Magdalena Kaluza: Direct Action

Magdalena Kaluza; photo Sarah Whiting

The story of Magdalena Kaluza starts with their parents. Their mother is a white American woman of Polish and French-Canadian descent with family ties in the Iron Range, who went to Guatemala to study Spanish. Their father is of Mayan K’iche’ mixed race (mestizo) who played the guitar and grew up in the midst of the revolution. Both parents were working towards social justice and solidarity before Kaluza was born.

Kaluza’s day job is working at Take Action Minnesota, which allows them to deepen community ties through storytelling while engaging in social justice work.

In 2019, Kaluza applied to Power of Vision, an arts organization based out of Hope Community in Minneapolis. It enabled Kaluza to listen to and tell the stories of the Phillips neighborhood, as well as support tenants in the Corcoran neighborhood.

At the same time, Kaluza was supporting tenants in the Whittier neighborhood as they fought to claim their buildings from a landlord who charged high rents without maintaining the buildings. After a long legal fight, the tenants won the right to own their buildings in the summer of 2020. Kaluza worked with the tenants group named Cielos sin Limites (Sky Without Limits) to create a mural that celebrates the struggle and victory of the tenants.

During the uprising in late May and early June, Kaluza focused on connecting community: organizing fire brigades, setting up lines of communication to keep community abreast of minute-by-minute changes, and starting the process of political education. As the situation calmed in the Twin Cities, Kaluza continued the long-term work of education, pointing out that community safety is more than “police or no police” — it is everyone having needs met.

Political education coupled with direct action is work Kaluza is engaged in at the local level as well as in the wider city and state. Their work focuses first on housing and then on climate change and immigration rights. Kaluza speaks with passion about the need for housing that people can afford to live in safely and with dignity. Without this, they argue, other fights are impossible. “We can’t work on climate change or immigration rights if we don’t have places to live.”

Wide-Angle View

As a child, Kaluza spent the school year living in the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis and the summers in rural Guatemala with their father’s family.

Growing up, their mother characterized Phillips as a microcosm of what is going on in the world. When the Hmong fled Vietnam, many found refuge in Phillips. When people fled the drug epidemic in Chicago, they moved to Phillips. As people leave east Africa, you can see it reflected in the Phillips neighborhood. At the same time, the social issues that plagued the world, and the ways that U.S. foreign policy impacted other countries, were on display without subtlety in Guatemala. They recalled looking around at the Guatemalan community and seeing darker skinned people than Kaluza, yet the ads and billboards featured people who were lighter.

Kaluza grew up engaged in social justice. They were taught early that they have the power to act and can change the direction of the world. They cannot be a neutral actor, instead they have an obligation to be a positive force.

Kaluza’s connection to art also is rooted in being bicultural. “Growing up across two cultures really drove home a deep desire for solidarity and understanding across so-called borders — cultures, identities, class, races.”

This drive to connect brought Kaluza into the arts, specifically storytelling. In high school, they participated in a spoken word workshop, which led to joining Palabristas, a group of Latinx spoken word and slam poets. Through Palabristas, Kaluza had the opportunity to travel around Minnesota performing, in hope that it would inspire others to share their own stories.

Kaluza believes art creates space for vulnerability, which in turn creates deeper relationships. “Talk to one another — in neighborhoods, apartment buildings, places of worship, workplaces. In those conversations, practice being vulnerable. If we share our stories about how we and our loved ones are impacted, the people we speak with will also have their own stories to share. By sharing vulnerability, we build deeper relationships. We need deep relationships to face what’s coming — floods, heat waves, climate refugees.”

Magdalena Kaluza believes that the pandemic has given us an opportunity to collectively reject systems of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. To create solidarity around what we need, Kaluza says, more people need to tell their stories and to actively listen to the stories of others.

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