Culture | November 10, here and there

An international student reflects on simultaneous protests

The forecasted rain on November 10 foreshadowed the impending threat of the events that were to transpire. That morning I decided to wear my heavy coat, even though it might have slowed me down – because on this date I wished to hover in time as slowly as I could; it was a day I wanted to prolong. On November 10 I chose the pants I wore the day before, because on this date I had no concerns for vanity; this day promised to descend upon me and take with it all the insecurities and fears of this faint-hearted creature.

Life as an international student holds an intrinsic duality that, in many ways, divides my existence in two. Every four months or so, when I return to Colombia, I am called to dismiss all accustomed behaviours and identities attained in Canada, making my life a never-ending cycle of nomadic impulses. This is not to say that my life in Colombia is unbearably dissimilar to that in Canada. But it is certainly different. The underlying effect that language inflicts upon me segments my life, chopping it into two different entities. It’s not just a matter of living one life in Spanish and another in English. In contrast to language, life is not something I can easily translate.

The rare occasions in which events permeate my two realities are usually deliberate and unexciting. But on November 10, the extent to which coincidence would unite the two and crush this duality of mine, truly made an impact on me.

On November 10, students in my hometown of Bogotá, Colombia, organized a demonstration against the educational reforms proposed by the Minister of Education. The reform, amongst other things, seeks to further privatize educational institutions and make accessible education even scarcer. On that same day, students here in Montreal staged a rally against the reform to the provincial budget planned by Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

The November 10 student demonstration in Montreal was my opportunity to stand in spirit beside my friends fighting to support education in my country. Colombia is a country where education is already largely privatized and, in my opinion, this reform would further hinder development in the nation. Being miles away from the demonstrations in Colombia truly disheartened me; I was failing my duty as a citizen of Colombia and I was failing my friends that were fighting for an education. But on this date of mysterious edification, coincidence stepped.

On November 10, as I was reporting the rally for The Daily here in Montreal, I was truly standing besides my friends and family in Bogotá. The reforms in Quebec and Colombia are not the same, and by no means do I mean to equate them, but the spirit of the students transported me to the place I wanted to be; walking down my childhood streets and corners, with that impetus of a child asking for the education my country so badly requires.

On November 10 students in Colombia demonstrated the power of young leadership in a nation that sorely needs it. From what I have been told, the events in Bogota were peaceful, with pictures of students embracing police officers surfacing on the Internet and displaying the truly peaceful nature of the Colombian population. November 10 could have been a remarkable day in my memory, it could have been a day of existential reconciliation, it could have been that day where I finally existed in peace with the world and myself.

But on November 10 I faced the most violent experience of my life. Never during my eighteen years in Colombia did I feel as vulnerable as I did in the afternoon of November 10 on McGill campus. My sense of security was completely shattered by the people that were supposed to protect it. The roaring hand of authority descended upon us, leaving us unguarded and defenceless. I did not witness the events that preceded these instances, but I can say that the reaction of this authority should not have been as enormous as it was. They are here to protect us, and for that reason WE give them authority, that should never be forgotten.

While my fellow McGill students were indiscriminately attacked, my friends in Colombia were experiencing a peaceful student demonstration. Somehow any labelling, or degree of “development” these countries might have had, seemed irrelevant as the tables turned and violence occurred where I never thought it would. What I deemed to be my great date of unity became a demonstration of disrespectful use of authority and violent means of repression.

November 10 will continue to pervade the consciousness of many individuals and shape the collective identity of McGill students for months to come. Whether or not you support tuition hikes and regardless of what your opinions on the occupiers are, the violence inflicted on McGill students in their campus was by no means acceptable. For my part, November 10 will continue to bemuse me: on the date where my existences were supposed to unite, they could not have stood in stronger opposition. The dream of inner peace was disrupted, even as I thought this would be a date of unity and reconciliation between my two selves. But I learnt to mistrust coincidence – and learnt that maybe life is not meant to be one, at least not for me.