By Julie Etra
Juchitán de Zaragoza on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is famous throughout the world for having a matriarchal structure, where women are often the heads of families. (The origin of the word Juchitán is Xihitlán or Ixtaxochiltlán, which means “place of the flowers” in Náhuatl). Far from causing conflict, this structure is respected. The tecas, as the women are called, begin to work and support the household from an early age. Teca is a fitting term, and from the Greek means “place where something is saved.”
After reading many articles on the matriarchal nature of society in the Isthmus, and Juchitán de Zaragoza in particular, I decided to focus on one particularly powerful and well-known woman leader. The life of Rogelia González Luis is an inspiring story.
Rogelia González Luis is the founder of the Alianza Regional por la Igualdad y la Justicia Simona Robles (Regional Alliance for Justice and Equality Simona Robles), which is dedicated to social justice and named after Simona Robles, who fought in the Battle of Juchitán (September 5, 1866), part of the war that brought French rule to an end. González is an indigenous (Zapotec) feminist and defender of human rights. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Grupo de Mujeres 8 de Marzo A.C., (you can find them on Facebook), whose main purpose is to educate the public in an effort to reduce family and sexual violence against indigenous women of the Isthmus.
González Luis has led a fascinating life and pursued an impressive career. She was born in 1961 in the house of her maternal grandparents in Juchitán, who raised her while her mother moved to Salina Cruz and later to Tamaulipas for work. She did not follow a pre-ordained role, as was presumed at the time. In a recent interview she said, “Since I was a child I grew up thinking that maybe my destiny, like many women, was to stay at home helping their mothers, taking care of their siblings, doing housework.” That was not to be her destiny, and she completed studies equivalent to high school, also atypical for girls of her generation. Her political ideology is left leaning, and throughout her career she has supported women in the fights for economic empowerment and against gender violence.
She started her nursing studies at night school in 1979 at the age of 18, but ironically her father forbade her pursuit of this discipline. She has a degree in early childhood education from the National Pedagogic University at Tuxtepec and studied legal rights at the Institute of Applied Sciences in Juchitán. In the 1980s she met her inspiration, the teacher Julieta López Jiménez, who had started a bilingual school (Zapotec/Spanish). Bilingual education defined her career during the 1980s and she taught Spanish and Zapotec to preschool children on the Isthmus.
At about the same time that she began her career as a teacher, Rogelia González was invited to participate in the Coalición Obrera Campesina Estudiantil del Istmo de Tehuantepec (Coalition of Student Peasant Workers in the Isthmus, COCEI), an organization identified with Mexican socialism and associated with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) which fights to elect leaders democratically rather than imposing them by appointment. In the COCEI, she specifically fought for women to have more power in decision-making and not just serve, which was customary at the time
In 1999, at age 38, she founded the civil association Mujeres 8 de Marzo, which for almost 20 years has provided support to more than 20,000 women on the Isthmus for a life free of violence and increased economic autonomy. In 2003 she founded the Regional Alliance.
From 2001 to 2003 and again in 2011 to 2013 she promoted the creation of institutions to support women, including the Center for Support and Care for Isthmus Women Rosario Ibarra (CAAMI) and the Municipal Institute of Women.
In 2016, she was an unsuccessful candidate for deputy for the XX District of Oaxaca, being the only contender that included in her platform the protection of the rights of the LGBT community.
And in December 2017 she was appointed Gender Equality Secretary of the National Executive Committee of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), one of the three main political parties of Mexico.