Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, a Zapotec woman who was denied the right to vote or to run for political office in her hometown, gained international attention for her struggle last year. The Los Angeles Times ran an update story last Friday on how she is doing. It focused on the continuing reactions of Ms. Cruz to the issue of women’s rights in conservative, Zapotec communities.
The newspaper interviewed her in Mexico City, where she was launching a foundation called Quiego, which she indicates will concentrate on providing work, education, and shelter for poor, rural, indigenous women.
The LA Times piece includes three brief videos recording her comments during their interview with her. The paper provides English translations as the engaging 28 year old woman speaks. In the first segment, she introduces herself and says that she is “looking for the recognition of the rights of indigenous women … [especially for] the right to development, progress and education.”
She explains in the second video segment that she had wanted to run for the position of municipal president of her community, Santa Maria Quiegolani, in the highlands of southern Oaxaca, but the men in the town refused to allow her to run or vote because she is a woman. She was quite angered by her treatment. Since she is a woman, the attitude of the men, she said, is that “you’re not a citizen, [so] they don’t take you into account. You’re like a blank page.” She has a university education and works as an accountant.
She decided to fight the system so that women in Mexico would never again be denied the rights that are guaranteed to them in the national constitution. Women should not be held back, she argued, by customs and traditions that do not allow them to make decisions for their communities.
The interviewer asked her if her cause might undermine the progress of indigenous communities gaining respect and recognition for their ways of life, which often differ from the rest of Mexico. Does she see a conflict between her own struggle and the state constitution of Oaxaca, which guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples such as the Zapotec to elect their local officials according to the “traditions and democratic practices of the indigenous communities?” Cruz denied that there is such a conflict.
“I don’t think it’s a problem of customs and traditions,” she said. Rather, she feels it’s a problem with a political system in which leaders try to protect themselves by using the traditional customs as the basis for their actions. Women have never voted, she says, so these leaders argue that they should not be allowed to now. She sees a lot of hypocrisy in leaders who feel that everyone must be aware of the need to globalize, who point out that young people in their communities dress in jeans, but who then maintain that “the autonomy of the communities can’t be touched.” She concludes, “there’s a total and absolute contradiction there.”