Resisting in the mountains in Mexico: using territory and self-determination to resist COVID-19

By Tania Martinez, this piece was originally written for a series of reflections on access to food security on the face of COVID19 as part of the Collective on Agrarian Scholar-activists from the South ( and can be found at

A Mixe woman on a Sunday market in Tamazulapam Mixe, Oaxaca,

Mexico is a diverse country and as such, each region is coping with COVID19 in different ways with the resources they have. Today, I will describe the coping mechanisms of my hometown, Tamazulapam Mixe, a little indigenous community located in the mountains of “Sierra Norte” in Oaxaca, Mexico. Many people know us as ‘the never conquered people’, who successfully resisted the colonisers when they came in the 1500s. We take pride in our maintained ‘sovereignty and autonomy’ connecting us to our territory and identity as Mixe or ‘Ayuuk’ people and which we have used to face many challenges like COVID19.

The first case of COVID19 in Mexico was registered on February 27th, 2020 (Gobierno de Mexico, 2020). The government called for a lockdown on March 20th to reduce the effects of the virus, though responses to the virus are taking longer in rural areas like my community for several different reasons. First, communication and information flow slowly in rural areas, due to poor accessibility and communication infrastructure. Second, most of the information generated about COVID is in Spanish and has only been partially translated into Mixe and other native languages, and at a slower rate, leading to confusion about the danger the virus poses. Since the disease is new to the world, my community, like many others, was not fully aware of the seriousness of it. Many people believed that the little hospital in my village, with the promises that they have been told about modern medicine, could protect them if they caught the disease. Recently, young people and NGOs have played key roles in making audio-visual materials available in native languages and creating awareness in our communities about the situation and lack of equipment to treat infected people along with local authorities. Third, for several communities like mine that are community-based organised and where collective activities are a key component of the social fabric, the idea of personal lockdowns as it has been perceived in most of the places does not fit the community and rather the lockdown operates on a community basis. A key component of my community is the cosmovision that places the importance of the communal celebrations of life. These celebrations cannot be easily stopped as they are core to our beliefs. Local authorities have cancelled community meetings and which occurred frequently until new notice, classes have been suspended and people have been invited to reduce their group gatherings as much as possible. In the face of all these challenges, the community decided to try to continue life as normal as possible with some preventive actions when possible and to use a community-based lockdown, preventing the entry of any person that is not from the Mixe region, especially people from the cities who might be a vector of infection. Thus, the sense of sovereignty and territory becomes a central feature in the fight to prevent the infection on a community rather than on an individual level.

Locally produced food by Mixe peasants

Another important component of the response to security in general. Research in Mexico suggests that at least 53% (Reyes, 2020) of jobs are informal, meaning that many people do not have access to basic social security. When the lockdown was announced, many of my people that have migrated to urban areas and live there most of the time, returned to my community because they feel safer in the community than in the cities where they can rely on shared responsibility for each other. This also links to the living costs that are lower in the community vs in the city and the sense of community and the sharing of resources for survival, i.e. you can rely on your family, friends, neighbours and community for food, house, care, among others. In response, some local authorities (CEPIADET, 2020) are asking urban migrants to think twice when moving back to our communities as they could bring the disease back with them. As in my community, in many territories of Oaxaca, Mexico, our right to self-determination, our self-governing structure, our community-based organisation and our rights on our territories are tools that we can use in the face of this pandemic. 

The community structure also provides food security, and our peasants are our heroes because they are feeding us throughout the emergency, while many other cities start to struggle to feed their people due to food access issues. Our local market on Sundays has reduced the working hours to reduce exposure. Since April 5th, our local authorities closed our markets to people coming from Oaxaca city and non-Mixe sellers to protect against the virus. And they could do this because only 10% of sellers in the market are non-Mixe and they do not sell basic products. Luckily, peasants from our community will supply our food demands with the local and seasonal cultivated crops using native seeds, traditional and sustainable techniques, and cultivated with water from our springs, rivers, and rainfall. We are lucky to be located in the mountains because our food sovereignty is partially the result of public policy and private markets looking down on the agricultural potential of our lands and therefore not wanting to invest in them to turn them into ‘productive lands’. Thus, we can get the food we need for the year without any external demand either. Additionally, most of the families in the community still crop small fields and this will also allow them to survive through the contingency. Peasants are now waiting for the start of the rainy season to start growing their milpa, an intercropping of native maize, potatoes, beans, pumpkins, and other veggies, and this will allow us to survive. Local authorities noticed that some local sellers were increasing prices on some products, e.g. tortillas, eggs, chicken, and they are visiting sellers to control the rise in prices and warning them of potential fines.

