Day 4 of the International Exchange: Following the Youth
We entered the school yard greeted by the sound of marimbas mixed in with children’s voices. We spent the day visiting K’astajib’äl Educational Center, which provides a decolonized, liberatory education based on Mayan culture. They welcomed us with a beautiful backdrop and a full morning of presentations for us by the students, from very young children to middle school youth, and we were all immediately blown away.
Marta Matzir, the school principal and a participant in the Intercambio, opened the morning explaining to all of the students, parents, and teachers why they were using gender inclusive language in Spanish and how to work with interpreters. They welcomed us in three languages – Kaqchikel, Spanish, and English. Most of them wore traditional Mayan clothing and they encouraged us to also wear clothes that had cultural significance for ourselves. They shared their school’s nahual, Ix, which represents feminine energy and the power of women. And they dove right into why it’s important to end violence against women with the moving words, “I don’t want to feel courageous when I go out on the street; I want to feel free.”
Watching the children play music, sing, dance, and perform was a needed uplift after the solemnity of the previous day, but it wasn’t just for entertainment; everything they shared has deep significance. The Maya in Mesoamerica have been playing the marimba for hundreds of years, and its continued prominence acts as an important symbol of cultural resistance. Their performance of one of the myths of Ix-chel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, is a passing down of ancestral knowledge that also centers women.
The curriculum taught at K’astajib’äl has a very clear political analysis focused on reconnecting with Mayan values, recovering Mayan knowledge, and standing strong in the defense of human rights. Several students prepared rousing speeches that touched on the legacy of defending their existence and land from colonization, to explaining the economic injustice that fuels immigration and the subsequent risks, to the devastating impact of water and resource extraction, to the problems of discrimination against women from a systemic level down to the individual.
The speech that brought us to our feet and to tears was a young woman decrying the State’s criminalization of Indigenous peoples. She reflected on how vital land and water are, their mountains and rivers, and that defending their land is a duty, not a crime. She called on the urgency of social and political participation from everyone to fight resource extraction. She shared that her father has been imprisoned for fighting for their rights and the toll it takes on her to not have him with her, forced to instead rely on her memories. She declared that it is illegal for the State to criminalize and prosecute those who defend human rights, invoking Martin Luther King, Jr, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi as political leaders who were wrongfully imprisoned while speaking truth.
The power, clarity, and brilliance of this young girl is indicative of what Ixpop is fighting for. The school is a program run by the Maya Uk’u’x B’e Association and they, along with JASS, are a member of Ixpop, a collective working to raise the visibility of Indigenous women’s rights as part of a larger vision where the contributions of all women are recognized. Key members of Ixpop shared their active campaign to get a General Recommendation for Indigenous Women approved by CEDAW in recognition of the specific forms of violence that impact Indigenous women, such as the impact of resource extraction on their reproductive rights, the lack of investigation into crimes committed against Indigenous women, a lack of bilingual and bicultural education, invisibility in statistics and research, the right to intellectual authorship over traditional weaving and medicines, and many more. Recognizing the inadequacy of existing international tools to fight for their cause, they are calling on allies like ourselves to help them connect with other Indigenous communities and to advocate for the inclusion of this recommendation.
We left deeply inspired and nourished. We experienced what is possible when liberated spaces are created for our communities, especially in the midst of so many challenges. We saw the leadership of young people shine. We felt the deep connectivity among all of us.