Let’s vote | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Sunday, January 2nd, 2022. It was two in the afternoon and a sunny day in Ocotequila, a town of more than 1,500 inhabitants in the Mountain of Guerrero, near the Pacific coast of Mexico. It’s noisy all the time in Ocotequila—donkeys braying, dogs barking, loudspeakers calling out announcements on the streets.
That day, nine women from the Nahua indigenous community—the main town in Ocotequila—began walking down the street that leads to the town’s main square. They walked together, determined, expectant, with nervous laughter. The youngest was 33 years old. The oldest, over 70. They headed towards the center of the square where dozens of men were gathered. There was not a single woman.
When the women arrived, everyone turned to look at them. With the men’s eyes on them, they became even more nervous. And as if it were a game, eight of them slowed down and hid behind Antonia Ramírez.
[Antonia]: Then I did feel like my feet were bending, but it was obviously just my imagination.
[Daniel]: She felt the sweat on her hands, the wobble in her legs… she was scared to death. Trying to hide her nervousness, she walked with the women to a lime-green building known as Comisaría, the main community authority in Ocotequila. There were a couple of tables out in front, with almost 20 men lined up to vote. That day, elections were being held for the new municipal commissioner, the highest representative of the community and the main link to the town council.
[Antonia]: Well, everyone was surprised. Everyone staring. People who were farther away approached to see what was going to happen there in the hall of the Comisaría. Surprised looks, looks of disagreement. Some men kind of said like, “And these women? What are they doing here, they are nothing more than women; why are they coming here?”
[Daniel]: At the voting table, Antonia asked for an official from Copanatoyac, the municipality to which Ocotequila belongs. “He didn’t come,” she was told. Then Antonia, nervous but firm, asked the men at the table again, “Who is the highest authority here?”
A resident of the community, who was serving as president of the Debate Table that day, said, “I am.” He was the person responsible for coordinating the vote: from the beginning to the final vote count.
[Antonia]: “Oh,” I tell him, “well, look, I’m so-and-so, I’m here with my colleagues. We want to vote.”
[Daniel]: The president of the table seemed surprised, and in a serious tone he replied:
[Antonia]: “No. Due to customs and practices, women do not vote,” he says, “only men.”
[Daniel]: He said: “Due to customs and practices, women do not vote, only men….” He refers to a model that gives autonomy to indigenous communities, such as that of Ocotequila, to decide their forms of self-government in Mexico. It is protected in the second article of the Constitution. And yes, in the history of the town, women had never voted to elect the municipal commissioner.
Antonia heard some of the men nearby beginning to murmur and others laughed impudently.
She kept calm. The other women were silent. The men scoffed but the women had agreed not to react.
However, a month later, their names would be known throughout the town.
We’ll be back after a short break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Mexican journalist Selene Mazón picks up the story.
[Selene Mazón]: Antonia Ramírez was born in Ocotequila, but when she was in preschool she moved to Tlapa, a town less than an hour and a half away. Her parents decided that it was best to leave for safety reasons.
At home, Antonia communicated in Nahuatl with her family: her parents, her three siblings, and her niece. But when she arrived in Tlapa, she had to learn Spanish.
[Antonia]: Yes, I found it very difficult. Even now I feel that I still don’t speak Spanish well. All I could say was “yes” and I could say “no.” My dad told me, “When there is something that you do agree with, if it is a yes, nod your head in the affirmative. And if not,” he says, “shake your head saying you don’t want that. Don’t let yourself be forced into doing things you don’t want to do.” And that’s how they sent us out, with just that word yes and no (laughs).
[Selene]: From Monday through Friday, Antonia did her primary schooling at a public boarding school. On weekends, she and her sister worked washing a teacher’s clothes. Everyone at home worked to help with expenses. Her father was a farmer; later, he was a bricklayer’s assistant and loader. Her mother worked at home and sold tortillas. Although Antonia tried not to think too much about the future, there was one thing that was always clear to her:
[Antonia]: I wanted to be an independent woman. I wanted to work, to have enough to be able to buy this or that, and not depend on anyone.
[Selene]: Antonia always went to public schools. She never stopped working. In 2008, she finished secondary school. She was 19 years old. She didn’t go to college right away because she still hadn’t decided what degree she wanted to pursue, so she worked, mainly in domestic service.
A year later, her brother told her about an opening to work as an electoral trainer for the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, now known as INE. It is a position that opens each election season to train people who inform citizens about their electoral and political rights and the functions of the INE. That year, 2009, elections would be held for representatives to the federal Congress.
[Antonia]: My brother said we should go take an exam. We took an exam, that is, an interview.
[Selene]: Although Antonia didn’t know exactly what the INE was or what it was about, she found the opportunity interesting. She would earn more than in her domestic service job, and they didn’t ask for many requirements. But the exam was very difficult.
[Antonia]: Questions that have to do with participation. What does each polling officer do? What do you do when the election packages arrive? How is a district council made up? A local council?
[Selene]: Although she studied hard, it was difficult for her to understand all this. She had never participated in any elections, and they did not talk about politics at home, either. She remembers only occasional conversations with an uncle or some news she would see on television.
When she was given her test results, her grades where poor, but the interview made up for her performance and she was accepted for the job. The training process to become a trainer took 10 days, and for Antonia, it was like entering a whole new world.
[Antonia]: Well, we started talking about how the Chamber of Representatives is made up, the Chamber of Senators. It was quite complicated. They spoke a very different language.
[Selene]: When the training was over, she was assigned to communities in the Guerrero Mountain region. The task was to explain to people about the elections and encourage them to vote. There, she noticed a pattern in almost every house in every town she visited.
