With the Animal Rights 2002 Conference right over the
horizon, activists are thinking once again about converging on
Washington D.C. for the purpose of recharging our batteries and
restoring our faith in each other. Two years ago, I wrote about my
experience at an animal rights conference where I made lots of new
friends, learned lots of new techniques to help the animals, and joined
several major national campaigns that were underway. As the time
approaches for the Animal Rights 2002 Conference, the editor of Animal
Writes thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to rerun this
article. The reason: we want to encourage all of the readers of Animal
Writes to make every effort to attend this very important event. As a
humane educator for a very conservative humane society in South Florida,
I am privileged to be in a position to attend many professional
conferences and workshops, seminars, and conventions. At each one, I
broaden my horizons, expand my goals, and stretch the limits of my own
personal expectations. However, at each of these conferences, I am
always amazed that (since these are technically animal welfare events)
although I have much in common with my animal welfare colleagues on a
professional level, there is still a chasm between those in the animal
rights arena and those who work in animal welfare. I was pleased to see
that PETA was represented at the HSUS Conference in Miami this past
April; and I am always pleased to see that the Humane Society of the
United States is clearly represented at the Animal Rights Conferences as
well. Someday, I hope that the collective mission of animal
welfare/animal rights organizations will be unified. Until that day,
however, I still find solace in the company of new activists, mentors
and passionate advocates. And so once a year, I make the pilgrimage to
Washington, D.C. to be with the dedicated people of the animal rights
movement, if only to remind myself that I am not alone; that the work
that we are doing is making important strides; and that as long as we
continue to work together in service to animals, be it in an animal
welfare or an animal rights capacity, none of us will be truly alone.
After the first publication of the article entitled “The Word Is
Querencia,” I received e-mails from people who understood the point that
I was making and shared my feelings that being among the people of the
animal rights movement is truly a spiritual event, and a much needed
one, if we are to keep up the good fight. I hope that you enjoy this
article again if you are reading it for the second time. If you are
reading it for the first time, I hope that it conveys to you the
importance of joining with fellow activists from around the world so
that we can best learn how to serve the animals who are depending on our
energy, our dedication and our resolve.
The Word Is Querencia!
By Michelle Rivera -
There is a word in Spanish that is used
to describe the affection one feels for being in their own place. The
word is querencia. What a beautiful word!
It is the feeling of satisfaction one
gets for being truly at home. There are many ways to experience
querencia. But it is much more than that. I will try to explain.
How many of us have felt this sense when
returning from a long road trip? As our journey comes to an end, the
landmarks become somewhat familiar, and then more familiar, and so on
until we reach our own street.
Or how about when you go to work in the
morning and see that nothing has changed. The feeling of querencia at
work is much more acute when a new employee is present and we can sense
and understand their lack of querencia in this new place and that makes
our sense of the familiar so much more acute by comparison. We are
settled in, we know the routine. We know we are where we should be at
And the feeling we get when we come home
from an entire day away from home. We aren’t quite completely settled,
don’t quite have that sense of “querencia” until after the dog has
finished leaping in excitement, has been let out and let back in again,
and the cats have been greeted and their food bowls full. Even though we
may be home, there are still these small familiar routines that must be
followed before we can feel secure that all is right with the world.
Animals have a sense of querencia too.
Witness a pride of felines, be they lions or housecats, who are content
to groom each other, dozing peacefully, limbs intertwined. Or
chimpanzees within the safety of their families, being together, being
where they belong. Contrast this sense with the look on a stray dog’s
face while he races through traffic, or a kitten up a tree who cannot
come down. The panic, the sense of not being where they feel safe, where
they feel understood,
where they feel at home.
Sometimes we see birds in migration
winging their way south for the winter. We can see them as they situate
themselves on telephone poles and wires, and they seem content. They are
not home, but they’re with their frequent flying friends! Together, they
Late at night people gather to play
basketball at a park near my home. I can see people of all ages and
shapes and colors playing together. They know that they are expected on
these nights, they know they will be missed if they don’t come to play.
This, too is querencia. Hanging with the homeboys late at night playing
basketball, it just doesn’t get more familiar than that.
