Women in Resistance-Opening Ceremony with Lorena Cabnal

On the first full day of the delegation, Lorena Cabnal, an indigenous feminist community leader originally from Santa María Xalapán, led the delegation in a fascinating discussion and beautiful Opening Ceremony. Lorena belongs to two indigenous ethnic groups, Maya and Xinca. Xinca or Xinka, which is pronounced “Shinka,” refers to an indigenous ethnic group that predominately live in eastern Guatemala. Unlike the Maya, who make up 21 of Guatemala’s 23 different indigenous groups, few Xinca speak the Xinca language.

Lorena led the discussion and Opening Ceremony–which wove together diverse theories: community feminism, the Xinca Cosmovision, political and economic analysis–in a steady soothing voice that revealed depths of wisdom stemming from her lived experiences. The discussion and Opening Ceremony also opened up my awareness to the diverse intelligence of my fellow delegates, who asked Lorena insightful questions, and encouraged her to deepen her discussion on issues surrounding gender, immigration, and Guatemala’s economic and political realities.

Introducing Community Feminism and the Xinca Cosmovision

Lorena began her discussion by dating the origins of community feminism to 520 years ago when colonization occurred.  She described the historic “trunk of patriarchy” in Guatemala as tied to land. In response to the patterns of oppression stemming from this original patriarchal structure, women began developing their own theories derived from their daily experiences as means to carve out more autonomy for themselves. These theories evolved into community feminism, which addresses women’s rights to their bodies and land. Lorena added that, “the name community feminism gives us strength to fight for our right land. If something has a name, it is proof that it exists, giving our theories a name proves that our struggle exists.”

Lorena connected the theory of community feminism to the Xinca Cosmovision. A Cosmovision refers to the values that inform how a community and an individual perceive the world. As Lorena’s discussion illuminated, a Cosmovision applies to all areas of life, from politics and economics to community feminism and spirituality. She explained that in the Xinca Cosmovision, everything has balance. If an individual has a rupture, this rupture can disrupt energies and cause a rupture in society.  Lorena identified the sources of current societal ruptures in Guatemala: “Today, women are dealing with impacts of the war, specifically with their internalized historic fear, which comes from the legacy of colonization and present-day neo-liberal economic policies. ”

To help women heal from this emotional and economic suffering,  Lorena and the organization she works with–the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ)–advocate for recuperation of historic memory regarding violence and land. AMISMAXAJ aims to rebuild these relationships among people and nature to achieve harmony, and recuperate women’s sense of dignity and courage through the healing process. Resources that further illuminate this work of AMISMAXAJ and Lorena are linked below.

Lorena  added that community feminism is spreading to other countries in Latin America as feminists in Guatemala develop relationships with feminists in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. Women from these countries are sharing and comparing their different models for feminism. It is important to note that none of these models “standardize feminism.” Lorena pointed out that community feminism looks through a lens of struggle and is ever evolving, and reaching out to women in other communities within Guatemala and around world to create future generations of harmony between all men and women.

Teaching Men about Community Feminism 

A delegate asked Lorena how she approaches men in conversations about gender and machismo. Lorena stated that it was difficult to talk to men directly about this topic, and instead frames community feminism as a component for balancing harmony in the Cosmovision. She emphasizes that when men engage in attitudes and behaviors that are biased against women, they are acting in ways that could rupture the community fabric.

Lorena gave example of how community feminism is in accordance with the Xinca Cosmovision, and described that what men see represents one eye, while what women see represents the other eye. This notion of men and women each making up one half of a common whole extends throughout the entire body. Men build with one arm, while women build with the other arm; men walk with one leg, and women walk with the other leg. When men bring forth machismo, they are only “seeing with one eye,” and are blind to the female perspective. Disharmony occurs, thus creating repression. According to Lorena, this metaphor has helped men understand how the Cosmovision is based on liberation and freedom, and thereby includes valuing perspectives of community feminism.

