Retelling the stories of a continent that never needed to be “discovered”

The title for this editorial echoes our call to contributors a few months ago. As it turns out, the first draft of the editorial was written right after the Church, in the voice of Argentina-born Pope Francis, finally repudiated the 15th-century “Doctrine of Discovery” – a Papal edict issued by the Catholic Church to justify the violent, ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples across the Americas of their ancestral lands.[1] This repudiation does not go as far as rescinding the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which is what many Indigenous leaders have been demanding.

Collage courtesy of La Casa de Carlota, inspired by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's “Quién puede convencer al mar” [Who can convince the sea (to be reasonable)] © La Casa de Carlota

We started this issue on Latin American art and poetry by sending out our invitation to artists, filmmakers, poets, writers, fighters and thinkers affiliated in whatever manner with any of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Americas’ cultural universes. We hoped we would be able to feature voices that are not commonly heard, and elicit themes that have been neglected for a long time. This call for submissions floated out like a message in a bottle… and seems to have washed up on fertile shores.

Montréal-based filmmaker, cinematographer and photographer Carlos Ferrand shares memories and images of his native Perú during the 1970s, a time when his cinema group, Liberación sin Rodeos, was inspired by poets like Enrique Verástegui, who led him to inquire into Perú’s African heritage. Carlos was particularly interested in the lives and legacy of cimarrones, African rebels who escaped enslavement on the haciendas to live in freedom. The film he named after those rebels was shot in 1975 with natural actors, but was only edited in 1982 – in Canada – after Carlos left Perú in the wake of the military coup. Cimarrones was largely ignored until 2020, and then on Afro-Peruvian Day, “in 24 hours, it was seen by more people than in the previous five decades.”

The horrors of a different dictatorship, that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, are denounced in José Leandro Urbina’s Las malas juntas. The French version, Mauvaises fréquentations, translated by Julie Turcotte, was recently published in Ottawa by Lugar Común Editorial, and is the subject of Hugh Hazelton’s review. In it, “Hugo,” a Montréal writer and translator who has devoted most of his life to connecting Québec and Latin American literature, explains how Urbina managed to write short stories about the coup using Bertolt Brecht’s distancing techniques to overcome the paralyzing effects of anger, guilt, pain and confusion.

Other kinds of devastation, such as those caused by the tsunami and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, are probed by Brazilian-Montréal poet and songwriter Fernando Moreno in a poetic video. His multifaceted piece also features a unique salute to Montréal’s tam tam players, and a poem where we can almost see a turtle lit by moonlight on the Bay of Pigs.

Cuba, and the hardships inflicted on the Cuban people by the blockade, are highlighted in Katharine Beeman’s poetry as well. This Montréal poet and translator who is an active member of the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance also shares a beautiful and inspiring piece about books.

In her review of Fuego y agua a la vez / Fire and Water at Once, an anthology of dissident Honduran poets published in Chiapas, Mexico, Montréal Serai’s Maya Khankhoje takes us through different voices touching on violence, rape, gender, racism and diversity, and comments: “the fact that the authors were reticent or perhaps simply unable to publish their work in Honduras speaks to the repression and violence that many marginalized people have historically suffered in Honduras and elsewhere.”

The (also) very necessary themes of exile, longing, perhaps even colonialism, are subtly crafted into Gloria Macher’s haunting poem entitled “Latin America”:


in that miserable little life of
who got more or who
will get more
without really wanting
a bit of tranquility
who knows?
like the one that surrounded us
when we were innocent children
and filled our bellies
with papaya nectar


Migration and its emotional implications are some of the concerns explored by Shanti Kumari Johnson in her review of Bye Bye Chicago. This is the first feature film written and co-directed by Roma Díaz, a theatre director and cultural force in Chicago’s Latino arts scene.

Colonial and gender-based violence, in this case in Canada, are underlying themes in Brian Campbell’s well-researched review of J’accuse, George Elliott Clarke’s fiery poetic account of his side of the story about his literary relationship with Stephen Kummerfield, a one-time friend before Clarke learned of Kummerfield’s role in the brutal rape and murder of Pamela George, a 28-year-old Indigenous mother.

Our piece on La Casa de Carlota, a communications studio in Medellín, Colombia, is perhaps the first in Montréal Serai history to cover a for-profit endeavour. This commercial design studio uses its visibility as a successful international business to showcase its openness to neurodiversity as a creative asset – and it encourages its clients and other businesses to follow suit. The benefits are tangible: a traditionally marginalized demographic can become autonomous and, as Serai readers will see for themselves, produce wonderful, powerful visuals that may in their own right prompt us to rethink our ways of approaching diversity.

Finally, the art piece featured in this issue introduces readers to a young Colombian who sees herself as “a child of the Americas.” Sofía Mesa, who migrated to Canada when she was six years old, flying on her own with a backpack containing pencil crayons, a sketchbook and her “special pillow,” shares a multimedia selection of her work: paintings, Polaroids, cyanotype on fabric and videos that show us what creative directions anger can take.

“I’ve always associated Colombia with a rollercoaster. So much violence and pain, but so much beauty, so much serendipity, warmth, humility. It’s difficult to talk about it. But Colombians have a great sense of humour,” writes Sofía, expressing what many of us feel about Latin America in general, 500 years after the Europeans discovered they could seize way more than the land and set up a system of oppression and extraction so pervasive that it is impossible to praise that beauty without acknowledging the gaps and contrasts, the inequalities and the ongoing pain.

The ideas, memories, shouts and images in this issue make us wonder and imagine what could have been, revealing openings and ways forward in the fight for what is still possible to preserve and keep cultivating.

[1] “[…] The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery’.”

Cover image: Templo de Quetzalcóatl, Teotihuacán © Claudia Itzkowich Schnadower

Claudia Itzkowich Schnadower is a writer and editor and a member of Montréal Serai’s editorial team. She was born in Mexico City, where she is currently based, after living almost ten years in Montréal, a place (both geographical and emotional) she keeps calling home.