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Women’s rights activists respond to Mexico City mayor’s proposed Law of Memory

Activists gathered Saturday at Mexico City’s feminist anti-monument to assert their “right to memory” as the city plans to retake the space.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Refusing to be forgotten was the reason they put the statue here in the first place. Victims of femicide, rape, domestic abuse, crimes of the state, enforced disappearance — members of Mexico’s feminist movement placed their anti-monument on the plinth where a statue of Christopher Columbus once stood on the capital’s heavily-trafficked thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma Avenue so that they would all be remembered. 

“This roundabout has history, it has a history of struggle, a history of pain that deserves to be named, that cannot be forgotten,” said Yadira González, who has searched for her brother Juan since he went missing in the state of Querétaro in 2006. 

Mexico City Mayor and 2024 presidential hopeful Claudia Sheinbaum, however, does not see eye to eye with the activists.

A new law meant to honor such victims that she recently proposed aims to “establish sites of memory,” according to a government press release. It does not consider the Roundabout of the Women Who Fight, where the anti-monument stands, to be one such site. 

“The Law of Memory recognizes and guarantees victims and their families, survivors and all local communities the right to participate in all the stages of the public policy of memory, and therefore, the free access to records in the possession of Mexico City's public administration on grave violations of human rights,” said Sheinbaum. 

The women of the collective of feminist groups known as Antimonumenta Viva Nos Queremos (We Want Us Alive Anti-monument) gathered Saturday to express their disapproval of the law, not simply because their space was not included, but because of what the city plans to do with it.

Sheinbaum’s administration intends to inaugurate a replica of a statue of an indigenous woman on Oct. 12, Day of the Race, formerly Columbus Day. But in order to do that, it will have to take down the anti-monument the activists put up on Sept. 25, 2021. 

Indigenous women hold pieces of cloth detailing the reasons for their activism at a demonstration at Mexico City's feminist anti-monument on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. These and other statements hung on a clothesline on the roundabout bore the hashtag "YoLuchoPor (I Fight For). (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

González and the other women’s rights activists oppose the replacement of their statue — a purple silhouette of a young girl with her left hand raised in a fist — and claim that Sheinbaum’s intention is merely political. 

“This appropriation outrages us and confirms that Claudia Sheinbaum does not care about the women of the city, nor those of the original peoples, nor those who defend life, nor those who fight for justice and truth,” the collective said in a press release. “The only thing that interests her is imposing her will in order to obtain power.”

The removal of the statue, painted metal barriers surrounding the plinth and clotheslines strung with pieces of cloth bearing statements of purpose and the hashtag #YoLuchoPor (I Fight For) is not the only reason the activists oppose the new statue. 

Called “The Young Woman of Amajac,” the statue represents a woman from the elite classes of the Huastec, or Téenek, peoples, whose civilization thrived just before the rise of the Aztec empire. 

While Sheinbaum has said that such a figure represents the power women can have in governance, the activists reject the idea on the grounds that a person from the nobility — even if she is a woman — does not represent them. 

“Although she’s from the time of our original peoples, she was a woman with certain privileges, a woman of the ruling class who must have had many servants, who had those privileges that none of us have,” said González. “A figure who didn’t have to struggle will not represent us.”

The activists have tried to open a dialogue with Mayor Sheinbaum, but say they their requests have gone unanswered. 

“We have sought several avenues of communication with Claudia Sheinbaum, we have summoned her, sent her statements, we’ve asked her to please come and hear our struggles,” said Teresa, an organizer of Saturday’s event who preferred to not give her last name. 

“All over the country, they don’t listen to us [women],” said Teresa. “This is just another example of them not listening to us. They want to make the violence against women that exists here invisible.”

Sheinbaum’s office did not respond to Courthouse News’ requests for comment, saying that the matter was being handled by the city’s Secretariat of Internal Affairs. That department did not respond either. 

Tranquilina Hernández Lagunas, whose 18-year-old daughter Mireya went missing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 2014, speaks at a women's rights demonstration in Mexico City on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

The mayor’s office has said that the Law of Memory will “rethink … and reconstruct identity in the places where grave violations of human rights have been committed by the state.” The press released mentioned Tlaxcoaque Plaza, just a few blocks south of the main square, where police ran a detention and torture center in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as the Plaza of of the Three Cultures in the neighborhood of Tlatelolco, where army soldiers killed over 300 student protesters just days before the 1968 Olympic Games. 

No such crimes of state have occurred in modern history at the roundabout where the activists established their anti-monument, but Yadira González said that the presence of Columbus’ statue there for nearly a century and a half represented enough state violence to warrant it as a site of memory. 

“Here was the figure of a man, Columbus, who was a murderer, rapist of women, who robbed the Mexican people and colonized them,” she said, adding that the word “colonized” is often used to justify such violence.

While feminist protests in Mexico City such as the March 8th Women’s March tend to include an element of violence, these activists said they will not engage in physical conflict with authorities, even if they come to remove the statue.

“We don’t want confrontation. There’s already enough of that in Mexico,” said Teresa. 

“We’re here to demand that they listen to us and grant us our right to memory. For me, this space is very important. I came here not knowing anyone, and I’ve received the companionship and support of other women who, like myself, have suffered institutional violence. This is a space for all women, and we need to raise our voice, all the women throughout this country.”

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