Our Blog: I want them to treat indigenous people like they treat anyone else

From Abigail Castellanos

Published in The HuffPost México. December 4th, 2017.

I am originally from the community of San Juan Tabaá, Villa Alta, in the region of the northern highlands of Oaxaca. I lived there all my childhood and part of my adolescence. I am a Zapotec language speaker and now I am an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples.

At the age of 14, I emigrated to the city of Oaxaca to study the basic level and high school. There I lived with relatives. Then I came to study for a year in Mexico City, where I worked as a housekeeper. 

I returned to the city of Oaxaca and joined the Indigenous Professional Advisory, Defense and Translation Center, where I currently work. I focus on community development, but the organization works on the topic of indigenous interpreters and translators for access to justice. 

Over time I realized that the biggest human rights violations that my community lived were happening outside of it, for example, discrimination because of speaking an indigenous language or because of your appearance. Now I am a political scientist and from my field I have managed to defend and support people from indigenous communities, especially mine. I accompany the people who request services so that they are treated the same as non-indigenous people. 

Once I accompanied the family of a woman from my community. They took her to a high specialty hospital in Oaxaca but they did not take care of her, they did not give exact information, and they delayed the documentation. The family did not speak Spanish well, I served as an interpreter to talk to the staff. This helps institutions know that people are not alone and that there are those who can support them. The lady died. The relatives did not know how; the medical staff did not tell them anything and they were charged a lot. I supported accelerating the insurance process for the woman, reducing expenses, finding a coffin and making the transfer to the community. 

This is how I help communities: I use the tools I have, my training-little or much of what I know-and I put them in their hands. I also talk to the staff to raise awareness. I want them to treat indigenous people like they treat anyone. 

This work brings satisfaction for me and my family. In this case, the family of the lady went to my house and brought things. They also brought their bulls to plow our land. My parents are proud because they see that with the training they have given me I am supporting other people. 

There I realize that you do not really have to be in a great job where you earn a lot of money, but the important thing is that you do something for your community. 

My family and I are aware that this work involves risks, but when living with my uncles, most of them teachers, I learned to question the State, corruption, why human rights are violated, why people disappear. Over time I joined the social protests, I even participated in the teachers' movement on June 19th in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca. 

I went with a group of doctors to support the people who had been attacked. As a woman it was more difficult because when the police came to evict I knew that anything could happen at that moment, that they could take me arrested. The biggest risks I face are those of living in a city where there are high levels of feminicide. 

Sometimes just leaving the office late and taking a taxi or collective exposes your life. My mother tells me: 'We are worried, they will identify you, and we know, we have seen how people disappear'. My family is right, but the desire I have to support others is stronger. 

On radio and television they say that we are a group of shock, that we never do things right, that we are always against the government. The question I ask is, how can I not defend myself if I am seeing that they are violating rights, if the people they attack also defend other rights? This is how the need to continue looking for justice grows in me even though it seems so difficult and far away. 

At this moment in Oaxaca, the exploitation of land, territory and natural resources for wind farms or mining is very strong. For example, my community is beautiful because of all the resources it has, mainly water, but companies are already looking at everything. 

I had to ask myself: how am I still learning to defend my territory and denounce all the human rights violations that are now being experienced? That's why I entered the Transnational Justice School of ProDESC (a project that started in 2017 with the support of the Bertha Foundation to contribute to the training of community defenders in Mexico). 

In the School of Justice, I have not only learned from the methodological and theoretical side, but mainly from the experiences of the other classmates. It is a school to which people come from various places, from north to south and from the center of the country, and each one has generated strategies to defend different rights. 

There I learned the importance of retaking other's strategies, reformulating them, reinforcing them from the experience of each one and focusing that learning on continuing to support my region, the peoples, and the organization to which I belong. 

I believe that the School of Justice is an opportunity to learn what is lived in other contexts of the country, and to understand - whether a lawyer or not - that the defense of human rights is not an individual task, but a collective one because this is a struggle that It gathers everyone's efforts to do something more for the country, for our states and for ourselves.

 

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