Marichuy could be the first indigenous woman president of Mexico

A 53-year-old indigenous woman is running for president of Mexico. María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, known to most as “Marichuy,” is a traditional Nahua healer from southern Jalisco, and could become the first indigenous woman elected to Mexico’s highest office. 

Marichuy is running as a candidate for Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress (CNI), a coalition of 58 indigenous ethnic groups, and is backed by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), a left-wing revolutionary group which has been fighting for Mexico’s impoverished indigenous population for over 20 years. Marichuy won the support of both groups because of her relentless social justice work. She founded and runs a health center in Tuxpan, where she draws on native plants and ancestral knowledge to heal those who cannot afford medicine. In 2015, she received an award for her efforts in preserving indigenous knowledge and fighting for the human rights of indigenous communities.

Organizers like Marichuy are extremely necessary in a country where indigenous Mexicans are neglected and oppressed, lacking any kind of meaningful political representation. Although 21.5% of the country’s population is indigenous, there has only been one indigenous president since Mexico’s independence and there are currently only a handful of indigenous representatives in Mexico’s congress.

Indigenous communities in Mexico still suffer from the corporate destruction of their ancestral lands, environmental degradation, and limited access to healthcare, employment, and education. While Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto portrays himself as a champion of indigenous rights and boasts about investing a record 21.5 billion pesos in infrastructure for indigenous peoples, the recent earthquakes in Mexico City revealed the deep inequalities that continue to exist. The southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas were among the hardest-hit and slowest to rebuild after the disaster. They also have some of the largest indigenous populations in the country and already suffer from inadequate infrastructure and severe poverty.

The Zapatistas and Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress have been calling out these inequities and mobilizing indigenous communities since 1994, the year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. As a candidate for the CNI, Marichuy believes that indigenous feminist political representation is crucial to the nation’s healing. Marichuy, however, is not running a traditional presidential campaign. She refuses to accept government funding and sees herself as the speaker (vocera), not the candidate, of the National Indigenous Congress. This distinction can be best understood by looking at the Zapatista’s guiding principles, where leaders are called to “obey, not command,” “represent, not supplant,” “serve and not serve oneself,” and “propose and not impose.” To Marichuy, leadership must be egalitarian and based on communal decision-making processes. 

As decolonial scholars Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vasquez argue, Marichuy and the CNI’s campaign is “a move towards the decolonization of politics, of political life.” The CNI is not interested in taking power or in winning the privilege to rule over others. This campaign is based on communal governance, a respect for the earth and others, and a commitment to healing from centuries of colonial domination. Centering the voices and values of indigenous communities – women and girls, especially – Marichuy’s campaign tour featured all women speakers who stressed the profound gender inequalities in Mexican systems of governance, the history of violence against Mexican women, and the culture of capitalism that extends impunity to those who commit femicides. During a stop in Chiapas during her campaign tour, Marichuy argued that indigenous women are doubly oppressed by the violence enacted by the state:

“But it’s precisely because we are the ones who feel the deepest pain, because we [experience] the greatest oppressions, that we women are also capable of feeling the deepest rage. And we must be able to transform that rage in an organized way in order to go on the offensive to dismantle the power from above, building with determination and without fear, the power from below.”

Even after centuries of attempts by the state to erase and eliminate their voices, Marichuy’s candidacy demonstrates that indigenous peoples in the Americas continue to fight for self-determination. The campaign is a long shot – Marichuy needs to collect 866,593 signatures in 17 states to be included on the ballot as an independent candidate. But in a world where Trump can be elected president with no experience and no heart, we have to dream just as big that an indigenous healer and organizer could become president of Mexico.

Header image by Adolfo Vladimir.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Read more about Barbara

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