In this moment when the fragility of the U.S. government shows so clearly in response to public need, my experiences in Abya Yala (an indigenous term for Latin America) provide much-needed wisdom and comfort by reminding me of the immeasurable strength that lies in our collective unity.

It is the resilience of all of us living and loving together that will see us through the struggles of our times, from global pandemics to everyday injustices.

This past fall quarter, I spent 11 weeks in the province of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, living and working with the Movimiento Campesino de Santiago del Estero (Mocase). I came into this new place hoping to connect between the lands and people of Hawaii and Abya Yala, as my Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) ancestors connected in deep-sea voyages of not-so-long-ago.

I could never have imagined the immense connection that I would find during my time there, and I will be sharing the lessons I learned for the rest of my life. I hope to share a few of them with you.

A group picture on one of Vance Kaleohano Kahahawai Farrant’s last days with Mocase, Nov. 22. Submitted

Mocase emerged as an organization around 1990 with indigenous-campesina (countryside-person) resistance to the advance of large-scale agribusiness and the eviction of families from the lands where they had lived for generations. Since then, they have also worked to resist other forms of oppression, such as violence against women, and to secure improved access to water, health care, and education.

Mocase knows they can’t wait for a corrupt system to give people justice: they need to organize and claim it, whether that means blocking bulldozers or creating their own schools.

Campesina Families

Thousands of campesina families in Santiago del Estero form the foundation of Mocase. Small communities have regular meetings to talk about their issues and what they would like to do as an organization.

Discussion from those meetings goes to the level of larger regions within the province through community representatives. Decisions and information from the higher levels will travel back to the communities.

This is a brief explanation of one way that Mocase works to empower campesina families. More than being an organization that fights on behalf of campesinas, it is rightly called a movement, and one that consists of campesina families organized to restore and preserve the health of their communities and territory.

Mocase operates at the provincial level but is also organized at the national, Latin American, and international level with La Vía Campesina, a global movement that brings together millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers.

Many times throughout my stay, people stressed that their work isn’t only about improving current conditions for their communities. It is about showing that other worlds are possible.

A sunrise in Santiago del Estero in 2019, taken by Vance Kaleohano Kahahawai Farrant. Submitted

Mocase doesn’t just talk about it. They believe that every space is a space of formation: washing dishes, playing music, drinking mate, sharing bread, growing food, stopping bulldozers.

None of this is about individual revolution, either. It’s all about our collective rising. Because only when we all rise do those other worlds become possible.

As we deal with the current pandemic, we have seen beautiful examples of people caring for one another and the most vulnerable, and ultimately showing that there are other ways of living outside of the individualistic and capitalistic ways that our current system promotes. These moments that show our immense collective strength don’t need to be passing — they represent legitimate, achievable alternatives to the world we live in today, and we can make these alternative worlds a reality through everyday acts of collective resurgence.

On my last day in Argentina, with a few hundred representatives from the national movement, we gathered together for a big mistica, which among other things is a ceremony to open and close gatherings. Those of us who had planned the mistica led the rest of the people singing and marching around a huge image of Abya Yala, drawn with charcoal in the sand. We carried signs of solidarity with the struggles of other countries of Abya Yala, such as Chile, Bolivia, and Haiti, and there was one special guest: Hawaii.

As we gathered together, one of the main coordinators of Mocase stood before the group and described to everyone that we were standing in solidarity with the Native people of Hawaii who were resisting a huge private project, the Thirty Meter Telescope, on their sacred mountain, Maunakea (see

She told everyone that we would be doing a chant of solidarity and raising our hands in the shape of the mountain. She turned to me, and raising my hands to the sky, I called out, “Kū Kiaʻi Mauna!” Stand and Protect our Mountain. To which the group responded, “Ni un metro más!” Not one meter more — a phrase that they use when speaking in defense of their own territories.

Three more times, we called and responded, connecting our struggles from Abya Yala to Hawaii. Watch the video here.

Only when we all rise do those other worlds become possible.

There were so many experiences and lessons on this journey that I hesitate to even consolidate them. However, one theme has emerged as most important to me from all of this: From the rising of the sun in Abya Yala to the setting of the sun in Hawaii, we all need to rise.

Everywhere I looked, from elders on Maunakea to each sunrise in Argentina, the world was telling me that we need to rise up. Not just some of us. All of us. Because only in our collective rising can we overcome the forces that work to oppress us.

And because we’re not going to leave anyone behind. Rising can take many forms — in the current pandemic, it can look like buying groceries and fundraising for people in need, calling a friend to check-in, demanding government accountability, even social distancing — but it is not passive.

Rising starts with one action, but we need to continue rising, to continue making these acts a part of our daily lives.

At times, it will be uncomfortable, frustrating, confusing, exhausting, saddening and more. That’s okay. That’s why we have each other. We rise together.

I will leave you a quote from my dearest friend, Nālamakūikapō, whose words inspire me each day and give me the strength to rise:

“I remember, back elementary school days, getting on the bus 4:30 in the morning, hit H-1 traffic going eastbound, wasn’t easy. For all the people to rise up, it’s not easy — but WE CAN.”

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