Things That Matter

From Gang Member To Politician, Here’s A Brief Look At Mexican Congressman El Mijis Who Is Now Fighting For Vulnerable Communities

July 2, 2018, was a watershed moment in Mexican political history. Of course, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected as president after two failed attempts, and his new party MORENA became the main political force in the country. They won state governorships, the presidency and federal and state spots in senates and congresses. Perhaps one of the most controversial stories to come out of the election was that of “El Mijis”, a reformed former gang member who won a set in his state congress running on a progressive platform. Conservative commentators and politicians soon started to attack him, while others just fell in love with the second-chances narrative of “El Mijis” and his political ascent. He is very active on Twitter and you can follow his handle @mijisoficial, where he talks about Mexican political life and continues his activism. He also engages in a frank and friendly manner with his adversaries. Only time will tell if he will live up to the expectations and how far his ideals will take him. 

This is what you need to know about one of the most interesting and polarizing figures in Mexican politics. 

His full name is Pedro César Carrizales Becerra.

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He was born in San Luis Potosi, a state in Northern Mexico, in 1979.

He grew up in a broken home.

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His family experienced domestic violence and, like many young urban men, Pedro Carrizales sought refuge in a street family. This led to gang altercations and problemas con la ley.He was once addicted to drugs and alcohol like many disenfranchised youth.

He was in jail for two months.

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He acknowledges that he made some very bad decisions early in life. This led to a two-month stint in prison, which has been a controversial fact since he became a public figure. Being an ex-convict has been his Achilles heel on social media, where conservatives have used him as evidence of a corrupt political system. Don’t they believe in second chances, a key element of a healthy democracy?

He survived an attempt on his life after being elected.

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Earlier this year, on February 4, the vehicle in which “El Mijis” was traveling was shot five times. The attack was perpetrated by two men on a motorcycle. A few days later he Tweeted a photograph of himself wearing a bulletproof vest. He wrote: “I can experience fear, but not cowardice; I have never left a struggle halfway through. I will continue doing my job and following my ideals”. 

He is not new to activism, as he has been involved in community work since 2003.

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He is the leader of the Movimiento Popular Juvenil. These ideals include community work, which started soon after his mother passed away. He recalls how he chose to hang around with his gang instead of seeing his sick mother, and how the guilt and shame hung over him. He sought to end violence in his community and reached out to the San Luis Potosi state government. He wasn’t heard. He chose Morena as his party and faced stigmatization and discrimination during the campaign. He was even kidnapped, a threat that attempted to convince him to stop his candidature. At the time he said he didn’t want to become a martyr. He discussed quitting politics with his family and decided to stay put.

When he was sworn in he wore jeans and a t-shirt.

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He has made a name for himself for standing up for who he is, and for owning his past mistakes. He refused to wear a suit when he was sworn in as a legislator. He claims that he wore jeans and a t-shirt to show solidarity with those who have been excluded by the political status quo, those who remain invisible.

He is an ally of the LGBTQ community.

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As a former gang member, he knows what it means to be stigmatized and face discrimination while trying to be a member of society with the same rights as anyone else. He has shown his support for the LGBTQ community. He also supports initiatives in favor of animal rights, particularly around the criminalization of bullfighting. 

He wears his tattoos proudly.

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While many politicians and everyday men and women hide their tattoos because they are seen by some as a sign of criminality (particularly in countries like Mexico), “El Mijis” wears them proudly and shows them off whenever he can. 

He survived a machete attack.

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Since he became an overnight celebrity, “El Mijis” has told unbelievable stories of his days as a gang member. He told Nacion 321 that he once survived a machete strike on the head and that he kept fighting “like a samurai”, getting wounded on the hand as well.

His origins are as humble as they come.

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Even if he has the president’s ear today, there was a time when, as a 12 year old, he became a gang member after having begged for money juggling at traffic lights and singing in buses. How things change. 

He travelled the country with the project Un grito de existencia.

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Before being elected, he had already shown his skills for community organizing. He traveled more than 1800 kms speaking against the discrimination of people with tattoos and former gang members, advocating for social inclusion and job opportunities. 

He survived five suicide attempts.

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After his mother’s death Pedro Carrizales became depressed and almost died by suicide. He told Nacion 321that he would throw himself at moving cars and that he once tried to hang himself but the branch broke off. 

He has 12 tattoos in total.

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Among these tattoos, one represents a dream he once had: a koi fish and storming clouds surrounding it. He also has a tattoo that reads “Becerra”, his mother’s last name. Perhaps the most significant is a mythical Phoenix, a sign of rebirth.

He has experienced real struggle, and he plans to legislate accordingly.

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He argues that the beginning of change is full respect of human rights. We know he is right, but we hope that he can change the hearts and minds of so many politicians that think otherwise.

He has said he wants to be president one day, and he has been mocked for it.

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Pundits such as Ricardo Aleman have belittled Carrizales’ dream of leading the country. He has replied like a true gentleman. Here, he tells a journalist: “I am not sure what your motives are, but while you are attacking me I am defending you with a call to improve protection for journalists.” Touche! 

