Working Toward Healing to End Oppression

Listen> Nanci on her work with women of color

Listen> Addressing power

Nanci Luna Jiménez founded Luna Jiménez Seminars & Associates (LJS) in 1994, focusing on training, facilitating, coaching and speaking through unique programs to encourage individuals in their process of personal healing and transformation. With a commitment to end oppression, LJS’ powerful events help release individual initiative that transform organizations and create a more just and equitable workplace and world.

Nanci is recognized regionally, nationally and internationally for her highly effective and insightful training, inclusive facilitation and dynamic speaking with groups of diverse ages, industries and cultural backgrounds. Bringing personal passion and commitment, Nanci works with individuals, schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations and business groups. In a Q&A with Colors of Influence, Nanci talks about her work in facilitating dialogue and bringing people together as committed and informed allies. 

What is your primary mission for the firm? LJS’s mission is to create a just world by assisting individuals and organizations to heal from the impact of institutional and internalized oppression.

One reason I started LJS was to increase opportunities for us to share our stories with each other and deepen understanding across differences. In communities of color, for example, we do not know each other’s stories and this lack of accurate information effects the ways we work together, in a unified and coordinated effort, to create healthy and just communities. LJS addresses the systemic root causes and effects of in-fighting, sabotage, and difficulty backing each other’s leadership within communities of color. Without these opportunities to learn about each other we are vulnerable to confusions and can be pitted against each other. In our seminars, participants both explore issues that affect our relationships with each other and identify how to have impact and influence on our communities.

Another reason I started LJS was to assist individuals, and eventually organizations and policy-makers, to deepen their commitment to act as allies in fighting against inequality. For systemic, transformative change we need to win over and think well about our allies. Part of LJS’s mission is to offer training and support to allies, assisting them to become clearer in their commitment to end injustice on their own behalf—not for the targeted group, but rather for themselves. All of us, targets and non-targets both are demeaned and diminished by the perpetuation of institutional oppression. Our seminars address this important work.

What was your career path leading up to starting Luna Jimenez Seminars? After graduate school, I went to several workshops that focused on diversity and anti-bias training. Lillian Roybal Rose conducted a cross-cultural and alliance-building workshop where I was living in California. I came away from the seminar with a clear decision that this was the work I wanted to do for the rest of my life. She addressed key issues of healing from internalized oppression and alliance-building that have a direct impact on effective social change. She conducted the training with so much integrity and authenticity. She served as my mentor when I started my business in 1994 and is now one of my Associates.

How has the work changed from when it started? One thing I notice is that there’s more openness to dialogue. People want to have conversations about these issues with undefended awareness that there is a lot we simply don’t know—about ourselves and each other.

When I started my business in the mid-1990s, diversity and cross-cultural work had already gone through many versions. The work that Lillian Roybal Rose has trained me to do is really unique. We deal directly with feelings and we don’t work from a “blame” framework. Instead, we emphasize an empowerment and leadership framework around cross-cultural communication.

There’s also more emphasis on inclusion. It’s no longer enough that we tolerate or accept differences. Diversity work now has transformed to building inclusive practices.

Power remains one of the key issues still missing in institutional diversity dialogues. Power is a tough issue to talk about. There is a tendency to view power and dominance as inherently negative, rather than a description of the ways in which different groups have access to power based on their group identity, backgrounds and experience. Until we can understand the role of power and talk frankly about it, it will be harder to make systemic changes.

How do you begin the conversation about power? The best entrée into a productive dialogue about power is to address the foundation of institutional power. When starting a conversation with people about power, it’s typical and common for people to say “I don’t personally have power over that person, over that situation.” Talking about institutional power helps people to see that we’re individuals acting within and affected by larger systems. Whether we think we have power or not, we collude with and benefit from institutional access to power.

For example, I identify as a heterosexual female. Because I have access to power as a heterosexual female in this society, I don’t have to think twice about talking about my partner publicly, choosing to be married or not (I have that legal option), or the legal status or protection of any children we might have. However, if I were a lesbian or bisexual woman I would need to think about when, where and with whom to talk about my personal life. Because of institutional power imbalances these seemingly simple acts which pose no threat to myself or my loved ones become, for a lesbian, bisexual, gay man or transgendered person, loaded with fear—fear of violence, fear of losing one’s children or one’s job, fear of losing family or close relationships, etc. Because society is set up to institutionally support and validate my sexual orientation, making me “the norm,” doesn’t make me bad. This is not a question of “good” or “bad” people. We assume that all people are good. It also doesn’t remove or minimize the presence and impact of this power imbalance. It doesn’t deny that I have access to power by virtue of membership—however random or accidental—in a group, in this example, the heterosexual group.

One last point I’ll mention has to do with interpreting “not having (institutional) power” as being a victim or powerlessness. That perspective makes it hard for people to look at where they don’t have institutional power, because in our society, we have such a strong anti-victim framework. Addressing issues of institutional power imbalances is not the same as saying people are victims or powerless. What I offer instead is the perspective that each of us is powerful, and as individuals, we each have different relationships to systems of power.

When organizations approach you, what are they asking you to do? Typically, people hire us because they want someone who can provide training or facilitation with an understanding of institutional oppression in an organization. Also they want someone to address the issues not only on the cognitive level, but also on the affective level – working with emotions. When there is conflict or emotional upset in an organization I offer a framework for dealing with feelings that arise when addressing cross-cultural communication and alliance-building in the workplace.

