Ep#39 The Truths and Myths of Decolonization and Liberation with Constanza Eliana Chinea
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Eliana Chinea, a Brown Latinx anti-racism educator, producer, and certified Yoga instructor who has over 10 years of experience in the wellness industry and over 400 hours of training in Yoga, trauma, and anti-racism. She began teaching and consulting after noticing a need for diversity and representation in the wellness industry. She now teaches Yoga teachers/practitioners and wellness entrepreneurs how to decolonize their practices, create equity for teachers of color, and build inclusive spaces in the community. She is the Founder of Embody Inclusivity and Project Manager of Legacy Trips.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Eliana: I always celebrate when I’m in a good mood. I’m celebrating that I have a roof over my head and being in a community. I’m celebrating life.
How would you describe your medicine?
Eliana: Connection, reclamation, and communal. A lot of my process is deeply entrenched in relationship and really committed to community.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced your path today?
Eliana: My ancestry comes from Borikén, the original indiginous name of Puerto Rico. My lineage is steeped in a lot of trauma and colonization, a lot of erasure and genocide. All that aside, I come from a really rich culture; with a very proud, lively, and welcoming people. They love music, dance, and celebration. We’re resilient, not through fighting, but through healing. While we continue to be oppressed, our music, our culture, our way of being and talking and relating to each other are all rooted in resilience.
What has held you back from fully stepping into your sacred medicine, and what was the shift for you?
Eliana: The yoga industry back then said that you had to separate social justice from your work. I was attempting to merge social justice with wellness at the time, not just with yoga. I was constantly anxious due to that disconnect, wondering if I would be accepted for my mission. But I realized that I was in my colonized mind, deathly afraid of what I was stepping into. I realized it wasn’t other people’s opinions I was afraid of, but of shattering that identity I’ve built up for myself—that colonial mindset. So, I learned how to approach not just social justice in a decolonial way, but my entire thinking as well. I changed my approach to walking into yoga studios and reclaiming my ancestral lineage. The way I address my anxiety and depression is now different to how I approached it even six months ago.
How exactly has your view of anxiety and depression changed?
Eliana: People of color have such limited access to medication for depression. It has a lot to do with both class privilege and racism. I used to deal with it by self-medicating with alcohol for many, many years. I didn’t have access to rehab. Even after sobriety, I had replaced alcohol with other addictions. I had created this cycle of abuse for myself. When I actually had access to tools like therapy and medication, I could finally take a step back and look at my healing in a totally different way: “What could it look like if I did not abuse myself, or not add to the abuse that society puts on me?” I was able to handle these things through communication and building relationships, diving deeper into my traumas rather than trying to bypass those traumas. It was about making a commitment to go to therapy, which not a lot of people talk about. It’s one thing to do one therapy session; it’s another thing to come back! You have to show up for yourself and set boundaries. I took what I learned to better my relationship with my partner as well as to improve my activism. A big part of my mental wellness is self-awareness.
How do you define “decolonization” and what are some truths and myths around it?
Eliana: I define “decolonization” the way it’s been defined by previous activists. The dictionary definition is all physical: a government is removed from a space—a country; a people. Decolonization goes beyond that. It’s also a mindset: You can’t have colonization physically without first having the thought of colonizing. That, then, leads to the actions of colonization. Colonization then turns into systems, meaning it’s moved beyond people into structures. Decolonization, then, is when the structures are physically removed to make the country sovereign, but also when the people become sovereign mentally. It’s stepping away from the status quo and looking at all the ways colonization has been internalized by people, and then how people—oppressed, marginalized, othered—can start to operate in a different way. That decolonization takes time, implementation, learning and unlearning; but, mostly, it takes a lot of self-awareness and self-critique. For instance, we commit lateral violence, which is a power dynamic taught to us by way of colonization. We then have to move beyond decolonization. Decolonization is not the be-all, end-all. There are things more important, but we don’t know how to get there yet because we’re so focused on oppression. We don’t know what a world without oppression looks like yet. But that’s the sweet spot where we can create new structures of being and of operating with nature—with the Earth—using the indiginous wisdom that we used to have.
How can we indigenize when so many people don’t even know what their indigenous roots are?
Eliana: We don’t need to know our indigenous roots to indigenize. I don’t need a piece of paper saying, “These are your ancestors.” What I do know is that indigenous wisdom still exists in humans. The fact that we were colonized doesn’t mean that our indgenous wisdom was completely erased. It just means that we’ve been oppressed, and that it’s still down there. This goes back to decolonization beyond the physical sense. Ancestral lineage is not physical. It lives within you.
What is the difference between “decolonization” and “unsettling”?
Eliana: Decolonization as a concept has always been about People of Color—the marginalized. Unsettling is truly the work of white folks since white supremacy is the dominant culture. Through the structure of racism that they created, unsettling is actually their role. They need to work separately but together, meaning People of Color need to do their work over here and white people need to do their work over here, but as we do it in tandem, eventually we’ll meet and do work together. Only white people can dismantle white supremacy and only People of Color can decolonize by addressing that colonial mindset.
What is one step that people can take now to start their decolonization journey?
Eliana: The first step that I took was to acknowledge that I wasn’t operating as my fullest self. I did a lot of pretending when I was younger. One moment I was embracing my Puerto Rican culture, the next I was rejecting it. It was only after college when I realized that I was pretending, and that it was time to begin my path of healing and uncover my fullest self.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
Eliana: What informs my work and my activism is the future. Even if I don’t see it within my lifetime, I want to see little Brown and Black boys and girls living their lives without having to put on that costume that I did growing up. I’ve thought about giving up a lot of times, but I always come back to asking, “What about them? What about the future generations? Don’t they deserve more?”
Conclusion: Everyone has their own role in a world that continues to recover from the influence of racism. Decolonization can only truly be accomplished if we go beyond our physical understanding of the word and look inward at how we can rid ourselves of those often deep-seated colonial paradigms.
Action Integration: Acknowledge the triggers that cause you to avoid living out your fullest self. These triggers are what make up what remains of your colonial mindset. It’s only once you become self-aware of why you pretend that you can begin to heal through your decolonization journey.
Learn more about Eliana and her offerings:
Visit her website: www.embodyinclusivity.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/eliana.chinea
Visit her Patreon: www.patreon.com/constanzaeliana