Rachael Devaney Entrepreneur Spotlight

It’s Saturday, Cape Cod! And that means we’re bringing you the story of another local entrepreneur of color. This week, we’re also changing things up a bit. sharing an artist-to-artist interview.

March 13, 2023

5 min read

Amplify POC Cape Cod

Welcome Tamora Israel — writer, poet, podcast host and videographer (at Tamora Israel Artist Page) — who spoke with Amplify POC’s own founding team and board member Rachael Devaney. Rachael is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Cape Cod Times and Barnstable Patriot; a celebrated Cape Cod photographer with two exhibitions currently open; and speaks on social justice and racial equity topics. You’re up, Tamora!

Happy Saturday, Cape Cod! Recently, I sat down with Amplify founding member Rachael Devaney, who currently has two photography exhibits on display: “Matriarchal Strength: stories of Indigenous separation and border crossing” at the Wampanoag Trading Post and Gallery in Mashpee Commons; and a Black Lives Matter exhibit — the product of a residency sponsored by the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod and MassDevelopment — developed after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in March of 2020.

Full disclosure: Rachael and I have been friends for a year. In that time, I have come to know a straightforward person who has little tolerance for nonsense. And for me, that penchant for speaking the truth is a virtue I find refreshing. Throughout our phone conversation, I couldn’t help but be in awe of her strength and her ability to continue to rise even after being separated from her birth family for 40 years. Check out our conversation below! And if you want to hear more from Rachael, you can often catch her work on Amplify POCs Saturday Entrepreneur profiles, and on Monday, February 8th, on the Arts Foundation's Creative Exchange podcast.

If “pull no punches” were a person, its name would be Rachael Devaney. There’s no time to “make white people feel comfortable” at the expense of Black lives, she says. “For hundreds of years - since the first European ships hit South, Central and North American shores — we have been battling for our lives. And in modern times, Black and Indigenous people are not only still fighting for human rights, we are being forced to do so while trying not to offend our oppressors. It’s time to tell our stories often and without hesitation.”

Devaney, who was adopted from El Salvador in 1978 as an infant and is working on a book about adoption, is doing just that with her photography exhibit ”Matriarchal Strength: stories of Indigenous separation and border crossing.”

The exhibit, which can be viewed at the Wampanoag Trading Post and Gallery in Mashpee, includes eight life-sized photos of Devaney’s birth family including her 96-year-old grandmother Leonandra, cousin Darwin, sister Guendy, and birth mother Alba. These photos are accompanied by writings that describe the dangerous voyages each subject made from El Salvador to the U.S., and illustrate the treacherous journeys across the Mexican and Texas borders that many asylum seekers choose to make in search of a better life.

The show includes Devaney’s own story as an adopted woman of color. “I met my birth family in April of 2018 and as I got to know them, I was instantly captured by the effort it took for them to leave their homeland of El Salvador and start over in the U.S.,” Devaney said. “These narratives not only reflect the struggles of Indigenous people but also allow Americans to experience the life and death decisions that asylum seekers often need to make.”

For Devaney, it was important for the exhibit to give viewers insight into the tortured truth surrounding broken and fractured U.S. immigration policies, and how that can impact the poverty and social unrest that currently exists in Central and South American countries.

While this exhibit dives deep into Devaney’s personal life, she said it’s important to share the stories of her family to raise awareness about the history of colonization and the struggles that Native people are facing on a larger socio-economic and political scale — and how the history of U.S. involvement has prompted economic collapse in deeply colonized nations.

“It wasn’t until I was interning at the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) in Manhattan around 2005 that I learned the history behind U.S. political involvement in El Salvador’s 12-year civil war,” Devaney said.

According to a 2012 article in Aljazeera, the U.S. government not only funded El Salvador’s civil war, which included combat between the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) and the El Salvadoran government from 1980 to 1992, to the tune of $4.5 billion, the U.S. also simultaneously trained El Salvadoran death squads that regularly annihilated Indigenous villages throughout El Salvador’s countryside.

“The American government interfered largely in El Salvadoran politics in the name of free trade, land, and natural resources,” Devaney said. “For the U.S. to then have the audacity to close its borders, in my opinion, is akin to genoicde.”

It was also during Devaney’s time at CISPES, that she became acquainted with the nonprofit’s executive director at the time Manuel Villanueva, who hooked her up with Pro Busqueda, an El Salvadoran nonprofit that reconnects families that were separated during the civil war. After a decade of searching — which included several DNA contributions and database searches — Pro Busqueda investigators were finally able to reunite Devaney over video call with her birth family on Valentine's Day in 2018. That was followed by an in-person trip to California where she, her daughter Fressia, and her adopted parents, Bill and Judi Devaney, met her birth family in April of 2018.

“That’s how this whole exhibit started,” Devaney said. “There is so much more to tell — mixed feelings and emotions — but you should go see the exhibit and experience it for yourself.”

As Devaney continues to make waves throughout the Cape community, she hopes exhibit attendees can grasp the connections that Tribal entities held for thousands of years before colonization. And the continued relationships that Central and South American tribes have to Northern First Nations, including the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

“Before colonization, there were vast systems of commerce and trade between Tribal nations and that’s evident because of our food and language networks,” Devaney said. “We are the original people. Not just to this continent, but to this Earth and to the universe."

In addition to her writing and photography, Devaney is active in local racial and social justice organizations including Amplify POC. As a founding board member, she has been able to lend her skills as a writer and photographer and also enjoy contributing to an organization that focuses on racial justice initiatives that help “amplify” businesses owned by people of color on the Cape.

“It wasn’t always easy growing up on the Cape as a woman of color and it can be challenging in many ways to stay on course with my goals and with my activism,” Devaney said. “But the work we do through Amplify helps me remember that people of color have been contributing to the fabric of the Cape community since the beginning of time - and that deserves to be recognized each and every day.” — Tamora Israel

On the Web: www.rachaeldevaney.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rachael.devaney.5
On Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MayanScribe
On Arts Cape Cod: https://www.artscapecod.org/rachael-devaney-making-art-wit…/
On email: rachaeldevaney@yahoo.com

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