Woman in Mexico fight against racism and gender discrimination
Women in Mexico fight against racism and gender discrimination
In Mexico, there is a new generation of young indigenous women. They are using art to fight racism and to celebrate their native identity. Changiz M Varzi talks to three of them.
Rocío de la Cruz, with a Tzotzil poem painted on the wall of the cultural research centre where she works. CHANGIZ M VARZI
For Norma Martínez Martínez November 1st 2013 changed everything. She went home to Chicontepec, her Nahua village in the Mexican state of Veracruz. She put flowers, candles, and bread on the altar in her parents’ house for the Day of the Dead feast. She wore the traditional dress of the Nahua people and she took photos with her family in front of the altar. Like millions of Mexicans, she was excited about the ceremony and posted the photos on social media. But she did not expect the racist comments that followed. Martínez remembers nearly crying. ‘I couldn’t understand why someone should say bad things about this ceremony. Maybe it was because of our dress or, I don’t know, maybe our celebration.’ The Day of the Dead celebrations are a mixture of pre-Hispanic rituals and the Spanish colonizers’ Catholicism. The celebrations are how Mexico’s native people respect their ancestors and celebrate their indigenous identity. This was why some other Mexicans do not respect indigenous culture and attack it.
Norma Martínez Martínez celebrates indigenous identity in her paintings. GERÓNIMO NICOLÁS MARTÍNEZ
Protests ‘Ignorance is the main cause of discrimination and racism,’ says Martínez. ‘There is discrimination against indigenous people because racists do not understand the value and the history of our indigenous culture.’ But Martínez could not stay silent about racism after her Day of the Dead experience. There is a long history of protests against racism and the destruction of indigenous communities since the beginning of Mexico’s colonial time in 1521. Martínez uses art.
She started painted when she was 11 and had her first solo exhibition at the age of 18. Until 2013, she painted landscapes and portraits, but now it was time for something new. In her paintings she began to show her people’s daily life, handicrafts, clothes, and traditions. ‘I thought that as an indigenous artist I must show my people and my culture and bring them into my art and tell the world we are still here,’ Martínez says. She showed her paintings many times in Mexico and the United States. ‘Every day, indigenous people face racism on the streets of this country. I fight against it by speaking my native Nahuatl language, by putting on Nahua dresses, and by painting different kinds of indigenous identity,’ she says. Martínez is part of a new generation of young, educated, indigenous women protesting against racism, discrimination, and the patriarchal society in Mexico. Mayan identity With about 17 million indigenous residents, Mexico has the biggest native population in the Americas. Colonial regulations that stopped indigenous cultural practices and languages are officially abolished, but rights groups argue that discrimination based on ethnicity is still very much there. Research by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) in 2017, showed that for most Mexicans dark skin is associated with poverty and low education, while light skin is associated with the opposite. Rocío de la Cruz is an oral-literature researcher and writer from the Tzotzil people of Chamula in southern Mexico. She says that even now many people think that putting on traditional clothes or speaking indigenous languages is associated with illiteracy, low intelligence, and a lower social class. ‘The indigenous people who migrate from villages to cities don’t speak their native language with their children, because they don’t want their children to have the same problems as their parents,’ she says. ‘To understand the racism against indigenous Mexicans, we need to know that the Tzotzil language was not an official language until the early 2000s,’ says Cruz. She studied literature at the Autonomous University of Chiapas in Tuxtla. She writes her short stories in Spanish but they come from Tzotzil folk stories and she believes that protecting native languages is a way of keeping an indigenous identity. Cruz travels between Tzotzil villages in Chiapas’ highlands and interviews the elderly to collect folktales to search for her Mayan background. Tzotzil stories are often a mixture of myth, indigenous life, religious thoughts, and Mayan rituals. She works at a research centre for Tzotzil culture in San Cristobal de las Casa. She gives short talks about Tzotzil folklore and myths to indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Libertad Gómez became good at the traditional Zoque art of making ceremonial offerings with mango leaves and flowers. Before only men did this. CHANGIZ M VARZI
Making a change Mexican indigenous women face colonial rules and discrimination in their fight against racism. But they have also had to fight against gender-based discrimination in their own communities. Libertad Gómez is an artist from the Zoque community. She began by taking photos of Zoque rituals, religious festivals, and the tradition of making Ramillete – a ceremonial offering made of flowers and mango leaves. But, after a while, she found she was a leader in changing traditional gender roles among the Zoque people. ‘I took photos to record my people’s traditions, I also helped the men who created Ramillete for decades,’ Gómez recalls. ‘Each time, I asked more about this traditional offering, and I helped more and more. Finally, they agreed to teach me how to make Ramillete.’ This was a big change as, for hundreds of years, only men created Ramillete. After three years of helping the men, they accepted Gómez as a Ramillete maker. And now two more young women are Ramillete makers. ‘My generation is changing things. People trusted me when they saw how important my photography was to introduce our culture and lifestyle to the world outside.’ ‘Non-indigenous people think that after Mexico’s independence, our fight against colonialization and racism ended,’ says Gómez. ‘That’s wrong as no-one talks about our daily fight against the same negative forces still with us today. ‘The Zoque language is now dying, and if we don’t protect our culture, if we don’t celebrate our indigenous identity, it will also die.’ Gómez plays a very important role in Mexico’s indigenous rights movement and introduces the life and culture of her people. She is one of a growing number of young indigenous women who after university are using their studies to fight for their rights, as women and as indigenous people. NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2021/04/06/feature-cresting-wave (This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)