Living Leeside: Human rights and E-bikes for the community activist from Paraguay 

Living Leeside: Human rights and E-bikes for the community activist from Paraguay 
Majo Rivas, near her home in Cork City.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Community activist and human rights lawyer Majo Rivas has been living in Cork since 2015 and has been a regular visitor to Ireland since 2008 when she met her now-husband Richard through the Scouts.

“I’ve been in the Scouts since I was 12 years old. It is how I met my husband. I am on the ethics committee of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement (WOSM) and I helped write the code of ethics that governs the body," she said.

Born in Paraguay in South America, Majo was made a citizen of Ireland in March of this year, although she has been an integral part of the Cork community for a number of years.

“I moved over to be with Richard, we wanted to be together and it was the only way.” 

A Social Democrat and a member of the Cork Cycling Campaign, Majo has a keen interest in social justice issues and strives for equality for all.

In 2017, during the bus strikes, Majo began cycling more and started to notice different things that needed to be changed.

“I love cycling. I started cycling more around the time of the bus strike and I saw things that needed to be fixed and things that could be improved.” 

Majo has three bikes here in Cork. She took a hybrid bike with her from Paraguay, bought an E-Bike for getting to and from work and getting around Cork’s hill and has a vintage bike that she has restored herself and which she calls the “light of her life.” 

“I got it from Cork Community Bikes. I don’t know what brand it is. It just needed a little tender loving care, there was a bit of rust and I had to change parts, like the seat, grips, pedals, at the moment I am adding a dynamo light.” 

Cycling represents all the things she loves.

“Cycling to me is a vehicle to all the things I love. The environment, equality and community.” 

Majo Rivas, near her home in Cork City.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Majo Rivas, near her home in Cork City.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

In 2018, she was involved in the Repeal movement, fighting for women’s rights and later that year joined the Social Democrats political party to offer representation for migrant women and families living in Cork.

“I wanted to see representation of the experiences I have had. Like going to the immigration office. I wanted a migrant person of colour to be represented.” 

While happy living in Cork, Majo said she has experienced racism while here.

“I’ve been told to go back to where I came from and I’ve had complete strangers stopping me while I’m just minding my own business to ask me where I’m from. 

"I am aware though that while these and other experiences upset me, they pale in comparison to what black people or other people of colour experience every day.” 

Being asked, 'where are you from, originally?' can be upsetting, she said.

“Why is that okay? I couldn't be from here because I am brown? It makes me feel like an exotic object of interest.” 

The human rights lawyer said there are generations of young people who are from Cork who shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of questioning.

"There is an emotional weight in being questioned all the time. I find it annoying, but young people who grew up here don’t deserve that.

“We live in a diverse community now and we should acknowledge that. 

"There are a lot more interesting questions you could ask about me.” 

Discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, Majo said the global attention is giving people with experiences of racism an avenue and opportunity to talk.

“People were always talking about it, but now people are listening, that is the difference. It is a pity it took so long.” 

Here in Cork, Majo said it can be frustrating trying to enact change locally.

“There are barriers at local and national levels in terms of resources. Local decision-makers could do better.

"Cork is gorgeous, beautiful, but there is so much lost potential.” 

Majo Rivas, near her home in Cork City.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Majo Rivas, near her home in Cork City.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Although living in Cork since 2015, Majo only received her citizenship in March of this year.

“My citizenship took a year and a half to come through, you need to wait three years before applying if you are married to an Irish citizen. So I came over September 2015, applied in 2018, and got approved in March 2020." 

Majo said the system can be very testing. 

“It is frustrating, the cost, delays and there are questions around the lack of guidance and the decision-making.” 

The new Irish citizen had a small celebration with family and friends when she got the news, a week before lockdown.

“Instead of presents, I asked friends and family to donate bilingual books to city schools where there are children from migrant families. There are kids from many backgrounds and many languages, it is to bring a variety to their reading.” 

While Majo acknowledges that Cork is not perfect, she enjoys the safe environment.

“I have lived in Paraguay, Colombia, I have visited Brazil and Argentina and it is definitely safer in Ireland 

“The idea that you can listen to music, walking around, you can use your laptop on a bus or train.” 

Majo said feeling afraid of going for a walk is a real feeling for some people. 

“There are lower levels of violence here, it is a much safer place. It is nice to have peace of mind.” 

The community activist is also a big lover of the arts and said the offering in Cork is amazing.

“I really hope the Everyman and cultural centres like that make it through all this.” 

Chatting about home, Majo said it can be hard to not be around for family occasions and milestones.

“I have nephews and nieces back home, they are getting so big! I haven't seen them since April last year. It is hard when you’re not there, you are just a novelty two weeks a year, that can be difficult.”

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