Ta’ Kun Kun: Indigenous Woman Finds Self-empowerment, One Step at a Time

May 29, 2009

Margarita_Ruiz_01_0My name is Margarita, I am a young Tzotzil woman. I am 19 years old, and I live in the community of Vallalemó in San Andrés Larráinzar Chiapas in Mexico. My husband´s name is Mariano; he is 23 years old and is from my community as well. We have a son, Luis, who is one and a half years old. I am a Hunger Project catalyst (volunteer leader) in Chiapas and I am going to tell you my story.

Ever since I was a child I remember I wondered why men work, why they are the ones to make important decisions, why they always have to be right while women are usually wrong.

Growing up, I remember my father had problems with my mother and he would not listen to her; he did not consider her opinion as important as that of any other man. Back then, I even thought that I would be better off if I hadn’t been born, I thought there was nothing good in being a woman. It is terrible to have a death wish because life is the most wonderful thing that you can have: breathing, seeing, feeling, enjoying. When you value yourself, you learn to enjoy each and every day.

With time, my heavy heart changed, and step by step (ta’ kun kun, like it is said in Tzotzil) the pain went away, and the tears as well. There is a phrase I always repeat: “we have to live the present right now.” I learned this phrase in a book of poems, and it helps me focus on being kind, showing understanding, and feeling deeply.

Learning how to read was what opened the doors to where I am now, and I started to question what it takes for a woman to improve her life.

One day I heard that there were places where women could get skills training. I cannot describe how eager I felt as soon as I heard about this possibility, even though I was only 10 years old! I thought that maybe because of my age they would not accept me, but I persevered and was accepted into a workshop.

Margarita_Ruiz_02This experience affected everything I knew about my life. I was very scared and shy because I could not speak Spanish, but even though at first I could not express what I wanted, I always knew inside of me that I had the answers and that it was true that a woman is capable of anything, just like a man.

So I started attending the workshops, but sometimes had to miss classes. My father was against me attending the workshops, so I spoke to him while he was falling asleep, to convince him through his dreams. I remember once I woke him up to beg him to not take me out of school, because I was already in secondary school and I wanted to keep on studying.

In my community it is the custom that young people get married right out of elementary school to be able to form a family early, but I got married a little later on. In my culture, it is not accepted to have a boyfriend because this would be considered a lack of respect to the families. When Mariano and I could no longer keep our relationship secret, we married just like both our families agreed.

Ever since we were engaged, Mariano and I talked about the importance of women. He has always been understanding and kind, and has learned to respect my opinions. I explain to him that women can also do important things, have an opinion and do good work for ourselves.

Time has passed and we have a son, a precious child – he is my light, our hope.

Margarita_Ruiz_03Today I work for myself, for my family and for my child. I realized that if I have a vision for the future, a powerful one like they say at The Hunger Project (THP), no obstacle can stop me from reaching my dreams. Now I know that it is possible to start over and over again.

Today I work with THP as a catalyst. I am excited to work with the women of other communities of the highlands of Chiapas, who are eager, as am I, to develop their own strengths. We realize that it is possible to end poverty, and that it is a matter of having a vision for the future – a future free from hunger and poverty. This vision requires commitment and strategic action.

I know I will get ahead because I am very confident, and because I empowered myself – no one has given this to me.

Sometimes maintaining a marriage and family is hard, but it can be done.

Remember: everything is possible. We only need a powerful vision and commitment to doing it step by step: “ta’ kun kun.”

May 29, 2009