WHAT I LEARNED AS AN ACTIVIST BY BEA GASCA
Mexico city, June 2021.
In a country where activism seems to be a crime, I would like to tell you the story of what happened on September 28, 2020.
I woke up at 5:46 am with my 9-month-old baby’s first stammering. He was hungry and demanded his first bottle of the day ––with his usual sweetness, firm and determined but with any claims. While I was preparing it, I realized I had a bad night; an unusual thing as my sleep is usually long, deep, and pleasant. Yet for some reason, that night wasn’t the best. It was almost as if something was whispering in my ear to be more alert than usual. I finished preparing the 7 ounces of Maximiliano, put him into our bed, and fed him; I was seeing his plump little hands urged to hold the bottle, his sleepy eyes, and his smiling and affectionate character that is not to be missed in the mornings. He finished eating, I gave him many kisses, I changed his diaper, we said good morning to Carlos, his dad, who was also less rested than normal because he had heard me tossing in bed. He asked me if I was okay and I, innocently, answered yes.
I took Maximiliano and wrapped him up in a shawl as he was very restless. I walked to the kitchen, I made myself a coffee, Maximiliano watched every movement I made attentively, it would seem that he was predicting what was about to happen as he carefully followed and memorized the procedure.
My coffee was ready and I drank it while I was walking with my little boy close to my chest through the room; smelling his little hair, listening to his little noises, and telling him what he was going to do today: “Let’s see, son of my heart, in a few minutes Aurorita will arrive (his caregiver), I’m going to go to work, I’ll come back at noon to eat with you, you behave well and you listen to her, ok…?”, and I filled him with kisses again. Just at that moment, Aurorita arrived. Maximiliano extended his arms, got out of the shawl and happily left with the one who plays with him daily. I continued my routine, took a bath, got dressed and saw that it was already late. I was not going to be able to get breakfast, I said goodbye and left in the usual rush towards the office.
The first connection of the day via my cell phone on my way towards work: WhatsApp without news, some e-mail with things to reply later, social networks announcing the march in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. I thought to myself I wish I had time to go, but it was one of those Mondays: complex and full of activities. A few minutes before getting to work, my cell phone began to ring non-stop, I managed to understand with different overlapped phrases by different interlocutors, that I had just been accused by Claudia Sheinbaum, the Head of Government of Mexico City, of being “the hand behind” the occupation of the CNDH and the violent demonstrations of the feminist movement in the country. Apparently, I was accused of financing them with money from the company for which I worked until that day. My full name and personal data had been exposed, with biased adjectives about my socioeconomic status and the origin of my assets. Thus, from one moment to the next, my life changed.
Here it is important to mention that I come from a middle-class family originally from Celaya, Guanajuato. Most of my studies, some of them abroad, were financed by
scholarships obtained thanks to my good academic performance. I have never reached any of my professional positions because of any recommendation or influences, but because of particular achievements as a result of my effort. My current heritage has been handmade and sweated drop by drop by myself; this is something that I feel particularly proud of and that I mention occasionally when I am invited to give talks on diversity and inclusion. It is impossible not to have a particular sensitivity towards gender inequality being a Mexican woman. As Mexican women, we build our careers from a very different position to that of men. The challenges, complexity, commitment and danger that must be faced to achieve our professional dreams involve high doses of courage, cunning, perseverance and many, but many ovaries.
It was around 9.30 in the morning and by then, my privacy had been invaded and my security was at risk ––as my private data had been exposed in great detail. In the middle of a city where daily crime rates are exorbitant, I was very scared. I sat at my desk and began to read carefully what this whole matter was about. I put my mobile on silent as it would not stop ringing, then I saw that without any evidence against me nor formal investigation, they accepted that I had been “googled” and asked all the national media to help them investigate me. The whole country was talking about me and investigating me. I was intimidated. I wrote a letter demarcating my current company from my activism and explained in it who I was along with my ideology. I denied completely all the accusations, I offered total openness to investigate my accounts, my professional and personal activities and my tax returns. I claimed that I am a citizen who works, pays taxes, and has ideals for which I have the right to fight: JUSTICE for women in Mexico. I sent the letter.
I felt exposed and decided to go home. When I entered, Carlos’s loving arms were already extended for me. I hugged him with all my strength and cried. I cried a lot. I was angry, I felt helpless, I was frustrated, but more than anything, I felt panic. The enemy was very great and powerful, it was no one less than the president of Mexico. I felt helpless. I don’t remember clearly what happened the rest of the day.
I know one of the calls was from my mother, who is almost 80 years old and about to have a heart attack. I lied to her to reassure her. I tried to observe everything wisely, but the impulse to defend myself was bigger. I decided to shut up and listen. I remember that suddenly there were messages of support ––many of them. As the hours passed there were more and more, they multiplied, more and more and many more. That gave me hope. The reporters were already outside my house. The 3 of us took shelter in the family room, without contact with the world, thinking that maybe the wave would pass and it would be everything. A tumble.
I tried to distract myself, but the ideas crowded my mind. I realized that I had committed three sins: being a woman, being a feminist, and live in Mexico. These three sins had led me to this public lynching, as a witch at the stake, that’s right: as if we were in the Middle Ages.
I didn’t sleep much, I was hugging my son and my husband with all my strength, as I did not know if the next day, I would be spending it with them. It dawned, I turned on the television; public opinion had done me justice and now I was listening, incredulous, that I
was being invited to speak. In less than 24 hours I had gone from being a conspirator to being an interlocutor. I was grateful for this invitation, but I thought that those who should be invited were the victims of abuse and the mothers of victims of femicide. I waited. Several days passed–– life became insipid and my sleep became restless.
Why me? Some weeks before this incident, the national feminist network –– a group of collectives throughout the country––, notified us that a group of feminists had occupied the CNDH. They asked us for support with food, medicine and clothing. As I live in the city, I volunteered myself. When I arrived, I realized that there were not only women (all victims of molestation or mothers of disappeared women, whose cases had no research from the authorities, hence their anger), but there were also children. The needs were enormous, they had no place to sleep, nor food to eat. I posted on social networks the situation and began to receive donations from the entire community. Every morning I would leave the donations in kind and spend some time with them, sometimes I would stay for breakfast, hug them, mourn their sorrows and listen to their stories, all of them terrifying. I wasn’t aware that spies were documenting my daily entries and exits, those photos were the ones they used on the day of the accusation. As I said before: if giving food to the victims makes me a criminal, then I am a criminal.
My convictions and my love for Mexico have always led me to believe in fighting for just causes, even if you lack nothing because some people lack everything. I used to believe that I lived in a free country, I believed that I lived in a country without censorship, I believed that to achieve your dreams, you only needed discipline and a bit of luck, I believed in institutions. I still believe in just causes; I believe in them. I will always believe them.
On September 28, 2020, however, some of my beliefs changed. The story did not end there, in addition to losing my job, in addition to being audited, searched, threatened, intimidated, I was also converted, a few months later, in part of the victim protection mechanism. There were even proposals to contend politically, which were blocked by the National Palace. I have seen friends murdered, disappeared, accused and unjustly imprisoned for speaking out, for defending others, or for demanding their rights. That’s it, sister; that’s the reality of women activists in Mexico. I hope this writing comes into good hands and you help us to survive these difficult times. For you, for me, for our children, because I learned that not only do you need courage and ovaries, but you need discipline, perseverance, diffusion, strength and we only give the latter to each other, but above all, I learned that WE HAVE US SISTA’.