Our arepa: Resistance from the Kitchen

by Alejandra Laprea, Caracas, Venezuela (@alejalaprea)

I live in a country of the impossible, where there are no bombs yet we are living in a war.

A war that exists only for those of us living in this territory.

I live in a country no one understands, which few can really see, where various realities co-exist, and where the truth is murdered time and again.

I live in a country where one has to pay for the audacity of thinking for oneself, for taking on the challenge of seeing life another way.

I live in a country of women who have had to invent and reinvent, time and again, how they live and how to get by.

I live in Venezuela, in a time of an unusual and extraordinary threat.

Since 2012 my country has been subjected to an unconventional war. There are no defined armies or fire power. Their objective is to dislocate and distort the economy, affecting all households, daily life, the capacity of a people to dream and build a different kind of politics, an alternative to the patriarchal, bourgeois, capitalist democracy.

Venezuelan women are the primary victims of this economic war. Women who historically and culturally are responsible for providing care, are the most affected and in demand. However, in these years of economic and financial embargo, Venezuelan women have gone from being victims to the protagonists on the front lines defending our territory.  

Battles are fought from the barrios, kitchens, and small gardens. We defend the right of girls and boys to go to school, and to be given something so simple as some arepas for breakfast.

Arepas are a kind of corn cake that can be fried, roasted or baked and served sweet or savoury as a side or main dish. It is a staple in the diet of all Venezuelans.

In Venezuela, arepas mean culture, family, food sovereignty, childhood nostalgia, the expert hands of grandmothers molding little balls, the warmth that comforts you when recovering from illness.

Arepas connect us as a people with the pre-Colombian cultures of corn, a resistance that has endured for more than five centuries. They are the Caribbean expressed differently on firm ground.

They are an act of resistance.

When my mother was a girl, they would start grinding the dry corn early in the morning to make arepas. The women would get up and put the kernels of corn in wooden mortars and pound it with heavy mallets to separate the shells. Then they would boil, soak, and grind the corn to make dough, and finally they would mold it into round arepas. The process would take hours and demand a lot of physical effort.   

In the mid-20th century a Venezuelan company industrialized the production of corn meal. For an entire generation that seemed like an act of liberation, since there was now a flour that you could simply add water to and have hot arepas in 45 minutes time.

But that also meant that the same generation would lose the traditional knowledge on how to make them from scratch. My grandmother was an expert arepa maker, my mother saw it as a girl, and for me the corn meal came pre-packaged.

In the war with no military, the pre-cooked corn meal came to be wielded as an instrument of war by the same company that invented it, which was not so Venezuelan anymore: today the Polar group of companies is transnational.

We women began to recuperate our knowledge by talking with the eldest among us. We searched in the back of the closets for our grandmothers’ grinders, the ones we hadn’t thrown away out of affection. Some families still prepared the corn in the traditional way for important occasions. In some towns there were still communal grinding stations which had been preserved as part of local history or because small family businesses refused to die. All of these forms of cultural resistance were activated, and we even went so far as to invent new arepas.

Today we know that in order to resist we cannot depend on one food staple. Although corn arepas continue to be everyone’s favourite, we have invented recipes for arepas made of sweet potato, cassava, squash, and celery root.

We have learned that we can use almost any root vegetable to make arepas. Cooperative businesses have developed semi-industrial processes to make pre-cooked corn meal. In other words, we have recuperated our arepas and their preparation as a cultural good that belongs to all.


“Entretejidas” [Interwoven women]

by Surmercé, Santa Marta (@surmerce)

My artivism aims to decolonize our senses in everyday life. I like to create spaces that communicate how we weave together our different struggles, and that render visible dissident (re)existences, other possible worlds, and living bodies here in the SOUTH.


“We carry one another towards the future”

by Marga RH, Chile, UK (@Marga.RH)

Let's take care of one another

As we continue to fight in our struggles, let us remember how essential it is that we support each other, believe each other, and love ourselves and our sisters. When this system fucks us over, we must take time to look after our (physical and mental) health, that of our sisters, and to understand that each one of us carries unique stories, making us fighters in resist

Marga RH (@Marga.RH)

Until dignity becomes a habit

These portraits are inspired by the voices of resistance and protest movements in Latin America, especially by the key role that feminised bodies play in these struggles. It is a tribute to the grassroots feminist movements in resistance.