IDENTITY IN RESISTANCE
“We must find new ways to fight racism against our community and within ourselves.”
These are the heartfelt words of Pascuala Vásquez, Councilor of the Indigenous Community Government of Chilón, Mexico, one of many communities seeking a new way of governance, based on their right to self-determination. Pascuala echoes the hope of many women of the Tseltal Maya while shedding light on their struggle against racism.
Racism is internalized through cultural cringe: the devaluing of one’s own culture. Indigenous women are often forced to accept foreign customs and traditions as superior to their own. This sense of inferiority is exacerbated by the sexist behaviour of men in their own communities. Sebastiana del Carmen, Coordinator for CEDIAC, explains:
Indigenous people have the right to translation services in public offices. This is essential for women from these communities as they are often illiterate and do not speak Spanish, unlike the men. However, translation services are often unavailable. Rather than endure violence in the form of discrimination by a system that is rigged against them, women stay at home. They fear their concerns will be ignored or judgments will favour men simply because they do not speak Spanish. This reinforces cultural cringe; many women feign ignorance of their native language; they pretend not to be Indigenous and discriminate against other Indigenous women to feel superior.
To counter this, there are Tseltal Judges. These are women involved in the reconciliation process, who have set up “Care Centres” to help women whose rights have been violated and who need accompaniment or training. As defenders of Indigenous and women’s rights, the Tseltal Judges approach conflict resolution from the perspective of their own culture and justice system and do not seek punitive justice. This is contrary to the government system which aims to mete out fines and punishment, a system prone to corruption.
Fighting for their rights and addressing the violence these women have experienced has not been easy. The Judges or Councilors are often ridiculed. Authorities and even their own communities tell them: “Your place is in the home, taking care of your husbands, not resolving conflicts.“
The government opposes the official recognition of the Indigenous Community Government. However, the Councilors continue to forge ahead. They hope that opening the eyes of their community to violence against women will prevent its normalization; that patriarchy and internalized racism will not be embedded in their own culture; and people will come together to take action.
EACH STRUGGLE IS NOT ISOLATED, IT IS SYSTEMIC.
The Councilors’ fight against discrimination and racism goes beyond their community. They have participated at the negotiating table with State authorities who continually question their right to govern themselves according to Indigenous law. They have had to show they can maintain viable institutions; that their laws are rational; and their customs and traditions are not relics of the past.
During these negotiations, the women Councilors proudly wore their traditional Tseltal dress and spoke Spanish, a language that is not their own. As a consequence, they were subjected to racist and sexist taunts. They were accused of hindering progress for defending their right to self-determination. They held their head high and said: “We do not want another government, but a different way of governing. “
These are women forged in resistance; women who fight fear by leading and organizing; who embrace and celebrate their culture through multi-colored clothing. They continue to fight against discrimination. They get discouraged or tired when faced with sexist and abusive behaviour from men and when forced to question the value of their culture. However, they believe, hope, and trust in themselves and in their community. They are women who have struggled hard but whose hearts remain tender and open. Strong and courageous; women with names: Pascuala, Sebastiana, María; Yip Co’tantic women, women with strength in their hearts.