[Antonia]: The women always told me, “Look, come when my husband is here, because he is going to give me permission.” And I would say, “Why does your husband have to give you permission; do you want to?” I obviously didn’t say anything to them, but it felt very strange. Why should we women ask for permission if we aren’t owned by anyone? I asked myself many questions.
[Selene]: The job as a trainer lasted about five months and ended on the day of the election for federal representative. There, Antonia would support the officials who were in charge of the polls. In addition, she would vote for the very first time. What she was most excited about was having her thumb marked with election ink once her vote for the candidates on the ballot was recorded.
[Antonia]: We all wanted to get our fingers marked, so I was very excited, ¿right? to know what it feels like. They gave us some ballots; uhm, I put an X on the ones I voted for, but I didn’t even know who they were.
[Selene]: And if you are surprised about voting without knowing who you voted for, you have to take into account the political isolation of communities like Antonia’s. Just the act of participating and having that mark on your finger would be a very important first step. Antonia was thrilled.
When she was done voting, she returned to her booth to support the poll workers. When election day was over, at night, she had to help deliver the boxes of ballots to the Town Hall for the vote count.
[Antonia]: I saw the long line of all the polling station presidents. They carried their packages and they had to deliver… There were a lot of them; it was like a lot of people. I said to myself, “Where have I been, why did I never realize this?”
[Selene]: Working at the INE was a turning point in Antonia’s life. She began to know her rights and the names of the government institutions in charge of protecting them.
When she finished her work for that election, she thought again about her college career. She wanted to be a lawyer, but the law school was in a town four hours from where she lived. And since she didn’t know anyone there to help her with lodging, she opted for a new degree in Tlapa. It’s called Community Development…
[Antonia]: And it is it about you returning to your community and supporting the people in this and that… you have to document the customs of the communities. And I went there to study.
[Selene]: During her studies, she began to learn more about the practices of the indigenous peoples of the region, including her own, Ocotequila. Once, in 2012, she was assigned a paper investigating how the hierarchies of the Comisaría work there, how the commissioner is elected, who participates in the elections…
[Antonia]: Then I would start asking my mom, “What’s the commissioner’s name and what does he do? and… and… when does voting take place, when is he chosen, and…”
[Selene]: Her mother, who had returned to Ocotequila to live, told her:
[Antonia]: “No, only the men vote.” “What do you mean, only the men?” “Yes, just the men.”
[Selene]: Antonia was upset, although it was not the first time she had heard that women were not taken into account in the community. Ever since she was a little girl, she had heard the expression in Nahuatl San Sihuamej, which means “they are just women”, or “just women” as a way of detracting from their value. So she asked her mother if she wouldn’t like to vote for the commissioner. Her mother said she would, but that women don’t even know what the elections are like or who is running as a candidate.
[Antonia]: They just elect him. In other words, we learn that it is so-and-so, that he is now the commissioner.
[Selene]: Antonia was still indignant. The right to vote for women was approved in Mexico in 1953, and some women in her community had voted in general elections. But when it came to choosing the authority closest to their needs, women weren’t considered at all. In the middle of 2012, at college, she would learn that this was due to the term we heard at the beginning: Customs and Practices.
And, as we said, the Customs and Practices exist to give autonomy to the indigenous peoples in the country.
They are known in the Constitution as Internal Regulatory Systems, and have been key for indigenous communities to preserve their identity and traditions, their internal forms of coexistence and organization, the election of their representatives, and the conservation and improvement of their habitat.
But, with her rebellious spirit, Antonia questioned all this in the classroom.
[Antonia]: I would always ask, “And where do we women come in,” right? What role do we play? Where are we participating? Some teachers have a very idealized view of communities. They romanticized them. And well, in the communities there are also… well, mistakes, there are, there are bad habits, bad practices. And well, not everything in the community is pretty. Especially for women.
[Selene]: With that frustration, she began attending workshops and forums on feminism and human rights. These were promoted for the most part by indigenous activist Martha Sánchez Néstor, a woman who gave visibility to and fought for the rights of indigenous women in Guerrero.
[Antonia]: I was encouraged… I would skip my classes to attend the forums or meetings. And there they talked a lot about women. They were talking about feminism, right? I didn’t even know what that was. But they said that feminism wants a change, it wants women to be treated equally. And I said, “Oh, I think I’m a feminist.”
[Selene]: During college, Antonia never stopped working. Almost all her jobs were temporary positions. She continued as a trainer at the INE, and she was a pollster for INEGI, the agency in charge of carrying out the population census, among other things. She was also a translator from Nahuatl to Spanish at the Office of the Defender of Victims of Sexual Crimes and Domestic Violence. She worked there for three years until 2014. That was the year she graduated from the university.
A year later, her friend Carmen González, who was a journalist for the newspaper El Sur, asked Antonia to cover her position for 6 months while elections were being held that year. Carmen was an electoral consultant, and to avoid a conflict of interest she needed someone to replace her as a reporter. Antonia hesitated. She hadn’t studied for that and she didn’t consider herself very outgoing: she was embarrassed to approach people and ask questions.
But in the end, Antonia accepted. She still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college and she also wanted to support her friend. It was not easy. Learning the reporting techniques necessary to write an article was difficult for her; she would forget to ask for certain information; she had a hard time approaching people; it took her a long time to transcribe and write.
With practice and Carmen’s guidance, Antonia began to like journalism, and she never quit it afterwards. After election day was over, she joined the paper as a freelance reporter. She liked seeing that she had an impact on people’s lives.
