Memoirs of Colonial Trauma

Memoirs of Colonial Trauma
Image by Flickr user osseous taken October 4, 2015 at the Perez Art Museum in Miami: "Poetics of Relation Inspired by the writings of author and philosopher Édouard Glissant (1928 – 2011), this exhibition responds to Miami as a site defined culturally by its diasporic communities and it looks to place these local dynamics in dialogue with more distant contexts that share similar histories. Poetics of Relation explores shifts in the sensibilities and global outlook of artists whose work engages the historical legacy of trauma caused by colonialism and migration. By pursuing Glissant’s logic of displacing the singularity of nationality, language and ethnicity, in exchange for adopting multiple rooted identities, the works displayed in the exhibition will engage this vision of a diverse and transient world of migrant subjects. The artists included in this project will offer complex narratives informed by historical experience, illuminating the role of place and location as central to the conception of itinerant identity."

By Ana Pano 

The wounds of historical oppression and trauma have affected countless groups throughout time globally. Historical trauma, also known as soul wound and colonial trauma, has been associated with multigenerational trauma and pain suffered by people. More than anything, everyday forms of oppression still reinforce the genocide, systemic approaches and confusion that the colonizer forces upon the colonized.

At the age of 15, my first psychological and physical experiences to trauma were related to skin tone. I considered my dark- skin color, round face and dark hair as inferior that manifested into my early adult years. It affected the way I perceived my self-value and importance to the overall society. The effects from hundreds of years ago, from generation to generation, had reached my unconscious memory so I say. For years, I could not understand why I felt so unvalued and disengaged to the dominant society. I experienced severe depression and anxiety that had no name to it. Even so, historical trauma does not only affect one’s physical understanding but also one’s perceptions of self-value and demoralization that is constantly carried against people.

The journey as a woman in the 21st century with struggles of skin complexion is an ever-changing form of colonization that affects people differently. Yo soy Mexicana, no… soy Latina, o talvez Chicana. Pero definitely not Hispanic. But undeniably soy Indigenia. Both in the past and in the present, this disruption and distress has affected millions of people worldwide.

Studying the history of Latin America has provided the context of how the past affects the present. During the colonization period, the Spanish practiced forms of discrimination and segregation against individuals who were not White in different parts of the Americas. Their caste system had more than 50 categories to identify ethnic heritages that included Creoles, Mestizos and individuals of African descent. In Mexico and other groups with similar histories, social control and ethnic lineage to the White race was fundamental to social acceptance and importance. Clearly, the darker you were on the caste system, the lower your value was to the society. The Spanish caste system and other oppressive systems that have existed continue to linger its psychological warfare.

The colonization process has included forms to segregate and continue a dependence of the dominant force that is clearly still evident to this day. Colonization has never truly ended and is constantly evolving into institutional, financial and social structures. For some, the school and neighborhood experience has cycled systemic approaches that were part of the norm. My elementary and middle school years were spent within a social system that did not guide students to liberation but rather to social standardization.

By the time I reached 21, many of my classmates and friends had been incarcerated and affected by gangs at some point in their lives. As young women, we dated young men who were inflicted by the street life. The same young men we often dated from school or our neighborhoods were often the same who exploited us for financial and sexual means. A trauma that I later connected to colonization. The dysfunction and oppression endured by some were committed against others through coercion and violence.

Understanding the caste system and other oppressive systems created at a global scale has made me realize the social divisions that have not ended but rather transformed. Groups of different backgrounds have been entrenched and disenfranchised. The 21st century has moved the domination of mass incarceration that has affected poor people of color.

By the time I had reached high school, students joked that the school had “cleaned up” the campus by removing the “bad” students, which predominantly included young men of color. Many were transferred to poorly funded continuation schools that resulted in the majority dropping out. Why was it that many of my classmates experienced similar hardships? Was this coincidence?

During my senior year, I remember the community college representatives coming to our senior classrooms to help us pick our classes for our first semester of college. Not once were we asked about our future aspirations or explained the college system. My high school counselor never asked me about my plans for college or why I had all F’s as a senior. So, it leads me to believe that students like me often are not given the attention in school because we didn’t prove we had cared about our future. We did not exhibit exceptional grades or conversations of the future, so we were ignored. Some of us managed to graduate high school with no mentorship or guidance of higher education.

At the community college level, I took my first cultural classes that awakened me to the oppression we live every day. I got to meet a group involved with social issues that discussed topics I had never heard of but had clearly experienced. I took my first Chicano and Africana study classes from professors who had a genuine interest in students like me. Individuals who believed we were capable of a positive future regardless of our backgrounds. I learned the history of people at a local, state, national and global scale with similarities of dehumanization and racialization that have casted millions.

For me, the past eight years have awakened me to the racial profiling of the last 500 years that has been recorded. Millions of people have been stereotyped to be less worthy, lazy, have limited intellectual ability, and lack of desire to get ahead. Others have been affected by forms of containment that have been both physical and psychological that prevented the development within our own community and educational system.

Our expendability as poor people and poor kids in poor funded schools and neighborhoods placed us as expendable and replaceable objects. It is imperative to understand intergenerational trauma and internalized oppression in order to understand the issues we face today. We are the warriors we hear and read about. Our knowledge, experience and existence affects future generations.

In reading Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird’s works, undoing the effects of colonialism and working toward decolonization require each of us to consciously consider to what degree we have been affected by not only the physical aspects of colonization but also the psychological, mental and spiritual aspects. In beginning the process to decolonization as people, we must realize we have the strength, power and intelligence to develop our own strategies of liberation.


Ana Pano is currently a student in the master’s social work program at Fresno State. She has focused her work with at-risk youth, gangs, indigenous groups in Mexico, hip-hop culture, traditional healing in mental health and the child welfare system. You may reach her at 


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    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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