Letter from Mexico is a monthly letter from Mariana Alvarado, a feminist journalist living in Mexico City. Each month she’ll be exploring different topics, especially the relationship between Mexico and the United States.
Five years ago, a restless and ambitious young woman told me she wanted to make a difference and help as many people as possible. We were working together at a newspaper in Guadalajara.
It’s not that I didn’t believe her. I realized right away she was a very smart and insightful student at a prominent university. I knew she could accomplish anything she wanted. I just didn’t realize how quickly she’d make her vision a reality.
Meet Susana Ochoa Chavira. If you haven’t met her, heard about her, or read about her, you’re missing out.
She’s an outstanding feminist in Mexico with a bright future ahead. We actually need more “Susanas” everywhere. I’ll explain why.
Born and raised in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, Susana is the oldest of three sisters. Her family is in the agriculture business and it’s one with means. But that’s never stopped her from thinking about ways to help others. She says it was growing up in a privileged environment that got her thinking about injustice and inequality, especially among women.
Being able to choose whatever she wanted, allowed Susana to see the disadvantages of most women in Mexico. “My own reality growing up wasn’t the same as most of the girls and women in Mexico,” she said to me in a recent conversation.
At home, thankfully, she and her two sisters were never obligated to do chores traditionally designated to women. “I strongly believe we were all feminists at home without necessarily acknowledging it. I started noticing how women and men were treated in a different way when I visited my girlfriends’ houses and they were obligated to serve food to their brothers. I never got to see that machismo at home. My parents always encouraged me to be independent and follow my dreams”, Susana says.
While growing up she played soccer and participated in other activities normally designated for boys, even though she faced criticism from others. “I was experiencing myself the myth about women not being strong or good enough. But I never, ever, gave up on raising my hand and doing the things I wanted,” she says.
That vision and perseverance has paid off ever since. Susana, now 26, has already been part of major changes in politics and the feminist movement in Mexico.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Science and having the chance to continue a very promising career in one of the main media outlets in Mexico, she chose politics and public service.
“I always liked politics, but in Chihuahua, as most of the Mexican states, you can only do politics joining a party. And in my case, it was either PRI or PAN (the main political parties). I unconsciously saw journalism as a way to get involved in politics until I learned about Wikipolitica,” she says. Wikipolitica is a nonprofit organization and a growing network led by engaged young people. One of its principles has to do with feminism and the perception of inequalities between women and men. She joined this organization that intends to do politics in a non-traditional way through collectivity and technology. Since then, she hasn’t stopped.
Through Wikipolitica, Susana become the spokeswoman of Pedro Kumamoto, Mexico’s first independent politician in Mexico’s Congress. In 2015 Kumamoto won a federal seat in Congress, representing a district in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. During his campaign he was told he couldn’t beat the well-funded, established political parties.
He did. Not only that, he’s 27 years old and the second-youngest member of Congress in Mexico. He’s become the icon of the non-typical Mexican politician. His most recent initiative, “No vote, no money,” is a bill that will reduce the enormous public resources allocated to political parties. Currently some of the parties receive money and don’t do that much work, fueling with this practice the corruption in Mexico.
The proposal will be applied in Jalisco’s next state election and it will save millions of pesos that can be used to benefit people.
And Susana, among other young women and men, have been behind this initiative and other success stories of Kumamoto’s political career. “Pedro’s campaign was led by women. Ladies who sat down in front of institutions that have been traditionally led by men. Now women are in panels, in newspapers front covers, etc.” she says.
Susana didn’t realize how poorly women were represented in Mexico until she joined Wikipolitica and started supporting independent candidates’ causes like Kumamoto’s.
“In Spain, for example, women are very visible. And that makes me think, if they can, we can. Can you imagine how great things would be here in Mexico if something like that happens and we can set up example for all of the underserved and underrepresented girls and women here?”
As part of her job as spokeswoman for Kumamoto and Wikipolitica, Susana leads activities to promote equality between men and women. The goal is to implement public policies aimed to protect girls and women. She wonders why the government hasn’t done enough to guarantee the respect of basic rights for women. And she wants to change that.
“The other day we had an exercise in a park. We hang a huge sign that said: ‘When was the first and the last time you experienced sexual harassment?’ It was a very tough practice, because we realized those are some of the things women have deeply internalized as normal,” she says.
Susana is very confident this question got a lot of guys truly reflecting on their own behavior and the way they relate to females. And even though it’s just the beginning, she said she feels she’s helping empower more women and girls in Mexico.
“We live in a deeply unequal country. If a person is born poor, there’s a great possibility that this person will die being poor. And in the case of women, there’s the issue of not being able to decide about their own body, what career they want to follow, the street sexual harassment and violence. Those things can inhibit the potential and opportunities of women in Mexico”.
She’s convinced things can change for the best. She’s experienced it herself while doing and internship at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement in Washington D.C in 2012.
“What pushed me the most on exercising being a feminist and how as women we can influence change, was when I participated in a campaign to encourage the Latino vote for Obama’s reelection,” she says. At that time, she realized how women mobilized and positioned important topics and how this was vital for Obama’s reelection.
It was this experience and her own personal story while growing up that made her question herself what is being done in Mexico. She acknowledges there’s a lot of nonprofit organizations already helping women in different issues, but women need to think about it more seriously.
“We need to raise our hands and do politics. I do politics, because I believe It’s a fundamental tool. I’m sure there’s more things we all can do. I tell the ladies here in Mexico, and in the U.S. and everywhere, that we are not alone. That we face fear sticking together and understanding that we cannot delegate politics to only men.”
I could go on and on telling you more about Susana and her stories. About her idealism and positivism, but I’m sure you now have an idea who she is and why it’s so important to share stories like this. I owe her a bit of an apology for underestimating how quickly she could accomplish what she set out to do.
Her success and passion to change things in Mexico are inspiring. It truly encourages me that if she can succeed, others can follow her lead and do it as well.
Mariana Alvarado is an award winning journalist based in Mexico City with 20 years experience as a reporter and editor of web and print. She’s currently an online instructor with the Center for Digital Journalism at Universidad de Guadalajara. She’s worked on both sides of the border covering immigration, international business and border issues. She’s collaborated with Grupo Reforma in Mexico and with the Arizona Daily Star, the Orlando Sentinel, among other publications in the U.S. She’s married and have a two-year-old girl. E-mail email@example.com, Twitter: Alvaradomariana