From death to life: the path of my story

By Rodrigo Barraza García | July 24, 2019 | The Americas | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

Editor’s note: this post, which is also available in Spanish, was co-written by Diego López Aguilar and GFC Program Officer Rodrigo Barraza.

My name is Diego López Aguilar. I am 25 years old and I live in a community called Chiloljá, in the Highlands of Chiapas. I speak an indigenous language called Tzeltal. I am the oldest of three brothers. All men.

My mom died when I was six years old. It is still one of the most painful memories of my life. It hurts because I don’t remember her anymore; I used to remember a little bit, but now everything is blurred. I can’t see her face anymore. I used to dream about her but it’s all gone. But I know she is still looking for me. Somewhere.

After the death of my mom my dad got married again. His new wife hated me and my little brothers. Being very small we were forced to get up very early and walk a lot of miles to bring water, to grind the corn … and if we could not do it, we could not eat. My dad also beat me and insulted me. I felt lonely, without family. I missed my mom very much. I was always crying.

Once my dad hit me so hard, I fled to live with my grandparents. I feel that my life started there. It was like being born again. I was seven years old.

I owe my grandparents everything, because they taught me to work, to love my family, to feel proud of my culture and who I am.

My grandfather wanted me to live in the community and learn how to sow plants and grow food,  but he also told me: Diego, you have to study, only then will you be able to bring good things for your family and your community. If you study you will be free. That’s what school is for: so that you know who you are and dream of where you want to go.

Diego and his grandfather at the annual assembly of the Indigenous Migrant Coalition of Chiapas.

I wanted to work somewhere else. I wanted to migrate to help my family but my grandfather would not let me. He always told me that the most important thing was to be together as a family, and to support each other. The little we have is for everyone in this family, he told me.

He taught me to plant beans and corn, to grow coffee. My grandmother also taught me a lot. She taught me that being a man is taking care of your family, being honest, and respecting women. Here we all are equal and we contribute the same Diego, do not forget, my grandma used to say.

When I turned 18, I ran away and went to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas to work in a bar. I earned very little money and worked many hours, until passed midnight. I was sad and felt that I had disappointed my family. Once some men beat me and took all my money, and then I remembered my grandfather urging me to stay in my community. I could hear him telling me,  Go back where you belong Diego. I went back to Chiloljá and I was reborn again. Just by being with my people.

Diego's aunt and grandmother participating in a community workshop.

One day while I was working on my family’s farm, a friend approached me and invited me to study the University in San Cristóbal de las Casas. He told me there were scholarships for indigenous students. That he could help me. At first I said no, I was very afraid because it meant going to the city again and I did not speak Spanish. But my grandfather and my family insisted. So, I left them again. But this time it was different, because I knew I was doing it for them, too.

The first year was very difficult, but my teachers treated me very well – they let me express myself in my language and they encouraged me to continue. Once, I was about to drop out, and a teacher stopped me and told me Diego, people always make decisions because of fear or love. You have to be sure that it is always love and not fear that guides your decisions. And I decided to continue, for my family, so that they would feel proud of me.

Diego at a recent workshop about gender and masculinities, led by GFC. Participants reflected on who taught them how to be men, and then identified two attitudes they want to nurture and two attitudes they want to change.

In the following years I learned a lot, now I can communicate in Spanish, too. I found new ways to sow and take care of the plants. And I met amazing organizations that fight for the Lekil Kuxlejal, the good life of the indigenous families and communities. Like the Indigenous Migrant Coalition of Chiapas (CIMICH).

Once again, I was reborn. Their work inspired me and I wanted to be involved.

They told me that to be part of CIMICH, you have to organize with your family and community and put together social economy projects, such as community orchards or apiculture. In addition, I had to receive training on topics such as human rights, migration and gender. We are a family, and we all support each other, they told me. Like my grandfather.

I have been part of the CIMICH Board of Directors for three years now. And sometimes I find it hard to believe everything I have achieved.

At first the people in my community made fun of me, they told me that I was just wasting my time. But, as always, my family believed in me. Our group is called “Aguilar Family” and now we raise rabbits, we make organic fertilizer, we sell coffee. We stand together.

Now I have started working with a group of children in my community to talk about gender and the right to migrate. We paint, we dance, we make plays, and we rely on our dreams. And with my colleagues at CIMICH, I have begun a process to criticize our machismo and to build healthy masculinities.

And it’s one of the things I like to share most with children: that there are other ways of being a man. That we can also cry, embrace, ask for help, and express our feelings. That we have privileges that cause pain to other people and that we cannot be free if we limit ourselves or limit others only because of our sex.

Many times I have died. And every time I have been reborn. Thanks to the support of my family, to the words of hope of my friends, teachers, and classmates. They never let me give up my dream. There was always someone who told me: it is worth dreaming.

And now that’s what I want, to be able to tell more and more children and young people it is worth dreaming, and you don’t have to dream alone. We are family, and we support each other. Just like my grandfather used to say. I hope he is proud of me.


 

The Indigenous Migrant Coalition of Chiapas (CIMICH) was legally constituted in September 2013 as a Civil Association (A.C.). The Coalition is an important step for the indigenous communities of Chiapas in their processes of building a good life and positive migration in their territories. Currently it consists of 25 groups, with 250 participants, located in municipalities of Los Altos. 

In 2019, approximately 25 boys and young people from different communities of Chiapas began a process to identify sexist violence in their lives and generate new practices of trust and support among men. The next step will be to train young promoters of healthy masculinities within their families and communities.

CIMICH serves as the community arm of Voces Mesoamericanas Acción con Pueblos Migrantes A.C (Mesoamerican Voices Action with Migrant People), a Global Fund for Children partner in Mexico that is part of GFC’s Adolescent Migrant Girls initiative.

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