Sunday, January 12, 2014

Todos y todas somos Crisanta: Presenting Doña Crisante Pérez

Sometimes you have the good fortune to meet a person who just radiates dedication, commitment and vision from every pore of her or his body. I had heard about Doña Crisanta from my friend C, who is an attorney representing the communities in resistance to mining, but had not had the opportunity to meet her until the first of my two trips to San Miguel Ixtahuacán (SMI) during my recent stay in Guatemala.  

It was our first full day in SMI, and we had been to the large meeting with representatives of the mine, the mayor's office, the government agency responsible for the water supply, and residents of Siete Platos, and then had gone to visit the home of one of the resistance leaders who had not been at the meeting. We were returning back to the town of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, and reaching the point where the road we had been on -- this is a road that actually passes the mine, as well as several communities -- came to a T, meeting up with the road back into town. There were some people on the other side of the road from us,  apparently looking to get a ride in the direction from which we had come. C. called to me, "Oh, that's Doña Crisanta over there." Unfortunately my horn isn't working so I couldn't honk her. We tried to shout out the window to tell her to wait for us a moment (we had been trying unsuccessfully to call her), but there was traffic and we didn't think she'd heard us. I pulled over, C jumped out and darted across the road to catch her before she stepped into a vehicle that would carry her home. I got out and walked over and C introduced me to her, and we agreed that we would meet sometime the next day to talk about some projects that we have wanted to work on with her and the women in the community of Ágel. She was dressed in shades of bright blue -- a bright satiny blusa (I would use the word blusa to distinguish the tops that are sewn from shiny fabric, with puffy sleeves, and decorated with strips of lace and sometimes beaded ribbons at the neck and sleeve openings, from a woven güipil, but I think a lot of people refer to these machine-made tops as güipils also, as they are exclusively worn by indigenous women) and corte. She gave us a broad, beaming smile and greeted me warmly.  I had the opportunity to see her in action at a rally about a week later when I returned to SMI, where she spoke clearly and forcefully about the health hazards, chemical contamination and human rights violations, brandishing a copy of a scientific study that was commissioned by the mining company, that demonstrated clearly the health risks. Although she only had a fourth grade education, she was fully conversant in the scientific and legal issues, and explained things very plainly but didn't dumb anything down. I had a chance to meet with to get a little bit of her life story -- we helped her apply for a scholarship from the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (which, sadly, she didn't get), and then to meet with a group of women in her community, Ágel, which overlooks the Marlin Mine.

Again, I will try to recuperate what I recall of this visit to SMI from July/August 2013 before it completely slips from my memory.

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