Academic journal article Social Justice

Geographies of Difference: Transborder Organizing and Indigenous Women's Activism

Academic journal article Social Justice

Geographies of Difference: Transborder Organizing and Indigenous Women's Activism

Article excerpt

IN 2007, ON ONE OF MANY TRIPS TO THE MIXTECA REGION OF OAXACA, I SET OUT FROM Santiago Juxtlahuaca to visit the community credit unions and gastronomy projects of the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB ; Indigenous Front of B !national Organizations) with then regional director Centolia Maldonado, who served as a coresearcher and guide on the project. We visited Isabel Reyes, a mother who talked to me while making tortillas to sell at the market. As she moved quickly between the grill and the masa press on a small wooden table, with her baby in a rebozo on her back, I asked if I was bothering her. She laughed and said no, that talking while working was ideal because it made the work go faster. She invited me to pull up the small child's chair in her outdoor kitchen, and there I sat, with the recorder balanced on a brick, as she told me of how she was doing better now that she had organized with other women to save money and invest in her small tortilla business. Her words were punctuated with the quick rhythm of masa pounding between fast hands, and intermixed with the loud song of a turkey who stalked around the yard. After piling back into the taxi with the yellow and green FIOB logo on the door, we were driven by one of the companeros from the FIOB taxi collective to our next stop in Santa Maria to visit Dona Matilde (see Photo 1), who organizes a gastronomy project with her sister. After several return visits, I have found Dona Matilde to have an indomitable spirit and a generous smile; but that first day I met her, I was surprised by her fierce grassroots analysis of women's empowerment that came rapidly spilling out as soon as I turned on the recorder. On subsequent visits, she prepared a tea from herbs growing in the yard to settle my stomach. She introduced me to her elderly father. His cloudy eyes looked out over the horizon beyond the fields of the sierra as he told me that nowadays people are getting sick because they have lost their connection to the land and stopped growing and preparing their own food. The activities of saving and lending through a small-scale community credit union or of growing, grinding, and preparing food may seem like quotidian activities that have simply been collectivized, but they have become economically and politically important in the past few years as part of a FIOB campaign for the "Derecho A No Migrar" (the right not to migrate) (Rivera-Salgado 2014).


In the agricultural fields of California, where an estimated 30 percent of all farmworker laborers are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mines, Nichols, and Runsten 2010), the most effective organizers are trilingual, such as Irma Luna, a migrant from San Miguel Cuevas who is fluent in Mixtee, Spanish, and English and who began organizing in the 1990s (Fox and Rivera-Salgado 2004). Reflecting on the history of women's participation in the FIOB on the occasion of the organization's twentieth anniversary, Irma Luna explained:

Many barriers that migrant indigenous women face, especially those who work in agriculture, include the lack of transportation as many of them do not drive and more than that, they work from sun up to sun down. The families that do not have a license are limited in their participation in meetings and activities. Those who are mothers, return from their jobs and arrive home to feed the kids, do household chores, and prepare food for the next day. (1) (Rodriguez 2011,16-17)

Migrant indigenous women in rural areas of California face many similar issues as their counterparts in rural Oaxaca in terms of transportation or access to political spaces. Yet, in the United States, migrant indigenous women face other intersectional oppressions that are compounded through the violence of producing a state of extreme vulnerability and exploitability in which many migrants are denied the right to get a driver's license. (2)

I have picked these small vignettes to begin this essay in order to illustrate how activists with shared transborder goals--for example, women's participation and leadership--must navigate the local realities and arrangements of power to be effective, even while engaging in coordinated cross-border campaigns. …

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