[Antonia]: Later I saw that you get results. People talk to you asking you to publish a complaint, then they come, “Oh, thank you very much, my matter was resolved. If it weren’t for you…” And I said, “Oh, it feels nice.” It’s like being a lawyer, but writing, you know? Demanding that a complaint be filed, and so on…
[Selene]: In 2016, Antonia and Carmen founded El Jale Noticias, an independent digital outlet for them to upload articles that could not be published in the newspaper. Its coverage gave priority to local stories, as well as stories of gender violence, often justified by Customs and Practices, like the issue of child marriage.
Five years passed, Antonia reporting and working with Carmen for El Jale Noticias and for the newspaper El Sur. Until one afternoon in January 2021, she received a call from her niece, Emilia, who was studying for the same degree she had: Community Development. Like Antonia when she was a student, Emilia had to go to the communities and document the practices and traditions there. Antonia had told her about how, in communities like hers, women can’t vote for commissioner. So when they talked on the phone, her niece told her:
[Antonia]: “Look, Toña, really… I was assigned to cover the election for commissioner and you’re absolutely right: women don’t vote. I was the only woman there and I was very scared,” she says. “Afraid that they would do something to me. But I asked the commissioner for permission to take a photo if I could, because I’m going to take it back to my school. It’s a homework assignment. I’m supposed to do it,”
[Selene]: She told her that the commissioner said yes, so she took some photos. Emilia sent Antonia the photos via WhatsApp that afternoon. Until that moment, Antonia had only heard what the elections were like from what her mother had told her. But she had never seen it. Now she was shocked by the image of a lot of men gathered together and not a single woman in sight.
[Antonia]: I don’t know, I felt a lot of anger, disappointment and helplessness. I thought, “I can’t change anything in my community, what did I go to school for?”
[Selene]: She thought about her work at the INE, how she invited women to participate in general elections… while in her own community her family, her neighbors and acquaintances were not allowed to vote for the most direct local authority, the commissioner. After seeing that photo, Antonia couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every time she went to her town, she brought up the conversation at the family table. She talked about it with her mother or with her aunt Chaya. When she met a neighbor, she did not miss the opportunity and asked them:
[Antonia]: “Hey, what do you think of this? Is it okay that you don’t vote when they choose the commissioner?” “Who knows,” they would reply, “they don’t send for us.”
[Selene]: Antonia asked them if they would like to vote, and the women answered that yes, they would go. But the elections for the next commissioner, which are held annually, would not be held until almost a year later, in January 2022, so the conversations she had at that time did not go beyond that. But it was a way to begin testing the ground.
In November 2021, Antonia went to Ocotequila for her grandmother’s funeral. Several women from the community had gathered at her mother’s house to prepare for the raising of the cross, a Catholic tradition to pray for the deceased. There were about seven women, including her mother Juana, her aunt Chaya, her sister Mari, her niece Emilia and a few neighbors like Isaura and Inés. They cooked three huge pots of pozole.
[Antonia]: I remember, it was around twelve at night… The fire was burning, the pozole was boiling, they were peeling the… I don’t remember, I think it was chickens. We were laughing and laughing…
[Selene]: Then, Antonia began to talk about the election for commissioner, which would be held two months later.
[Antonia]: And what they thought of the voting, if they agreed that women should not vote. They said they want to vote but that they aren’t allowed to.
[Selene]: Antonia asked them how they knew they weren’t allowed. Had any of them ever gone to the polling stations to try to vote? They said no, because they already knew that women did not vote, that there was no point in going. Then Antonia said to them:
[Antonia]: “So they haven’t told you that you can’t. As long as they don’t tell us no, it’s something that we just took for granted. But no, I mean, it’s not written anywhere that women can’t vote.” “No, but that’s the way it is.”
[Selene]: Chaya, Antonia’s aunt, spoke up. This is Chaya:
[Chaya]: Well, if we organize ourselves and do something, right? That’s good, right? Yes, well, we have to try it and see what happens.
[Selene]: And then Antonia asked them directly:
[Antonia]: I tell them, “But if I go, will you come with me?”
[Selene]: Whether they would accompany her to show up at the voting tables… The women just laughed. But when Antonia and her aunt asked them again if they dared vote for the commissioner in January, they answered:
[Antonia]: “Well, yes, we are going to come with you. We are old now,” they say, ”if they do something to us, we are going to die anyway,” they tell me.
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is how the women’s revolution began to simmer in Ocotequila.
We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel Alarcón]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, we heard how Antonia Ramírez and a group of women conspired to exercise a right: voting to elect the municipal commissioner of Ocotequila, the highest representative of the community. Something that, due to Customs and Practices, women had never been allowed to do. They were anxious, some were embarrassed, but they were determined to try.
Selene continues the story.
[Selene]: After that meeting in November 2021, Antonia returned to Tlapa, where she lives and works. Meanwhile, her aunt Chaya, who lives in Ocotequila, kept in touch with the women she had talked to that night and tried to talk to more women, encouraging them to vote. The response from some women was skeptical.
[Chaya]: “Nooo, but they are not going to allow it.” So I say, “Well, let’s see what they tell us. Let’s get them. How do we do it? I don’t know, but we’re going to fight.”
[Selene]: Many of the women doubted. They were ashamed to be turned back and become a laughingstock. But not Chaya.
[Chaya]: I wasn’t ashamed or scared . . . I’ve been to the city, I’ve been through a lot. One learns by the things one goes through.
