Lo que importa is what matters (by Dr Yecid Ortega)

To find out more about Yecid’s work, check out his website at https://www.andjustice4all.ca .

Matter in Spanish means materia or what things are made of.  In the context of the physical world, it refers to the material substance that makes up everything around us. In English, the word “matter” also means the same but means something else when used in a sentence like it does not matter, it matters, it matters to all, etc. Here, matter might also be something of importance or significance; it can be used to refer to something that is important, significant, or of consequence. For example, when we say that something “matters” or is of “great matter,” we are emphasizing its significance, value, or importance.

For me, what matters is beyond that, it encompasses all the tangible objects and substances in the universe, including the Earth, stars, living organisms, and inanimate objects in relation to the self and the Cosmos (See figure 1).

Figure 1: Our relationship with the cosmos

The key components of this blog post (the matter, la materia) refer to the intersectional and multiplicity of mechanism, architecture, tools and engineering of why I do the work I do. Similar to the idea of matter that exist in various states (solid, liquid, gas, plasma, condensation, etc.), throughout my life, I have been going through different states, stages, phases, but one thing that always remains was the core idea of working for social justice.

The connection between these two meanings of the word “matter” lies in the idea that in our lives and the broader context of the universe, not everything is equal in terms of importance or significance. Just as in the physical world, where matter comes in various forms and states with varying properties and significance, our actions, decisions, and concerns can also vary in importance. We may prioritize or emphasize certain things because they matter more to us or have a greater impact on our lives.

So, here the word “matter” is used both in the physical sense to describe the substance of the universe and in a more abstract sense to describe the significance or importance of various aspects of our lives and the world around us. The usage of the word “matter”, for me, in both contexts, reflects its fundamental role in describing the essence of what constitutes our physical reality and what holds importance or meaning in our daily existence. For a long time, what has mattered to me is the other, especially the other less-valid (in-valid) (Minoritized, racialized, ostracized): I have always worked for those who do not have opportunities or whose opportunities have been taken away from them, or those who society has simply put to the margins (Indigenous peoples, immigrants, refugees, people in the 2S/LGBTQA+ community and Neurodiverse peoples).

In the early 90’s I was already an educator, teaching peers in high school and teaching English to those kids who wanted to learn English but did not find any resources (Ortega, forthcoming). Coming from a marginalized community in a poor neighbourhood in the capital of Colombia (Bogotá) allowed me to understand the pain and struggle of those living at the margins to get some quality education. I fought to study and find opportunities to learn despite this struggle. As such, I made my commitment to also help and support others, provide a helping hand whenever I get a chance. In a sense, it looks like everyone matters to me – I care.

Behind this backdrop, my research and teaching approaches draw from those experiences and shared spaces with communities. I learned, from the South (Devés et al., 2022) and from different worldviews born out of the struggle of marginalized communities (Makoni et al., 2023), how to go about life. My teaching and research philosophy is guided by two epistemological concepts that I have acquired throughout the years of working with communities (teacher/students from across Abya Yala – Turtle Island[1]) and conversations with Indigenous peoples in the continent. These concepts are El Buen Vivir (Oviedo Freire, 2019) and Sentipensar (Galeano, 1992) which have encouraged me to problematize current sociopolitical and unequal colonial projects as I seek to amplify the knowledge of those who have lived at the margins of society.

 El Buen Vivir, which roughly translates as to how we can live well with each other, builds my worldview as it represents the possibility to mesh humankind with nature from a respectful point of view for ethical human coexistence in diversity as an opportunity against systemic violence (Dávalos, 2008). Sentipensar (Galeano, 1992), which combines the words in Spanish sentir (to feel) and pensar (to think), provokes an invitation to be married with our hearts and our minds in order to speak the language of the truth. This concept conceives the synergic feeling/thinking construct as a stance for rationality and intuition that exists in counterintuitive synergic opposition that our ancestors have always shared as conscious and evolved beings.

As such, I understand my research, participants in my research projects, and my students as beings, people who are in constant change, fluidity, and reflective consciousness. They constantly not only see knowledge as a form of learning but as a source for transformation and I act as a facilitator of the process: I am the source of motivation and guidance to find the necessary and most appropriate educational tools to find cultural and sustaining social solutions to their own struggles or those of their community.

Moreover, for me, what matters [lo que importa] is beyond the actual matter or physicality of things. Here I mean that what matters is the entanglements between how individuals (me, students, research participants) and the ways of understanding how we all make meaning within the material world. To this, Barad (2007) introduces the idea of Mattering as a framework that refers to the ongoing processes of materialization and meaning-making. It involves the ways in which phenomena take shape, become significant, and gain meaning through human/material interactions. Mattering is not confined to human agency but is a distributed and relational process that extends to the material world. It underscores the idea that entities and their meanings are not predetermined but emerge through the ongoing intra-actions that constitute them.

