In honor of el día de la mujer, our first event on Tuesday was a visit to FOMMA (Fortaleza de la mujer maya), this time just a short walk from the center of town. FOMMA is a theater group started in 1994 by Maya women from indigenous communities who needed an outlet and a sustainable way to become independent and self-sufficient. For them, theater creates concienciación, which does not have a direct translation in English but means more or less an “awakening” or “arriving at consciousness”. Not only does this group provide a means for the voices of Maya women to be heard through performances everywhere, but the center also provides a number of different workshops including learning how to sew, how to use computers, how to cook, and learning about sexual violence, maternal death, human rights, and self esteem. These are available at the center in San Cristobal but the 6 women of FOMMA also travel into the rural communities to spread their knowledge.
After learning about FOMMA, the women did a performance for us about migration to the United States and how it affects those who are left behind. During group reflection later in the day, the most important part of this performance, especially for those of us who are from border states, was hearing the other side of the story. FOMMA does not just do theater about one theme but rather a wide variety spreading from violence, alcoholism, and machismo, to the effects of globalization. During the discussion following the play, one of the actresses noted that these are such important topics because as they have found in their travels to perform, they are experienced by people all over the world and not just in Mexico.
Below is more commentary on the play by Emily Bachman:
“We had the privilege of watching the play called “Buscando nuevos caminos.” It was both written and performed by the bilingual women at FOMMA (who speak Spanish in addition to their indigenous Mayan languages). I was very grateful to see the immigration issue from a perspective other than that of the American press. By exposing a number of the hardships that these immigrants face, the women emphasized that it is out of economic necessity that these people choose to leave mexico. At the end they called for the people of Chiapas to stay, fighting for their rights here in Mexico so the home of their ancestors can remain their home and the home of generations to come. FOMMA works toward this goal by providing the workshops mentioned above and by finding strength in unity. The women of FOMMA solidified in my mind that Mexican immigration to the US will not simply stop due to the building of a fence or an increase in troops at the border. If Mexican people are not given economic opportunities at home, they will find them somewhere else. FOMMA and other cooperatives, therefore, through their efforts toward autonomy and justice for Mexican people, are working at the root of the issue by improving people’s lives so they don’t have to leave home in the first place.”
For the afternoon event the group was able to travel to Chamula, not far from San Cristóbal, to experience the Mayan celebrations of the end of the calendar year. In the Mayan calendar there are 18 months of 20 days each, which means that there are 5 “lost days” at the end of each year. It is basically their version of New Year’s Eve. Men are dressed up in traditional costume for the celebrations and to reenact the Mayan creation myths. As you will see in the pictures, those wearing the white wool are in traditional attire while those in the colorful outfits with the ribbon hats are the men who are supposed to be monkeys, one of the failed creations by the mother-father gods. The streets were quite crowded and the bulls were exhausted. A part of the festival, also seen in the pictures, is that the men in the white wool are in long lines holding onto a single rope, to which a bull is tied in the middle. There were a couple of these groups, with different bulls, who would one at a time sprint up or down the street. The men in the ribbon hats would alert the crowd by blowing on whistles, yelling, and sprinting in front of the men handling the bulls. At one moment, a bull jolted toward a crowd of people, but everyone dove into a shop and the bull was pulled back into the middle of the road before there were any injuries. This experience was quite an adrenaline rush for all of us. As long as we watched what the locals were doing, we knew when to dart out of the way.