[Selene]: And we could say that Chaya was one of the most seasoned women in the group, from everything she had had to experience. When she was 14, she had been forced to marry someone she didn’t know. In her marriage she suffered a lot of domestic violence. One day, she took her things and fled to Mexico City with her children. There she began to work. She also finished secondary school, an achievement she remembers with great pride. She was away for almost a decade, until her mother got sick, and she returned to Ocotequila to take care of her. Since then, she lives alone with her youngest daughters.
But on the other hand, most of the women of the town were subject to the opinion of their husbands. And not everyone was very open to changes in their customs. Margarito Navarrete, a resident of the community, says it clearly:
[Margarito]: Here we are very… very sexist, so that, for example, I belong to the PRI, so of course my wife has to vote for the PRI. It’s the law.
[Selene]: The PRI, the center-right political party that, according to Antonia and Chaya, has historically won in the municipality to which Ocotequila belongs. When I asked him why it is logical for his wife to have to vote for the same party, he replied:
[Margarito]: No, we are not used to that, to the woman going her own way.
[Selene]: This comes from the economic control they have over them. In Ocotequila there are no employment options beyond the planting season. It is generally the men who go out to look for work in other towns, mostly as masonry assistants or in commerce.
[Margarito]: The woman, if you give her money, she is going to get something to eat, she is going to have a soda, if she says she is going to buy a dress, it is because it is her husband’s work… because the woman is just waiting here, she does not have a job.
[Selene]: So of course, since their care in the home and the support work they do in the fields are not recognized or paid, women are economically dependent on their husbands for almost everything, including making many of their own decisions.
[Margarito]: So the woman is going to do whatever the husband says.
[Selene]: Even so, Chaya managed to convince four women: Benita, in her 70s; María Ana and Inés, in their 50s; and Isaura, 45. Isaura says that she was encouraged to vote because the commissioners so far had ignored her and not carried out their social programs. Remember that the commissioner is the main liaison between the town and the municipality. This is Isaura speaking in Nahuatl:
[Selene]: I translate: She says that what encouraged her to vote would be to see a woman in the position of commissioner, so that she could talk to her. Because men in positions of authority do not pay attention to them, they do not sign the papers they need, and they ask them for “cooperation,” that is, money, when, by law, the service should be free.
While Chaya was persuading the women, Antonia was waiting for the publication of the call to elections for commissioner, which was finally published on December 14, 2021.
[Antonia]: I quickly went to read it, and in no section did it say that it was only for men. I said, “There is basis for argument here, because they are inviting all the citizens, and as women we are part of the citizenry.”
[Selene]: Antonia shared the election announcement on El Jale‘s Facebook page, inviting everyone to participate, and she called her aunt Chaya to tell her. They would have to pay attention because the call did not specify the day of the election. Since these are community elections, they are organized by each individual town. The only requirement is that the candidate has to take office in the first half of January.
Chaya tried to find out when it would be, but Christmas and New Year’s Eve passed and she didn’t hear anything. But the next day, January 1st, the neighbors told her that the election would be held the following day. Chaya ran to call Antonia. It was in the afternoon.
[Chaya]: “Antonia, it’s tomorrow.” “What?” “Yes, it’s tomorrow! But hurry, because we won’t be able to make it.”
[Antonia]: “Wow, tomorrow?” I say, “That’s right.” “Are you sure?” And I say, “But ask them if they are not going to abandon us half-way there.”
[Selene]: Chaya assured her that yes, she and the other women were adamant that they wanted to vote. Antonia said she would be in Ocotequila very early the next day so that they could go vote together.
As soon as she hung up, Antonia called a lawyer friend and told him what they were planning to do.
[Antonia]: I said, “So what do I do? Because I know it is a right and I know we can challenge it,” I said.
[Selene]: A challenge in order to nullify the elections. After all, women’s political and electoral rights were being violated. Antonia had heard of this option during her training as an electoral trainer.
[Antonia]: “No, no, yes, you can challenge,” he says. “Look, the important thing is for you all to go and present yourselves and not be allowed to vote and be turned back. And then, yes, I will help you file the challenge.”
[Selene]: At the same time, her friend Carmen González spoke with a former mayor of the municipality to which Ocotequila belongs, who belonged to the PRI party and had a lot of influence in the town. She told him there was a group of women who wanted to vote in the elections for commissary. Carmen’s intention was to probe the former mayor’s reaction. He told her that it was late, but he would let the leader of his party in the community know so that they would be allowed to vote.
Antonia felt it was important to take those measures because she feared a confrontation. She wanted to avoid that at all costs.
[Antonia]: And then, in the afternoon I started like… seeing like the consequences. I was seeing like… “What if this happens, what do I do? If this happens, I don’t want to expose the women, either.”
[Selene]: Meanwhile, that night of January 1st, her aunt Chaya was taking to the streets of the town of Ocotequila. She visited the leaders of MORENA, one of the opposition parties, which opposed the PRI and of which she was a sympathizer. Chaya was hopeful that MORENA would support her cause. But it was not like that.
Without the support of MORENA, Chaya kept knocking on doors to get more women to join. With her came her two girls, 12 and 7 years old. They continued doing that until Antonia called her at midnight, and Chaya gave her a report on how it had gone.
[Antonia]: She told me, “Look, I’m going home now. Only so-and-so, and so-and-so said yes. Even if it’s only a few.” And I say, “Yes, even if it’s only a few.”
[Selene]: Although there were few of them, about four, the plan was still on. They said goodbye and agreed to meet the next day at Antonia’s mother’s house.
