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July 5, 2021

Movement Maker Profiles: Nicole Santamaría

Nicole serves as Executive Director of El/La Para TransLatinas, continuing to develop El/La’s diverse programs while supporting staff’s development and growth, strengthening partnerships with community allies and organizations, ensuring continued funding and financial stability, and serving as El/La’s spokesperson and representative to the public at large, with an holistic approach, opening the space for healing journeys.

Who are your people?

I come from a place of “We”, my people are the almost exterminated Lenca-Kakawira people, tribe of El Salvador, my people are those who hold the respect, love and wisdom of La Pachamama –our mother earth- and in specific the ones who are water protectors.

My people are the survivors, the ones who believe in the value and dignity of the extended creation and are doing their part to build healthy communities. My people are every single person who has been oppressed and wants/needs/seeks collective liberation.

What brings you to this work?

I/We are a woman who embraces different identities that happened to be identities that have been persecuted, hunted and killed for centuries…so all my life experiences holding my humanity in all our colors, brought me to this work, especially when I became a survivor of violence for the first time of my life.

After I survived, I started to wonder what happens/happened with other survivors and found a healing journey in connecting with those who have suffered and/or are struggling different battles for the oppression we live for who we are.

I started a process to re-design my undergrad experience as a product designer and created what I named a “social product design” where I was able to work with the most impacted and marginalized communities in the rural areas of El Salvador, then I did a masters degree in gender and sexual diversity and after that an Art Therapy degree, which I´ve been focusing on since about 15 years ago and working with women and girls, LGBTQI+ (especially trans, intersex, gender expansive folx).

What aspect of your movement work brings you the most joy?

I have always found great joy when a person that I work with achieves their dreams/goals, are being treated with dignity and respect, have found justice, win their asylums, got a job, have met their needs with love and care and they not only thrive, but flourish! Because that means they have overcome the eternal state of survival mode, when resiliency is not the only way to live.

I do enjoy the community belonging and all the ways we are creating new societies and opening roads for those who are coming behind us, but not only for animal humans, but for the extended creation and our Pachamama.

Being a witness and being part of the movement work brings me joy, but also brings a lot of responsibilities and also that’s important to consider.

What moves are you making to end violence?

I think that there are no specific order or list of moves, since for me the journey of ending violence starts with our own selves. I/We need to heal from our own traumas and healing is a never ending work, and I work towards a holistic trauma response service program at El/La, but not only at the organizational level, but in all life arenas.

I do work constantly in my/our own awakening to increase the awareness, to identify my own actions and my relation with others that in my indigenous cosmos vision “the other” is just the reflection of my own self “In Lak´ech” meaning “I am another you”,  “Hala Ken” meaning “you are another me”.

I do believe in restorative justice and working towards that instead of calling out people, practicing radical care, acceptance and love (once again, starting with my own self).

I have found in storytelling a way that contributes to end violence –especially for women/girls/trans/intersex/gender expansive people–because the majority of the time what we have wounded is our stories, because someone else has told our stories full of hate and violence, for me is a way of reclaiming my/our voice(s), and continue in the healing journey.

How would you describe your leadership strengths?

I think my leadership gets some of the strengths from my lived experience, from the first territory that I inhabit which is my body, that is the reflection of the communities I serve, care and love (being love the basis of my leadership, but not from a place of romanticizing the word love, but from the knowledge and awareness of who I/we are with all our shades).

I also believe I recognize that the privilege I have/had with education adds to my strengths, since I put into practice what academia (combined with our shared humanity) has taught me, since at the moment I believe in and practice a horizontal view of leadership where everyone holds knowledge, power and ancestral wisdom.

Last but not least, I could describe my leadership strengths rooted in a deep compassion to take the time to build a relationship with every single person I/we serve, so everyone can feel seen, loved and cared, recognizing the value as individuals tied up within the collective.

What keeps you in this work?

After surviving the brutal and vicious attack against my life, where I was left for dead and ripped me from my motherland, taken away from my mother, my community and I became an asylee in a foreign land…continuing this work brings me a sense of justice and healing…I have found a way to reclaim my anger through the work I do and seek and work towards change, because I don’t want another single living creature to experience what I have survived, meanwhile working with those who have already passed through similar experiences, so they can find love, understanding and hope that we can continue our lives with dignity and I/we are not alone.

Art by lizar_tistry