These stories from three of our new grantees detail the positive impact that their organizations have on their members. They write in their own words about the importance of the work that they do. The Brazilian Immigrant Center is a grassroots organization whose mission focuses on the training, advocacy, and organizing of immigrant workers. Gedakina is a multi-generational endeavor to strengthen the cultural identity and knowledge of Native American youth and families of New England. The Genki Spark is both an arts and advocacy organization that aims to share the art of Japanese taiko drumming and to promote the voice and visibility of Asian women.
The Genki Spark
The Genki Spark strives to create a safe, open, and supportive environment for Asian women through taiko and sisterhood. For some of the women in the troupe, joining The Genki Spark has been a life changing experience. Kumiko and Mayuko are mother and daughter members. Neither one imagined that they would ever be part of a taiko group together and never thought they would ever have the ability to share their experiences with each other or other people.
When Kumiko left Japan with her children years ago to live in the United States, she did not leave under normal circumstances. She made a choice to remove herself and her children from an abusive environment. After years of hardship that damaged her self-confidence, she has finally emerged from the experience with the strength to tell her story. After keeping this experience to herself for so long, The Genki Spark and taiko have empowered Kumiko to speak out and advocate for herself and other women.
As a young woman, Mayuko has had her own battles with self confidence and acceptance. She never expected that joining a taiko group would have such a huge impact on her life. Being involved with The Genki Spark together has also strengthened the communication and relationship between mother and daughter. This is just the beginning of their new journey together. The positive change and self empowerment that Kumiko and Mayuko have experienced is just an example of the power of a supportive environment created by taiko and sisterhood.
Brazilian Immigrant Center
The Brazilian Immigrant Center (BIC) works to organize immigrant women domestic workers. For Brazilian women, as for many other immigrants from Latin America, no matter what their class origins, if they do not speak English, chances are their first job in the United States is domestic work such as cleaning or babysitting. Sofie is one such domestic worker involved in BIC. She is a housecleaner who has lived in Boston for almost ten years. Like many immigrants, she came in search of a better life for her family, who she initially left behind in Brazil.
Before her involvement with BIC, Sofie participated in community affairs but, in the background, in a very quiet way, through church and friendship networks. During the last few years with the Brazilian Immigrant Center, Sofie has shown greater strength, determination and commitment to progressive social change and has become very engaged. She has grown from being a shy individual to someone who is willing to speak up for herself and others. She has also taken on leadership roles in organizing and carrying out collective events in the community, and has brought many other people from her church and personal networks into the forefront of the movement.
Sofie has become a dedicated and caring organizer, always making sure that everything is done right, regardless of the amount of work that is involved. The impact of her commitment and skills, and the leadership she shows greatly inspires others. She also brought her sons and her partner into the movement, and with them she is an active participant in demonstrations and rallies for immigrant rights in the Boston area. Recently, she was an active participant in the summer training institute of the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development, as well as a delegate representing BIC at the national Jobs with Justice/Caring Across the Generations conference in Washington, DC. These are the first explicitly political events that she has ever attended but she aims to attend more.
As human beings, we are all related and carry important responsibilities to kin and the health of the whole community. Traditionally, women are instrumental in shaping our communities politically, socially and economically. Given our very nature as creators of life, our work and role in society during substantial portions of life had to be compatible with child rearing and that which is, in contemporary times, often reduced to “domestic” work. A progressively devalued contribution with the coming of our non-native relations, our women, through this work, were primarily responsible for the production, transformation and distribution of food sources and medicines that sustained the entire community. Our labor and economies were essentially based on a sisterhood that spanned generations.
Gedakina’s Native Women and Girls Wellness Circle of Greater Boston works to sustain the traditional relationships of women to each other and our communities. Through the exchange of artistic traditions and traditional knowledge, and in coming together for healing, ceremony and cultivation of food and medicine, our circle provides solidarity in a society that so often works to suppress and undermine our profound contributions to sustainability. We are engaging not only a network of women indigenous to the lands of Boston, but an intertribal community of Native women displaced from their ancestral lands. Activities such as the community garden initiative, engage our women and families in traditional principles of sustainable agriculture, promote healthy relationships and good nutrition, and highlight our historical contributions to community, providing our future women leaders with a knowledge historically set forth and honored by our grandmothers and all our relations. Keely is a young person involved with Gedakina, and she shares her story of why Gedakina is important:
“When my dad moved to New Mexico last fall, I lost my main connection to the native community. For me Gedakina has played a major role establishing connections to the native community of Greater Boston. Last spring Kristen (the staff person for Gedakina) asked me to be a consultant to start a gardening program. At 17 years old I felt incredibly honored that she would ask me, a youth, for support. Despite my young age, Kristen trusted my experience, making me feel like a valued contributor to the Gedakina Community. I have been farming with The Food Project since 2008, and until Kristen approached me, I hadn’t realized how valuable my knowledge of farming was to our people historically and culturally. My relationship with Kristen and Gedakina has been one of learning from both sides. Each time I go to an event or help with a different project, it is both a learning and teaching process. Both sides always have so much to gain from one another, and I wish that all of my relationships with adults could be this dynamic and valuable.”