Photo translation: Thinking differently should not cost us our lives nor our freedom. This photo was taken in December 2017 at the Universidad Nacional in Bogota, Colombia.
At the time of my birth, my parents and two older brothers had already experienced five years in exile; they had sought asylum fleeing political persecution at the hands of the Colombian state. They had survived callous acts that many before them had succumbed to. During my childhood, I was blissfully unaware of these wounds, the indescribable pain, trauma and loss that they carried inside them. Albeit, for my parents, it seemed as though it was plastered across their foreheads.
Decades later, I was able to develop a clearer picture of what these early years in London were like for my family and the consequences it has had on each of us. Through the Truth, Memory and Reconciliation Commission of Colombian Women in the Diaspora (TMRC), I have experienced a place of solidarity with female survivors from the civil conflict, we have shared feelings of liminality that being between two places gives rise to and organically formed a space of belonging and mutual understanding that encompasses all these different experiences and emotions.
My father was born into a rural peasant family in grave poverty. His outstanding academic ability allowed him to become the first of his ten siblings to study at university. He went on to become a chemical engineer fully committed to combatting social injustice and inequality. Through his activism, he worked as a community leader in a slum neighbourhood in Bogota where he was responsible for organising literacy programmes and helping to build sewage systems; he was dedicated to providing these vulnerable people with the basic human rights they deserved, ones that the state failed to deliver.
After leaving a meeting in central Bogota, my father was kidnapped and thrown into a van adapted for torture. They took him to a military battalion where he was starved, humiliated and incessantly tortured across two days. Whilst bleeding profusely from a gash to his head, he was put into a sack and taken to a park on the outskirts of the capital, he was commanded to kneel and say his last prayer, when he was shot twice in his head at point blank range. Four hours later, he regained consciousness and was able to get the attention of some park wardens patrolling nearby, who helped him get to hospital. Meanwhile my mother was frantic, with no idea where her partner was and whether she would next see him alive or dead. She was finishing her degree in Philosophy and taking care of my two brothers, who were six and four at the time. After being attended to in hospital, my father who was in a delicate state of health, proceeded to go into hiding for a year, during which my mother and siblings were subjected to constant persecution and deprived of contact with my father, making their future in Colombia bleaker as each day went by.
Eventually, my family was able to leave Colombia with the help of Amnesty International, however their life here has not been easy. Although they had been given another chance at life free from state persecution, they had lost everything. Not just their material belongings but also their ability to communicate and be understood, their family affection, the friendship network that had protect them, their promising careers and their ability to help those in need.
Being the wife of someone who had gone through such indescribably brutal acts, my mother’s suffering naturally became secondary. She had no other option than to adapt to life here in London, by learning English and working whilst also looking after her family. My mother is the glue that has kept our family together. With the help of the TMRC, she has been given that recognition that she deserves. By sharing her testimony and listening to that of others, she has been able to heal wounds and recover some the self-esteem that was lost throughout three decades in exile.
Growing up in London, it was rare that I came across people who had experienced similar pain such as that inflicted onto my family. As a teenager, I felt different. I knew wasn’t just the daughter of Colombian immigrants, I knew that I came from a family of survivors but failed to meet anyone that truly understood. As the youngest member of the TMRC, I have had the privilege to become part of a group of women that understand; I have learnt a myriad of lessons from the life stories of such inspiring women and had the chance to share my experience of inheriting exile.