"Mask-making guru" Cara-Lee Malange lives in Nelson, BC and her story of becoming involved in the struggle for human rights in Central America is now a few decades old.
In the late 80's and early 90's, Cara-Lee became introduced to the plight of Central American refugees coming to Canada to escape the state-led repression in Guatemala and El Salvador, in particular. As an undergraduate student, Cara-Lee studied criminology at Simon Fraser University and it was there that she worked with Vancouver Legal Services Society (VLSS) as part of her academic field practice. It was at VLSS that she conducted a study on access to counsel for refugee claimants. Data attained from her research would eventually be used in a court case which would lead to changes in BC law that would enable refugee claimants access to counsel at all stages of the refugee determination process. Through this work she became connected to the Central American refugee community in Vancouver and would volunteer as an English teacher to assist refugee claimants in their adjustment to Canadian life.
Eventually, Cara-Lee went on to graduate school (anthropology) which took her to Guatemala for eleven months from Dec ´94 to Oct ´95. She worked at a home for women and children who were escaping male violence within the context of also surviving a brutal civil war and simultaneously dealing with acute poverty and systemic racism. While the concept of intersectionist feminist theory and practice did not exist in the 1990's, Cara-Lee's masters thesis lands square on this axis of these multiple "feminisms" by describing the women's struggles for justice that she witnessed as a type of "political motherhood."
Fast forward to 2014 and Cara-Lee is working as the Acting Chair of the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College located in Castlegar, BC. The Selkirk College nursing program had been taking students annually to Guatemala as a part of their global health curriculum, and it is through that program that Cara-Lee became connected to Grahame Russell of the Canadian NGO, Rights Action. In June 2014, Cara-Lee would participate in her first Rights Action-led delegation to Guatemala where she witnessed the brutal legacy of Canadian mining in the country. Shaken and mortified by the human and environmental destruction of powerful Canadian mining companies who operated with veritable impunity in Guatemala, Cara-Lee vowed that she would commit herself to this struggle for justice in whatever way she could. She would participate in two more delegations to Honduras (2016) and to Guatemala (2018), respectively, and would carry on the work through coordinating various talks and events hosted by the Mir Centre for Peace.
In 2020, within the context of COVID-19, the social and economic conditions in Guatemala and Honduras have become even more desperate. Without having the ability to plan fundraising events or gatherings, Cara-Lee decided that she would try her hand at mask-making and selling as a way to raise funds for the increasingly vulnerable communities in Guatemala and Honduras.
So, she dusted off her mom's vintage sewing machine, a 1976 Kenmore made of solid steel, and tried her hand at the masks. While the first few were not exactly retail quality (to say the least), before long she got her groove and was making masks that were getting noticed. Soon, her signature black, white and grey masks, made with locally-sourced, 100% cotton fabric, were being sold at Zinnia Textiles, a lovely Nelson shop which specializes in eco-friendly, Canadian-made clothing and textiles. The masks have become so popular that on any given outing to downtown Nelson, Cara-Lee will usually spot a stranger or two wearing her masks (besides countless friends and even “Joliet Jake Blues” of Blues Brother fame in the photo).
Since June 2020, Cara-Lee had made over 400 masks and has sent over $3000 to Guatemala and Honduras through Rights Action and another Canadian NGO, Bienestar. Yet the activism of mask-making has been a two-way street for Cara-Lee as she can think of no better way she would rather have spent her own time in lock-down during the middle of a pandemic.
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Mask Guru & Joliet Jake Blues
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