Through the help of a CLLAS Graduate Student Grant I spent two months in Oaxaca, Mexico, during the summer of 2010, researching the lasting effects of the 2006 Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) movement. My research focuses on the personal histories of some of the women teachers who participated during the 2006 movement and who continue to be active within the Teachers Movement of Local 22.
Briefly, APPO was ignited by, and concretely formed, after the striking teachers of Local 22 of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE) encountered a violent attempt by governor Ulises Ruiz to repress their annual sit-in and remove them from the city center. In August 2006, during the takeover of Channel 9, women became the backbone of the movement, holding power over the media by conducting shows and interviews, presenting movies, and using radio and television to mobilize people.
While this social movement has been frequently documented in terms of the significance of women’s participation in it (Stephen 2007, Freydberg 2006, Poole 2007) there has been little follow-up of what the longer-term impact of women’s participation has been for them, their families, their communities, and the organizations and unions in which they participate.
What I found in Oaxaca were highly contested spaces of gender that are deeply rooted in local and national histories. The events of 2006 were a sort of “dent” (as opposed to a dramatic change) in the long histories of women in Oaxaca. I don’t want the word “dent” to simplify the changes that have occurred—for some women their participation within APPO changed their lives completely. Even with the overwhelming leadership of women that was visible in 2006, however, these same women teachers continue to face disadvantages and difficulties in obtaining leadership positions within their schools, communities, and Local 22.
Through personal stories of women teachers, I gained some access to the highly contested topic of decision-making. Certain dimensions of power can be seen clearly through the decision-making within different arenas in which teachers participate, such as their homes, schools, communities, and Local 22.
Take for example Patricia, a woman in her 40s, who travels six hours to the community in which she teaches. She has found it nearly impossible to fulfill her duties as principal without confrontation from her male counterparts. Although she holds “official authority,” male teachers who serve under her often challenge her decisions, something that would not happen—at least not as much—with a male principal. Before Patricia obtained this official authority as a principal, however, she was a well-regarded member of the community in which she teaches. Her role as a teacher in a community of farmers gave her a sort of authority among even male leaders of this community.
Patricia explained how male parents, including the municipal agent, have come to her and asked her advice when their children are misbehaving or engaging in activities the parents don’t see as fit. Her advice is sought out by members of the community in matters not only relating to their children, but also relating to economics, migration, and family disputes, among other areas. So, whereas her decisions and advice are questioned in a place where she holds official authority, they are constantly sought in others.
Like Patricia, many women teachers—and certainly males also—experience “gender” differently in different arenas. By looking at personal histories of those who were not the core leaders during this movement, we can begin to see how people at the bases are affected through political and social participation. And we can begin to see further than the highly visible activities that took place in 2006.
—Anna Cruz is a graduate student at the University of Oregon working on her master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology. She completed her research from June–August 2010 with the assistance of CLLAS and the UO Center for Diversity and Community (CoDaC) graduate student grants.
Editor’s note: Go to <http://www.mraroaxaca.uoregon.edu/> for more on the Oaxaca Social Movement.