1. Stories of integration: migrant women in Europe

María Ligia Uribe: land cultivation and political participation as experiences of integration


By Yoselina Guevara López

Ligia walks with a slender step, she knows every street in the area where she lives in Brussels. In a moment we leave behind the rumor of the cars and enter the quietness of the forest, the “Park Keyembempt, Commune D’uccle”, changes the atmosphere and does not seem to be so close to the city. The path crosses places that call to rest, to calm, to the harmony of man with nature.

“My friend, we are fighting for this forest, because they want to build some buildings with rooms and destroy this green lung. But we are not going to allow it. There are many empty buildings in the center of Brussels, office buildings, that architects can remodel and convert into housing. You can’t lose this habitat of birds, of squirrels, of flowers, you must come in spring to see how many flowers grow here. it’s beautiful!”

It is autumn and the low temperatures are beginning to be felt, people stroll, greet us, we respond and give a smile, something unites us, perhaps it is the love for this nature that kindly gives us its calm. A group of children with disabilities also take advantage of the sun’s rays to walk in the company of their teacher. Ligia tells me about her life in Colombia, her native country. A life full of experiences, some positive and others that marked her departure from the country.

“In my country of origin, I was a teacher for many years in the agricultural collectives (Mingas). At that time we organized ourselves into collectives, both the teachers and the families of the farmers to whom we gave classes. That is one of the things I miss from my country, the solidarity and the collective work. In this sense, I try to continue that experience of solidarity here in Belgium, with the people who arrive as migrants from Colombia, Latin America and even from other countries”. 

After crossing the forest, we finally arrived at their vegetable garden, a community farming experience, which stems from the initiative of “Bruxelles Environnement”. A piece of land of 6 by 30 meters, where Ligia and her two children grow many of the vegetables and greens they eat in their daily diet. There are more than 10 family gardens, in a model of urban agriculture that respects the environment with the non-use of fertilizers harmful to health, with the planting of flowers for the preservation of bees, birds and butterflies, with the cultivation of healthy food free of toxic substances. 

“I have learned to sow, to plant, then that is very important to me because that unites me to the earth, and it serves me to integrate with other people and my goal would be to bring many people to learn, just as I have learned and share bartering, living in community, it is a social fabric, I am very interested in creating social fabric, to overcome loneliness, to overcome pessimism, to show that we can empower ourselves.”

These collective planting initiatives encourage a sense of belonging and integration to the place where we live, because it is not only living, it is living and sharing in community while maintaining mutual respect at all times. These are experiences that nourish us, that contrast with the model of an atomized, individualized society that paradoxically enjoys great scientific-technological development but is losing the warmth of the feelings that distinguish us as human beings.

“I miss a lot the solidarity, the constant dialogue with people, I like to talk, I like to talk, here in Belgium the circles are much more closed, so that’s what I miss in my country. Solidarity and laughter, sometimes in the midst of so many problems, the poverty of the peasantry in Colombia there is always a smile, a joy, and I miss the laughter of the young people, of the students, the bucolic life, the tranquility, the beauty of the value they give to the land, and to things”.

The community garden is an important part of Ligia’s life, keeping her connected to her native country and helping her to integrate with the country where she now lives.  In addition, Ligia also talks about her daily and constant activism for women’s rights and just causes for humanity.

“I am united with the women’s struggle, with the workers’ struggle.  I feel integrated with the struggle, and with the awakening of consciousness where I currently live.  Here in Belgium I am integrated by the struggle, the struggle for migration, the struggle for the rights of migrants, the struggle for women’s rights as much as migrant women as European women, the struggle of workers, fair wages. All of that integrates me. The struggle integrates me. It is the real integration and I have been able to do it because here in Brussels they do not arrest us, they do not put us in jail because we are fighting. To be able to take to the streets what one sees that is not right, to defend and push for change in those policies that sometimes tend to be very discriminatory and affect the rights of the weakest. So I am united in the struggle”.

The difficulties she encountered when she arrived in her new country, and which she still faces as a migrant woman, have not prevented her from participating actively at the political level. On the contrary, the fact of meeting with other women, with other migrants, even of other nationalities, has allowed her to integrate in the country where she has lived for 35 years. Although we are from other nations, with other customs and languages, we share the same dreams and desires. That is why Ligia is one of the advocates of participating in the European Parliament elections in June 2024.

“Yes, of course I will vote, it is important, voting is a right that has been won, that has been fought for, that women have fought for. It is important to support women’s political participation, equity in the number of women in parliament, participation in social change, change in government policies. Not only the participation of those who are candidates, or are elected, but also to the committees, to the women’s organizations, but to call those committees of women’s organizations to be able to participate at the level of improvements at the political level. In the name and memory of Olimpa de Gouges (Marie Gouze), a woman who fought for women’s rights, then of course, and even because of all that fight Olimpa de Gouges was taken to the wall during the French Revolution. Of course I am going to vote, it is a right won by all women”.

Yoselina Guevara López: Venezuelan social communicator, political analyst, columnist in different international media, whose work has been translated into English, Italian, Greek and Swedish. Winner of the Simon Bolivar 2022 National Journalism Award (Venezuela), special mention Opinion; Anibal Nazoa 2021 National Journalism Award (Venezuela); I Comandante Feliciano 2022 Historical Memory Contest (El Salvador) Third place. X: @lopez_yoselina

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