Interview w/ Nazly Sobhi Damasio

 

Nazly Sobhi Damasio is a 27 year-old PersianVenezuelan organizer, activist and trauma informed yoga instructor who currently lives in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Many might know her through her involvement in Latina Rebels or through the platform La Feminista Descolonial yet this all around female powerhouse holds a larger and steady militating CV. From organizing youth in the occupied Palestinian state (and in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Egypt) to working for immigration justice, doing antigentrification work and organizing food workers in the Fight for 15 campaign in Chicago, Nazly has continuously militated against social injustice in several communities. We got to sit one-on-one with her and ask her specific questions pertaining to her previous work and trajectory which, hadn’t we not, we wouldn’t have been humbled the shit out of in front of the honest commitment this chama displays through her work.

This is why in this interview we asked Nazly Joon (as I call her in my head given her twitter account @nazie__joon) a series of questions pertaining to her ongoing work as an organizer, her take on the erroneous view of social media as “slacktivism” and her self-care before activism sort of policy.                                             

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am 27 years old Persian & Venezuelan organizer, activist & trauma informed yoga teacher currently living in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. I speak Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, & Inglés and have organized & worked in various communities in Chicago, Latin America, and the Middle East. I’m also a classically trained violinist, who has been performing domestically and internationally as a soloist and in various ensembles since I was ten years old.

In my spare time I’ve been trying to learn how to surf, bake, engage in radical self care and healing and explore my creative writing side.

When and why did you start to express your opinions through social media?

I began utilizing social media more in the last few years, especially since I was working in a space where I felt like I was being suffocated. There wasn’t a safe space for me to express my thoughts – well if I’m really being honest, I’ve always been a say whatever the fuck I think kinda chama and in this particular space I was extremely vocal in criticizing the sexism, racism, homophobia, nepotism, abuse of power, white folxs running all the shit and so on, you know – the usual fuckery… but I was always made to feel like I was the “crazy” “angry” woc and was more often than not, punished for talking about and exposing the problematic shit. So, I turned to social media and used it as a medium to express my experiences and thoughts. I was also just seeking some validation - in terms of knowing and feeling like I wasn’t “crazy” and that my anger and indignation were valid – sure enough, folxs supported me and I began owning my anger and no longer allowing any one or any space try to silence me ever again.

We knew you first through the platform Latina Rebels but recently you just launched the platform La Feminista Descolonial, can you tell us more about that?

Apart from my personal social media presence & Latina Rebels, I am also the founder of La Feminista Descolonial. I really wanted to create a space specifically catering to a Spanish speaking audience because there aren’t enough of those types of accessible spaces. The page is curated with mostly Spanish speaking videos, graphics, articles, and other resources related to global feminist issues.

You are someone who has been engaged in organizing ever since your teenage years - Can you tell us about these experiences and maybe then point out the differences between activism through social media and activism in physical life?

Social media and technology have fundamentally changed how we organize and it’s power to create change is unprecedented. I come from a “traditional” organizing background and was often surrounded by folxs who equated online work with “slacktavsim.” And to be completely honest, in the beginning I had a bit of that mindset as well. I first realized & experience the power of twitter with the Iranian revolution and witnessing other movements like the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, & Tahrir Square in Egypt. During these revolutions, social media was key for putting pressure on the government and was and still is an alternative source of news and information that isn’t censored or rife with propaganda.

There is no denying that without social media, we wouldn’t know about Sandra Bland(#SayHerName) or Michael Brown(#BlackLivesMatter), have access to or the ability to disseminate information about the current ICE raids (#FuckICE) and other similar acts of violence, Ayotzinapa (#FueElEstado), femicide in America Latina (#Ni1Menos) and many more issues and movements. And apart from that social media allows us to see ourselves in a way that traditional media & society has failed to rep us. Automatically, I think of #BlackExcellence #BlackGirlMagic#BrownAndUnbothered, #ChingonaFire, #TransIsBeautiful and many more… these spaces and movements are uplifting and proudly repping all of the excellence that is blackness, the success and strengths of black women & women of color, showing off badass latinxs, asserting that trans folxs are beautiful, and clapping the fuck back at haters and bigots who dare to say otherwise. A selfie, sharing our personal stories, writing prolific twitter essays, facebook notes/commentary, etc that is individuals and communities taking control of the narrative and publishing our work on our own terms instead of waiting around for media, editors or mainstream society who have ignored us for to long to finally recognize & accept us. How can that not been seen as anything but profoundly powerful and politically affirming?

