Words of Comandanta Miriam
Comandanta Miriam speaks at the seminar on “Critical Thought versus the Capitalist Hydra.”
Good evening compañeros and compañeras.
I also have the chance to talk to you a bit about what the situation was for women prior to 1994.
Women suffered through a very sad situation since the arrival of the conquistadors. They stole our land and took our language, our culture. This is how the domination of caciquismo [local despotism] and landowners came into being alongside a triple exploitation, humiliation, discrimination, marginalization, mistreatment, and inequality.
The fucking bosses had us as if they were our owners; they sent us to do all the work on the haciendas, without caring if we had children, husbands, or if we were sick. They never asked if we were sick; if we didn’t make it to work, they sent their servant or slave to leave the corn in front of the kitchen so that we would make tortillas for them.
Much time passed like this, with us working in the bosses’ house. We ground the salt because the salt then was not the same as it is now, now it comes finely ground. The salt we used before came in large balls, and we women had to grind it. Women also ground the salt for the livestock, and shelled coffee when it was coffee harvest time. If we started at 6 in the morning, we finished at 5 in the evening. Women had to keep preparing the bags of coffee throughout the whole day.
This is how the women worked. Women were mistreated in their work, carrying water and all of that and paid miserably; they were only given a little handful of salt or a handful of ground coffee; that was the payment given to the women.
Years passed and women suffered like this. And when our babies cried and we nursed them, we were yelled at, made fun of, insulted physically; they said that we didn’t know anything, that we were useless, that we were a bother to them. They didn’t respect us and they used us as if we were objects.
They did whatever they wanted to a woman; they chose the pretty women or the pretty girls as their lovers, and left children all over the place; they didn’t care that the women suffered, they treated them like animals, with their children growing up without a father.
They sold us as if we were commodities during the acasillamiento [similar to serfdom]; there was never rest for us women.
Acasillamiento refers to when people would go to live on the haciendas or ranches with their families and stay there and work for the boss. The men were the ones who did the work of planting coffee, cleaning the coffee fields, harvesting the coffee, clearing the pastures, planting the grass, all this work, taking care of the corn and bean fields. The men did this work for the boss.
Apart from this, there is another thing I could tell you about the acasillamiento, which is about the mozos or slaves there, men and women who are always going to live on the hacienda. Those men or women that are slaves or mozos, who live at the hacienda, are men and women that sometimes don’t have family. For example, a family comes just to work on the hacienda, and sometimes the dad and mom get sick and die and the children are orphaned. The boss takes these children and raises them on the hacienda. And what do these children do? Its not like the bosses adopt them as an adoptive child, but rather as a slave. Those children grow and this is the work they are given: if the boss has a pet, or pets, such as a dog, a monkey, or some kind of animal, the boss has the mozo take care of it, care for the animal. Wherever the monkey goes, that’s where the child is; they have to take care of it, bathe it, clean where it sleeps. That’s how it works.
Priests would come to the large haciendas of the bosses and baptize their children, or for a birthday, or to perform a marriage ceremony for his daughters. Afterwards they would have parties and tell the mozos to guard the door. They would have the mozo watch the door while they were celebrating with their colleagues and friends. The mozo guards the door, he can’t let even a dog come into where they are partying, and he has to be there all day, for as long as the boss’s party keeps going.
And the women slaves were the ones who made the food, washed the dishes, and took care of the boss’s son, or the children of the boss’s friends.
That is how the people on the haciendas lived, and they didn’t get to eat what was eaten at the gatherings; they had to drink pozol if there was pozol, eat beans if there were beans. That was all they ate, meanwhile the boss ate the good stuff, but with his friends.
Later, when the boss wanted to go to the city, from his hacienda to a city that is, say, a 6-day walk, the mozo would go along. If the boss had children—sometimes the children are disabled—the mozo had to carry the boss’s child to the city. And if the boss’s wife came to the hacienda, the mozo goes again and carries the child back again.
And when they harvested coffee, in any harvest on the hacienda, the mozo had to be tending to the mules. I don’t know if you know about horses, but the mozo had to saddle and unsaddle the boss’s horse, herd the cattle, and take the loads to the city where the boss lives. If he lives in Comitán the mozo had to go all the way to Comitán. He had to leave the hacienda and go as the mule-driver. This is how many enslaved men and women suffered during that time.
If there are fruit tree orchards inside the hacienda and one of them climbed up to pick some fruit, the bosses wouldn’t let them. They got them down by whipping them, I don’t know if you know how the lash works; they would hit them with it. They can’t pick fruit without the boss’s permission because the entire harvest was to be taken to the city. This is how the men and women suffered.
