Latin American Heritage Month

On Friday, June 15th, 2018 in Parliament, Speeches

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise tonight to speak to Bill S-218, a bill for the creation of a Latin American cultural month in the month of October. Obviously, this is a heated debate over a very controversial bill, which is why we have six hours devoted to it.

I have been a member of Parliament for seven years. This is the first time I have been allowed to rise in debate during private members’ hour when it was not my own bill. I spoke to my own bill, Bill C-442 in the previous Parliament, which created a Lyme disease strategy. For those who are political nerds and might wonder why it would be that a member in my position does not usually speak to a private member’s bill, it is because private members’ business is usually brief and speaking slots are hard to find. For some reason this evening I was able to get a much-coveted speaking slot on a Latin American heritage month for Canada.

For viewers, or historians opening up Hansard at some point covered in dust some decades from now, we should reveal that the successive six hours of debate on a non-controversial private member’s bill is a tribute to political and procedural shenanigans in this place, and somehow or other, credit or blame—one might say how clever—is to Conservatives, who managed to force an extra five hours of debate on this bill. That is not to minimize that this is a great bill, but I do want to explain why we are here.

To anyone watching or anyone who cares about Latin American heritage, as I do, there is no disrespect intended, but there are more pressing matters facing the nation. However, tonight for six hours we are debating Latin American heritage month.

I want to turn my attention to that and start, as others have, by paying tribute to a departed colleague from the other place, Senator Enverga, whom I knew. His death was a terrible shock to all of us. He was on parliamentary business when he died quite suddenly, and it was a terrible thing as is always the case when someone dies unexpectedly doing his or her work on behalf of this place. This private member’s bill comes to us from someone who did not have Latin American heritage, and that is quite interesting.

I am happy to support it. I want to say that in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, while we have a very vibrant community that is Latin American, it is indeed small. Spanish is spoken and Portuguese is spoken, but not by very many. I do want to share, though, that Spanish names and Spanish heritage are commonly found in the geography of place. In the colonial waves that came across Turtle Island, the Spaniards of course came. Looking at my riding, my representation is Saanich—Gulf Islands. “Saanich”, of course, is indigenous, from the Sencoten word: WSÁNEC. It actually means “the people who are rising”.

However, in the Gulf Islands there is Galiano Island, which is named after a Spanish explorer from 1792. There is Saturna Island. Saturna Island is actually named for a naval schooner, not a person. The Santa Saturnina came to the Gulf Islands in 1791. I could digress and discuss the pig war that took place at Saturna Island. It was a hotly contested piece of real estate. It is amazing that it is not now. If there are people who have never really looked at a map of southern Vancouver Island, they should because they will find that where I live is actually south of the 49th parallel and I look due east at the state of Washington. It is a territory that is entirely shared lands and waters.

Some of those shared waters are the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Juan de Fuca goes way back. Juan de Fuca was actually a Greek, but he was exploring on behalf of King Philip II of Spain in the 1580s. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is one that is terribly threatened by Aframax tankers loaded with dilbit, but that is a different debate.

The entertainment from across the way may distract me from telling members about Portuguese Joe, but this is fascinating.

Portuguese Joe was the first European to live in Stanley Park. He was born in the Azores in 1828, and he lived in Stanley Park outside of where Vancouver is now. He married the granddaughter of none other than Chief Kiapilano. He really brought Portuguese culture and heritage to Vancouver proper, the Lower Mainland, and in his later years, he moved to Reid Island. He actually bought a chunk of Reid Island, which is off Galiano Island.

He passed away on Reid Island, having had two first nations wives. The first was, as I mentioned, the granddaughter of Chief Kiapilano, and the second was from the Sechelt Nation.

All of this connects indigenous culture and Latin American culture, on which is I want to reflect.

So far tonight we have talked of Latin American culture exclusively in its colonial connotations. We have talked about Spanish dancing, Latin language, and yummy food. Let me just cast our minds to the reality that Latin America is an indigenous place. We stand tonight on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation, and much of Latin America is the traditional territory of the Mayan people and the Quechua-speaking peoples.

This is being reflected at UBC right now. For anyone who wants to go to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, starting on May 17 and running until October 8, there an exhibition entitled “Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America”. There is a write-up in The New York Times if members want to read about it.

Those who put this exhibit together looked at political overlay with respect to how politics and oppression showed themselves in the art of indigenous people of Latin America. It might seem incongruous that of all places in Canada, an exhibition like “Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America” is on display in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

I do not know how many members have been to the Museum of Anthropology at the UBC campus, but it is a spectacular place, overwhelmingly devoted to British Columbia culture and indigenous arts. There are a lot of original Bill Reid pieces, carved totems, and art from the Nuu-chah-nulth, Haida, and Saanich. There is a whole range of indigenous art from British Columbia. That is the place people can go to get a sense of the kind of art that is expressed from people who are marginalized and oppressed by colonialism within Latin America.

The connections between Canada and Latin American are not only those found in our shared colonial history, those who have moved to Canada who come from a colonial past. Many people who have come to Canada from Latin America also come from that indigenous tradition. Whether they are from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, or whichever Latin American country, they also often come with a connection to their indigenous traditional past, and that culture infuses so much richness into history throughout Latin American.

By the way, one of my constituents, Ronald Wright, is a bestselling author who has documented these connections well in his book Stolen Continents, through his review of indigenous culture in Time Among the Maya, and through a lot of reflection on indigenous culture in A Short History of Progress, although the latter mostly focuses on the foibles of hubris, western civilization, and greed.

I believe this controversial bill on Latin American heritage month will pass, and we will celebrate every October with great gusto across party lines. If nothing else, the bill brought parliamentarians together on a June night in 2018 for the second hour of a six hour debate. This debate allows us to say Latin American culture is alive and well in Canada, and we celebrate it.

Meegwetch. Gracias. Muito obrigado.

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