Cecilia Santiago Vera and Jessica Marques joined Mills students for a discussion about Mexican women who are confronting globalization and fighting to maintain their cultural identity, last Thursday night.
Marques served as a translator for Santiago Vera, who came to Mills to speak of the plight of the women in the Chiapas community.
In 1997, the Mexican government launched an armed attack against the indigenous people living there. The attack has continued and the community is still suffering. "I want to share with you the struggle of the women," she said.
"The women are taking the most active role in confronting the problems in their communities and creating alternatives," she said. "This is a great advancement in the women's movement."
Globalization, according to worldbank.org, is the merging if countries' economic markets and societies. Some goverments think this is the answer to the problems that are facing developing nations.
Santiago Vera explained the effects that globalization is having on the indigenous people of Mexico, including the popular North American Free Trade Agreement. According to Santiago Vera, indigenous Mexican farmers are unable to compete with larger farms.
"They are losing the ability to sell their products at a high enough price to survive," she said.
The indigenous men are forced to leave their families and livelihoods behind and move to the Mexico-United States border or migrate to the U.S., which Santiago Vera said is "putting a strain on the indigenous culture."
The war that the Mexican government has launched is aimed at wearing down the indigenous communities and targets civilians, rather than militaries, according to Santiago Vera.
"This war is not like the war in Iraq," she said. "It's not an open war."
According to Santiago Vera, this war attacks civilian life, religious life and the media, through misinformation.
"Because of this war, the women in Chiapas are suffering," Santiago Vera said. "They are being incarcerated. They are being made widows, and their husbands are being imprisoned. And because of these things the women are forced to live with the psycho-social effects."
Santiago Vera said that the women there are living with stress-related muscle pain, lack of confidence, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"But they don't act victimized," she said. "The women have built a strong movement, and the women themselves are strong."
Santiago Vera said that the women are trying to conserve their culture by continuing the tradition of native embroidery, using their historic language and cooking indigenous foods.
The women are also taking on leadership roles and confronting men in their government, although Santiago Vera cautioned, "This is a slow process."
The primary way these women are defending their culture is by boldly rejecting the prevalent military presence in Chiapas, according to Santiago Vera.
"We have women with babies strapped to their backs confronting the military who have their tanks and jeeps," she said.
The women have become health promoters, religious leaders, and insurgent leaders, all the while maintaining their role as caretakers.
The indigenous communities have also set up five centers that they call Centers of Good Government, which aren't affiliated with the Mexican government or any political parties. These centers are in charge of overseeing the well being and organization of the indigenous communities in Mexico.
Jessica Marques is a member of the Mexico Solidarity Network, a group of 90 grassroots organizations in the United States that formed in 1998 after the massacre in Chiapas.
Marques ended the speech by giving the group some ideas for taking action to help indigenous communities locally.
"Buy indigenous artisan and fair trade coffee," Marques said. "Donate pharmaceuticals and support the development of an indigenous education system."
Marques said the U.S. is working to establish a Central American Free Trade Agreement and suggested that students write to their local and state representative to let them know that they oppose such a contract.
"Students really have a lot of time and energy to devote to helping developing nations," Marques said. "Mills is a really active campus and ther are groups here already mobilized to change and help. Part of why we're here is to strengthen what's already going on."