It’s the Time of the People: Intersectionality at the forefront of a new political future

By Adriana Murguia

Zapatista women entering the auditorium of CIDESI-Unitierra during the CNI assembly

In 2017, I embarked on a cross country trip with a graduate program in a rural development in Southern Mexico.

Prior to moving to Mexico, I expected my graduate training to come from the academy, but as it turned out, most of my learning would come from the history of the Mexican people and a rediscovery of ancestral knowledge.

My education on what rural development should look like began during the final convening of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the Zapatista Movement (EZLN), as they finalized their proposal for an Indigenous Council of Government (CIG) and the announcement of the spokesperson that would run for presidential office. The assembly took place at the Earth University (CIDESI-Unitierra) in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

Journalists and travelers trying to enter the CNI Assembly at CIDESI-Unitierra

After waiting the entire morning for the opening of the main auditorium, we were thrust into the throng of visitors and elbows as we searched for a place to stand in the overcrowded auditorium. Speakers came forward, but we only caught snippets of their speeches, as the clatter of snapping photos and hovering crowds drowned out the microphones.

In all of the excitement, I did manage to catch the symbolic presentation of a feather by a member of the Tohono O’ Odham Nation. It was one of the few presentations given in English and the presenters shared their story of resistance against the possibility of a border wall that would transverse their land.

This presentation held a resonance with me because all of the sudden, I felt less foreign and in many ways connected to the teachings of the assembly.

The energy in the auditorium gained momentum throughout the morning and eventually, I stepped out to a “listening room”, where a small television run by a generator allowed us to clearly hear the pronouncement of the CNI spokesperson; Marichuy de Jesus Patricio Martinez, an indigenous Nahuatl woman and traditional healer from Tuxpan, Jalisco.

Marichuy’s campaign trail launched in the months following the announcement, during the tail-end of the rainy season. The earthy slopes of Oventik (an autonomous town) turned into mud trails, and hundreds of Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Ch’ol, foreigners, press, and community activists in Chiapas struggled to find a footing to watch the dance and musical numbers prepared in celebration of the first indigenous woman to run for president in Mexico.

As we have come to know them in the United States, presidential campaigns are often marked with campaign speeches, slogans, and posters. In contrast, Marichuy’s campaign kick-off was a gathering, a celebration of women, and indigenous traditions. On stage and sitting on both sides of Marichuy were female council members of the Congress for Indigenous Government that would be touring Mexico alongside her.

Their presence emphasized a commitment going forward rather than a hesitance to find the right moment for women to be placed in the limelight.

A women-only office in the community of Oventik

Marichuy’s campaign was revolutionary. It took an intersectional approach from the very beginning by drawing parallels to the precarious conditions for women in Mexico to the realities of Mexican indigenous communities; human rights violations and land dispossession for renewable energy and economic tourism projects in indigenous territories.

She wove STEM and indigenous issues together in a novel way that earned her beloved support across the country.

For example, her campaign agenda stood in opposition to the implementation of “el tren maya”, a tourism train line that would be built across biodiversity hot spots and indigenous regions across southern Mexico.

Given her plan to run as an independent candidate — without the backing of a political party — volunteers collected roughly 900,000 signatures from at least 17 of Mexico’s 32 states. Because voter registration required access to a mobile app that could only be accessed on expensive smartphones, Marichuy volunteers relied on recording signatures on college-ruled notebooks, writing down evidence of elector ID cards by hand. Sadly, this would end up being the campaign’s demise, as those signatures were deemed illegitimate according to election authorities and they eventually disqualified Marichuy from the ballot.

A poster from Oventik with guidelines on how to support Marichuy’s candidacy

Despite this outcome, Marichuy’s candidacy and the new convening between the Zapatista Movement and National Indigenous Council showed that indigenous communities dared to form a new intersectional lane and into a space of electoral politics that had never represented their interests. They celebrated themselves and dared to plan for a future that placed intersectionality at the forefront.

Marichuy’s ambition was not to win public office, but instead, to bring together all of the conversations around environmental, social justice and gender inequality, and continue to highlight the reality that women and indigenous communities have a restorative and healing message for the earth.

Electoral politics do not have to be cut short by the eligibility of a leader, the drive persists in the people.

Volunteers in San Cristobal de las Casas tabling and collecting signatures in support of Marichuy’s candidacy.

About the Author

Adriana Murguia is a UC Santa Cruz alumnus and a graduate of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur. Her research and writings on rural communities and social movements at the intersections of food and farming has brought her to have developed a greater interest for storytelling as a platform to power building and social change.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store


Dedicated to advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science. Science, culture, and community in the movement for true diversity in STEM.