It was raining, and we were at 35 degrees. I proposed to cross the city, from the south to the north of Cali, Colombia. The transportation system of this small Latin-American city is chaotic, crowded and with few frequencies. My fastest option was those vehicles that connect the city with rural villages, it is called inter-municipality transportation. I took it.
I sat down close to the driver and quickly realised that the demography of the people around me changed. Contrary to the people I was surrounded by a few minutes ago in the private university where I worked, the passengers, including myself, mainly were African descendants and indigenous. The bus was coming from the Northern Cauca department. In the trunk of the bus were carefully allocated plantain, potatoes, and other products harvested in the villages. The car smelled like wood and fruits. The aroma in the car reminds migrants, like me, of the feeling of being at home. The accents of everybody were different. All of us were speaking in ’a Spanish’ that would never be approved as formal. We were talking loudly and enjoying Cuban timba music. Sometimes we spoke, others times we sang, without a doubt both, speaking and singing, were part of the conversation.
After a couple of minutes, an older woman stopped the bus. With some difficulties, she got on the bus complaining of pain in her legs because of her age. She sat down just next to me.
– Good afternoon, mom.
– Good afternoon, daughter.
With a surprised face, she interrupted herself to say,
– I have seen you before. Where are you from?
Entirely sure that it was the first time I had seen her, I replied:
– I’m from Quinamayó, a small village close to Jamundí.
With a smile that shows that I said what she had expected. She added:
– Is Stelia your grandmother? Tellito?
What a surprise!
– Tello is the sister of my grandmother, my grandaunt.
– See, familia no pierde! [people look physically like their families through several generations]. Tell Stelia that I remember all the experiences that we shared!
– Sorry, may I ask you where did you meet each other?
– Of course, we were cacharreras.
– Please, ask her and she will explain it to you. You need to know that in your spirit you are chacharrera as well.
After the conversation described above, I started to investigate the meaning of being a ‘cacharrera’. I have systematised this personal journey by recording, coding and analysing in-depth conversations, from 2018 to 2021, with six participants between 80 and 90-years-old who recognise themselves, their mothers and their grandmothers as cacharreras.
For Spanish speakers in Latin America, ‘Cacharrera’s is not a common word. Instead, people would make fun of the word because of the three letters’ r’ in the last two syllables. For the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), cacharrera is a synonym of a smuggler. However, my personal experience highlights an alternative definition that seems to embody the story of the economic emancipation of rural Afro-Colombian women alongside the Cauca river in communities that are barely displayed on maps.
Despite the political and artistic efforts to cherish ‘cimarronaje’ as a pivotal legacy by Latin American black-women (Hernandez, 2021; Hernández Reyes, 2019), the cacharreras’ story has not seen much light in Afro-Colombian social movements or scholars. Therefore, this piece was created tied to the ‘Photographic essay: a glimpse to cacharreras, the mobilisation of intersectionality’. Both resources are meant to bring attention to this group of black women whose mobilisation reveal how the awareness of discriminations based on race, gender and class are utilised in favour of social and economic justice. This is in the context of the “crisis” of Intersectionality, as a practice and theory, whose popularisation has weaponised it against their own creators, racialized communities (Collins & Bilge, 2020).
The interviewees described themselves as farmers who refused to work as housekeepers. Instead of continuing with a servitude tradition born out of slavery, they grow fruits to commercialise them in the central city market. Their operation may be seen in two different parts. First, side by side with other family members, they labour in agriculture. Secondly, they, as a group, sell their products with locals and foreigners. Nowadays, current cacharreras participate in local cooperatives to negotiate with multinational corporations collectively.
Coming back to the story that brought us here, among many other experience-based epistemologies that desperately need to be analysed, cacharreras exercise an agency of mobilising an intersectional solidarity which is able to expose the structural inequalities within food production in Colombia and the racialisation and gendering of poverty among Afro-Colombian communities.
Collins, P. H., & Bilge, S. (2020). Intersectionality. John Wiley & Sons.
Hernandez, J. (2021). Fugitive State: Toward a Cimarrona Approach for Florida Cultural Studies. Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, 10(2), 41-49.
Hernández Reyes, C. E. (2019). Black women’s struggles against extractivism, land dispossession, and marginalization in Colombia. Latin American Perspectives, 46(2), 217-234.