[Antonia]: I tried to sleep so I could wake up the next day. What if I don’t wake up? And I was pretty worried. I set my alarm…
[Selene]: Antonia took a collective taxi van from Tlapa to Ocotequila after 6 in the morning, with her sister Mari, and her niece Magdalena, the daughter of another of her aunts, who had joined the plan. Antonia had asked them to come along in case the women of Ocotequila changed their minds at the last minute.
They arrived in town at seven-forty that morning and went to Antonia’s mother’s house. They waited for the women to arrive. Her aunt Chaya was one of the first. Many were waiting until their husbands left for work or to vote before leaving their homes. But fear was widespread. This is Chaya:
[Chaya]: María stayed there until her husband went to take care of the two donkeys. Because that man didn’t want her to go. He said, “Don’t go, because they are going to beat you there, you will see.” The neighbor here, Carmen also told us, “No, don’t go, because the assassins will come, they will come armed and they will kill the women.”
[Selene]: And here it is necessary to clarify something that Antonia told me: in Ocotequila, several men have guns. Shotguns or guns are among their work tools. Although they’re not legal, they use them to scare off or kill animals that prowl around their crops, or for self-defense.
All these threats were rumors. They didn’t know where exactly they were coming from; they were just repeated like an echo. Party leaders, some women’s husbands, all the neighbors repeated that they had “heard something….” This made the women fear for their safety, but not enough to not go through with the plan.
[Chaya]: We fight for life, you could say, so that we can achieve something else, something good, so that it remains in history. Maybe someday other women will value this.
[Selene]: By eleven o’clock that morning, a group of nine women had gathered: Antonia, her aunt Chaya, her mother Juana, her sister María, her niece Magdalena, and neighbors Inés, María Ana, Isaura, and Benita. The only ones who spoke Spanish more fluently were Chaya, Magdalena, María, and Antonia.
Before leaving, Antonia asked a contact at the governor’s office to keep an eye out for them. If he received a call from her, it meant they were in trouble. She also told the women that whatever the scenario, they should not abandon the plan.
[Antonia]: I also told them, “Look, maybe they start saying things to offend us, to make us angry. No, don’t answer back,” I tell them, “don’t fall for it. Because the men say, ‘Oh, those old women are quarrelsome and that’s why we don’t want them to come and vote, because they just come around here arguing.’ They just want a reason,” I tell them. “They want us to give them a reason not to let us vote.” “So, what we are going to do?” I tell them, “Don’t answer what they are going to say, don’t yell at them, if they raise their voices, don’t raise your voices. You just be quiet.”
[Selene]: They came to that agreement. It was the best thing to do. Finally, Antonia told them that if anyone assaulted them they could use that to their advantage to denounce them for not only impeding their right to vote, but for abusing them.
[Antonia]: And I tell them, “And if they put us in jail, let them put us in jail. You just keep calm, that’s all…”
[Selene]: It was no small thing. They were afraid, but the nine women walked together to the Comisaría.
And then we come to the scene where this story began. When they arrived at the main square, they asked to be allowed to vote and received a resounding answer:
[Antonia]: “No, due to customs and practices, women do not vote,” he says, “only men.”
[Selene]: Antonia showed him that the call from the town council said that “citizens in general” could come vote. But the president of the Debate Table told her:
[Antonia]: “No,” he says, “we passed an act… We met before the election here in the community, and, uhm… we didn’t say that women were going to vote,” he says.
[Selene]: The act that the president of the Debate Table was talking about is a document where the community leaders, only men, left in writing the agreements under which the election would take place. And lastly, he told Antonia that if they wanted to vote, they should wait for the assembly prior to next year’s elections.
[Antonia]: I tell him, “You are not understanding me. It’s just that I don’t need your permission,” I say, “so we can vote.” . “It’s a right that we have and we want to exercise it,” I say. “What! That assembly, are you going to summon women and ask them if they want to vote, or are you going to summon only men and men are going to decide for us? That’s not right,” I tell him. “We find that we are being treated unequally.”
[Selene]: Antonia asked the official to read the act of agreements. He checked and saw that the act did not prohibit women from voting. Instead, it said that the natives of Ocotequila could do so under certain criteria.
[Antonia]: And they said you had to be from the town, because many people live in Tlapa, Acapulco, Morelos, and on election day they send for them, they pay their fare, and they come and vote. As long as you were a man, right?
[Selene]: Her brother, who also lives in Tlapa, had voted several times without any problem. Despite this, the men at the table argued that Antonia lived and worked in Tlapa, so she couldn’t vote.
[Antonia]: “Of course I’m from here,” I tell him. “My mother is so-and-so, my father is so-and-so, my name is such-and-such, and I also speak Nahuatl.” “No, no, but you can’t, no, you can’t,” he says. I tell him, “Well, let’s say I don’t live here, my mom lives here. Are they going to let her vote? Inés lives here, she lives here. I don’t vote, so let them vote.” Trying to win that argument.
[Selene]: The men did not yield. They told her they should have expressed their desire to vote earlier, when the assembly on the election act was held.
[Antonia]: “And how can I know?” I tell him. “You don’t send out a general invitation.”
[Selene]: That assembly is held behind closed doors, and only party leaders are invited. It would have been impossible for Antonia and the women to come up and ask to be included in the vote. Then one of the men who were there said:
[Antonia]: “It’s out of respect that women don’t vote, because then they are scandalous, quarrelsome… And, furthermore, out of respect they should not vote because look, imagine, what would a woman be doing at the Comisaría? We drink there, we smoke there…”
[Selene]: Antonia didn’t keep silent:
[Antonia]: Ah… And I tell him, “If it’s about smoking and drinking, well, I’m game,” I say.
