"You must be the narrator of your own story"

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


Every issue archived online at mexicosolidarityproject.org

September 6, 2023/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty

A Visionary Woman:  Resistance and Insistence

When you’re a little girl, you have no idea what pitfalls might await you based on your gender. I dreamed of a life beyond the expected wife and mother roles, but when I accidentally got pregnant and then married, my dream of finishing college went on hold. When I did go back to school, my husband had the bedroom with a closed door as his retreat. I studied at the kitchen table while cooking dinner and watching over rambunctious kids. It was just normal at that time that his potential career was more important than mine.


Fast forward a couple generations and most women no longer take it for granted that men’s needs come first. Progress. But then I watched an adventurous, spunky, curious little girl I love lapse into silence and depression when she became a teen, undone by her classmate’s whisper campaign that she was a slut.”  


How can  girls overcome the inevitable blows, hang onto dreams and turn them into vision? Andrea Reyes tells us about Rosario Castellanos, who was writing at the same time I was trying to study at my kitchen table. With a mother who preferred her brother over her, with a womanizing husband, with an abhorrence of the race and class she was born into she had the strength to resist, and to insist that women not only must tell their own story, but that they can re-invent themselves. Her courage, her compassion, her example have inspired generations of Mexican women.


We’re so glad that Andrea is bringing her to the attention of non-Spanish speaking women.  We need all the encouragement that we can get.



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Rosario Castellanos — Mexican Feminist Pioneer

While researching her dissertation, Andrea Reyes located 335 previously uncollected essays by the Mexican author and outspoken feminist, Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974), resulting in Mujer de palabras: artículos rescatados de Rosario Castellanos. In 2013, Reyes’ analysis of those essays were published in Recuerdo, recordemos: ética y política en Rosario Castellanos; Reyes is working on an English translation of that book. She hopes to share the work of this extraordinary Mexicana with English-speaking readers.

What paths led you to Rosario Castellanos’ door?


In college I was introduced to Rosario Castellanos’ writing in a class on women’s literature. I decided I had to do a project on her. The attention she gave to her female characters and to the tensions between indigenous persons and whiter Mexicans stood out to me — it was unusual to find in Mexican literature at that time.

Young Rosario/libro Cartas encontradas/Horacio Sierra

My own life has led me to México and to her. After growing up in Northern California, I moved to Los Angeles, which happens to be the second biggest Mexican city in the world. When I was 16, I traveled to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade and loved speaking and improving my Spanish.


Rosario was from a privileged and landed family in Chiapas. How did it happen that she sided with indigenous people who served them?


Castellanos’ early life was marked by loss of status, loneliness, family dysfunction, and the death of all her family members by the time she was 23. When Rosario was only eight, a relative told her mother that one of her two children would die, and she heard her mother scream, “Not the boy!” Shortly afterward, her brother died of appendicitis. 

When in 1941 President Cardenas enacted land reform and peasant emancipation, her parents lost much of their land and moved to México City. So it was hardly strange that Castellanos was closer to her Mayan nanny than to her family, and learned so much about indigenous ways from her.


Castellanos' first novel, the autobiographical Balún Canán, has a unique structure and voice. A 7-year-old girl narrates the first and third sections, but the first voice you hear is indigenous — the girl’s nanny. The little girl experiences her own crisis of un-belonging, born on the wrong side of justice during the agrarian reform that upended the plantation system of men like her father. In Balún Canán, the novel’s final image shows the girl with a pencil in her hand, signifying that you must be the narrator of your own story.

Though sometimes pigeonholed as an “indigenist writer, Castellanos differed from other Mexican authors in that genre. People were often portrayed as noble savages, but Castellanos rendered them as fully human, and never implied “I am the voice of the indigenous.” Her indigenous characters speak for themselves. 


What was her influence on modern Mexican feminism?


Her 1950 master’s thesis, Sobre cultura femenina (On Feminine Culture), asserted that a woman’s task is to find her own sense of self. She much admired the earliest Mexican feminist, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the 17th century nun and poet who advocated for recognition of women’s equal capabilities. Much like Castellanos, she had to defend her writing from men who didn’t believe it was “woman’s place” to engage in artistic or philosophical endeavors.

