My Story: Tania Bronstein

Dec 15, 2013 Comments Off on My Story: Tania Bronstein by

Translated by Ellen Donnison

 At the end of the seventies, Tania Bronstein left Columbia for London. Since her arrival, Tania has been actively involved with the Latin American community, especially with its women. Faithful to her ideals, with a group of like-minded women she created LAWRS, Latin American Women’s Rights Service. The Latin American association is one of the most important and consolidated of its kind in the United Kingdom.

“I feel my life is very similar to that of the people who arrived in London in the seventies, looking for not an alternative economy, but an alternative life with human rights. Many people left their country persecuted. The necessity to leave was due to the unfavourable conditions that didn’t accommodate their way of thinking or being.

I arrived in the United Kingdom at age 22 and have actually lived here longer than I have in my native country. I came here when I had just graduated from university. I had studied pre-undergraduate classes in architecture, but I would have had to pay to take two examinations at the Royal Institute of British Architecture. During this time everything was very difficult, and so I got involved in other things and ended up doing a masters in Social Politics. From that moment on, my life was about people and not buildings. 

I came in a very different age. When I came to London there was a lot of creativity even though Thatcher had recently come into power. Thatcher’s government was quite restrictive for minorities and those most dispossessed. However, in London there was an extraordinary local council that challenged the issues of the central government. You could live in London without needing to spend much money. Many things were free such as second hand bookshops and various concerts, and also something particularly interesting for me, a movement that recognised women’s rights which I started to get involved in.

I didn’t know a single Latin American person when I arrived, but I lived in a part of Islington which had a Latin American bookshop called Carila, where you could buy books in Spanish or on Latin America. This bookshop became one of the first meeting places for Latin Americans. Many groups began to get together there. One day I approached this place and there I met other young women that had formed a group. In this group, which advocated feminist awareness, we discovered our identities as Latin Americans and as women. We began to get together each week which was the original basis for the project LAWRS.

Tania Bronstein After two years our group, called Group of Latin American Women, started to want to create an organisation for women like us. We were always very hardworking in the formation of LAWRS. In fact, LAWRS turns 30 this year, something we are going to celebrate. We were a group of very committed women; I don’t know how we mustered up the strength, the time and the money but for a long time we financed many of the activities ourselves. The other people that were involved in the group’s organization were those in a football league that met every Sunday to play in Clapham Junction. Due to not having a particular meeting space where we all lived, we met there where we made and sold typical Latin American food. We did the best we could to get there by bus, armed with pamphlets full of information. We offered advice on problems regarding health, domestic violence and how to solve housing problems. We fought hard for funding and made some wonderful petitions, so great that they were used to make a policy for women in London. However, when we went to ask for funding, it was denied so we put in a complaint. We had to appeal and we won.

Later there were other processes to deal with due to previously being a movement and an informal organisation. We were very committed but everything was voluntary and we had various obligations to our employees. We had to find a location and learn how to manage money within an organisation. Later on we realised that the migration process was very difficult, tending to affect couples’ relationships. Furthermore we came from a culture that was largely macho where a great amount of violence against women occurred. We worked with many types of these cases that were a product of this. Therefore, in 1985 I worked extremely hard to create a Latin American shelter. We opened a house for women that needed to flee from violent situations. Around this time I left LAWRS to focus on the shelter, where I stayed for 8 years. Unfortunately the shelter project could never be expanded. . It was a house with six small rooms, though unfortunately with the level of problems we have today, we should have five houses like this.

I have had different jobs but today I work in the area of community development, particularly in financing voluntary sectors. This is what I have been doing now for the last 25 years. I have worked with the government, for large organisations that donate a lot of money and philanthropic entities. I have worked as a member of staff within the workplace but today I only work freelance.

When I was working as a consultant I did some consultancy for LAWRS in 1999, a sad time for the organisation. One of the problems was with the financing because they depended on only one source of funding, but in addition, it was clear that the organisation had lost the affection of its users. When I did this consultancy I told myself that something had to be done. So, I made workshops and we found more people for the governing committee. We injected it with more dynamism and transformed LAWRS into something better and more appealing. I remember that I came with a doll, which is still there. She reminds us all the time of the organisation’s most important aspects and the people that make it.

The following year I became a member of the committee, becoming president. I have now been its president for many years and now it’s time for me to start to move over, to make space for other women.

I have enjoyed the time I have lived here immensely. It has been an educational experience because I’ve been delighted to be a Latin American woman in London. When I was in Columbia, I would never have said, ‘I am Latin American’, but here my identity has grown into something more secure and strong. I think London is a city which is comfortable with differences and diversity. For me, my time here has been very positive despite the racism and rejection I have experienced many times over. Here your vision of the world evolves into something immensely interesting, you discover new flavours, new rhythms, you grow intellectually, your capacity to assimilate differences grows and you evolve. It is a rich experience.

If you have to be a foreigner, I believe that it’s much better to be one in London than anywhere else.”





VL English

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