[Selene]: It was nothing more than a way to show that they were willing to do anything to exercise their right to vote. But of course, they didn’t let them.
As a solution, the women asked them to draw up an incident sheet, a document that reports the facts or anomalies in an election, and which is delivered to the municipal council. The men told her they would write it up after the election, but Antonia didn’t trust their word.
[Antonia]: I realized, I said, that they are not going to do it. I took—I think I brought a notebook, I started to write: This number of women in such-and-such community showed up, wanting to vote, they told us that we can’t. “Sign,” I tell him. Name of the women. I wrote down the names of the women. We signed…
[Selene]: And Antonia handed the document to the president of the Debate Table. He received it and, in theory, it should be attached to the results of that day’s elections.
After that, Antonia recorded a video right there. It shows a line of men waiting to vote, others sitting on plastic chairs. It also shows her sister Mari, her mother Juana, and her aunt Chaya. The other women were in the hallway. The men looked at them. This is a clip from the video:
[Antonia]: Well, we are here in Ocotequila. Several of us women who wanted to exercise our right to vote came, but then they inform us that only men can vote. As you can see.
[Selene]: After more than half an hour, the women decided to leave the Comisaría. All the men were staring at them and Chaya distinctly remembers a few…
[Chaya]: There was a group of rude people, and they said, “Ah, crazy old women, what are you doing here?”
[Selene]: But the women did just what they had agreed upon: they showed up, they did not react to the insults, and the situation, aside from the mocking, did not escalate to anything else. After leaving the Comisaría, three women went home and six stayed in the square. They gathered near the amate, a huge tree next to the church. There Antonia told them:
[Antonia]: “Let’s take some pictures; cheer up. We have overcome fear. We came, we set foot in the Comisaría, it’s already a win,” I tell them.
[Selene]: Antonia asked the women to put their thumbs up, as a symbol that one day they would vote for their commissioner.
[Antonia]: “Put your fingers like this because we are going to vote, we are going to vote some day, I tell you, and you are going to come with me.”
[Selene]: They took the picture and applauded. The men did not take their eyes off them.That day there was nothing more to do. Chaya, Magdalena, and Mari went to Antonia’s mother’s house, talking non-stop about what they had just experienced. They asked Antonia what the next step would be, and she said that she was going to find out, that things were not going to stay that way.
That afternoon Antonia, her sister Mari, and her niece Magdalena took the taxi back to Tlapa. Along the way she logged on to her Facebook.
[Antonia]: I said, “I’m going to post it; it can’t stay like this. At least, I have to vent. SheI was angry, very powerless, because no one, not one man advocated.
[Selene]: She posted the photo taken in front of the church and wrote:
[Antonia]: The day will come when in my Nahua community of Ocotequila, municipality of Copanatoyac, Guerrero, we will make history and women will be able to vote and be voted commissioners.
[Selene]: Her post continued with the account of what they had done that day and added that many women did not go, out of fear and shame. And it ended:
[Antonia]: So just showing up at the Comisaría was an important and significant step forward. Bad practices don’t change overnight. When our rights in our indigenous communities are not guaranteed, we are forced to resort to other means.
[Selene]: Her post began to be shared, one, two, three, 80 times… The comments and messages did not stop coming. People showed their support, encouraged them to keep fighting.
[Antonia]: For me it was a catharsis to this, the other thing. I didn’t think it would get as big as it did.
[Selene]: That afternoon Antonia posted the video she made on the El Jale Noticias Facebook page. She also called some fellow reporters to ask if they would write a story about what had just happened. They said yes, and the next day, January 3rd, three newspapers reported what had happened in Ocotequila. From there, the news began to spread on social networks and was taken up by several national outlets.
[Reporter]: Nahua, Ocotequila, in the municipality of Copanatoyac, in Guerrero, where community authorities prevented nine women from voting in the election for municipal commissioner. Why? Because they are women.
[Reporter]: And look, in Guerrero, where women also face political violence, many cannot even vote because of the narrow barrier of customs and practices.
[Selene]: The next day, Tuesday, January 4th, Antonia received a WhatsApp message from feminist lawyer Muriel Salinas. She is the founder and president of the Network for the Advancement of Political Rights of the Women of Guerrero, an organization working to prevent and address political violence against women. The Network became aware of the case because someone on the team saw Antonia’s post.
They wanted to support them in the legal process, because what had happened was a clear example of political violence justified by customs and practices. This is Muriel:
[Muriel Salinas]: No matter how important the customs and practices are, and their defense, they cannot be used to the detriment of the human rights of women, right? And in the case of Guerrero, well, this has been very complicated to carry out, because, well, there is a huge lack of knowledge of the constitutional framework and the human rights of women.
[Selene]: The Mexican Constitution protects the rights of women above customs and practices. But, according to Muriel, the government institutions that should monitor and punish this violation do not. For this reason, it was necessary to go to the legal remedy of a challenge.
But they didn’t do it alone. They contacted the office of the Public Defender of the Electoral and Political Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Communities so that their team of lawyers would take up the defense of the case pro bono. Meanwhile, the Network would help with support, dissemination of the case, and communication between the Public Defender’s Office and the women of Ocotequila.
That same day, January 4th, they began to work very closely on the documentation and argumentation of the challenge. Antonia and the women agreed that they would not present the case as an electoral crime, that is, as a criminal complaint, but rather as a citizens’ electoral complaint.
[Muriel]: It has this characteristic: they are complaints for the purpose of restoring rights that were violated and nothing more.
