Two events I lived during my childhood marked forever the life project I have forged for myself as a woman human rights defender of indigenous women’s rights. When I was 8 and was beginning my third year of primary school, my father sent me to collect our five goats that were grazing in the hill. When I was herding them, around 10 dogs appeared. I wanted to run, but one of them bit me in the back of the ankle. I couldn’t get up. I told my little sister to run and she managed to climb a tree. The dogs’ owner went to see my dad to carry me. I felt this man ordered his dogs to chase me. He was angry because our goats had damaged his crops. I remained bedridden on a mat for over a week. My wound wouldn’t heal because it was very deep. My father had to carry me by foot from Potrerillo Cuapinole to San Luis Acatlán. He carried me for over three hours and crossed the same river seven times. The hospital in San Luis told my father off for letting so much time go by, to the point where I was at risk of losing my foot. I went back during several weeks to be cured. I cried when they cleaned me, because my wound was so big.
When I was able to recover, I went back to school in Potrerillo Cuapinole. I never imagined everyone knew what had happened to me. It hurt me to hear my classmates laugh at me and called me dog’s leftovers. It was the worst offence I felt, and up to this day I still cry when I remember this moment. I had just recovered from that wound, when something else happened that pains me in the bottom of my heart: my cousin was raped and her head was cut off. She was around 23, and lived near our house. It happened in an area where my dad also had his agricultural land. That is to say I was born in the hill, on a mat, and it was my aunt Elvira who helped my mom through labor and received me. My father wasn’t there because he was part of a commission negotiating a road for the village of Potrerillo Cuapinole. The only bed in the house was made of reed, where my parents slept. My eight brothers and the three women in my family slept in the only bedroom in the house, next to the stove so we wouldn’t be cold.
Since I was little I learnt to sow corn and hibiscus, to tend the goats and accompany my mother to chop wood. To attend school I had to walk tree hours. In my first years my father would carry me to cross the river, which was very big. During primary school I only spoke me’phaa. It wasn’t until I went to San Luis Acatlán to study middle school that I began speaking Spanish. There, I had to work to earn my food and have a place to sleep in the house of a mestizo family. I suffered a great deal because I didn’t know these people’s customs. For them we are servers, we don’t have any rights, because they believe that indigenous people don’t think like them and we don’t reason. I got up at daybreak to clean the house, wash clothes, wash dishes, and when there wasn’t any water we had to go to the river to do all that work. I didn’t receive a penny for what I did. Instead, the people I worked for made it clear I had the great privilege of living with them, of eating what they eat, and sleeping in their house. I had to adapt myself to these types of mistreatments so I could finish middle school.
Since leaving my village, I was resolved to study to find the person who killed my cousin and fight for his punishment. I came to Chilpancingo to study high school with the firm idea of becoming a lawyer. My father was always opposed to me studying, because he believed that his money was ill-invested, because women get married and our destiny is taking care of children. He wanted to help me to be a bilingual teacher. I presented the exam, but intentionally did not answer the questions.
My father was very angry because it confirmed to him that his money was being ill-invested because I wasn’t taking advantage of these opportunities. I looked for a job in Chilpancingo as a domestic worker, with my new employers in the capital, and did the same work as in San Luis Acatlán, the only difference was that for the first time I was receiving a payment of 100 pesos per month for the work I did. It was very satisfactory for me to realize that my work had value and that with the little money I earned, I could sustain myself to study to be a lawyer.
When the time arrived for me to do my social service, I had the opportunity of getting to know the Consejo Guerrerense 500 años de Resistencia Indígena. In this space I met Martha Sánchez, who I identified with in my struggle, and found the path I had been looking for since that sad day in which my cousin was murdered. I had the opportunity of going to courses in Mexico City and share with several women from other civil organizations their work on sexual and reproductive rights. In these gatherings I was able to understand that my life project was rooted in the defense of women’s rights. Because I had two brothers who were part of the Community Police of Horcasitas, I had the opportunity of participating in one of the assemblies convened by the Coordinadora Regional de Autoridades Comunitarias in the community of Tilapa, municipality of Malinaltepec. It was in 1998 when I began to participate in these meetings. Cirino Placido shared with me Zapatista texts, and with the work he carried out I comprehended that as professionals we had the commitment to go back to our communities to support organizing and the defense of our collective rights. So I returned to my village to occupy different community roles, and at the same time perform my role as regional coordinator of community authorities (CRAC). I am currently the coordinator of the Community Police of San Luis Acatlán, which is my trench next to indigenous women’s houses, where I continue fighting for indigenous women to organize and raise their voices against the men that oppress us and the patriarchal system that subjugates us.
This past Thursday March 8 I arrived at around 6 in the morning to the National Palace with Francisca de la Cruz from Xochistlahuaca. We were about 15 women, of whom I remember a worker from Pemex, a doctor, a pilot, a worker and a talented young woman. I went in representation of indigenous women. We entered the patio of the National Palace where there were several round tables with long tablecloths. It was a breakfast with the president of the Republic. At around 8 am, president Andrés Manuel López Obrador entered accompanied by the Secretary of State Olga Sánchez Cordero, the senator Martha Lucía Micher, the MP Wendy Briceño Zuloaga and doctor Nadine Gasman Zylbermann, head of the National Women’s Institute. The breakfast began with their arrival, to which several MP and senators also assisted. Before going up the presidium, someone told me that I was going to participate with another two women. Initially I’d been told that I would have 5 minutes for my participation, nevertheless, at the last minute I was told that I no longer had time for my participation. They asked me to only give a brief greeting because the president had and urgency and needed to retire. I had no other choice but to shorten my participation and restrain all the strength of my thoughts, to say what my heart feels, especially the big heart of women who have sacrificed their life to defend their rights.
As an indigenous women I felt relegated again, because it turns out that in the end, Andrés Manuel gave his speech without any note of hurry. That’s why I felt that because I was an indigenous women, they did not think my voice was relevant. This same feeling is shared by MP Irma Juan Carlos, president of the Commission of Indigenous Matters in the Chamber of Deputies, who in several events has also felt relegated for being indigenous. I had no alternative but to express in few words the pain and strength of our struggles as indigenous women, those who were born in the most recondite part of the mountain, but who carry the seed of equality and dignity that is so necessary in our country.
I had no choice but to tell the president the following:
We, women from indigenous peoples of Mexico, are here to express the pain we feel every day.
For years we have preserved our rights, but this has also cost us our lives. Earth is loved and defended. We as women will always defend it and will always defend our territories. We will also defend our bodies.
Guerrero holds the first place in gender violence; turn your eyes there, because we all suffer violence… nobody here escapes the type of violence we face, institutional, labor, all.
I want to tell you that without women as political actors of change in our country, we will not achieve the Fourth Transformation.
– Felicitas Martinez Solano, originally published in Tlachinaollan.