LEVEL is proud to work with wonderful people embedded in community doing transformative work in the field of racial equity. One such person LEVEL is lucky to call a collaborator is Nathalie Lozano-Neira, a current Youth Policy Program facilitator and faculty member. Nathalie has been engaged in migrant community work for the past 14 years as a facilitator, youth worker, and community member. She completed her MA in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University where she focused on the well-being of racialized community workers and settler-Indigenous relationships. She strongly believes in the power of creating meaningful ally-ships with Indigenous peoples as a base in order to advance any social justice cause. In her spare time she enjoys dancing salsa, playing soccer, and eating. Today we shine a light on Nathalie’s work and insight.

Tell us a bit more about your work in migrant communities and what brought you to this work.

I came to Coast Salish territories at the age of 13 as a refugee after being displaced from my home town in Colombia because of the civil war. It was upon arriving to my school in Burnaby that I realized that I was brown and that people treated me differently accordingly and that they had different expectations of what I could/should do once they found out I was a Latina. I didn’t speak a word of English, though my parents thought I did so I was my family’s spokesperson with the banks, with the landlord, at school (both my parents and my school), with the utilities’ companies, etc. That pressure to act like a grown up with a bunch of responsibilities I never had before, on top of the trauma that was starting to surface now that I was ‘safe’ from war (the nightmares, the triggers, the survivor’s guilt) left me feeling very lonely. I was lucky to have been connected to the only Latin American youth worker in the greater Vancouver area who had big expectations of us and believed we could do more, who pushed me into applying to a new leadership program for immigrant and refugee youth in Vancouver. I was so shy and quiet that I almost didn’t get in, but once I did they couldn’t shut me up; I never left. Sharing with peers what war was like, the triggers, the trauma, the racism we were now facing, the impotence we feel when something happens back home made me feel like I had found a new family –  I made it my purpose in life to ensure that as many newcomers as possible –  particularly refugees – took the training.

My Bachelors’ and Masters’ programs didn’t teach me half of the things I learned from being involved at different capacities with the program where I learned about injustices, conflicts, resilience and power. I also learned along the way that in coming together to make sense of our experiences, we were leaving behind refugees with multiple identities, particularly those from LGBTQ+ identities and that we needed to do better. We also learned that all of the systemic injustices we were organizing against were coming from a colonial government, we learned that even those of us who didn’t have a choice in coming to Turtle Island were now settlers because we were profiting from a colonial system at the expense of Indigenous communities. These journeys even led me to learn about my own family’s history and my grandmother’s decision to not raise my mom and her siblings as Indigenous from the Muisca Nation and all the learnings we lost. Of course, the learning is ongoing but it took a long journey to get to a point where I could question my own role in this system, because it is not something that these colonial systems want you to learn. I jumped at the chance to be involved in a program for racialized migrant and Indigenous youth, because that was the dream, to get us all together talking to each other, learning from and with one another.

What have you learned in working with the participants of the Youth Policy Program so far?

I have been inspired by the resilience in the room, by the willingness to be open to learn from each other, to work together and to lift each other’s journeys and communities up. There was so much knowledge in the room and so much desire to unlearn and adjust what they had already learned. Every day I worked with them, I learned something new about their identities, about their communities and about the work they already do and are excited to push forward through their policy asks.

Why does it matter to have young people’s (especially those who are Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee folks) voice at the table?

Because they are nowhere to be seen in actual decision making, even when they are directly impacted by the policies. Policymakers could avoid so much wasted time by talking directly to the people who live the lives that are going to be impacted. I also think that it is not just about having Indigenous and racialized migrants and refugees’ voices at the table, rather it is about having Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee voices who are a part of communities, who are not thinking about just themselves and their own experiences, but also those of their families, their communities, thinking often about whose voices are not represented in what is being decided and who is pushing to have those voices in the room as well. That is the value of the Youth Policy Program–you now have refugee youth thinking about the implications of policy of their communities vis-à-vis other refugee communities, as well as other diverse Indigenous communities they are able to form relationships with. That feels very hopeful!

Why does racial equity matter?

Racial equity is so important. I experience racial inequities or see my loved ones and community experience it almost on a daily basis. A lot of the systemic injustices stem from racial inequities, which are of course tied to other intersections; these [injustices] are embedded in all of the systems we interact with and in place to ensure that the status quo stays as is. To me, all racial injustice comes from colonization and the only way we can have meaningful transformation is by undoing the system. However, while we work on achieving that, it is also important to interfere at every point we can, to make sure that there is a little bit more equity as we go along so that we involve and include more voices and perspectives.

What is your hope for the future of Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth?

The hope for the future is what I saw during the YPP program – Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth learning about each others’ communities and experiences so that they keep those learnings present as they move forward with their policy asks, their studies, their careers, their activism, etc.