Zapotec politician Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza has been realizing her dreams during the first 10 years of her career: making indigenous women visible and enabling them to hold public office.
Originally from the town of Santa María Quiegolani, population 1,537, in the Southern Sierra region of Oaxaca, Cruz left for the industrial port city of Salina Cruz at the age of 12.
The young girl wanted to learn proper Spanish and continue her studies, a future that wasn’t available in her hometown, where her father had told her that women were only good for making tortillas and having children.
Undeterred, Cruz made the move and was taken in by relatives. The sale of bubble gum and fruit paid for her studies, which led to a degree in accounting.
She returned to Santa María Quiegolani in 2007 and went into politics, winning election for mayor. But customs got in the way: her election was rejected by the male authorities.
They based their decision on ancestral Zapotec customs and traditions, declaring that the votes Cruz received were null because, being a woman, she didn’t even have the right to be a candidate.
One year later, Cruz succeeded in having a constitutional modification approved by the state Congress that acknowledged that indigenous women had the right to vote, run as candidates and hold public office.
In 2010, she herself became a Deputy in that same Congress and the first indigenous woman to be its president, and two years later she was named a federal Deputy.
Last year, the magazine Forbes México named Cruz one of the 100 most powerful women in Mexico.
For Cruz, her power resides in “acknowledging my own rights in order to help others get theirs.”
“I first had to wrest my freedom, [and to do so] I had to split my heart in two and leave my town; today, I am free to make my own decisions, and that’s just the beginning.”
“Now I must contribute my part to help women and girls in indigenous communities wrest their own rights,” Cruz told the newspaper Milenio.
The successful politician also acknowledged that even after 10 years in the public eye she is still the victim of discrimination, living in surroundings where “your language is different, your facial features are different, your accent is different.”
Still, her life’s project moves forward. Cruz told Milenio that she wants to be an example to young girls and help them overcome their fears.
Source: Milenio (sp)