Things That Matter

At 78-Years-Old, This Oaxacan Woman Learned To Read And Write And Even Authored An Award-Winning New Book

It’s never too late to follow your dreams. It may sound cliche but one Indigenous woman from the Mexican state of Oaxaca is showing just how true that sentiment really is.

Although growing up knowing how to speak her native language of Náhuatl, she was never able to read or write it – let alone Spanish. Now after years of studying and being too embarrassed to attend classes, this 78-year-old woman can say that she achieved her dream and is now an award-winning author.

Despite being illiterate for years, Justina Rojas has finally finished primary school.

Justina Rojas Flores, a resident of the Oaxacan community of San Miguel Espejo, learned to read and write at 76. She remembers that at first she was embarrassed to attend her classes, but with the support of her teachers sh was motivated to learn the alphabet and words and communication.

In fact, she became so motivated that she’s recently authored a handmade book that earned her a national award. She recently told El Sol de Puebla, that “I was already cracking under pressure because I was cheating a lot, but the teachers told me ‘yes you can, Justina’, so I continued taking classes and it was thanks to them that I learned. After two years, I wrote La Mazorca, which is dedicated to the community of San Miguel Espejo.”

In her Indigenous language of Náhuatl, Rojas shared the history of La Mazorca, which emphasizes the value of appreciating all things – especially that which the land gives us.

“I beg you, if you see me lying on the ground, pick me up, don’t step on me. Just as you take care of me, I will take care of you,” is part of the story in the book that was awarded in 2019 by the State Institute for Adult Education (IEEA), an achievement with which Rojas feels accomplished, and with which motivates other people to enter the competition.

Rojas is proving that it’s never too late to learn something new.

Now, at 78-years-old, Rojas is able to celebrate her achievements. Though she admits that many in her community continue to doubt her real motivation. It’s common to hear people ask ‘Why do I learn if I’m old?’, ‘What use is it going to do?’, and ‘I’m on my way out so it doesn’t matter.’

But many of the people who ask these questions are the same people who don’t have the same opportunities, since they can’t read or write. According to figures from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval) in Rojas’ community, there are around 2,267 inhabitants, and the majority are living in poverty, a factor that significantly influences educational access. Many, from a very young age, leave school to work to support their families and take jobs working in the fields or construction.

Finally, Rojas wants everyone to know that they should not limit themselves and to embrace knowledge regardless of age. “If you don’t know how to read and write, or if you know someone like that, I invite you to go where they teach, so that those who know more can share their knowledge with us.”

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This Indigenous Village In Mexico Trains Their Children As Soldiers To Combat Gang Violence

Things That Matter

This Indigenous Village In Mexico Trains Their Children As Soldiers To Combat Gang Violence

via Getty Images

In the town of Ayahualtempa, Mexico, in the state of Guerrero, reporters see a shocking image whenever they visit. Children armed with guns, trained to defend themselves. The disturbing scene is meant to be shocking. The village of Ayahualtempa is under constant attack. A prominent heroin “corridor”, they are the victims of violence and carnage at the hands of gangsters and the cartel.

In order to gain the Mexican government’s attention, the Ayahualtempa villagers dress their children up as soldiers. Then, they invite the media in.

Ayahualtempa
via Getty Images

When reporters arrive, the children of Ayahualtempa dutifully line up and put on a performance. They march, they show how they would shoot a gun from one knee, or from flat on their bellies. They tell reporters that their mock-violent performance is “so the president sees us and helps us,” as a 12-year-old child named Valentín told the Associated Press.

Because the Mexican government doesn’t protect Ayahualtempa, the display of child soldiers is a form of protest for the small indigenous village. The people of this remote region of Guerrero want protection from the National Guard, and financial help for widows and orphans who have been made so from organized crime.

The villagers don’t trust local authorities, and for good reason. Guerrera is the Mexican state in which 43 teaching students were abducted and killed in an event that is known as the “Iguala mass kidnapping”. Authorities arrested 80 suspects in connection to the event. 44 of them were police officers, working in conjunction with a network of cartels.