He plans to bike to Central America.

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Even if he is a legislator now, he has continued with his activism in favor of former gang members. He plans to expand his advocacy to Central America, a region ravaged by civil unrest and violence produced by gangs such as MS-13. This is both a smart political move given the current migratory crisis and a coherent episode of his improbable life story.

READ: From Gang Member To Emmy-Nominated Actor: Here Is The Incredible Life Story Of Richard Cabral

Our Tías’ Nacimientos Will Never Be The Same Since Mexico Has Outlawed Buying And Selling The Moss

Culture

Our Tías’ Nacimientos Will Never Be The Same Since Mexico Has Outlawed Buying And Selling The Moss

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Growing up Mexican I looked forward to the Christmas season yes, tbh mostly because of presents but also because it was the time when mom and I got to go way overboard with our Nativity Scene decorations. If you’re Latino, putting up a nacimiento is just as essential a part of Christmas, as putting up a tree. If there’s one cliche that has proven to be true, time and again, it’s that Latino moms tend to be extra AF in everything they do. The representations of Jesus’s birth vary from minimal, to OTT baroque, to hyper-realistic. There’s one element that remains the most important aspect of the nacimiento across the board, in Mexico at least, the moss and other dense green clumps are usually used to adorn the decoration. So, what if we told you that buying and selling moss is actually illegal in Mexico?

Nacimiento, Pesebre, or Belen, are the names that different Latin American countries give to the traditional Nativity Scene representation under the Christmas tree.

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The representation of Jesus’s birth, known as nacimiento in Mexico, pesebre in Colombia and other South American countries, or Belen in Spain, is a centuries-old tradition in the Catholic world. All you really need to tell the story are three basic figures: Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. But why limit yourself? 

You could make the case that the three wise men and the star that guided them to the newborn baby are also essential. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no place at the inns in Bethlehem, so naturally, there should be farm animals around, and hay, and moss —and why not a stream made of cellophane, while you’re at it? 

Nativity Scenes are usually elaborate, over the top extravaganzas that families work tirelessly on for the holiday season.

In Mexico and many other countries of Latin America, nacimientos can turn into elaborate extravaganzas, populated by all manner of animals and plants that you would never find side by side in the real world. Some scenes display pump-operated rivers with real water, others feature waterfalls and ponds. Some include whole cities built around the manger where Jesus was born. The creative license extends to the characters, which range from unrelated biblical figures such as Adam and Eve to random shepherds, farmers, and the devil. It’s clearly not an exercise in authenticity, but it’s festive and fun.

Part of the fun is the use of moss and other types of grass to add to the ‘look’. 

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Moss is used to decorate the scene, but it also has a special symbolism. Spanish moss is of particular importance in the catholic representation of baby Jesus’s birth. A little patch of the gray grass is always placed underneath Satan —to highlight his presence and set him apart from the rest of the crowd. According to tradition, Satan should always be present in a nacimiento to remind us that although the birth of Jesus offers love and the possibility of redemption, sin and evil are always present in the world —and moss plays a big part in his representation.

As soon as November starts drawing to an end and December is around the corner, every mercado in Mexico is flooded by vendors who sell the coveted greenery of the season. 

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Every city and town has a market where, for about a month between the end of November and the first week in January, a large number of vendors offer items, especially for Christmas.  Some larger cities, like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Morelia, and others, offer several tianguis navideños (Christmas markets) where literally hundreds of vendors set up shop, to sell the infamous moss. 

But as it turns out, selling and/or buying moss is illegal.

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This type of grass is essential for the survival of Mexican forests. The species is protected by the country, which makes its trade ilegal —and you might want to think twice before you buy it. 

Mosses are actually essential for the health and wellbeing of many ecosystems and all the organisms that inhabit them.

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The term moss encompasses any of at least 12,000 species of small land plants. Mosses are distributed throughout the world except in saltwater and are commonly found in moist shady locations. They are best known as those species that carpet woodland and forest floors. Ecologically, mosses capture water and filter it to underground streams, or substrata, releasing nutrients for the use of more complex plants that succeed them. They also aid in soil erosion control by providing surface cover and absorbing water, and they are important in the nutrient and water economy of some vegetation types. Essentially, they are the pulse of forests and ecosystems everywhere.

Protection and conservation are relatively novel concepts in Mexican bryology, the branch of botany that studies mosses. 

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Mexico is home to more than 900 recorded species of moss —and much of the country’s territory is yet to be explored thoroughly for more flora. However, local mosses face habitat destruction and over-harvesting as their major threat. 

In 1993, a diagnostic study of mosses that required protection Mexico was conducted, and supported by the federal government as well as other international agencies. At the time, six species were recognized as ‘rare’ or ‘endangered’ and were placed under official protection. 

The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico regulates the extraction and trade of moss. 

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In order to extract moss from its natural habitat, and furthermore, to commercialize it, vendors must follow strict requirements in order to attain a license. According to Mexican Forest Law 001 expedited by SEMARNAT (The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico), the extraction of moss is only permitted when the plant is in a mature state and ready for harvest, other conditions require that moss must be extracted in parcels of no more than 2 meters of width and that only 50 percent of each patch of moss may be extracted, etc. 