Up to May 1st there are no cases of COVID19 registered in the entire Mixe region. The response changes from one community to another in our region and my community has strengthened the restrictions to outsiders passing through my community to reach further communities that haven’t been as strict as us, and are redirecting that traffic using outside roads to further protect our people from possible interactions with the virus. Members of our communities in the Mixe region have also taken to social media shaming on Facebook when other communities are not taking serious action to protect their people. Thus, I would say we are acting as a set of organised communities that are taking care of the people living in the mountain because we are aware that if the disease hits one person, the contagion can easily spread. And with the collective power of the communities, I am confident we will find a way to face the disease as a community even if it enters. In the end, the idea of locking ourselves down as a community, rather than as individuals, has been a powerful weapon for centuries and it is only possible because we have rights on our ancestral land, strong ideas of ‘self-governing’ and our pride as “the never conquered people”.  

The story of Tamazulapam in the face of the pandemic makes me hopeful because we act as a collective who can protect ourselves using our control of our territories, and because we can feed ourselves with food produced locally and we see each other as a family who looks out for each other. However, this also makes me think of other indigenous peoples that have been expelled from their territories, that cannot enact that right to self-determination and sovereignty, that cannot even produce their food, or have a secure house. It makes me worry about the ones relying on informal jobs in urban areas which account for more than half of the job market, the ones with health problems and no health insurance at all, the elderly, immigrants and others that aren’t protected by strong communities. This pandemic is teaching us that we need to do things differently, to value the collective over the individual and to build inclusive societies that respect and protect everyone.


CEPIADET, 2020. “Official decrees from autonomous Mixe towns in Oaxaca, Mexico”. Information was retrieved from facebook official website.

Gobierno de Mexico 2020. Report on Feb 27, 2020. Available at

Reyes, Diego. 2020. “Las Pymes ante a llegad de la epidemia de COVID-19 a México”. Tec de Monterrey, State of Mexico.

I know how the world called The Netherlands looks like…

October 2013

To the ones who have lost someone that they love... to my taak emej

Abuela y Nieta en ritual de despedida 2013-Philippa Zamora

When Tania told granny Eulalia that she was moving to the Netherlands, granny Eulalia was so worried because she could not imagine how Tania would live so far away in a different world. For granny Eulalia this place called Europe/the Netherlands based on her knowledge and her way of seeing and perceiving the life and worlds, was not only 

another land or continent, it was another world with strong implications. She was a shaman and as such, she was a spiritual guide for her Ayuuk people in Tamazulapam and a knowledgeable person1.

Granny: dear daughter, do you know how the other world looks like? Are you gonna have food to eat (meaning maize and the things they grow in a milpa and her community)? What are you gonna eat? Where are you gonna live? (Granny was waiving her head showing she was deeply worried).

Tania: No yet granny but I will make some arrangements in the coming days. There is food over there, I’ll find things to eat. I’ve been told it’s cold over there. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll come back in some weeks when I’m about to leave to say good bye.

Granny Eulalia: I’ll be waiting for you darling, please, take care, god bless you.

Tania knew she will be fine, it was going to be her first time in Europe and she was ready for the adventure. Tania was conscious she might have to learn to combine ingredients and get use to new flavors and tastes and was willing to take the challenge. Anyway, as a good adventurer, she was ready to experience something new.

By October, it was time to leave, she will move to the Netherlands by the beginning of November. Tania went to her hometown to say good bye and get the blessing of granny Eulalia. Granny usually did not make rituals to guide her own family but this time, she made an exception and offered prayers to the Ayuuk gods so they would guide Tania´s journey and give to her the strength she needed.  When Tania got to her hometown, she went to granny’s kitchen and as always, granny was ready waiting for her with a warm cup of coffee. They sat next to the fire and started to chat:

Granny: I know how the place where you are going is, I know how that other world is. Now,  I am pretty sure you will be fine.

Tania: really? How is this place, tell me please granny…

Granny: it’s a cold place, there are many white people (ekaats) with white hairs, they do not  look like us, they don’t have black hair. They don’t speak like us. They do not eat corn;  can you believe that? They use the corn to feed cows. They eat potatoes and wheat. I know you’ll be ok even if you don’t have corn, you might have to survive eating potatoes and wheat. Now that you are leaving, please, take warm clothes with you, you’re going to need them because it is super cold over there. You will face some of the coldest periods of your life, but I know you will survive2.

Tania: (she was shocked) thank you granny, I’ll follow your advice. Granny, please, could you tell me how do you know all this?