After so much suffering by women and the exploitation during the acasillamiento, the men started realizing how their women were being mistreated. Some thought it better to leave the hacienda. One by one they started leaving and taking refuge in the mountains because the plantation owners did not claim these high lands. So they took refuge there. They thought it better to leave so that the women would not continue to suffer on the hacienda.
After awhile in the mountains—and many spent a long time there—they realized that it was better to join together and form a community, and that’s how they came to live that way. They got together, talked, and formed a community where they could live. That is how they formed the community.
But again, once they were living in the communities, those ideas that came from the boss or the acasillado were brought in. It’s as if the men drug these bad ideas along with them and applied them inside the house. They acted like the little boss of the house. It’s not true that the women were liberated then, because the men became the little bosses of the house.
And once again the women stayed at home as if it was a jail. Women didn’t go out; they were shut in their houses once again.
When girls are born, we are not welcomed into the world because we are women; when a little girl was born, it is as if we were not loved. But if a boy was born, the men celebrated and were content because they are men. They brought this bad custom from the bosses. That’s how it was for a long time. When girls were born they acted as if women were useless, and if a boy was born, as if they could do all of the work.
But one good thing they did was that they did not lose the memory of how to form a community; they began to name community representatives and hold meetings and gatherings together. It was good that this idea was not lost, it wasn’t taken away and it came to life again. The bosses and the conquest wanted to make this culture disappear, but the bosses were wrong, because the people could still form their community.
Another thing is that the man gives the orders in the house and the women obey what he says. And if he tells you that you’re going to get married, you have get married. He’s not going to ask you if you want to get married to the man who came to ask for your hand; your father already accepted the liquor they offered, he drank it already and this obligates you to go with this man that you do not love.
This is how we came to suffer once again with our husbands because they told us that women are only useful in the kitchen, or to take care of their husbands, or to take care of the children. The men didn’t hold their children; they didn’t support the women. They only gave you the child, and then who cares how the child is raised. And—I’m going to talk about how it really was for years—we women often say that a baby was born every year, every year and a half, growing up like a little staircase, every year or year and a half there is another one. But the father didn’t care if his wife was suffering because she had to carry firewood, plant the cornfield, clean the house, sweep, take care of the animals, wash the clothes, take care of the children, change the diapers, and all of that. All of that was women’s work.
This is why we say that we suffered triple exploitation as women. Women had to be awake and in the kitchen at 3 or 4 in the morning, depending on how much time the men needed to get to their fields. The women had to get up early to make pozol, coffee, and breakfast for the men. The men go to work, and when they come back in the afternoon they want the water for their bath to have been carried up to the house already and be ready for them to bathe. The men bathe and then leave the house to walk around, to play, and the women are once again stuck at home the whole day, until the night—around this time right now—the women are still awake; they don’t go to sleep until 8.
So we were really suffering. The men didn’t care if you were sick, or how you felt, they didn’t ask—that’s just how it was. That is how women really lived; we’re not lying because that is how we lived.
When you would go to church or a ceremonial center for a festival, and women did go sometimes, you had to lower your head. You couldn’t raise your head; you had to walk with your head bowed, without turning to the sides, and covering your head with the rebozo [shawl] like this, so that just your face shows.
A lot of time went by like this, during which men dragged along these bad ideas, this bad learning. That is how it happened, compañeros. As if we were nothing. As if only the men could be authorities, only the men could go into the street and participate.
There was no school. Later on in some communities there was school, but we didn’t go because we were women; they didn’t let us go to school because if we went they’d say that we only went to school to find a husband. And that it was better to learn to work in the kitchen because if we were indeed going to have a husband, we needed to learn how to take care of him.
And when our husband hit us, when he insulted us, we couldn’t complain. If we asked for help from the other institutions of the bad government they were much worse because they defended the men, and said the men are right; and so we remained silent, humiliated, and embarrassed at being women.
We didn’t have the right to come to meetings to participate, and they said that we were stupid, useless, and that we weren’t worth anything. They left us at home. We did not have freedom.
There was no health care. Even where there were clinics and hospitals that belonged to the bad government, they wouldn’t see us because we didn’t know how to speak Spanish. And sometimes we had to return to our homes, and many women and children died of curable diseases; we weren’t worth anything to them, and they discriminated against us because we were indigenous. They said that we were just dirty barefoot Indians, and we couldn’t enter the clinics or hospitals. They wouldn’t let us; they only took care of people with money.
All this we suffered in our own flesh. We never had the opportunity to say what we felt for many years because of the teachings of the conquistadores and the bad governments.
That is all, compañeros. Another compa will continue.