Social media helps organizers create, expand and maintain mobilization efforts and momentum. Equating online organizing with “slacktivism” is not only ableist & classist, but it’s just plain untrue. And its entirely dismissive of these powerful movements and erasing the emotional and intellectual labor of all the folxs - mostly black and brown womxn & queer folxs – seeking justice and mobilizing around these issues that are devastating our communities. Not everyone is able to go out into the streets and protest whether it’s that they are physically unable because they are disabled or sick, working various jobs to survive, taking care of their children, in school, or are just simply triggered by being at a protest surrounded by racist and violent ass police, or a myriad of other completely valid reasons to participate from behind a computer, phone screen or whatever space feels safe & possible for them. Answering a call to action via an online petition, re-sharing of a foto or article is all some folxs can do and those acts are powerful and political in and of themselves and should never be invalidated.

Tumblr, twitter, feisbook, and other social networks have politicized and given me a better education more than any university setting ever did. I am constantly learning, am able to continue my personal growth process as well as further strengthen my commitment to movement building through these wildly wonderful social media networks. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of social media to create change, build community & help dismantle white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

 Protest in Panama City for better conditions within the public school system

Protest in Panama City for better conditions within the public school system

 

When and how was it that you started organizing within a community and so campaigning for a cause? In other words, we would like to know more about your trajectory.

I kind of just fell into my first organizing gig – I was asked to help interpret for workers organizing against a multinational coal company along the az/mx border and from there just started organizing with the workers. Not to sound mad cliché, pero that experience changed me and put everything into place. I was able to connect with and accept my latinidad in a way that I never had before, as well as solidifying my commitment to social justice and movement building work. For the first time I began to see myself as an activist & organizer. After that experience, I was afforded the privilege to work with and organize youth in the occupied Palestinian state and in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Syria & Egypt. From there I was involved in immigration justice & anti gentrification work in Chicago, and the fight for 15 campaign. In between those experiences, I was drawn back to America Latina a few times – working in Ecuador, El Salvador, & Guatemala with various communities in resistance.

 International womyn's day march in Panama City

International womyn's day march in Panama City

 

Can you tell us about your involvement as a yoga structure in Boca Del Toro? You have a specific ‘self-care before activism’ sort of policy; can you tell us more about this & how it ties to your work in the community?

Generational oppression, abuse, poverty and exploitation have created and will only

continue to create more traumas in our communities. Because of this, I believe we need to try to incorporate more radical self-care & restorative healing spaces in our communities and movements if we’re going to survive and thrive.

Right now, I’m offering yoga classes to the youth and womxn on the isla.

I also travel through Panama and work with unions and various communities in resistance offering organizing support in various ways – sometimes I help by documenting their resistance in fotographs or sharing it through social media, connecting folx with traditional media sources as to get their stories out in the public sphere, interpretation, offering self care/healing through yoga and meditation and other skill building workshops.

It pisses me off how much yoga there is on the isla – mainly for the gringxs & tourists with plata – pero it is completely inaccessible to the Bocatorenxs. My goal is to try in a small way offset that by offering a safe space free of judgment where people can come and take a yoga class, have open conversations, engage in playful activities, share food in community, dance or whatever they do that makes them feel good in their bodies and minds.

Community lead healing is key, because I’m not here to “heal” anyone but I can try to provide and hold space for folxs to begin to work on healing themselves.

Maybe meditation, yoga and breathing isn’t your jam and that’s totally cool, because it sure as hell doesn’t speak to me always either. There are many days that sitting in my anger, eating ice cream or shaking my ass at la disco is way more therapeutic and healing than some incense and breathing exercises. And at the end of the day, everyone deserves to have access to a space where they can find themselves in community, and engage in self-care, healing and wellness practices that allow for a better way of being and feeling, in whatever way that appeals and speaks to you.

 Yoga class with the womyn of the ngöbe bugle tribe and their kiddies in Boca del Toro

Yoga class with the womyn of the ngöbe bugle tribe and their kiddies in Boca del Toro

Do you feel any privilege as a Latina born in the United States?

Of course, I have an enormous fucking amount of privilege as a latina born in the eeuu – as a light skinned latina, having eeuu citizenship, a US passport, speaking English, studying in the US, the option of working wherever I want, traveling however I want and whenever I want, being able bodied and a thousand other things. 

I always remember my father would tell me that him and my mom made sure me and my brother were born in the states – so that we could have all the opportunities that they never had, so that we didn’t have to suffer like they did, to not have an accent that people made fun of and speak “good” English, have the freedom to move freely, travel or do whatever it is that we wanted to do. 

It’s crucial that I remember and always keep the multitude of privileges I have at the forefront of my mind and constantly check myself with any of the work I do, the communities I live in, and the different people I interact with on the daily.

 

FAMILIA LIGONA! You can follow Nazly’s works and happening online and on instagram (@naziejoon, @lafeministadescolonial) & Twitter (@nazie__joon).