The Opening Ceremony

Lorena spread a circular piece of cloth with red, green, yellow, and black quadrants on a table, and positioned  all ten of us delegates in a circle around the fabric. The four colors had symbolic meaning according to the Xinca Cosmovision. The red quadrant represented the body, blood, and sexuality. Lorena encouraged a delegate who had worked as an advocate for victims of sexual assault and has tremendous passion for women’s rights, to stand in front of the red quarter. The green quadrant represented the earth from smallest seed to the expansive universe, and also symbolized justice. Lorena asked a delegate who advances justice through her work as an immigration attorney to stand in front of the green quarter. Yellow symbolized youthful wisdom, while black alluded to the wisdom of age, and Lorena invited the youngest and oldest delegates to stand in front of those quadrants respectively. Then, Lorena handed us delegates white candles, which we lit and placed around the perimeter of the fabric circle.

The Opening Ceremony was a ritual to “attune” us to all the ideas we would learn over the course of the delegation, and help us bring forth these ideas into action. The Ceremony would also  ignite each of our individual creative and spiritual energies, and inspire us to share our experiences from the delegation in different ways–through our minds, our bodies, and our connection to nature. This ritual would set the tone for the delegation in which we would weave our divergent backgrounds and experiences into a communal embroidery.

Learn more about the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ)

1. Peace Brigades International. “Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán.” PBI Guatemala. http://www.pbi-guatemala.org/los-proyectos/pbi-guatemala/con-quien-trabajamos/amismaxaj/?L=1 According to this article, AMISMAXAJ is made up of 75 women leaders representing 15 Xinca communities from the Santa María Xalapán Mountain (Jalapa). Our delegation leaders explained that Lorena refers to her community, which she is displaced from, as “the Mountain.” The article describes that AMISMAXAJ works within Jalapa, “promoting women’s rights, the Xinca ethnicity and the defense of land and territory at the local, departmental and national levels in opposition to all forms of patriarchal, neo-liberal, racist, homophobic and lesbophobic oppression.”

2. AMISMAXAJ. http://amismaxaj.blogspot.com/  This is AMISMAXAJ’s blog. Although the most recent entry is from May 2012, the blog, written in Spanish, contains great information including a definition for “el feminismo comunitario” (community feminism) and the story of AMISMAXAJ’s founding.

Learn more about Lorena Cabnal

1. “Guatemala : Lorena Cabnal gives her testimony as an indigenous women rights defender.” Protection International. November 25, 2010. http://www.protectionline.org/Guatemala-Lorena-Cabnal-gives-her.html This resources gives insight into Lorena’s experiences, as well as an opportunity to listen to her calm voice and observe her steady presence. She did not share her personal story during our talk, but our delegation leaders explained she created her ideological framework through much personal suffering and struggle, even saying “I cried myself into a new identity.”

Learn more about the Xinca People

1. Teijido, Maria Giovanna and Wiebke Schramm. “Xinca, Q’eqchi and Kaqchikel Women Defending Nature’s Assets.” Guatemala’s Indigenous Women in Resistance: On the Frontline of the Community’s Struggle to Defend Mother Earth and Her Natural Assets. Peace Brigades International, May 2010. (pages 27-34)  http://www.pbi-guatemala.org/fileadmin/user_files/projects/guatemala/files/english/Mujeres_Completo_ING.pdf The chapter “Xinca, Q’eqchi and Kaqchikel Women Defending Nature’s Assets,” gives a helpful overview of the Xinca People.

2. Xalapan Online. http://www.xalapan.net/html/historia.html This is the official website for Xalapa.

Learn more about Lorena’s framework of Community Feminism

1. Cabanas, Andrés.  “Lorena Cabnal: ‘El feminismo permite tener una conciencia crítica para transformar la realidad.'” Revista Puebloshttp://www.revistapueblos.org/spip.php?article1977 This article is written in Spanish but easily translated with the browser Google Chrome. Andrés Cabanas interviews Lorena about many of the ideas she shared during her talk–how feminism is a theory embedded in lived experience, the importance of community feminism in balancing the Xinca Cosmovision, and the connection among politics, territory, and women’s bodies in Guatemala’s repression of women.

2. Cabnal, Lorena. “Community Feminism.” Lorena mentioned that she wrote an essay about Community Feminism. I had planned to link to the essay here, but was unable to find this essay online. I will continue searching, and wanted to reference the essay in the meantime.


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