By Alejandra Hernandez
Waking up this morning was surprisingly not as difficult as I had thought it would be. I willed myself to stay awake yesterday despite all of the naps I almost took while riding the U-Bahn. As I reflect on my first week in Berlin, I am baffled by how much history and how many narratives I have been given the privilege to hear and learn about. I was particularly excited for today’s class, since we were going to learn more about Generation ADEFRA 2.0. ADEFRA, an organization based in Germany that was created in 1986 by six Black lesbian German women, focuses on the empowerment of Black women. According to Jasmin Eding in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” the word ADEFRA means “’the woman who shows courage’ in the Ethiopian language, Amharean” (131). In a few words, the organization enables Black women to explore what it means to be Black in a predominantly White German society. The organization has had a tremendous impact on various Black communities in Germany, and I was excited to engage in dialogue with three of its most influential members.
Upon our arrival, Cheanna, Amy, and I were warmly greeted at the door of Begine by Peggy Piesche. Piesche is a Black lesbian women who was born and raised in East Germany, staying, as she put it, “until the bitter end.” Peggy works in education, more specifically in Literature Studies, European Studies, and Diaspora Studies,, among other subjects. As we sat down, the entire class began to trickle into the room. Then came Dr. Maisha Eggers. Eggers was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. She migrated to Germany where she does social work and various forms of education, such as Gender Studies. Finally, Katja Kinder joined our group. Kinder is from Berlin, where she works as a conflict mediator and counselor. She is also a founding member of ADEFRA. With the addition of a couple more chairs, we all sat and began to simply talk to one another.
Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers were all brought together through ADEFRA. As they began to talk about their involvement with the organization, each of these individuals expressed a lack of language they felt before they found ADEFRA. ADEFRA flourished into a safe space for Black women and gender non-conforming individuals. They each emphasized how vital it was and continues to be to come together as a collective and work from a creative space in order to define who they are on their own terms by creating safe spaces, sharing knowledge and experiences, and articulating these knowledges and experiences. For example, both Piesche and Kinder shared with the group how, as lesbian Black women, they had to come out in many ways. Additionally, Eggers expressed how difficult it was for her believing she was one of few Black woman in Germany. ADEFRA became a space in which they could begin to create language that allowed them to define and explore their intersectional identities. Kinder recalled during the inception of ADEFRA how members searched the street for Black women, handing out hand-made flyers and encouraging these women to attend meetings by word of mouth.
Thirty years later, the room I now sat in, still remains a safe place for these Black women of Germany. As they shared their stories, I felt incredibly privileged and honored to have been invited into the physical meeting place where ADEFRA holds their meetings. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers recounted the challenges of being Black in a White society, particularly during the 1980’s. Along these lines, Kinder also explained how the building next door remains a living space exclusively for lesbian women. Over the course of the past week, we have continually heard about the isolation that many Black Germans experienced, especially in 1980s Germany. While I could in no way begin to comprehend what it must have felt like to grow up being completely isolated, I can identify with the need for a safe space. At a predominately white institutions, such as Colorado College, many of my peers who identify as women of color and I have found it tremendously difficult to claim a safe space that is our own. I never imagined how emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting isolation could be. On that note, Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers stressed the importance of coming together collectively. As Eggers stated, “If you are dealing with oppression…there is no way you are going to do that in a place of isolation.” Thus, collective spaces play an important role in the creation of languages. Through these created languages, marginalized groups are able to define themselves and their experiences. However, with the creation of language comes the danger of it being consumed by mainstream culture. Along these lines, Kinder warned, “It is not me anymore as soon as it goes mainstream.” Thus, these safe spaces are imperative to members in communities to connect with one another and keep these languages and images of themselves. In this way, a collective and creative space can lead to collective reflection. Further, as ADEFRA continues to thrive, it has become a multi-generational organization. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers lovingly call themselves the “queer aunts” of ADEFRA.
We later delved into a conversation about heteronormativity, a creation of colonialism. Piesche discussed how queerness has been “cannibalized” by the white world, which replaces itself as the original. People of color, who identify as queer, are then looked at in surprise because we come from “backward” cultures, when, in reality, Eggers pointed out how these intersectional histories have always been here. Here, I was reminded of Eggers explanation of the difference between sharing knowledge and sharing information. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Eggers writes, “Referencing knowledges that are being produced away from (and outside of) the hegemonic center of the West is a further advance in the project of decolonization” (13). There has been an erasure and white washing of queer histories within communities of colors, which has worked to further silence us. As the “queer aunts,” Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers explain how ADEFRA is a “collective archive of queer Black knowledge.” They conveyed how it is important for them to allow for younger generations to find themselves on their own however, they also expressed the want to be there for them to share their language and experiences.
As the dialogue carried on, the group began to speak about how identity and knowledge is articulated. Both Piesche and Eggers shared how writing themselves into existence and reading it is crucial to a community. For Eggers, reading about how other black women dealt with their oppressions helped pull her out of her isolation. Writing makes her feel that is no longer alone. Piesche stressed the importance of not just looking at different genres but also different formats of writing is important, such as poetry. However, Kinder didn’t express these sentiments; “No I don’t have to be in any book, I don’t want to be in history…we exist, period.” She critiques the articulation of knowledge and identity through books as limiting. “We have so many books, but we still have all of this oppression…we need to think about much more than just books.” Though Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers had different standpoints on this topic, they emphasized that storytelling and sharing experiences is, nonetheless, powerful. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Eggers also explains,
Sharing knowledge is perceived to entail a deeper commitment than merely consuming information. It involves engaging deeply with the power-critical analyses produced in everyday contexts. Within a critical pedagogy of decolonization, access to alternative knowledges can deeply influence action and the direction of social movement work (13).
ADEFRA’s activism is based on creating an informal, easy-going space where Black women and gender non-conforming individuals can meet each other where knowledge is shared rather than information. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “In the interest of all of our survivals and the survival of our children, these Black German Women claim their color and their voices” (xiv). ADEFRA plays a crucial role in the community for Black German women and gender non-conforming individuals.
Sadly, the class had to come to an end. I leaned back in my chair dazed by how incredible the conversation had gone. Meeting with members of ADEFRA and hearing their narratives was surreal after having read about them. As I said goodbye and headed down the stairs, I couldn’t help but think about collectivity and creativity. There are days when I think I can do everything on my own; I am strong. But what is so wrong about coming together? I thought of the ways in which I identify and how I think and move in creative ways. Kinder said, “Whatever is normative kills us because we live in a creative space.” Identity should be defined on your own terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on your own.
Alejandra Hernandez is a rising junior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track, and is planning to attend medical school. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love reading and dancing to Latin music. While in Berlin, she is excited to explore and learn about different cultures and communities.
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