FORGOTTEN STORIES – BY ERNESTINE COMVALIUS

Often I hear statements of those who are not well informed about the struggle of the seventies and the eighties, suggesting that my generation was a docile generation that never resisted racism. Especially the black members of my generation were not active, they claim. As if the struggle just started five or six years ago. Let me tell you, in every period of history there has been oppression and resistance. We just have to study the archives, listen to stories of those who were present and reveal the hidden truth.

The world was in turmoil in the seventies. The Vietnam war was raging and I had great respect for the people of Vietnam who were able to resist the American invaders by waging a guerrilla struggle and depending on the people. The Surinamese organization I became part of (LOSON) was always present at the demonstrations demanding an end to this war and to sending poor and often black young men as cannon fodder to be killed in an unjust war. We were present, as black people and people of color in the solidarity actions against Apartheid in South Africa, but also against the torture of people of the labour union in Turkey or the dictatorship of Chili.

International solidarity was important and Surinamese and other people of color were actively participating. We engaged ourselves with the people who left their country to build a safe future, like students from Ethiopia and other countries. I came to the Netherland in 1972, after I finished senior high in Westchester, New York and joined the Surinamese student movement. We were in the forefront of the movement against racism and fascism in the Netherlands.

Foto: Archiefmateriaal LOSON

Often I hear statements of those who are not well informed about the struggle of the seventies and the eighties, suggesting that my generation was a docile generation that never resisted racism. Especially the black members of my generation were not active, they claim. As if the struggle just started five or six years ago. Let me tell you, in every period of history there has been oppression and resistance. We just have to study the archives, listen to stories of those who were present and reveal the hidden truth.

When we were doing research about Anton de Kom in the eighties, who was banned from his country in 1933, I did not only find pamphlets and statements about the Surinamese students in the fifties in the Netherlands, who started Wi Egi Sani (our own thing), with which they started to decolonize their way of thinking, but I found also newspapers and other publications from vigilant Surinamese workers in the thirties who were just as active as Anton de Kom and were part of the struggle against racism and fascism. I became proud of them and just the fact that they also played their part, assured me that I also had to take responsibility. There was a huge, active movement, and we confronted the Dutch ruling class and institutions with our protest against police brutality, discrimination in the field of education, racism in the way certain groups were kept out of certain neighbourhoods, inhuman immigration policy, and for prohibition of the fascist parties who were getting too much space in the newspapers.  We have digitalized our archives and soon the newspapers and the pictures and other documents will be available. I hope that, just as I was inspired to know more about those who fought for a better future for us, the stories of the people of my generation who were radical and unapologetic in their strive for social justice, will be of inspiration to the present generation.

If you want to know more details, June 24 Andre Reeder and I will have a presentation in Rotterdam at the LOSON: het verborgen verhaal van activistische Surinaamse bewegingen in de jaren 1970s en 1980 meeting, organized by NUC and the Black Archives.

Ernestine Comvalius, is the first director of the Bijlmer Parktheater and director of Theater Krater. She is external coach of Kunstenaars & Co where she coaches young artists from talents to professionals. And she is part of many networks like ATANA and de Nieuwe Coaliti. She has been chair of the PATM-discussions for Dutch theaters and musea, chair of evaluation commisions of the Dutch Media foundation and boardmember of ITS DNA.

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