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During the time I once spent in rural communities teaching young women the uses of and ways to prepare soy, which they would then distribute among Guatemalan and Mexican refugees, I collected tales, legends and stories from the mouths of the elders. In the process, I became aware of the needs and the problems that men, women, and their families face when, for various reasons, they must leave their communities and migrate to the cities; here, graver problems await them, including the lack of housing and employment. An even greater challenge lies in language differences, as they neither understand nor speak Spanish well; they also lack knowledge regarding urban labor issues.
As a result of such problems, women, men, youth, and children go to work as domestic laborers; in public markets they work as porters, or offer to carry the belongings of women shoppers in exchange for a tip. Women wash and iron other people's clothing, while men find work as construction laborers or masons; the pittance they earn is insufficient to even rent a small room.
However, women are unable to take their children with them to their places of employment because their bosses complain that they engage in mischief. In response to this situation, we decided to create the organization known as FOMMA: Strength of the Mayan Woman, Inc. Our mission is to orient, train and strengthen women, youth, and children through a variety of workshops in which we teach clothing making, computer skills, Mayan and Spanish-language literacy, drawing, art, recycling, folk dancing, bread making, and the preparation of traditional and urban foods, preserves and pastries.
Our organization's main mission is centered in our theatre, which helps women, youth, and children free themselves from the emotional situations and numerous problems that plague them on a daily basis when facing society. Out of desperation, many of these families turn to alcohol, drugs, and domestic violence; they also begin to take advantage of their children, sending them out to sell goods on urban streets; they do not attend school and experience a sad and impoverished existence; malnourished and filthy, they are mistreated by those of greater social status.
All of these problems are portrayed through theatre, which we perform in Indigenous communities, in the city, in schools and in universities. We do this to entertain our audiences, to make them laugh for a short while; to deliver a message; and, most importantly, to create awareness in them of the current problems found in our social environment.
In our center and in the schools we give talks on health to young people and adults. To gain the groups' confidence we begin with corporal expression; we ask them if they are familiar with the parts of their bodies and their the names; many of them are familiar with the names their parents and grandparents have transmitted to them. We also talk to them about how their rights must be respected and how to attain self-esteem; we teach them how to defend their rights before society.
Maternal mortality is one of the alarming situations that women from Indigenous communities face; the causes are rape, being forced to have sex and being beaten by their husbands, and from their inability to access health clinics and birth control; through theatre, we address this theme also, in a way that does not make our audiences uncomfortable.
FOMMA is grateful to its donors for being able to offer these activities in Indigenous communities and in the city; thanks to our supporters we are also building more offices and our own theatre space that will be used for different activities, such as roundtable discussions, cultural and artistic gatherings, and particularly for the plays our organization stages. This space will include a coffee shop and an Internet facility.
At the present time, there are:
12 women taking our clothing-making course.
16 young people engaged in a variety of activities.
14 women attending our literacy workshop.
8 adults and children learning how to use computers.
And 5 actresses.
Due to the ongoing construction of our theatre space, we have suspended other workshops at FOMMA until the work is complete; eventually we will reactivate our mask making and video editing courses, and our photo archive.
These courses also depend upon our institutional donors who will decide whether to provide additional funding. Their donations will go toward purchasing necessary equipment and materials and will cover instructors' salaries. This is our dream and we hope to obtain their support to make these projects a reality.
Should you ever visit Chiapas, we cordially invite you to come to San Cristóbal and observe our organization's work. I am one of Strength of the Mayan Woman's playwrights; I also write poetry and short stories whose themes focus upon the problems our communities face, including street vendors, merchants, and market vendors, among others. One of my plays has been published in volume III of Words of the True Peoples/Palabras de los Seres Verdaderos, a contemporary anthology by Carlos Montemayor and Donald Frischmann. My play in this volume deals with the theme of migration from Indigenous communities to the cities, and the way in which some people deceive entire families who sell off all they own to move to the cities thinking this will provide them with a quality of life superior to that of their home communities.
I offer my gratitude to these great researchers and writers, who have honored me by including me within this anthology.
Thank you very much.
Isabel Juárez Espinosa
(English translation: Donald Frischmann)
[Presented on September 15, 2007 at the National Museum of the American Indian, NYC.]