The Council on Latin American & Iberian Studies recently invited Paula Moreno, President of Manos Visibles, to discuss her recently-published memoir, “El Poder de lo Invisible: Memorias de Solidaridad, Humanidad e Resistencia” (“The Power of the Invisible: Memories of Solidarity, Humanity and Resistance”) on October 15 as part of its Lunchtime Colloquia Speaker Series.
Moreno has a number of achievements to her name. She is an industrial engineer from Colombia and holds an MPhil in the philosophy of management from the University of Cambridge, in addition to studies in urban planning and leadership at Yale and MIT. As Colombia’s former Minister of Culture, she was the youngest to hold the position as well as the first female Afro-Colombian to do so. In 2013, she was recognized by the BBC as one of the top 100 female world leaders. She is a former 2014 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow, and seemed happy to be back on Yale’s campus to talk about her new book.
Over a period of ten years, Moreno wrote her book to help recall narratives and offer different perspectives of her life through family and friends. She was driven by her belief in the power of words, which she partially learned from taking a class on memoir writing. She felt an urgent call to tell her own story. The title comes from her desire to bring out the powers of invisible people that she tries to make more visible—like her mother, grandmother, and aunts. Moreno says her family has come a long way from slavery to full citizenship—her grandmother was one of the first people to receive a certificate of freedom.
During her talk, Moreno asked the audience if they know that there are “ten million Afro-Colombians in the country,” and then shared an anecdote from when she met one of the top Colombian artists who asked her which African country she was from, only to have to convince the artist that she is Colombian. She cited similar situations when as Minister she would go to meetings and people would ask “where is the Minister?”
“Why should I be having this conversation?” Paula says she would ask herself.
The pressure of being in such an important position led her to write a book that shows herself as a human being who can answer the question of “how is Paula?” There was a constant struggle to keep a balance as an “outsider,” and she admits that she felt lonely at times. Her loneliness did not only stem from her position as the first female Afro-Colombian minister, but also her age, as other ministers would make comments like “you could be my daughter.”
Through the hard times, Moreno said she had a lot of support, notably the Congressional Black Caucus in the U.S., which celebrated her nomination. She sees the world now in a critical moment of redefining what exactly racial equality looks like in the context of structural racism, and the work done to sustain this progress.
In closing, Moreno said that her book is for herself, as much as it is for the public. The years of work she put into the book allowed her to really get to know herself. In interviewing people like her mother, she was able to rethink ideas she had of herself growing up.
“Every person is a book. Every human being has something to report,” Moreno says.
Moreno is currently working to bring her books to places where there are no bookstores, and an English translation is also planned.
Written by Amanda Thomas, Saybrook College ‘21.