From Cuba to Colombia | Being indigenous in Mexico
We, Jelena and Frank, are travelling through Latin America searching for interesting and inspiring stories from young local people
travelling, south america, latin america, cuba, colombia, mexico, guatemala, documentary
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Being indigenous in Mexico

Marce is 24 years old and from a little town called San Dionisio Ocotepec in Mexico. The town is around one hour driving from the regional capital Oaxaca and around 8 hours driving to the south-east from Mexico City. Marce and her family are Zapotec, the biggest indigenous group in the state of Oaxaca. Around 750,000 people belong to this group, which also speak their own language called Zapotec. Marce learned Spanish only at school. By now, she speaks both languages perfectly since she mostly communicates in Spanish outside of her family and town.


In Mexico, there are still more than 15 million people that identify with one of the more than 50 indigenous groups. Mexico has a population of around 122 million people which means that around 12 percent of the population are indigenous. Unfortunately, indigenous peoples are still widely discriminated against as the story of Marce shows.


After finishing grammar school in her town, Marce’s dad sent her to a secondary school in Oaxaca. From Mondays to Fridays, she lived with an aunt and in the weekends, she went back home. She still remembers her first school day at the new school very vividly: “The teacher asked all the students to present themselves with their names, their age, and where they are from. So, I said: ‘Marce, 12 years old from San Dionisio Ocotepec.’ All the other students starred at me and one asked: ‘Where is that??’”


At her new school, Marce realised for the first time that she was different. She was the only one in class whose mother tongue wasn’t Spanish. Sometimes, other children made fun of her when she used incorrect words. Others said that she was dirty and didn’t want to play with her.


“One weekend I came home and I told my dad in tears that I would never ever go back to this horrible school.” Marce’s dad sat down with her and started telling her about the long history and struggle of the Zapotec people fighting against the Spanish. “I realised that I’m part of a group that fought hard to preserve their identity and language.” From then on, Marce started being proud of her culture and language. She dared to speak openly about it at her school. “Suddenly, the children in my school thought that I was interesting and I made some good friends.”


Today, Marce studies business administration at the university of Oaxaca. Next to that, she works for the family business of her dad. In their home town, they produce sandals and shoes that they sell in Mexico and export abroad. Every Sunday, Marce sells those shoes at a big market close to Oaxaca.


Frank & Jelena
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