Granny: (granny laughs proudly), your grandmother knows many things. A week ago, a white lady from this other world came with you uncle Daniel. She looks like a gringa, she is white and has white hair. She said she was from there and I asked her all these things. She  wanted to learn from us, but I also wanted to learn from her. She told me what they eat, how is the weather and how they live over there.

When granny was telling this story to Tania, she didn’t stop smiling, she was happy and and proud at the same time, as the shaman and grand mother she was, it was her duty to guide and support her children, her family, her people.

Granny:  when are you gonna come back? How long are you gonna be in that other world?

Tania: I’ll be there four years granny, that’s the time it will take me to get my degree. If all   goes well I’ll be back in a year and spend some time in Mexico City (just as reference that Tania was going to be closer, granny had a particular way of conceiving the world). I’ll be closer to you and I’ll visit you more frequently.

Granny: I don’t think I’ll have the energy to wait for you four years because I’m already      tired.  However, I’ll be here when you come back next year, I’ll be waiting for you.

Granny invited Tania to follow her to her bedroom. She opened a box and took two shawls, she placed them on the bed:

Granny: daughter, choose one and take it with you. I want you to take it with you so you don’t forget us, so you don’t forget who you are and where you’re coming from, so you tell the others who live in that other world who we are, what do we do, and how do we live in this world.

Tania was speechless, she was thankful and took one shawl that granny gave to her feeling so grateful for such a gift.

The gringa that granny met is a researcher from the University of Berlin. She visited granny to get her oral testimony on a historical reconstruction she was doing. The researcher did not speak Mixe nor granny English nor Spanish but Daniel, Tania’s uncle, translated the conversation among these two ladies,

Tania keeps this shawl as her totem and she is doing the last year of her PhD. Granny waited for Tania’s return in 2014 as she promised and started her sacred journey to go back to the land where her umbilical cord was buried, to close her cycle in life and be part of the Mother Earth again in 2016. Granny won’t be there to celebrate, dance and acknowledge the Mother Earth when Tania finishes her PhD, however, she will always remain in Tania’s heart and memory.

1My anthropologist friends or anyone with some knowledge on ontology can understand the implications of “another world”, you can send me a message and I can explain to you the few things I know about it.
2Tania dealt with the first winters quite well, the winter of 2016 and 2017 were the coldest ones in her life. Granny warned Tania that those winters would be hardest in her life because coping with granny´s lost was not easy, it was somehow her identity being challenged.

México te necesita/Mexico needs you


To all my friends from around the world, WE NEED YOUR HELP! Yesterday Mexico suffered another catastrophic earthquake that already has taken many lives (magnitude 7.1 quake). 

More than 200 peopled died, among them at least 30 children and many more are missing. Emergency workers (military personnel and volunteers) have been working through the night in the search for people trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Check the news for more info…/mexico-city-earthquake-dozens…


Your dollars/euros are worth almost double in Mexico, so something small has a big impact. you can donate, even a little bit, you can do it directly here:
Feel free to share with any friends or family that are interested in helping

#UNICEFMéxico is looking for donations for child victims of the earthquake.

But also Donating to other organizations is a way to get resources flowing.


Thank you!!!

Bienvenid@ al blog de Tania Eulalia Martínez Cruz.


Bienvenid@ al blog de Tania Eulalia Martínez Cruz.

La página está en construcción pero por el momento puedes encontrar algunas cosas como:

  • Las historias que me gusta narrar o que otros amigos míos han escrito y me ha permitido compartir contigo. Si tu también quieres compartir alguna historia conmigo y quieres que la publiquemos, no seas tímido y escribeme para platicar. Este es un espacio abierto para compartir con mis amigos.
  • Algunas entrevistas que me han hecho en algunos medios (me disculpo de antemano por no poner todas, poco a poco las iré subiendo)
  • Información sobre algunas ONGs que son pro educación y juventud, en algún momento compartí algún espacio con ellas y por eso las menciono aquí.
  • Links a mis cuentas de redes sociales

Juan Carlos, el Ayuuk ja’ay y su largo andar a los Países Bajos (Parte 1)

Aprendiendo un nuevo idioma como requisito para un posgrado en el extranjero, en mi caso inglés

Saliendo de las cenizas

DSC00137Algún día en 2014…

Un día Montaña, mi hija, me preguntó: -“Mami, yo sé que nunca esperamos que algo malo nos pase, pero creo que hay algo que debemos definir: ¿Dónde pondríamos nuestros restos si algo nos pasa algún día? Yo quiero volver a donde mi ombliguito fue enterrado, como dice mi abuela; yo quiero volver a mi tierra, donde nací y están mis abuelos, donde están mis raíces, y seguro donde mi abuela estará el día de mañana. Ahí es donde pertenezco y donde quiero volver“. Enseguida me preguntó: -“Y tú, mami, ¿dónde quieres estar?” Yo no supe que responder.