Also, there are organizations who hire LJS to work with them because I bring a unique perspective as a female who is bicultural and bilingual; someone who understands issues specific to communities of color and/or women. Increasingly, organizations are also taking note of the unique approach to leadership development work that LJS does among all people and especially women in leadership positions across different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

What are the primary themes of your work with women of color? There are three primary messages. We are female, and even as we are impacted by other issues, such as race, class, age, sexual orientation, etc., we don’t have to make our identity as females secondary to other experiences. As women of color it often seems like a luxury to examine the impact of being female in this society, given the effects of racism in our communities, particularly on men of color or our families.

As women we have more in common among each other than we have differences. For example, we tend to “rank” each other inside the category “women of color.” There are some who can pass, and therefore have more access, because they’re lighter-skinned. Some may be seen as the “nicer minority”: those who get rewarded and promoted. I bring these issues out into the open to be discussed: whether we’ve been tokenized or made the star, or even pitted against each other because of stereotypes of our different groups.

For example, as a Latina, I’m often stereotyped as being nice, timid, friendly, accommodating, and “serving.” That’s obviously a stereotype connected to people who have been colonized, either as indigenous or mixed heritage people. My African-American sisters are stereotyped as being more angry, aggressive, hard-to-deal-with, and more conflict-inclined. Oftentimes, we’re not aware that we’re playing those stereotypes against each other.

Another important point that I emphasize is addressing what it would take to be united—regardless of real or perceived differences. What would it mean for us to support each other, even where we disagree? Women of color are uniquely positioned to play a leading role in eliminating oppression globally, because of our experiences and our capacity to build alliances. I’m committed to assisting women’s leadership to take hold and be well-supported.

What is LJS the “best in the world” at? We bring a unique combination of storytelling and compelling teaching skills and frameworks around diversity and cross-cultural communication. Through participatory and interactive facilitation, we are able to draw out wisdom within a group and transform individuals.

LJS is really good at listening. We see listening as a transformative tool for healing around oppression. Because we work with feelings, there is very little that we shy away from discussing. Having these challenging conversations, artfully and well-facilitated, creates the safety to go deeper into arenas that would otherwise remain unspoken.

LJS excels at creating community. The cross-cultural journey has its challenges and one of the things our clients walk away with is the awareness that they are not alone on the journey. We’re excellent at bringing diverse worlds together, and finding strands to pull people together to be more connected, coordinated and effective.

What is your interest in international work? For years I hesitated to insert myself in any sort of global dialogue; I was keenly aware of my unawareness as a USer. By virtue of living in the United States, there are many things that I’m shielded from or denied access to. This has given me a partial—incomplete and biased—view of the world. For me, deciding to do international work meant looking at what it means to be a “USer,” and examining the assumptions that I carry. I now do international work with this foundation, continually challenging my assumptions and taking my lead from people outside the US whenever possible.

As board chair of World Pulse, I’m supporting and promoting the development of a social change networking website and on-line community. The site, called PulseWire, features the stories and solutions from women around the world in their own voices, uncensored and unfiltered. PulseWire has an intentional global reach and focuses on issues such as HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, particularly of women and children, and access to clean water.

I’m also involved with Symphonic Circles, an organization whose mission is to support the development of grassroots leadership nationally and internationally.

How has your cultural background affected your work? Within the Latino community, we tend to function collectively. We rely on building relationships and support. Relationship-building is a core value at LJS. As a Catholic Latina, I grew up in a faith community where I experienced the church as a tool for organizing social change. I also believe this shaped my deep commitment to social change.

Most people who have been at my workshops have heard this story. The most direct affect is my personal, lived experience of how internalized racism played out in my family. My father is an immigrant; he’s from Puerto Rico; my mother is second generation Mexican-American. I’ve spent time both in Mexico and Puerto Rico, traveling, living, studying and visiting with family.

Within our diverse Latino community, there’s internalized racism between Latino groups—Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Bolivians, etc. Because of this internalized racism my parents were forbidden to date and eventually eloped. My grandmother stopped talking to my mom, her only surviving daughter, for two years because she married a Puerto Rican.

I look more Puerto Rican (read “black’ or “African heritage”), and I was treated differently (although we never spoke about it) by my Mexican family. Clearly, this was because of internalized racism--the tendency for us to take in and believe racist stereotypes, and mistreat family members based on this misinformation. Personally understanding what internalized racism is and how it played out in my own family provided a key piece of information that was pivotal in allowing me to heal a relationship with my maternal grandmother. This has had a core affect in wanting to share this understanding of internalized oppression among communities of color, especially, and to our allies as well.

What do you enjoy most about the work that you do? I enjoy being able to do this work in different sectors, all over the US and in different parts of the world. It’s deeply fulfilling to watch people make connections using the frameworks and language we teach; they come away with more compassion and a deeper understanding for themselves and others. They also leave more hopeful, recommitted and reenergized about making change in the world.

The work I do is not quick-fix work: it’s long-term, life-changing process work. I’m most proud of the work LJS has done impacting hundreds of leaders of color in understanding internalized racism, and skills to heal from it. I believe this will have a lasting effect on us all.

Colors of Influence Fall 2008

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"For systemic, transformative change we need to win over and think well about our allies. Part of LJS’s mission is to offer training and support to allies, assisting them to become clearer in their commitment to end injustice on their own behalf—not for the targeted group, but rather for themselves."

"It’s no longer enough that we tolerate or accept differences. Diversity work now has transformed to building inclusive practices."

"Addressing issues of institutional power imbalances is not the same as saying people are victims or powerless. What I offer instead is the perspective that each of us is powerful, and as individuals, we each have different relationships to systems of power."

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