlán, 2002. Photo by Egla Martínez.
I included Maya women survivors of state terror − many of which did not have the opportunity to get formal schooling − in my research because mainstream natural and social sciences, present and represent the impoverished and the Indigenous Peoples only as informants of research, therefore, as objects of research. But the fact that most impoverished peoples did not have the opportunity to get formal schooling does not make them inherently unable to produce knowledge, if we expand our horizons and include knowledge that has been excluded in the name of civilization. And to some extent objectifying subaltern people through research production and reproduction is an expression of the existence and persistence of hierarchies of humanities and lives that justify the protection of some lives deemed as worthy of living and the disposability of others a priori invented as worthless.
The making of gendered, racial and classed hierarchies of humanity, I argue, is the creation of many colonialist projects for which being human meant par excellence, a racially and classed privileged western and heterosexual male. These legacies are still with us in Latin America and in other contexts.
In colonial Guatemala and Latin America, for example, this hierarchy of humanities situated at its very top Spaniard conquerors and their heirs, and at its very bottom, Indigenous men and Indigenous women (see table below). The colonizers' reasoning was that both Europeans and Indigenous Peoples constituted pure races but that Europeans were an uncontaminated and civilized race whereas Indigenous Peoples were inherently polluted, therefore, primitive.
Legal Colonial Hierarchy in Guatemala and Latin America
|Spaniards born in Spain
|Top 'Pure' race
|Criollos (offspring of colonizers or Spaniards born in the Americas)
|Descendants of pure race but less pure because they were born outside Europe
|Mestizos*, from the union of 'indian' woman with a Spaniard man
|Mestizos, from the union of black woman with a Spaniard man
|Mestizos, from the union of an 'indian' woman with a black man
|'Indian' men and women
|'Pure' yet primitive race
Elaborated by the author based on Martínez Peláez' research included in his book La Patria del Criollo (The Fatherland of the Criollo), 1982.
*It is interesting to note that up until the 17th century all mixed people called themselves Mestizos and were known as such and not as Ladinos, which they became when the state declared them representatives of the 'nation.'