In her prose style, she rejected the standard, authoritative omniscient narrator. Castellanos wrote at times in an almost confessional tone, exposing her vulnerability. She candidly describes her personal experiences of depression, a failed marriage, taking Valium. In her subject matter, she emphasized the experiences and complexity of women, so often missing in men’s writing. To give an example, the revered Carlos Fuentes wrote a novel with a main female character who has no meaningful dialogue, who is only described by how soft her skin feels to the male protagonist. 

Photo of Rosario: 

As a regular contributor to Excelsior from 1963-1974, then the most important daily newspaper in México, her essays were widely read, and raised public consciousness of women’s issues. She is admired throughout México and Latin America as one of the most important and influential women writers of the 20th century, equal to better known intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir.

Women take part in the panorama of struggles for social change. How do you see the role of women writers?


Women journalists are especially important. They often bring news and analysis to the public from the participants’ point of view.

The Tlatelolco Stele has the names of the victims of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, and a stanza from Castellanos’ poem.

After the 1968 student uprising at Tlatelolco, the journalist Elena Poniatowska wrote a book, Massacre in México, which gathered the stories of student protestors who saw their comrades massacred.  She asked Castellanos to contribute a poem and Castellanos  showed up on her doorstep the next day with a poem about the official silence and the stifling of independent press. The Comité de ’68, composed of former student movement leaders, chose in 1993 to put a stanza from the poem on a stele in Tlatelolco plaza where you can see it today. 

Castellanos’ voice speaks forever on the plaza, giving witness to what happened on that fateful night. Her legacy lives on in the raised voices of millions of Mexican women today.


 AP News Twists the Truth on Crime in Mexico

The piece/ Last week, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave his fifth state-of-the-nation address, the second to last before he leaves office in October 2024. The Associated Press (AP) was one of the few English-language outlets to cover it, under the headline: “Mexican president’s state of the union address suggests crime is not a problem.”

 The claim/ Following a pattern for AP — which purports to only run news reports, no editorials — the piece reads like an op-ed, expressing views critical of the AMLO administration. Its opening line says that “perhaps what was most striking of his roughly 1½ -hour speech was what he didn’t talk about: drugs, crime or drug cartels.” It also falsely states that the homicide rate’s downward trend began under AMLO’s predecessor.

 The back story/ According to INEGI, México’s statistics office, homicides soared between 2007 and 2018 (when AMLO took office), rising from under 9,000 to over 36,000. After a relative plateau over the next two years, INEGI finally reported a homicide total below the 36,000 mark in 2021, and a total of 32,223 last year — the lowest since 2017. The article also repeats a factoid regularly cited by AMLO’s detractors: “At the current rate, López Obrador’s administration will see far more homicides than any of his predecessors.” While true, the statement’s utility is based on intellectual dishonesty: it implies that AMLO, who inherited a homicide rate of 28 per 100,000 — the highest in modern Mexican history — could have cut the rate in half or so as easily as the previous two presidents raised it by escalating the government’s war on drugs.

 The bottom line/ One can disagree with and poke holes in these criticisms in the AP article, while acknowledging the validity of some of its points. It is unclear, for instance, what data source AMLO bases his claim of a 17% reduction in homicides during his administration, a more optimistic prospect than the 12% drop estimated by INEGI. (He may be relying on numbers from SESNP, the government’s national security office, which analysts generally consider less reliable.) But the most glaring example of journalistic malfeasance shown by AP, once again, is passing off a rightwing opinion piece as the “accurate, fact-based, nonpartisan reporting” it proclaims as its sole mission. 

Jesus Hermosillo is a Los Angeles-based Chicano independent journalist who has done extensive research on media coverage of Mexican politics. He regularly contests false narratives in mainstream US and Mexican outlets. He hosts the MSP Twitter account.


Writer, playwright, and journalist Kurt Hackbarth is a naturalized Mexican citizen living in Oaxaca. His  political commentary is regularly featured in Sentido Común, Al Jazeera, and Jacobin. Every month we excerpt from his Jacobin article and edit for clarity and brevity.


AMLO Is Reducing Poverty in Mexico

On August 10, Mexicos National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) released its much-awaited poverty measurements for 2022. Its findings outstripped the most optimistic forecasts: the multidimensional poverty rate in Mexico — a measurement of income plus a series of social rights such as food, housing, and education — fell 5.6 percent from 2018 to 2022; touching some 5.1 million people.