[Selene]: The first thing they would have to do was to present their complaint to the town council, because they are the ones responsible for organizing community elections. And for that they had little time. On January 5th, Muriel called Antonia and told her that the deadline to submit the documents was the following day.
So that same night, Antonia, Muriel and the lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office connected via video-conference to prepare the case.
[Antonia]: Muriel and I didn’t sleep… all night in argumentation. She put us in touch with another lawyer. And they told us, “You know what? Translate this or do that and the other, get the names… have the women sign.” That’s where I was.
[Selene]: The next day, Antonia went to Ocotequila so that the women who attempted to vote could sign a document expressing their displeasure. Their signatures were essential in order to request the annulment and call for new elections where they could participate. She asked them:
[Antonia]: “Are you sure? You won’t regret it? We want a copy of your ID. Your copy of this.” The women ran to get a copy and gave it to me, they signed the document for me. Some do not sign; they placed their fingerprint.
[Selene]: But some documents were missing, such as a copy of the results of the January 2nd election, which she had requested from the town council, but did not receive. She included this fact in the trial argument. Antonia returned to Tlapa to complete the necessary documentation.
The Town Hall closed at three in the afternoon, but Antonia knew that, by law, she had until midnight to deliver the documents. So she called the general secretary and asked him to wait for her. He gave her until eight P.M. And so it was: she delivered them at the given time. Now came the bureaucracy—waiting for the town council to deliver the documents to the Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute, which in turn would have to send a file to the State Electoral Court, which it would issue a sentence.
Antonia checked the official website of the Court every day, to see if a date had been set to discuss the resolution. In the meantime, she stopped giving interviews to the media. She no longer wanted to draw so much attention.
[Antonia]: Yes, I was a little afraid that there would be a little bit of… of conflict in my community, that they would say things about me or do something to me.
[Selene]: On February 3rd, almost a month after filing the challenge documents, the news arrived. Antonia was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in Tlapa where her sister had an appointment, when she received a call from Muriel Salinas. The Electoral Court of Guerrero was going to discuss her case at that very moment. She sent the link to the Court’s YouTube account to view the live broadcast of the session.
[Antonia]: It was so nerve-racking! They started with another case, because two cases had to be resolved. And the second was ours, they told us. They mentioned the names, and this and that, and like, OK, I want you to get to the point: is it for or against?
[Selene]: Finally she heard this:
[INE Official]: Consequently, because the grievances raised by the indigenous women are substantiated and a community practice is noted that implies a disadvantageous situation for the women of the community, it is advisable to: subparagraph a) Declare nullity of the election of the members of the Comisaría of Ocotequila, in the municipality of Copanatoyac, Guerrero, held on January 2nd…
[Selene]: The INE official congratulated the women for their bravery and read their names one by one. Then he said.
[INE Official]: This court agrees with them and tells them that from now on in Guerrero, no indigenous woman will be denied the right to vote or to stand as candidate in any type of election. That at the next election of their community for municipal commissioner, they will be able to vote and run as candidates. That with their participation, the indigenous women of Guerrero will no longer be stripped of their rights that constitutionally…
[Antonia]: And that gave me a lot, a lot of emotion. I started to cry, I mean, well… No, I wasn’t crying, but my tears were coming out, just like… oh well… I couldn’t believe it because it was so fast, I just said that one day we women were going to vote. But I didn’t think it would be so fast.
[Selene]: The ruling established a maximum term of three working days for the issuance of the new call to elections and five days thereafter for the organization of the extraordinary elections.
It also ordered various electoral and government institutions to disseminate and hold workshops on the prevention of political violence against women. It was a huge step. Finally, the new date for the extraordinary elections was set for February 13th.
That same afternoon, Antonia printed the resolution and the next day she left for Ocotequila to read it and translate it into Nahuatl for the women who lived there. They met at her mother’s house. They all heard her. Finally, Antonia told them:
[Antonia]: I said: “Well, in few words, it means that we are going to vote again.” “This mean….we won,” ask the women, “we won?” I tell them, “Yes, we won, we can say we won.”
[Selene]: The women were very happy. This is her aunt Chaya:
[Chaya]: I was excited. I say, “Let’s see what happens. Let’s see the faces of those gentlemen who are always there.”
[Selene]: But the celebration did not last long, because very soon they started fearing for their safety. When the news reached the rest of the town, the men were furious.
[Chaya]: Oh, yes, they were hating us. There were saying how can we, why are we doing that…
[Selene]: But that was not all.
[Antonia]: They called a friend named Carmen to threaten her, telling her they were going to kill all the women in the square if they dared to go down to vote. And the truth is, when they told me that, I got scared and said, “No, I mean, I’m going to be the one to blame for causing that. No, no, no, I mean, I need something, I need to do something.” And well, the only thing that occurred to me was to post it on the media.
[Selene]: Via a video on Facebook, they requested municipal and state security.
Two days before the new elections, the women met and talked about the vote. They had two options: vote for one of the political parties that completely ignored them during the first election, or annul it.
Antonia said that she would do the latter. She would go only to exercise her right. But the women suggested another idea: Antonia should run as an independent candidate. At first she didn’t want to, and she suggested that Inés, one of the women in the group, should submit her name. But Inés said it was better for her to be the candidate and that she would be her alternate. Antonia accepted.
[Antonia]: I also accepted so that they can see, so other women realize that we are not afraid to accept and hold positions in the community.
[Selene]: As commissioner and alternate, Antonia and Inés would handle and present the demands of the community before the municipality. They would also be in charge of organizing the town festivals and guaranteeing that the government’s social programs reached all the people who needed them.