The most profound sense of querencia that
I have ever experienced was during the 1997 Animal Rights Convention in
Washington D.C. The first night at the hotel, I joined some other
activists poolside. We introduced ourselves and talked about what
brought us to the movement. One activist described a physical pain she
felt upon seeing or hearing a case of animal abuse. She indicated an
area just below her sternum. “Right here,” she said, “I feel a deep,
physical pain, right here.” Yes! Yes! I knew exactly what she meant! I
thought I was the only one who felt that exact pain, exactly “there,”
and here was a complete stranger describing for me the acute pain that I
myself had felt so many times.
During the next five days I was to learn
just how many others there were who felt that pain, and thought that,
they too, were the “only ones.”
The hotel restaurants had gone cruelty
free for the convention! We could order whatever we wanted from a
specialized bill of fare and knew that it was a vegan meal!
And on one cold, rainy, bitter D.C.
morning, PeTA sent three chartered buses to the hotel to transport us to
the United States Capital where we held a demonstration to protest the
U.S. subsidy of fur farmers. There, surrounded by three-hundred
activists standing in the pouring rain, I felt a sense of querencia.
There were workshops too. There was such
a variety of workshops that it was hard to choose from the many topics
and learned speakers. After the workshops, we would get together and
chat about what we learned. I attended a workshop sponsored by the
Jains, a religion that doesn’t believe in killing even the smallest of
insects, and I felt that I was in a nurturing place. I learned about
Alley Cat Allies, and the Farm Animal Reform Movement, Performing Animal
Welfare Society and United Poultry Concerns. All wide and varied
agendas...... all making me feel completely at home, at peace,
During a dinner reception, we had the
privilege of hearing firsthand Alex Pacheco’s account of rescuing doomed
horses in Texas, Howard Lyman’s story of rebirth, Naomi Rose’s unfailing
efforts to save the dolphins, and the ever-humble “father of the animal
rights movement” himself, Peter Singer, discussing his thoughts on “How
Are We To Live.” The late Cleveland Amory was there too, sharing his
memories of his famous white cat, Snowball and of the activities at the
Black Beauty Ranch.
The true bragging rights came at the
Celebrity Gala where I got to meet James Cromwell, Rue McClanahan,
Elaine Boosler, Linda Blair and, oh my stars, the inimitable Jane
Goodall! But did I feel inadequate in the company of these wonderful and
exciting icons of our movement? No, I felt a sense of belonging, I felt
a sense of the familiar. Querencia.
Our very last day brought us to the
streets of Washington D.C. for an animal-rights march that began at the
White House lawn and proceeded down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of
the U. S. Capitol. Two thousand or more strong, we marched defiantly
shouting animal-rights slogans and experiencing the sheer and boundless
joy of being a part of something historical, something big, something
important. (I often think of the million-man march and wonder what a
“million animal march” would be like!)
When the convention was over and my
traveling companions and I had to make our way home, we had layovers in
two airports, and I distinctly remember when my sense of querencia came
to an abrupt and discourteous halt.
We had gone to Starbucks coffee shop in
the Atlanta airport. There, sitting at the counter, I watched as the
server poured whole milk from a gallon jug to make a fancy coffee drink.
At that moment, my warm, fuzzy sense of insulation and isolation from
the cruel truths of the outside world ceased to exist. Querencia had
left me cold and alone.
In the years since that moment, I have
thought many times about the warm, wonderful feeling I had while with
the people who make up the animal rights movement. And whether they were
celebrated people or ordinary, everyday people just like me, I was
secure in the presence of kindred spirits. I have come to liken it to
the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan of “learning to live life on life’s
terms” because, like us, alcoholics must live in a society where they
are surrounded by that which breaks their hearts, spirits and bodies.
I write this in the hopes that you, dear
reader, will make every effort to attend this year’s Animal Rights 2000
conference. Your resolve will be set in stone from the moment you set
foot in the hotel, your senses surrounded by acceptance, understanding
and love, you will make new best-friends, and meet old, online friends.
You may learn how to argue your points, you may share a thing or two
with someone new to the movement. But I promise you this, you will
really, truly know, once and for all, what the Spanish mean when they
Animal Rights 2002 National Conference
Go on to Calling All
Rain Forest Heroes
Return to 12 May 2002 Issue
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