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On being in-between wor(l)ds

How does one speak out when one’s ability to speak the right language is compromised? This has been a resounding question ever since I migrated to Portugal from South Africa. There I was a gender activist and all about voice – here I found myself struggling to speak up. Being accustomed to hearing many different languages (eleven, officially) and somehow traversing conversing in-between them in South Africa, I was suddenly confronted with One Language that left me tongue-tied. At the same time, this is more than a question of translation, or mastering a foreign language. For me it ultimately has to do with power: who has the right to speak and be heard (and who will listen?). As a migrant woman I am on the margins of Portuguese society – a permanent resident, but not a citizen – in the “borderlands”. Hence, I constantly have to negotiate the position I am speaking from, as well as the “who, how and what” I should be addressing.

Becoming involved in activist organisations here has helped somewhat, but I still often grapple with the double-edged sword of being a “estrangeira” (foreign woman): sometimes noted, sometimes ignored for being out-of-place somehow. I had to find another (an Other) way of expression and communication, a language beyond getting stuck in wor(l)ds – and I did so in performance. Together with some people, mostly women, who were similarly inspired by creative activist action, I started GATA – a group for activism and transformation through art, particularly using performing arts to highlight gender issues. The word “gata” is the feminine form of “cat” – and for me it signifies the cat-like steps I am taking on this journey between worlds.

To speak in-between worlds is a search for connection, to be in moving places (to move and be moved). To speak in between-worlds is more than the desire for dialogue, it is a collective performance. It is my rite of passage, to write of this passage. And to be here on PulseWire, speaking (of) t/here, is all of this.

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