According to Barad (2007), the term “intra-action” emphasizes the inherent entanglement of the observer and the observed, challenging the idea of a pre-existing, independent reality. She argues that entities (including human observers) come into being through their intra-actions, and reality is co-constituted through these entanglements. Here, I became fascinated on how Barad’s work challenges conventional understandings of agency, causality, and the nature of reality by proposing a relational ontology that emphasizes the inseparability of the material and the discursive. Her concept of Mattering encourages a shift in perspective, inviting a reconsideration of how we understand the entanglement of matter and meaning in the universe.

Her work on Mattering is an invitation to understand what matters both in research and education:

… an invitation to live justly is written into the very matter of being. How to respond to that invitation is as much a question about the nature of response and responsibility as it about the nature of matter. The yearning for justice, a yearning larger than any individual or sets of individuals, is the driving force behind this work, which is therefore necessarily about our connections and responsibilities to one another-that is, entanglements.” (Barad, 2007, p. xi)

In the end, for me, my work throughout my life has been a matter of substance and significance, a matter of social justice, a matter of understanding how I can help others no matter what, in more responsible and sustainable ways. As Barad posited: “Questions of responsibility and accountability present themselves with every possibility; each moment is alive with different possibilities for the world’s becoming and different reconfigurings of what may yet be possible” (Barad, 2007, p.182). I see a world within worlds full of possibilities for el Buen Vivir and Sentipensar in which we all work for a pluriversal world worth living for all in relation to humans, non-humans and beyond-humans[2] in which language becomes the centering point of relationalities (Escobar, 2020; Ortega, Forthcoming; Reimer et al., 2023). In order to accomplish these dreams, what I hope to do in this 2024 and moving forward is to explore research beyond materiality and how it represents the lived experiences of the self, others and communities in marginalized conditions in local (Northern Ireland) and international contexts (the world). In doing so, I also hope to explore new post-human values on how we relate to each other and with the environment, values related to our participation in the lives of others, values related to the freedom of expression and quality of life, and values about how we all make connections beyond sociohistorical moments in time and space across generations and transnational contexts (Inglehart, 2015, 2018).

[1] Abya Yala, which in the Kuna language means “land in its full maturity”, “land of vital blood” or “saved land”, is the name used by the Indigenous American Guna people who inhabit the geographic region called the Darién Gap, between what is now northwest Colombia and southeast Panama and Turtle Island is a name for Earth or North America as described by various Indigenous communities in North America.

[2] Beyond-human are the relationships with Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Meta-verse, Multiverses, spiritualities, senses, emotions, evocations, memories, expectations, hopes and other non-tangible experiences beyond human materiality.


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press.

Dávalos, P. (2008). El “Sumak Kawsay” (“Buen vivir”) y las cesuras del desarrollo. América Latina en movimiento. https://www.alainet.org/es/active/23920

Devés, E., Baltar, P., Tshibambe, G. N., & Silva, F. P. da. (2022). Diálogos Sur-Sur: Reflexiones sobre el sur, las desigualdades epistémicas y la democratización global de los saberes. Ariadna Ediciones.

Escobar, A. (2020). Pluriversal politics: The real and the possible. Duke University Press.

Galeano, E. (1992). The book of embraces (Revised ed. edition). W. W. Norton & Company.

Inglehart, R. (2015). The silent revolution: Changing values and political styles among western publics. Princeton University Press.

Inglehart, R. (2018). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton University Press.

Makoni, S., Kaiper-Marquez, A., Madany-Saá, M., & Antia, B. E. (2023). Foundational concepts of decolonial and southern epistemologies. Channel View Publications.

Ortega, Y. (Forthcoming a). Pluriversal applied linguistics: Implications for language teaching and research from the global south. De Gruyter Mouton.

Ortega, Y. (Forthcoming b). Sparking the flame within: From the slums to the academic world. In C. A. H. Parker-Shandal (Ed.), First-Gen Docs: Personal, political, and intellectual perspectives from the first-generation doctoral experience (pp. xxx–xxx). Brill.

Oviedo Freire, A. M. (2019). El Buenvivir: Primer pensamiento de interamerica. Independent.

Reimer, K. E., Kaukko, M., Windsor, S., Mahon, K., & Kemmis, S. (2023). Living well in a world worth living in for all: Volume 1: current practices of social justice, sustainability and wellbeing. Springer Nature.

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