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Date: Sat, 21 Mar 1998 20:01:03 -0800 (PST)
From: John Shafer <wy430@victoria.tc.ca>
To: warriornet@speakeasy.org
Subject: Mexico's Bad Indian Women
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Date: Sat, 21 Mar 1998 18:33:35 -0800
From: ernie yacub <yacinfo@mars.ark.com>
To: sovernet-l@speakeasy.org, ark-misc@mars.ark.com, micec@onenw.org,

Indigenous women strengthen freedom in Mexico

Column of the Americas by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez,
UPS, 20 March 1998

Mexico's indigenous rebellion has finally wrought a lead role on TV. Currently, there is a novella on Spanish-language TV, Si Tu Supieras Maria Isabel, that features a non-Indian playing a Huichol Indian. This is in a country where Indians play only maids or are featured in commercials about governmental humanitarian projects during election time. Unfortunately, the actress's portrayal of a Huichol could be likened to a brown-face Amos 'n' Andy.

In this program, Maria Isabel is a caricature of an indigenous woman whom the gente decente (decent people) snub, speaking to her as a nameless object.

Meanwhile, to the south, indigenous women are holding back the army in Chiapas with their bare hands, creating human chains of female power against the Mexican army's incursions. The soldiers call them malditas indias, bad Indian women. Prior to the December massacre, government supporters had purportedly threatened that female Zapatista sympathizers would be raped first, then their daughters. Out of the 45 killed in the autonomous community of Acteal, only nine were men. The rest were women and children. And yet female Zapatista supporters and their families have long declared that they live in liberated free zones.

What does it mean to name your community a liberated free zone when guns are pointed at you?

It means that the mind is liberated, that their minds and bodies have become, in effect, a liberated free zone, contested space, and that the societal authority that demarcates space is not accepted. It means that the values that create power are contested. Margaret Montoya, a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, talks about space that is constructed to maintain authority: Space that must be listened to, spaces where we are to be quiet. Other such spaces include the witness stand, a classroom, a preacher's pulpit, the border.

And this has real ramifications. Right now, there are reportedly 38 autonomous areas in Chiapas and more than 400 such communities in Oaxaca. In some cases, women are on the councils and helping elect the leadership. These communities have their own judicial powers and traditional forms of governance -- this, even prior to the recent introduction of constitutional changes recognizing a government-defined autonomy. These reforms have been criticized as a dilution of previous historic accords with the Zapatistas and other indigenous peoples.

The contribution of female strength in Mexico's indigenous movement is the kind of power we see in the United Farm Worker's union, which is a movement made whole by families. UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta once told us that Cesar Chavez recognized that when families march, there is less likely to be violence.

In her book Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, Leslie Marmon Silko writes: ... the beauty that Yellow Woman (a supernatural woman) possesses is the beauty of her passion, her daring, and her sheer strength to act when catastrophe is imminent.

So when we speak of Mexico's powerful indigenous women, we must acknowledge the legacy of the mothers of the disappeared who reclaimed the plazas of Mexico and broke the silence after the 1968 student massacre at Tlatelolco. They engaged in what we call the naming ceremony, because they named the abuser and the abuse. And their marches and hunger strikes became public prayers to bring back the disappeared and became a precursor to today's democracy movement. And after all these years, the Mexican government's files of '68 finally have been opened.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire said we must name our world to break oppression. Abusers always rely on their victims' silence. So part of contesting space means creating counter narratives of what is happening to us as people -- narratives quite different from what television portrays.

Ojibwe leader Winona LaDuke observed it's easy to romanticize the Zapatista ski mask and revolution when most families would rather be growing corn and raising their children. The fundamental challenge in the Americas is that of changing the internal violence that leads to war, the emotional violence endured as a result of poverty, and the structural violence that creates rogue police, teachers who loathe children, and the rape culture that helped establish this continent.

We should honor those who are already creating a new world, particularly the women.