Su pregunta me hizo pensar que como yo vivo en una tierra en la que no nací, regresar a aquel lugar en las montañas dónde quedaron los restos de mis padres y abuelos sería muy complicado. Comencé a ser una viajera desde que tenía nueve años. Siempre he sentido una profunda nostalgia por aquella casa de paja, por el olor de la tierra recién mojada, los ladridos de los perros que se perdían entre las montañas, por esa tierra dónde vi el sol por primera vez. Así como yo, otras niñas de mi tierra, tuvieron que abandonar sus comunidades de origen por las condiciones de extrema pobreza, buscando mejores oportunidades, o por otros factores en el mundo rural que son difíciles de describir.

Mi nombre no importa, podría ser María, Esperanza o el de cualquier otra mujer que ha vivido experiencias similares. Mis hermanos y yo nacimos en un tiempo en que no se hacían actas de nacimiento, y muchos años después supimos que existían y debíamos tener una para ser reconocidos. Yo soy la más pequeña de 13 hijos. Como dicen mis hermanos entre broma: a la que ya no esperaban, pero llegó. Algunos de mis hermanos sólo los conocía de nombre, pues muchos habían migrado a México en los 40’s en busca otra vida; otros habían fallecido.

En 1972, al cumplir los 8 años, migré de mi pueblo con la promesa de llegar a la Ciudad de México, a hallar una vida de sueños, una esperanza para un mundo diferente; no sé si esto en realidad es lo que me motivó o porque en el fondo tenía el deseo de conocer ese mundo extraño y de fantasía del que hablaban mis hermanos vuelta a casa. Me dolió dejar a mis padres, ya que a pesar de la pobreza yo era feliz, corriendo libremente por el campo y sintiendo cómo el viento jugaba con mis cabellos. Descalza, hambrienta, y con mi vestido lleno de agujeros, con español limitado, me aventuré a conocer México.

Partí con una de mis hermanas. Empecé a trabajar, como ella, de empleada doméstica. Frecuentaba a mi hermana en su trabajo y salíamos los domingos a visitar a mis otros hermanos y familiares. Pero esta compañía no duró mucho, pues ella se regresó al pueblo. Me quedé sola. Es así como me vi en necesidad de valerme por mi misma y apoyar económicamente a mis papás con lo poco que ganaba. Así estuve tres años. A pesar de todo no dejaba de soñar que algún día “sería alguien más”, pues no me hacía a la idea de ser trabajadora doméstica toda la vida. No sabía cómo lo lograría, pero era mi sueño, hasta que un día me pasó algo terrible. En una de tantas casas que trabajé me agarró una enfermedad llamada Viruela Loca y mi patrona me corrió, acusándome de robar unos aretes. Dijo que si no me iba me echaría a la policía. Me marche estando en muy mal estado con uno de mis hermanos.

Después de esa mala experiencia, me atreví a decirle a mi hermano que yo quería estudiar, y me dijo: -“Ya lo pensaste bien, pues ¿quién te va mantener? Yo le dije: -“Trabajaré de día y de noche estudiaré.” Así comencé a ir a clases en una escuela nocturna de 19 a 21 hrs. Tuve que buscar un trabajo en una casa dónde me permitieran ir a la escuela. En estos años llevé una vida solitaria. Dormía en un cuarto en la azotea, y recordaba a mis papás y hermanos, con la esperanza de volver. Mi vida era modesta, pues estando en la escuela colaboraba con los gastos de la casa. Uno de mis hermanos y yo compartíamos las playeras que me regalaban, pero no por esto dejaba de soñar en ser médico o arquitecto algún día. Pasaron los años, terminé la primaria, y luego quise entrar a la secundaria, pero mis patrones dijeron que ya no era posible, que me robaría más tiempo y desatendería las labores de casa. Viendo el riesgo de la ciudad de andar a altas horas de la noche, mis hermanos decidieron que regresara a la Sierra en Oaxaca a estudiar la secundaria.

Mi sueño ahora era ser auxiliar-médico del CONALEP, y con el tiempo quería especializarme. Desafortunadamente la muerte de mi padre en 1981 afectó mi vida. Con su ausencia sentí que el mundo se me venía encima, sin él mi vida no tenía sentido. Terminé la secundaria ese año, y me aventuré a un examen para obtener una plaza como Promotora en Educación Indígena. Pasé el examen y en mi trabajo debía enseñar a los niños a hablar español, escribir y leer. Así comenzó mi vida como maestra en Educación Preescolar, y cambió el rumbo de mis sueños.

