Learning from Mexican and Native Women

August 20, 2012

Photo Credit: Pepe Rivera. Taken June 26, 2011. From Flickr.

Photo Credit: Pepe Rivera. Taken June 26, 2011. From Flickr.

By Theresa Delgadillo

Yesterday, as I continued my work on translating an oral history interview from Spanish into English, I was struck by something that this particular participant in the project said – as I often am in this work. I’ve had the honor of interviewing some very wise and determined Latinas in the project that I began in 2008 to collect the oral histories of Latina leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These are some very interesting women! Fortunately, I am near the end of the editing and looking forward to sending it off the publisher soon. To get back to my point: my interviewee, commenting on the social customs of Mexico and the U.S., says at one point, “There it is the same as here, exactly the same as here. The only difference is that there is still a fiction that in Mexico it’s different.” She was talking about the acceptability of divorce, but it resonated with me on other levels, such as the changes in daily life, work and environment, partially because there was some interesting news from Mexico recently in the The New York Times about a group of indigenous women in Cherán, Michoacoán, who mobilized against armed illegal loggers and are now defending their town from violence and their forest from deforestation. To readers of Latina/o literatures, or literature about migration, the name Cherán might be familiar, since it was one of the sites of migration to the U.S. portrayed in Ruben Martinez’s Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail(2001). The August 2, 2012 article by Karla Zabludovsky titled “Reclaiming the Forests and the Right to Feel Safe,” describes the events in Cherán and the women’s actions as “extraordinary” as it details their effectiveness. Motivated in part by the loss of the beautiful forest that was once their patrimony, a loss that must be visible to them on a daily basis, the women see themselves acting not only for themselves but for future generations. When I read it, I wondered, and not for the first time, if Luis Urrea’s novelInto the Beautiful North (2009) hadn’t come to life – because this is not the first instance in recent years of Mexican women taking the lead to end violence and environmental destruction. Meanwhile, New York State is set to join the ranks of states allowing fracking. In an August 19, 2012 CBS News Report, “New York State to Allow Fracking,” Jeff Glor’s article notes that the process of fracking releases dangerous contaminants that have high potential to endanger air and water supplies, yet quotes local farmers who need the money. The women of Cherán, Michoacán, also need money to live and they are supported in part, according to the article, by remittances from residents who have migrated to the U.S., yet it seems they are living in the aftermath of a disastrous environmental decision and working to make it right. Like the people of Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico, we face some very difficult decisions in these energy-gobbling times, and we might consider what we can productively learn through a comparative perspective that doesn’t consign indigenous women to a lost past, but instead examines the experience of both residents and migrants from particular regions about what doesn’t work – because as my interviewee says: “There it is the same as here, exactly the same as here. The only difference is that there is still a fiction that in Mexico it’s different.”

Theresa Delgadillo is on the faculty at Ohio State University.

  1. María Antonietta Berriozábal  August 20, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Dear Theresa:

    I find your work fascinating. I am a lover of oral history. Next month my book, María, Daughter of Immigrants, will be published. The first chapters include the stories that my parents told me as a child. With just their stories – no genealogical searches for me – I was able to share the story of my great grand mother and grandparents going back one hundred years. That is rather astounding. To think that these women can share a story, you chronicle them and one hundred years from now someone will be sharing them.

    Another reason for my interest in your work is that in 1995 I attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in China as a member of the US delegation. During the conference I met with women from Central America and some from Peru. Some could not even speak Spanish. They spoke their native dialects, but they had leaders who had learned Spanish and they were our interpreters. One of the reasons they had gone to the Beigjing conference, through great sacrifice, was to tell their stories of how their ancestral lands were being taken by businesses. It is the same story that continues to this day of multi-national corporations raping the environment in other countries so they can provide goods and food for the developed countries like the US and others. But the women were fighting; they were organizing and using their voices. I found it interesting that the leaders of the movements, at least of the ones I met, were mujeres. They wore their colorful clothing almost as the shield of warriors.

    In any event, I appreciate what you are doing very much.

    Sincerely,

    María Antonietta Berriozábal
    San Antonio, Texas

  2. Theresa (Mujeres Talk Co-Moderator)  August 20, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    Dear María Antonietta,

    I am looking forward to reading the preview of your book that appeared in Frontiers, and to your new book. Please send us an announcement for it as soon as it appears. My project was motivated, too, by the desire to record and share the life stories of Latinas whose experiences don’t appear elsewhere.

    Research in the U.S. has shown that indigenous migrants to the U.S. from Latin America often face difficulties precisely because of the language assumptions that you noted in your experience. Despite language differences, we are all struggling with the same difficult questions about how we use our natural resources.

    Thank you so much for your comments and encouragement, and thank you for sharing your work.

    Take care, Theresa

  3. Lourdes Alberto  August 28, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    In reading this post I am reminded that indigenous people think of themselves as planetary citizens–they fight for their people, their cultures, their history, but also all of our well-being and that of future generations.
    As an indigenous person myself (Oaxaqueña), I struggle with my own part in the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources.
    You know, three seasons ago I started growing a garden with the goal of eventually meeting all of my family’s summertime food needs. It was so fulfilling, so liberating, so unexpected. I know now that my challenge is to remember and live the knowledge my grandparents left me about the land, about plants and about the importance of well-being. As you mentioned, there are tens of thousands of indigenous people from Latin America in CA. Growing up we had an informal plant co-op/exchange. Someone would manage to bring over a plant, flower, hierba, from Oaxaca and we would literally share cuttings–yerba santa, varieties of avocado, ruda. It was amazing! A kind of urban indigenous transnational environmentalism!

  4. Theresa (Mujeres Talk Co-Moderator)  September 3, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Dear Lourdes,

    It’s good to hear from those that grow gardens for sustainability, and I appreciate the work you’ve put into this important task for three seasons, which, as you say, is a combination of memory work, and living a connection to others and growing food. Thank you for your beautiful note!

    Take care, Theresa

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