Meet the Tireless Elderly Women from Tepoztlán Fighting to Save the Environment

Karitina Ortiz Ortiz. Pantallazo del documental Batalla de las Cacerolas.

Karitina Ortiz Ortiz. Screenshot of the documentary “Batalla de las Cacerolas” (Battle of the Saucepans)

This post is a re-edited version of the original text published by Witness and is reproduced on Global Voices with the permission of the author, Laura Salas.

The so-called “Batalla de las Cacerolas” (Battle of the Saucepans) is a documentary which tells of the women of Tepoztlán, a village located in the central-southern region of Mexico, who have campaigned throughout history against the megaprojects that continually prey on their communities. The audivisual work starts with a demonstration led by various women from the region — now elderly — whose main weapon was the sound of protest of their saucepans.

The directors used the photographic archive the village has safeguarded for years, which highlighted the leading role of the women in the fight. The women were there, present in each and every photo: preparing food, organising marches, protesting.

In the documentary the protagonists tell of how, since the 1960s, other leaders and community advocates were threatened, or even killed, by corporations looking to encroach on the region, guided by a sense of progress that was not shared by the locals. Karitina Ortiz Ortiz, one of the protagonists of the documentary, explains:

Yo empecé a darme cuenta de todo porque ya desde 1960 escuché sobre la muerte de un profesor que lo habían asesinado por defender las tierras de Monte Castillo. Seguramente por el lugar tan bonito que es que quisieron instalar acá un teleférico, luego un periférico, luego un tren escénico y luego al final ya, un club de golf.

I began to realise what was going on because in 1960 I heard about the death of a teacher who had been killed for defending the land around Monte Castillo. Perhaps it was the beauty of the scenery here that made them want to install a cable car, then a bypass, a scenic train, and finally a golf club.

Gerard Becerra, who was a presidential candidate in Cuernavaca, the capital city of the state of Morelos where Tepoztlán is situated, explains some of the sticking points of the confrontation. In his post “Tepoztlán, la crisis que viene” (Tepoztlán, the crisis on the horizon), Becerra analyses the background of the conflicts described in the documentary, which have taken place between government organisations, corporations and communities due to the implementation of projects without proper consultation:

[Durante la gestión de Antonio Rivapalacio] Ingenieros Civiles Asociados -ICA-, andaba con la intención de aprovechar la vía férrea que venía desde Cuautla, y entonces construir un ‘Tren Escénico’, con fines turísticos y algo más, sin embargo el mismo no llego a concretarse. En la parte alta de Tepoztlán, cerca de San Juan Tlacotenco, la poderosa constructora había instalado ya, sendos campamentos desde donde preveía construir algunos túneles que hacían falta para ello. ¿El error? no consultar a la población.

[Under the leadership of Antonio Rivapalacio] the construction firm Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA) intended to take advantage of the railroad from Cuautla, to construct a ‘Scenic Train’ for touristic and other purposes. However, this did not materialise. In the most elevated part of Tepoztlán, near to San Juan Tlacotenco, the influential construction firm had already set up camps from which they anticipated constructing various tunnels which were required for the train. What was their error? Not consulting the locals.

Concerning the conflict over the golf course, Becerra explains:

Y ni que decir del Club de Golf de Tepoztlán, ahí la intolerancia, la soberbia de los gobernantes y la insaciable posición de los empresarios, dio al traste con un proyecto que podría haber sido bueno para la comunidad si no se hubiera proyectado en la forma en que se hizo. Una vez más el poder ejecutivo dio muestras de represión y el pueblo de Tepoztlán se unió como nunca en su historia moderna. Transitar por Tepoz en la época del conflicto del campo de golf, era como transitar en un pueblo de los Balcanes en la guerra civil. Barricadas por todos lados y la tensión de la gente en contra de sus gobernantes se respiraba a flor de piel.

Needless to say that, regarding the Tepoztlán Golf Club, the intolerance and arrogance of the leaders and the insatiable position of the businessmen halted a project that could have been good for the community, had it not been planned in such a way. Once more, the Executive Power displayed elements of repression and the community of Tepoztlán united like never before in its modern history. Travelling through Tepoztlán during the time of the golf course conflict was like travelling through a village in the Balkans during the civil war. Barricades everywhere and tensions were running high between the people and their leaders.

The documentary and other testimonies of the protests can be seen on YouTube:

Un día dijeron “va a haber una marcha [solamente con mujeres, que] cada quien que traiga su sartén”. No siente uno miedo, siente uno satisfacción, gusto de poder estar ahí.

One day they said, ‘There is going to be a march [with women only, to which] each person must bring their pan.’ You don’t feel scared, you feel satisfaction, pleased to be able to be there.

The story from the women’s point of view

Osbelia Quiroz. Screenshot of the documentary "Batalla de las Cacerolas" (Battle of the Saucepans)

Osbelia Quiroz. Screenshot of the documentary “Batalla de las Cacerolas” (Battle of the Saucepans)

Laura Salas from Witness interviewed Carolina Corral who, as co-director with Itandehuy Castaneda, produced the short film which recently won third place in the Ecofilm film festival. In the interview, Corral talks about the documentary, the importance of these women telling their stories about the communities, and the different ways in which technology can empower and break down missunderstanding myths between older women and technology.

Laura Salas (LS): How did you come up with the idea of making this documentary?