During this time of year, Mexican police are on high alert. 

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Around the holiday season, police in Mexico double up on their patrolling. Authorities will be on high alert, inspecting those establishments who are authorized to sell moss and searching for those who aren’t. The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection will be watching —so you might want to tell your mom and tias to avoid shopping for moss in Mexico this year.

READ: Check Out Some Of The Most Tiny And Adorable Nacimientos

Indigenous People In Guatemala Marched On Their Capitol In Support Of Evo Morales

Things That Matter

Indigenous People In Guatemala Marched On Their Capitol In Support Of Evo Morales

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South America’s poorest country, Bolivia, is in the midst of a political crisis, and Guatemala’s indigenous people are marching in solidarity with ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales. After the Guatemalan government joined the United States in recognizing extreme right self-appointed Jeanine Anez as the interim president of Bolivia, Guatemala’s indigenous people expressed their outrage in an organized protest. Hundreds of indigenous people marched in Guatemala’s capital Thursday to protest the change of government, which they view as a coup d’etat of Bolivia’s first indigenous president. With a “Brother Evo, Guatemala is with you” banner in hand, the protesters marched toward a heavily guarded US embassy. The next day, Morales announced that he won’t be “taking part in new elections.”

Before Morales rose to the presidency, he was a campesino activist, representing indigenous traditions and customs under attack by the US government. “We are repudiating the discriminatory and racist coup d’etat that took place in Bolivia,” said Mauro Vay, march organizer and head of Guatemala’s Rural Development Committee. 

Protesters proudly waved the wiphala flags, an indigenous symbol of solidarity.

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This man held an image that told the story of a thousand words. As a child, Evo Morales’ family were subsistence farmers, which allowed him to enjoy a basic education. He later moved to grow coca, the raw plant used to make cocaine. During the U.S.’ “War on Drugs,” coca farmers were under attack. Morales rose to defend the campesinos from what he called an imperialist violation of indigenous culture. His protests may have led to several arrests, but his notoriety grew to elect him to Congress as the leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party. 

In Paraguay, Bolivian ex-patriates went up against the police to rehang the wiphala flag at the Bolivian embassy.

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Several indigenous residents of Paraguay arrived at the Bolivian embassy to hang the Wiphala flag, which was reportedly taken down. They faced police resistance but eventually succeeded. The next day, the flag was removed. 

In 2005, Morales ran against former President Carlos Mesa and won, becoming the first indigenous president of Bolivia. 

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Then, it gets murky. By the time his first term was over, MAS rewrote their constitution to lift the one-term limit on presidents. Morales ran for a second term and won. Even though he claimed he wouldn’t run for a third term, Morales claimed the first term didn’t count because it was completed under the old constitution.  So he ran again and won for the third time. In October 2019, Morales ran for his fourth term, and won by a small margin, prompting a recount.

Just 24 hours into the recount, Morales ordered the recount to an end and declared himself president over his opponent, former president Mesa. the Organization of American States (OAS) conducted an audit that flagged the election as possibly fraudulent.

The OAS is not in the service of the people of Latin America, less so the social movements. The OAS is at the service of the North American empire,” Morales later said. Still, protests erupted across the country.

In a quickly developing government coup, military chiefs removed Morales.

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On Nov. 10, General Williams Kaliman, the commander of Bolivia’s armed forces, decided, along with other military chiefs, that Morales should step down. Morales tweeted, “I denounce to the world and the Bolivian people that a police officer publicly announced that he is instructed to execute an illegal arrest warrant against me; likewise, violent groups assaulted my home. A coup destroys the rule of law.” He added, “After looting and trying to set fire to my house in Villa Victoria, vandalism groups of the Mesa and Camacho coup docked my home in the Magisterio neighborhood of Cochabamba. I am very grateful to my neighbors, who stopped those raids. A coup destroys peace.”

Mexico offered him asylum and sent a plane to escort Morales to Mexico City.

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“This was my first night after leaving the presidency, forced by the coup of Mesa and Camacho with the help of the Police. There I remembered my times as a leader. Very grateful to my brothers from the federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba for providing security and care,” Morales tweeted. Right-wing Christian opponent, Luis Fernando Camacho, also called “Bolivia’s Bolsonaro,” led violent protests against Morales and his Indigenous supporters, burning Bolivia’s Indigenous Wiphala flag. 

Mexico, Cuba, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Argentina have maintained that his removal from office was a coup. The United States, led by a right-wing president, has recognized Bolivia’s interim right-wing president as valid.

Morales announced Friday that he won’t run for president in the reelection “for the sake of democracy.”

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Morales resigned Sunday after protests left four people dead. “For the sake of democracy, if they don’t want me to take part, I have no problem not taking part in new elections,” Morales told Reuters while remaining in asylum. “I just wonder why there is so much fear of Evo,” he offered.

READ: A US-Backed Opposition Leader Has Declared Herself President Of Bolivia Amid Outrage At Her Comments About Indigenous Bolivians