So Inés and Antonia became the first female candidates for the Comisaría, something that they would never have imagined months earlier.
On Saturday, one day before the new round of elections, they went to the Town Hall to register their ticket. Following that, they held a mini campaign. They printed flyers and knocked on the doors of neighbors they already knew. They also announced over the community loudspeakers. But what they wanted in their campaign was not so much to get votes for themselves, but rather encourage women to go out to the Comisaría, to the polling stations.
[Antonia]: I said, “If you don’t want to vote for me, vote for whomever you want, but go out and vote”. To women… They would say, “Oh, yes. We already know.” “You already know that tomorrow…?” “Yes, yes…” Some told me, “I heard it on the radio, and we are going to vote.” “Well, then, go tomorrow,” I tell them.
[Selene]: Antonia and the women were excited, but the fear never went away completely…
[Antonia]: I did fear for myself, but I feared more for the women, because I knew—when I decided to do that, I already knew what I was risking. But I did fear for them. Even more when people told me, “Take care of yourself, because I heard that they want to do something to you or are planning to do something along the way. Since you go back and forth.” And so they said to me, “Be careful.”
[Selene]: That night, her sister told Antonia that for her safety it was better for her not to sleep in Ocotequila. So she returned to Tlapa and agreed that she would be back very early the next day, like that January 2nd, 2022 when they went to the elections for the first time.
[Selene]: The next day, Antonia arrived in Ocotequila around seven. There was still no one at the Comisaría. Voting was scheduled to start at eight.
That day, at noon, there were seven women who went down together. Almost all of them had participated that first time. But now the mood was different. As they went down to the Comisaría, Antonia began to shout:
[Antonia]: “Yes, we did it!” And they all repeated, “Yes, we did it! The women, the women!” And so, sure, some people opened their windows to see who was passing by. It was us, right?
[Selene]: They had felt it a month earlier. They no longer trembled or hid behind Antonia. And when they reached the square, the landscape was different: it was full of both men and women.
[Antonia]: I was nervous, too, when I arrived. I was nervous to see so many people, and everyone looking at you, and then several cameras following me (laugh), and so on.
[Selene]: Before the vote, she gave an interview to a television channel. After talking about the obstacles to get there and her campaign for the Comisaría, Antonia closed with this:
[Antonia]: In fact, we’ve already won because right now we are going to vote. That is our triumph. We already made it.
[Selene]: Then the women lined up in front of the Comisaría. The clicking of cameras was heard. At the table were the election clerks taking the vote. There were also the representatives of the parties monitoring the election. When it was their turn, they were asked to show their voting credentials and to call out the name of the persons they were voting for. This is common in elections for commissioner: they are neither free nor secret. Everyone listens, and a record is kept on a piece of poster board.
[Selene]: After voting, they all went to the amate, the tree that is next to the church, across from the Comisaría. They wanted to celebrate. Antonia climbed onto the flower bed and said a few words, first in Nahuatl and then in Spanish, thanking the people for their support in that historic act.
When she finished speaking, the women stood next to each other and shouted:
[Women]: You see it, you feel it: the women are present!
[Selene]: After that, the women scattered. Some went home and others, mainly Antonia’s relatives, went to her mother’s house. By that time, Antonia felt calmer. At six in the afternoon, they went back down to the plaza to learn the results. The moment was broadcast on Facebook Live, on the page of El Jale Noticias, the outlet of Antonia and Carmen. In the video, the president of the Debate Table is seen taking the floor:
[President]: Countrywomen, countrymen, vote counting. In total (they speak Nahuatl) 824 votes. Men: 320 votes. Women: 504 votes.
[Selene]: In case you did not hear correctly, I will summarize: the president of the table is announcing that of the total votes, 824, women were the majority: 504. And then he said:
[President]: The winning ticket is Crezcano López…
[Selene]: Crezcano López won, the PRI candidate, the same one who had already won before. It was no surprise because the results are open. Antonia received only 33 votes.
[Selene]: But Antonia didn’t care. Thanks to her protest, the Comisaría will be made up, for the first time, of four women. The sentence of the Electoral Court of Guerrero required that the victorious party guarantee gender parity on the winning list. She felt that they had succeeded.
[Antonia]: And for me that is, for me it is, well, the recognition of women. Even women say, “Well, we beat them.” They say we beat them because the men said we were not going to vote. “We beat them,” they say, “we voted.” It doesn’t matter that we lost the rest, but we beat them.
[Selene]: They had achieved the most important thing: the exercise of their right to vote and be candidates. They won. And they’re going for more.
[Daniel Alarcón]: Today, thanks to the protest of these women, other forms of community organization are taking shape. Among the various projects they seek to promote are the paving of the road and the promotion of work options for women, as well as ensuring that the next comisario elections are free and secret.
Antonia is involved in everything. She continues her work as a reporter, which she describes as community journalism. She also began the construction of the House for Indigenous Women on the land of her mother’s house, in Ocotequila. It will be a space to provide workshops and empower women with information about their rights.
This story is from the women of Ocotequila. A special thanks to all of them for sharing it.
Selene Mazón is a production intern at Radio Ambulante, is a journalist and lives in Mexico City. This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Lisette Arévalo, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and me. Désirée Yépez and Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano, with original music by Rémy.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Fernanda Guzmán, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Ana Tuirán, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Zoila Antonio is our audience engagement intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program. If you are a podcast creator interested in Hindenburg Pro, go to hindenburg.com/radioambulante and get a free 90-day trial.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.