Por estos tiempos conocí al padre de mis hijas, que es de la comunidad dónde hice la secundaria. Profesionalmente hice varias cosas como estudiar la carrera de Profesora de Educación Primaria, en 1992 comencé la universidad en la ciudad de México siendo ya madre de dos lindas niñas (una de 9 años y una de 5).  Después hice una licenciatura más en educación telesecundaria. Fue complicado ser madre, esposa y estudiante, pero me dejó muchos aprendizajes y creo que me permitió sembrar algunas semillitas en mis queridas hijas.

No puedo negar que logré varias cosas profesionalmente, pero mi vida de matrimonio no fue fácil. Quisiera volver el tiempo para no repetir errores. Haberme casado a los 17 y dejar mi lugar de origen me llevó a sentirme sola, sin tener apoyo, una familia cercana, una comunidad que estuviera a mi lado. Mi vida en mi querido pueblo natal, fue pobre, y quizá no veía esperanza ahí, pero fue dichosa a lado de mis padres. La ciudad de México me aterrorizaba al ver tantas cosas nuevas y la inmensidad de los edificios; era un monstruo en el que me sentía tan pequeña, con gran añoranza por mi tierra y mis padres. Aun así, todo esto no lo puedo comparar con la vida de casada, llena de alcoholismo y violencia intrafamiliar. Me aferré a tener y a ofrecer una familia a mis hijas, la familia que perdí al migrar y al fallecer mi padre, la familia que nos enseñan a mantener a costa de todo dentro de algunas sociedades. No me enorgullece decir que mis malas decisiones afectaron a mis hijas y las hicieron huir de casa. Inicialmente las dos se fueron a los catorce años para estudiar la preparatoria, pero también para dejar este mundo caótico. Esto lo entendí muchos años después cuando ellas ya no estaban conmigo y hacían lo posible por ser independientes y no volver a casa. Estar lejos de casa implicaba no estar al pendiente de si papá estaba alcoholizado o no, si debíamos correr para evitar ser lastimadas. Buscar un refugio o apoyo lejos de tu familia en un lugar que no es tu hogar es de las cosas más complicadas, te sientes completamente sola y romper el ciclo es difícil. Lo triste es que es algo normal en muchos lugares del mundo, como nuestra historia muchas más se ven y pocos dicen o hace algo, se normaliza. La mujer que mi esposo presumía que era independiente ante los demás porque “era estudiada”, también era sumisa, no podía decidir, y ante todo debía tener su aprobación. Mis hijas siempre criticaron eso, y me reclamaban que por qué él podía decidir tanto en nuestras vidas.

Hacia los 2000´s nació mi pequeña Xëë y es con quien vivo ahora, y a quién creo que puedo ofrecerle algo mejor. Muchos años más tarde me aventuré a mudarme, a dejar el pueblo de mi esposo, para comenzar una vida con Xëë y “construir” una relación con mis otras dos hijas que ya se habían ido de casa. Afortunadamente no fue tarde, si difícil porque hay heridas que tardan en sanar, pero es necesario enfrentar los fantasmas del pasado para moverse hacia el futuro. Hoy día mi vida está en la ciudad de Oaxaca. Aunque mis hijas mayores no le llaman tierra, es un lugar de paz y tranquilidad para todas. Mis hijas mayores han hecho algo bueno de su vida: una es médico y la otra es ingeniera, las dos son unas mujeres fuertes de las que me siento orgullosa. Nos ha tomado tiempo sanar las heridas, conocernos y reconstruir mi familia. Al aferrarme a un “hogar” no me di cuenta que la historia se estaba repitiendo: mis hijas buscaron solas su camino y sueños lejos de casa. Huyeron, pero huyeron sabiamente.

Así como mi historia, hay otras más. Muchas mujeres, como yo lo viví, sienten culpa, tienen baja autoestima, vergüenza, miedo y creen que no hay esperanza para cambiar nuestras realidades. Hoy que es el Día Internacional de la Mujer quiero compartirles mi historia porque sé que hay muchas como la mía allá afuera y darles un mensaje de aliento para que seamos solidarias y entre nosotras nos apoyemos para transformar nuestras realidades y construyamos una que nosotras queremos. Un abrazo a ti mujer si me lees y te sientes identificada, no debemos callarnos, hay que alzar la voz y luchar proactivamente por el mundo que queremos, no estas sola!

Con cariño a mis hermanas de lucha que buscan transformar sus realidades en las zonas rurales de México, en las ciudades, sin importar la edad, un abrazo!

A las mujeres de mi vida (Susha, Montaña y Xëë)