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

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:

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:

[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:

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:

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): 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: 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: 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’ 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: 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.
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.

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A small portrait of Elizabeth Rivera
Translated byDeborah Snell

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