Carolina Corral (CC): No hubiera contado la historia de las mujeres Tepoztecas si no hubiera sido por la iniciativa que tuvo Social Tic, Luchadoras, La Sandía Digital y Subversiones de convocar a varias mujeres del país a contar la historia de las mujeres de nuestras comunidades. Yo iba llegando a vivir a Tepoztlán y me estaba acercando al Frente en Defensa de Tepoztlán. El video, pensé, sería una manera de conocer más al pueblo e interiorizarme en la lucha de Tepoz. Una lucha por demás histórica. Conocer esa historia a través del rol de las mujeres fue muy enriquecedor para mí y luego para el pueblo. Había muchas mujeres, demasiadas abuelas de quienes contar su historia, pero solo nos centramos en tres.

Carolina Corral (CC): The story of the women of Tepoztlán wouldn’t have been told had it not been for the initiative of Social Tic, Luchadoras (Fighters), La Sandía Digital (Digital Watermelon) and Subersiones (Subversions) to convene various women from around the country to talk about the women in our communities. I was going to go and live in Tepoztlán and I was taking an interest in the group Frente en Defensa de Tepoztlán (Front in Defense of Tepoztlán). I thought that the video would be a way of getting to know more of the community and become more familiar with the fight in Tepoztlán. A fight which is incidentally historical. Getting to know this story through the role of the women was very enriching for me and also for the community. There were many women, too many elderly women who could tell their story, but we concentrated on only three.

LS: Why is it important for these women to tell stories?

CC: Porque las narrativas desde abajo contadas por mujeres y sobre las historias de mujeres producen un relato diferente, nuevo, no siempre contado.

CC: Because grassroots stories told by women and stories about women’s lives produce alternative, new and sometimes untold accounts.

LS: Why is it important that the women embrace technology?

CC: Porque esas miradas se pueden visibilizar a través de los nuevos formatos para contar historias (foto, video, radio, internet, etc). Además porque hacen que las mujeres rompan el tabú de que las mujeres y la tecnología no se llevan bien.

CC: Because these perspectives can be given visibility through new story-telling channels (photo, video, radio, internet, etc.). Moreover, because it breaks away from the taboo that women and technology don’t get along.

LS: Why are workshops such as “Voces de Mujeres” (“Women's Voices”, a training programme supported by Witness on communication tools for women’s campaigns) important?

CC: ‘Voces de Mujeres’ lo contenía todo: un encuentro de mujeres creando en sororidad y de manera horizontal. Estar allí, conocer a las compañeras y sus historias, nos hacía darnos cuenta de la importancia de nuestros propios relatos. ‘Voces’ fue un entrenamiento técnico, pero también el pretexto para empoderarnos como mujeres, creer en nuestras historias, y por ello empoderar a las mujeres de nuestras comunidades. De allí surgieron muchas historias contadas desde abajo sobre mujeres indígenas, lesbianas, madres luchadoras, prostitutas, luchadoras sociales.

CC: ‘Voces de Mujeres’ offered everything: a meeting for women who believe in sisterhood and everyone being in equal standing. Being there, getting to know the other participants and their stories, made us realise the importance of our own. ‘Voces de Mujeres’ was a form of technical training, but also the pretext to empower ourselves as women, to believe in our stories and so to empower women in our communities. From this, many grassroots stories emerged about indigenous women, lesbians, mothers who were campaigners, prostitutes, social campaigners.

LS: In summary, what impact has the documentary had on the fight for the protection of land in Tepoztlán?

CC: El video quedó seleccionado en Ecofilm, un festival por el medio ambiente. En ese festival ganó el tercer lugar. Esto repercutió positivamente en varios aspectos de la lucha de Tepoztlán:

  1. El video se presentó en una posada organizada por los integrantes del Frente de Tepoztlán. Allí el pueblo les reconoció públicamente a todas las mujeres su participación en la lucha.
  2. La participación de las mujeres en la lucha se da por sentado. Se sabe que están allí. El video ayudó a que ellas mismas y los demás las vieran en pantalla, siendo no solo participantes de la lucha, sino protagonistas. Tal como lo son en la vida real.
  3. Invitamos a las abuelas protagonistas de la Batalla de las Cacerolas a recibir su reconocimiento por el tercer lugar en la Ciudad de México. Acudieron a la clausura del festival. Fue personal y colectivamente muy emotivo para ellas porque se les reconoció públicamente en un foro de cine en la capital por hacer lo que hacen: defender a su pueblo.
  4. Ayudó a saber que la lucha se está visibilizando y reconociendo, y que vale la pena seguir la batalla en contra de la ampliación de la autopista que llega hasta Tepoztlán, último proyecto que el gobierno quiere llevar a cabo en el pueblo. Verse en la pantalla reanima a las y los integrantes del Frente.

CC: The video was chosen in Ecofilm, a festival focusing on the environment. The film won third place in the festival. This had positive repercussions on various aspects of the campaign in Tepoztlán:

  1. The video was shown at a social meeting, which was organised by the members of the Frente de Tepoztlán group. There, the community publicly recognised the participation of the women in the fight.
  2. The participation of the women in the fight is taken for granted. Their presence is known. The video helped the women and the rest of the community to view their peers on the screen as not only participants in the fight, but as protagonists. Just as they are in real life.
  3. We invited the elderly protagonists of the Battle of the Saucepans to receive recognition in Mexico City for being awarded third place. They attended the festival’s closing event. It was personal and collectively very emotional for them, because they were given public recognition in a cinema, in the capital city, for doing what they do: defending their community.
  4. It helped to see that the fight is becoming more visible and widely recognised, and that it is worth continuing the battle against the expansion of the motorway to Tepoztlán, the latest project that the government hopes to implement in the village. Seeing themselves on the screen encourages both the female — and male — members of the Frente group.


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