Although the demonstrations function largely as a publicity stunt, violence is very much a part of these children’s lives.

via Getty Images

Parents train their children to walk to school with loaded guns, ready to defend themselves against violent gangsters.

The attention-grabbing antics have, to some extent, worked. On one occasion, the government donated some housing material. On another, benefactors gave the community’s orphans and widows scholarships and houses. But as soon as the periodic media storms die down, the federal government continues pretending Ayahualtempa doesn’t exist.

The hypocrisy of the government’s response is frustrating to many. “We’ve normalized that these children don’t eat, are illiterate, are farm workers. We’re used to the Indians dying young, but, ‘How dare they arm them!’” said local human rights activist Abel Barrera to the AP, with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

As for now, until the government moves to protect the community, they say they will continue their demonstrations. “They see that the issue of the children is effective for making people take notice and they think: If that’s what works, we’ll have to keep doing it,” said Barrera.

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Mare Advertencia Lirika’s Rap Game Is An Ode To Social Resistance

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Mare Advertencia Lirika’s Rap Game Is An Ode To Social Resistance

mare.advertencia.lirika / Instagram

In Oaxaca, Mexico the hip-hop scene is dominated by men. Influenced by early ’90s American rap artists, most lyrics are misogynistic; a commonality in past and present wrap.

As a feminist uprising fuels the country, female rappers like Mare Advertencia Lirika utilize the depth hip-hop activism can have on social justice.

Growing up listening to banda, Lirika became exposed to American hip-hop when she was 12.

Although a fan, her language barrier impacted her resonance with the genre. After hearing Mexican rap groups like Caballeros de Plan G and Vieja Guardia, her spark for rap reignited.

“The history of rap is a mix of so many things that it gives room for anyone to fit into it,” she told Refinery29.

At 16, her rap career took off.

Under a machismo culture where women are often told ‘calladita te ves más bonita,’ Lirika defies outdated standards.

In her latest feminist anthem “Que Mujer,” she encourages women to rise up against patriarchal rhetorics.

With passion and prowess, her bona fide representation of class and gender struggles echo marginalized communities disenfranchised by systems of power.

Femicide rates in Mexico are rampant, having doubled in the last five years. On average 10 women are killed every day, but due to unreliable data and systematic impunity, many cases go under-investigated.

Oaxaca is a hot spot for violence, a reality Lirika knows too well. When she was five, her father was murdered resulting in the circumstantial feminist upbringing that fueled her vocality. Raised by her mother, grandmother and aunts, witnessing women take charge in making tough decisions helped to normalize her outspokenness.

Her feminist upbringing made her the strong woman she is today.

Identifying as Zapotec, an indigenous community native to Oaxaca, Lirika’s potent lyrics pay homage to her matriarchal upbringing and social resistance.

In “¿Y Tú Qué Esperas?” Lirika’s hearty alto sound shines as she asks that women speak and live their truth.

In songs like “Se Busca” she renders a poignant message demanding the return of those who have been kidnapped. Her visuals further amplify the severity of the issue as she raps, “cada persona que no está es un ausencia que no sana.”

Unafraid of confrontation, her cutthroat verses and poeticism are visceral.

Listening to her beats feel reminiscent of old-school rap, making it almost impossible to not nod along to her intellectual wit. Fusing the melodies of cumbias and reggae among others, she spits bars that sound the alarm of revolution.

But hostility towards women in the Oaxaca rap scene still lingers.

“Most people still think that women aren’t compatible with rap and think that we are wasting our time,” she told The New York Times in 2018. “We have to continue to show up at shows because it gives us confidence to see other women rap and to show people that we can also do this.”

Perhaps one of the best known Oaxaca rappers Lirika, 34, has established herself as a prominent figure in the genre. But her call to action is just beginning.

“My life context has taught me that I can use my voice,” she told Refinery29. “And maybe that’s a privilege of mine, one I shouldn’t have, but I trust very much what I have to say. I don’t fear what I have to say.”

READ: Latinas Talk About Learning Of The Heartbreaking Colonization Of Indigenous Land And The Genocide Of Its People

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