Eufrosina Cruz: The Indigenous Activist that Fights for Mexican Women Rights

The indigenous activist who fights against machismo improved the lives of the women in her village and achieved a reform in her country's Constitution.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza is an indigenous woman who fled her village at the age of 11 to escape from child marriage. "My oldest sister was married at 12 years old. At 13, she was already a mother, and at 31, she had nine children".

Eufrosina was born in Santa María Quiegolani, a municipality in Oaxaca in south-western Mexico, "10 years ago, Quiegolani didn't exist on the map of my country" clarifies. Her mother tongue is Zapotec, one of the 68 languages different from Spanish spoken in Mexico.

Although Eufrosina left her family (physically not emotionally since nowadays she keeps in contact with them), she doesn't blame her parents. Regarding this, she claims, "I come from a mom and a dad that life and circumstances denied them the possibility of going to school. My parents can't read or write. My mom had ten children, and I am the first to educate myself in my family".

Additionally, Eufrosina promoted and achieved the reform to Article 2, section A, fraction III of the United Mexican States' political Constitution, where it is guaranteed that indigenous women and men enjoy and exercise their right to vote and be voted on under similar conditions.

She became a deputy and the first president of a board of directors in the local legislature. From there, she promoted reforms to the Penal Code to allow their peers to vote and ware granted.

The Woman Post reunited with the activist in favor of the human rights of the communities from Oaxaca and Mexico, promoting socially sustainable development to know more about her story and her fight against machismo and discrimination. 

The Woman Post: Tell us a little about your roots, how your community works?

Eufrosina Cruz: I am a woman, I am indigenous, of which I am proud to be, to say it because that does not make me any more or less. Life has taught me to be a little rebellious, snatching dreams from experience because I knew that no one was going to change my story. To do it, I had to break my fears, my cultural paradigms, because that's how I was: the girl who dreamed of being able to speak Spanish someday, who dreamed of sleeping in a room with a bed, the girl who dreamed of being like her teacher whom he used to walk more than 12 hours to come to the mountains to teach us that we have the right to dream.

TWP: When you were just 11 years old, you made the brave decision, in your own words, "to be free." Your father wanted you to get married, but you ran away, how did you get the courage to do so?

EC: The one who taught me that I was able to change and not repeat the poverty cycle was my elementary school teacher Joaquín, a man from the city. At that time, I didn't understand why he was different from the men in my village. He used to let me play marbles (forbidden for girls) and enter his room every time my mom asked me to distribute corn and shallot to him and our neighbors. His world was so different from mine. My family and I slept on the dirt floor, but he had a bed. His room was lovely. It was painted and full of images, clipping, and photographs. I looked at them and wondered, " Where does it come this? How can I get to know the world that this pic shows me?" my teacher nailed me in the head the word "dream." Looking back, now I know he is gay.

Also read: Tehuana Woman: cultural icon of femininity and empowerment in Mexico

TWP: How did you face machismo in your family?

EC: I saw my mom every day waking up at 3:00 am and being the last one going to sleep, I saw how my sister didn't stop of having children, my only memories with my sister is she being pregnant or giving birth. However, she is now the woman that I admire the most. I didn't understand why the girls couldn't go to the village's court, why only boys could play there. I didn't know why I had to serve my siblings if I also worked with them and my father in the ranch. I also had to help my mom to make tortillas because this is how they educate you in this environment since you're a child, to be a woman. There were not dolls or anything. I didn't like it because I said, "my brothers also have hands, they can serve themselves," I didn't want that life. In that environment, an 11 years old girl is not a girl, is a woman with responsibilities because you need to cook, serve, and clean. You don't have friends because the other girls are working too in their homes. Thanks to my teacher, I found another reality, but the question was, how can I achieve it?

TWP: What has been the biggest lesson that you've learned? 

EC: Education transforms everything for me. When I heard "women, indigenous, vulnerable groups," I said wait, for me, "vulnerability" means that others decide for you, I can decide for myself, and lack opportunities. My father's vision was, "how can a woman dare to go to the village's football court? How can a woman dare to study?" that was his logic and his way of love, giving his daughters a husband. That's why I ran out. However, I didn't escape to forget, and I am proud to be from Quiegolani, I had to prove to the city that the indigenous face and tone of voice also reason and think. 

TWP: How was your interaction with the new world? 

EC: When I lived in my village, I wondered if there were people like me. However, when I arrived in the new world, I faced discrimination because society looks at me from head to toe. After all, my factions and tonality are different. I sometimes make mistakes in Spanish because it is not my language. At least I could choose my life there. The first emotion I felt was anger toward the world and its discrimination. Nevertheless, the greatness of this society is its faces, its sounds, its food, and the multiculturalism that exists in the world, that is what we have to embrace and put in the center and not say "you are indigenous", "you are this you are that", no, because that is the difference it makes us as societies. However, we are all the same.

TWP: What's the impact that you've had on the women of your community?

EC: Talking about women from Quiegolani makes me vibe, burst tears, and feel happiness. When I was a child, I dreamed that the girls could play at the court as a regular activity. Seeing today, the girls from my village going to school and studying career and being part of the council and the municipal administration where half of the employees are women makes me proud. People of my age in my village are grandmas. I want these girls making their dreams come true and saying, "I am not from a vulnerable group, I am a woman, I am indigenous, and I am proud of saying it and defend it.

TWP: What is your dream now?

EC: I am Diego's mom, he is seven years old. I have internal aches as a mom for my absence with Diego; for example, he needs a vaccine, and I can't be there, but I want him to grow up in a society where being a girl or a boy is not going to define who he is. Instead, I want him to find himself in his dreams and the opportunities that he sees for himself, and I find for him as well. I don't want women to be behind and taking the leftovers. I am working in a book that talks about the dream of the girl from the mountain. 

TWP: What makes you the proudest of this fight?

EC: That I was able to achieve the reform to the Constitution of my country, imagine, this little girl a little dirty, on November 14th of 2014 at the grandstand of the highest expression where the reforms to the Constitution of her country made, she was there at the forefront and showed the world, and Mexico, that girls can also dream as far as they want. That day was beautiful because it represented many things for me, the possibility of nobody telling an indigenous woman that they don't have the right to decide for her. I was crying that day because of the pain and tears of happiness. 

>>I hope my voice and my words break fear and paradigms, and that women and girls know that fear is always there, it walks with us every day, but you need to make it your best ally, and say "if I don't give it a try, no one is going to do it for me." I have always said that the "if I had done this" doesn't exist. Life is full of surprises and failures; not everything leads you to success; that's why you need to take the fear in your hands and keep moving.


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