Women in struggle from both sides of the border

In thinking about International Women's Day last week, I was reminded of the growing strength of women in the Zapatista movement of my native Mexico.

Can somebody be a Christian believer, Zapatista, feminist, mujerista, and an irregular journalist in a country that embraces you and expels you at the same time?

I’m all of this, and I’m not alone.

I don’t resent men, but I am against the patriarchal system. I long to see women rise. But I like to describe myself as a “latingrieta,” a crack in the wall.

I’m a Philatina now, too. I am a divorced mother of three kids, the oldest born in the United States, the second in Italy, and my little one in a small town in Mexico.

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I’m doing what a lot of immigrant women, and Mexican women, are forced to do. The majority of us are raising our kids alone. But it actually takes a village, and I found one here in the U.S.

In thinking about International Women’s Day last week, I was reminded of the growing strength of women in the Zapatista movement of my native Mexico.

Being a mestiza from a Huichol mother and a father with Spanish roots, I found it natural to get involved in the Zapatista struggle in my college years. I moved to Chiapas.

At the same time I discovered the “theology of liberation,” the application of Catholic faith to the aid of oppressed peoples, the concept of mujerista showed up here in the U.S. The term was coined by Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz. It comes from feminist and Latin American liberationist understandings and adds two other elements: a cultural critique of Latino culture as well as of the dominant culture in the U.S., and a denunciation of racism and ethnic prejudice.

Citing Diaz’s book, “Mujerista Theology”:

“Mujeristas struggle to liberate themselves not as individuals but as members of a Latino community. They work to build bridges among Latinas …. Mujeristas understand that their task is to gather the hopes and expectations of the people about justice and peace.

“The love of God, like all true love, is reciprocal. This is what spirituality is, our relationship with God, a concrete relationship that becomes reality in our love for one another. Spirituality is our love for God that calls us to engage each other, to share ourselves with each other. Against the oppression we suffer in our Latino culture and in the society in which we live precisely because we are women.”

And I would add: immigrant women.

The term mujerista is resuming a new strength among young Latinas. I’m trying to connect the concept with the Mexican indigenous fight, because most Zapatistas didn’t fully embrace feminism.

But our roots are more tangled up together than we realize.

The Zapatista indigenous movement has theology of liberation at its roots, and Protestant churches have had a strong presence in rural areas of Chiapas for several decades. And likewise, here especially under the current American government, there are many evangelical women who are trying to recover the true meaning of Christianity’s essential message of love for one’s neighbor.

Sarah Bessey, an evangelical writer and preacher, is author of the book “Jesus Feminist.” In her blog, she writes about the conflict in these times of being Christian and feminist.

In some circles, using the word “Christian” is the equivalent of saying you’re a racist, homophobic, climate-change-denying ignoramus ready to storm a women’s health clinic to murder a doctor.

In some circles, using the word “feminist” is the equivalent of saying you’re an abortion-loving, man-hating, crude, radical ready to tear down or mock or destroy everything you hold dear.

I identify as part of a group of people who receive their fair share of criticism…

So I often feel like an outsider, but here I am. I’m a Christian. And I’m a feminist.

I identify with her. I’ll also add my Zapatista affiliation, in which I find myself more recognized, and with fewer contradictions. Before Trump started talking about building his wall, Zapatismo was already theorizing how to tear down walls. That’s why I say I am a crack in the wall. Along with other cracks doing their part in the fight, little by little we will end up breaking it down.

Zapatismo as a movement has been fighting machismo since its first moments. In my own experience I have seen how Mexican indigenous communities have been transforming in their gender relations. In particular, Zapatista women can decide whom to marry, they have access to education and have a equal voice in community assemblies, something that many others indigenous communities across the Mexico have not yet achieved in the last two decades. Another great example are the women in Cheran, who are living in an autonomous community after expelling all police, politicians, and “narcos.”

The Zapatistas, together with the National Indigenous Congress, nominated a Nahuatl indigenous woman, Maria de Jesus Patricio, for the presidency of Mexico. In January, representatives of the Indigenous Governing Council visited 15 U.S. cities to ask Mexicans to sign her petition to be an independent candidate in the election on for this July 1. Unfortunately they were unable to collect enough signatures, but the story of the first indigenous woman to seek the presidency is powerful, particularly in a country governed by a male political class in crisis over high levels of corruption and impunity.

Patricio said that women are the ones who feel the deepest pain, but it’s precisely because women experience the greatest oppressions that they are also capable of feeling the deepest rage. “We must be able to transform that rage in an organized way in order to go on the offensive to dismantle the power from above, building with determination and without fear the power from below,” she said.

We are still women in struggle on both sides of the border. We stand with the mothers of the 43 students who disappeared from a teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, and to more thousands of women who continue looking for their sons, their daughters, their husbands, or their parents who have similarly gone missing under dubious circumstances, and almost total impunity. We embrace the resilient mothers of the young victims of the ABC Daycare in Hermosillo, Mexico, where a fire from negligence killed 49 children.

We stand with all of them.

Thanks to the thousands of women from different parts of the world who met last weekend in Chiapas at the first “International Gathering of Women in Struggle” — and specifically to Maria de Jesus Patricio for continuing to give us an example, that we are women made to fight with an insatiable thirst for love, peace, and justice.

Perla Lara is a journalist and activist who fights for social and political reform in Latin America and the United States. Currently, she is a special reporter with El Sol, a widely circulated Latino newspaper in Philadelphia. She is a social psychologist from Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, with graduate studies in cultural anthropology, historical demography, and intercultural dialogue in Italy. She worked as a TV news producer in Mexico at Televisa, the largest Hispanic television network.

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