Moreover, inequality has decreased. The income gap between the top and lowest 10 percent of incomes is down from twenty-one times (2016) to fifteen times (2022). The divide between the lowest- and highest-income states has been narrowed by 20 percent — important in a country with a historic north/south divide. The rural/urban gap has also narrowed. What is more, the highest income gains have been for women and in the most precarious jobs, such as agriculture and the informal sector.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledges his supporters during the fifth-year celebration of the victory in the 2018 presidential election on July 1, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Hector Vivas / Getty Images)

But not everything in the CONEVAL report was rosy. Multidimensional extreme poverty measures changed little, due mainly to deficits in social rights (not income).


One key factor is poor access to health care where a decline was reported. The conclusion is not entirely fair. The survey measured people who were affiliated” with a particular health service — just as the AMLO administration is transitioning to a model where anyone can be seen in a public hospital, without needing affiliation. Many people likely answered “no” without being aware they could access the same — or better — services as before.


But the administration shouldn’t be let off the hook. After rushing to cancel the (admittedly flawed) Seguro Popular health program for the uninsured, it squandered 2019 botching the rollout of its replacement, INSABI; then during COVID in 2020–2021 it had to channel health budgets into hospital beds and vaccines. Late in the game, it appears to have found its footing with IMSS-Bienestar, which federalizes health services that had been decentralized by conservative governments of the past.


But this alphabet soup has been composed of clumsy workarounds designed to cope with those left out of the current system, instead of creating a genuinely universal program that assures access to care for everyone.


Despite the impressive gains of recent years, Mexico remains a country with 47 million poor and 85 million with deficits in at least one of the multidimensional categories. With the floor being that low, the easiest” part now lies behind. Ahead, México must continue to raise wages and support labor rights while attacking intransigent structural problems such as health care — something virtually impossible without a progressive tax reform, an untouchable third rail for MORENA up to now.


None of this should minimize the successes of the last five years. In the face of a pandemic, worldwide inflation, and supply chain shocks, Mexico is reducing poverty.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media, on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border.

Edwin F. Ackerman, AMLO’s Presidency Has Been a Success Jacobin. Ideologically, AMLO is a throwback to what in the twentieth century was known as national revolutionary ideology.


Nancy Flores, EU, trasnacionales y los más ricos de México, detrás del grupo de presión IMCO Contralínea. IMCO se presenta a sí mismo como un exitoso think tank –tanque de pensamiento– dedicado a analizar y realizar investigación en materia de políticas públicas. En realidad, es un grupo de presión creado por algunos de los empresarios más ricos del país, y financiado por grandes trasnacionales y por el gobierno de Estados Unidos.


Texas Violates International Law by Shooting a Mexican: AMLO Telesur English. Local authorities identified the victim as Darwin Garcia, a 37-year-old man from Veracruz, who was on a dirt path used by runners and cyclists for exercise.


María del Pilar Martínez, Nuevas negociaciones colectivas impulsan mayores alzas salariales El Economista. En México se vive una nueva realidad en las negociaciones colectivas, luego de la implementación de la reforma laboral, con procesos más “complejos y sofisticados” que arrojan como resultado incrementos salariales.


Viri Ríos, “López Obrador’s handouts” and other classist myths Milenio. It is not true that social programs were the main reason poverty decreased in 2022.


López Obrador recorre sureste mexicano a bordo de Tren Maya Telesur. Miles de personas se congregan junto a las vías del Tren Maya para saludar al mandatario y atestiguar la puesta en marcha de la megaobra.


5th State of the Nation Report delivered by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Regeneracion. Text of President AMLO’s speech on September 1st.


La Suprema Corte despenaliza el aborto en Aguascalientes Forbes. El amparo en Aguascalientes es parte de una estrategia jurídica nacional que ha emprendido junto con otras agrupaciones.


AMLO announces start of petroleum production at Olmeca refinery Mexico News Daily. The new Pemex refinery on the Gulf coast of Tabasco commenced production on Friday, September 1st.


Caso Ayotzinapa: Miles de mensajes de texto revelan lazos entre cártel y autoridades mexicanas Resumen Latinoamericano. Nueve años después de la desaparición de los estudiantes, el crimen sigue siendo un misterio debido a que la investigación ha sido obstaculizada por las mismas autoridades.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice. We see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty.

Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Courtney Childs, Victoria Hamlin, Agatha Hinman, Peter Shapiro. To give feedback or get involved yourself, please email us!

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