Eufrosina Cruz: Indigenous women’s rights vs. culture in Mexico

You may remember Eufrosina Cruz from this Column One article last year by Hector Tobar and Maria Antonieta Uribe. Cruz is a 28-year-old indigenous woman from the state of Oaxaca who is an activist for the rights of indigenous women. Cruz rebelled against the restrictions of her own community, where Zapotec is the native language, to become a college-educated accountant.

We caught up with her in Mexico City earlier this week during an event in which she launched a foundation, called Quiego, that she says will dedicate itself to providing shelter, education and work opportunities to indigenous women from poor, rural communities.

See her introduce herself here.

Speaking at a packed news conference about the women of her rural community, Santa Maria Quiegolani, in the southern highlands of Oaxaca, Cruz said: "Because we’re in the mountains, no one hears us, no one listens to us." 

She explains in the video below why she decided to speak out against some of the traditions and customs of her community in a cause that has gained national recognition.

I asked her whether she saw a conflict between her struggle and that of other indigenous communities to gain recognition and respect for a way of life that is often quite different from mainstream Mexico.

The most famous indigenous struggle here in Mexico is embodied by the masked guerrilla, Subcomandante Marcos, who led the Zapatista army out of the jungle in 1994 in a short-lived uprising.

The 1994 revolt, which lasted all of two weeks, demanded the recognition of indigenous rights. As Tracy Wilkinson reported last year about a speech Marcos made, the uprising was also "aimed at dramatizing the bleak living conditions, poverty and alienation of Mexico’s indigenous population."

But does Cruz’s struggle to improve the lot of women in these communities undermine the struggle by Marcos and others to gain recognition and, in some cases, autonomy for indigenous traditions and customs?

Article 25 of the state constitution of Oaxaca establishes the rights of groups such as the Zapotecs to elect municipal officials according to the "traditions and democratic practices of the indigenous communities." But women living, for example, in Cruz’s community are lucky to complete grade school, and the roost is ruled by a male-only assembly. Cruz’s sister was married off to a stranger when she was 12 years old.

Here are her thoughts on the issue.

— Deborah Bonello in Mexico City for La Plaza