Sandra Suasnabar

Sandra Suasnabar Alberco is an urban Indigenous queer migrant woman of Andean descent from Lima, Peru. For more than 10 years, Sandra has worked in non-profit, social justice and anti-violence agencies serving diverse communities affected by the interconnections of colonization, white supremacy, patriarchy and systemic violence. She has worked professionally as both a Community Worker and certified Expressive Arts Therapist. Throughout Sandra’s journey in Canada, she has been involved in providing direct support work, advocacy, community empowerment and therapy. Sandra draws from her lived experience as a queer Indigenous migrant woman. She served as the manager of the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) from September 2018 until February 2019.

Women before me

I want to acknowledge that who I am and the work I do today is because I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. These are the women who have shaped, transformed, and mentored me on my path. I am very fortunate to have met generous and inspiring women who taught and challenged me while also struggling with oppression and inequity.

My commitment to this work stems from growing up as a teenager in Lima, Peru facing poverty, racism and gender violence. My personal challenges and sense of injustice led to my consciousness raising.  I believe this struggle chose me after feeling an immense calling, sense of responsibility and accountability to fight for gender equity. As time has passed, I have received more opportunities and power to create spaces for other racialized women like me.

Growing up I was surrounded by love; my mother, aunties, grandmother and other women who surrounded me made sure that despite the struggles, my spirit, sense of self and justice remained intact. The women in my life have struggled tirelessly to be heard, valued, seen and respected; and they did this with love and care for other women.

Spaces for healing, justice, transformation and empowerment

My healing journey is a reflection of my acts of resistance and solidarity. I am in this world because of the women that live in me, the women that continue to be in my life and the historically oppressed communities I belong to. It is known that when one heals, everyone connected to that person is also affected by their journey. We all belong to community networks and social fabrics despite the intentional and systemic efforts to isolate, undermine, marginalize, silence, disempower and disenfranchise women.  I am committed to foster healing spaces wherever I go; I owe it to the women who paved the path before me.

In building those spaces, we need to step back and invite the wisdom living in the communities who are enduring oppression. Because we are living in societies shaped by colonization and capitalism, we are accustomed to look for a particular type of expertise, ignoring the voices and knowledge of people with lived experience. More often we follow the dominant narrative that only academic achievements and its titles are the experts, we rarely question it or acknowledge other ways of knowing and being.

Violence isolates the person enduring it, and when we experience violence we internalize it. Unfortunately our modern societies also isolate survivors by avoiding a much-needed conversation and systemic actions towards the elimination of violence against women. It is imperative that we all take responsibility and make daily efforts to bring forward approaches that challenge colonization and stop normalizing violence against women.

I want to lift women up, protect their dignity, identify resilience and strengthen their ability to make decisions about their own journeys and future. I have been fortunate to work in several spaces that trusted my ability to make decisions by supporting and creating space for my voice. My work towards women’s liberation is to identify the voices that are left behind, create space for these voices and connect them with support networks that will listen and uphold their voices with respect.

Interconnected trajectories

I began this journey when I was a teenager by attending a conversation series intending to end racism within marginalized communities. The conversations were facilitated by the National Coordinator of Human Rights in Lima-Peru, a space and movement that watered the seeds of justice in me. This opportunity gave me tools to examine injustice from a critical place and inspired me to take action in my community. This experience allowed me to step back and reflect on my reality, the reality of my peers, and provided a space to discuss ways to address the injustice we were living. Without this opportunity, we wouldn’t have had the time or ability to engage in these conversations as we were trying to survive.  This opportunity changed my life and gave me a collective sense of identity and purpose with other young people who were also facing oppression, while questioning racism and violence in the same way.

Expressive Arts Therapy

It has taken me a lifetime to realize that arts and creativity occupied a sacred place in the day-to-day life of my community. My culture is filled with daily and communal land-based rituals, and through migration, that space was left empty and I was filled with deep longing, confusion and emptiness. At some point in my life as a settler in these lands, I re-encountered the arts in my healing journey.  I decided to train as an Expressive Arts Therapist because the arts can witness, fill a void and be a creative force to give us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, unlearn, learn and relearn in a playful yet profound and transformational way.

Gender inequity persists

We live in constant crisis; we are too busy or too exhausted to look into why women and some people continue complaining about injustice. A lot of people like to believe that gender violence and inequity is not a problem anymore, even more so in the so-called developed world. Unfortunately, gender inequity persists and we need to acknowledge it. This is one of the most important steps to take as a society in order to eradicate it.

I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside folks at the SASC.  I have connected to hundreds of students and members of the UBC community, and I had the honor to witness and hear stories of outstanding resilience. I like to think of the SASC as a sacred place, in its autonomy and fierceness. Our team is dedicated to witness and listen, we are committed to hold up survivor’s voices as if it was our very own. Survivors need to be heard and they need to be lifted by society. My life journey took me to the SASC and it was at the right time and place to learn, grow and continue to contribute in a way that I was able to use all of my skills, head, heart and hands to advocate for the work I believe in.