Friday, February 24, 2012

The Courageous Women of Chiapas

 I’ve been reading about the women of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, as research for Fiesta of Smoke. Among the three and a half million citizens of Chiapas, one million are indigenous people who are the poorest of the poor. As a trickle-down effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement of  1994, in which the USA, Mexico and Canada formed a trilateral trade block, the indigenous people of Chiapas have become poorer still. In rural communities, women’s work loads have increased two to three times what they were before; the maternal death rate is the highest in Mexico; and the life expectancy for women is two years less than for men.

Yet, in the midst of multiple stresses, these women have accessed the courage and the will to work together to improve conditions in their individual lives and their communities. Some are even officers or soldiers in the EZLN, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, defending their families and communities against attacks by paramilitary groups hired by elite landowners to drive the indigenous people from their traditional lands. The women have formed artisan cooperatives, plan fiestas, lead religious ceremonies and teach classes in political empowerment. For their labors, several leading women have been attacked and beaten or simply assassinated.

These are the real life situations into which I am fitting my protagonists. Fiesta of Smoke is a love story but it is also the story of the fierce struggle of the indigenous peoples of Mexico for their rightful place on the land of their ancestors. It is a deeply moving story and one of the great dramas of our times. It is my hope that you will find it as compelling as I do.

No comments: