Migrant People Organized for el Buen Vivir and Dignified Migration

For me, lekil kuxlejaltik is to be in balance with nature,

Knowing how to live in harmony with others,

With my neighbor, family, and friends;

It is to take into account the knowledge of grandfathers and grandmothers,

To produce our food.

It is also feeling good about myself;

When that happens, the spirit flourishes and hearts are happy.

cuando eso sucede, florece el espíritu y se tienen corazones contentos.

At Voces Mesoamericanas we understand the main sentiment that drives our actions to be people, and that is why we start from the idea that it is the different actors related to migration that must be considered as subjects of change in their communities. We encourage them to be protagonists in the processes of self-initiative and self-organization in their community life -trans-local and transnational, with their ongoing work and with the demand for policies for the exercise of inclusive citizenship and the creation of conditions in which they can stay in their communities of origin.

We consider the program Self-organization and Sustainability of Indigenous Migrant Communities to be grassroots work with trans-local - transnational indigenous communities, both in the municipalities of the Chiapas Highlands and in their main communities where they’ve settled in the southeastern United States. The work is oriented towards strengthening the migrant organizational fabric and migrant participation in the processes of constructing Buen Vivir, an indigenous concept of communal well-being, and Buen Migrar, a concept of migrating in a safe, dignified, and informed manner.

We dream of and work for the construction of Buen Vivir and Buen Migrar; The first involves exercising the right of establishment, i.e. the right not to migrate, the opportunity to flourish in the community where a person is born, to have the means to develop materially and emotionally, with education, health, work, fair prices for agricultural goods, violence-free environments, food sovereignty, and territorial control. On the other hand, the right to Buen Migrar with dignity implies that leaving the community is an option and that when making the decision to do so, there is a guarantee of respect, human security, and the exercise of human rights in transit, destination, or return to one’s home community.

The Buen Vivir is the alternative of indigenous peoples to the western concept of development, that is, processes of collective existence sustained in the vision and practices that unite nature and society. The Buen Vivir or lekil kuxlejaltik - as it is called in the tsotsil and tseltal Mayan languages of the Highlands region - opposes the hegemonic vision of a development that never takes into account historicity, culture, and the particular needs and ways of seeing the world from the perspective of indigenous people.

Migrant People Organized for el Buen Vivir and Dignified Migration

We work in eight municipalities of the Chiapas Highlands: Tenejapa, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chamula, Chenalhó, Teopisca, Zinacantán, San Juan Cancuc, and Chilón. Since 2011 we have accompanied the formation of groups formed by migrants in the United States, returned migrants, and their families. These groups are called Transnational Community Committees (CCTs), because their members create and recreate material and immaterial links between places of origin and destinations, and despite borders they want to work in an organized way for a better life for their families and communities.
CCTs are established as grassroots community actors who are strengthened in organizational aspects by participating in workshops on rights, municipal finances, and diverse skills that give meaning to migrant identity for the exercise of their rights in community life.
As part of the strengthening of the migrant indigenous people, we support the decision of the CCT to form a new social organization, that is, an organization led by indigenous migrant actors.
The Indigenous Coalition of Migrants of Chiapas (CIMICH) was legally constituted in September 2013 as a civil association. The Coalition is an important step of the CCTs in their processes of building Buen Vivir and Buen Migrar. At the moment, it is formed by 25 CCTs located in the municipalities of the Highlands; 250 people participate directly in the committees.
The CCTs have collective savings groups with financial education included and are generating their funds to invest in productive projects that are based on their own experiences, needs, and visions of the future. These initiatives are accompanied by technical training on specialized attention and management in agricultural production, design and project management, processing and marketing of products. The projects are diverse: raising chickens, pigs, and lambs, agricultural and bee production, community stores, bakeries, composting and waste management, and handicrafts.
The productive projects of the CCTs seek to complement the economic income of the participating families, improve their diet with healthy products, but above all, to value and enhance the capacities, experiences, and knowledge of the migrants as important actors in the management of community life.
Through the Vaknaval Plan (“Rainbow” in the Mayan tsotsil language), CIMICH continues to strengthen and participate in various spaces of dialogue with authorities and other organizations at national and international levels.

Voces Mesoamericanas recognizes that the intense migration of Tsotsil and Tseltal people to the United States in the last 20 years has been a factor of change in the ways of life for the indigenous communities of the Chiapas Highlands and other regions of the state.
The transnational community implies an examination of and recognition of the material and immaterial bonds that are created and recreated between communities of origin and places of destination in the United States, which are fundamental to achieve their material, emotional, social, and cultural sustainability.
The international migration of Chiapan peasants and indigenous peoples began in the late 1990s and had an explosive increase in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the set of neoliberal policies implanted in Mexico in the 1980s severely affected the subsistence economy of peasant families. The impacts of natural phenomena - such as Hurricanes Mitch and Stan - and human phenomena such as deforestation and fires intensified the crisis in Mexico and Chiapas countryside. The causes of internal and international migration cannot be analyzed separately, as they also have to do with a historical process that deepens the inequalities, exclusion, and marginalization of peasant and indigenous communities.
Chiapas did not appear in the 2000 INEGI census as a migrant-expelling state; For 2010 this changed and was placed on the list of the top ten entities with the largest number of migrants in the United States. It is estimated that about 450 thousand Chiapan migrants crossed the northern border of Mexico and worked for one or more periods in the agricultural, construction, and services sectors in the United States. Due to their situation as undocumented migrants, it is difficult to calculate the number of those who remain in the United States.
The work of CIMICH and Voces Mesoamericanas has focused on the Mayan immigrant community located in the cities of Lutz and Tampa, in Hillsborough County, Florida, and in the city of Cairo, located in Grady County, Georgia. We have made a diagnostic study of their needs and ways of coping with daily pressures as members of transnational families and communities. The annual visits made by both organizations since 2013 facilitate the encouragement of transnational communication that reinforces the ties and sense of belonging, and support in the process of paperwork for personal identification as a "key" to access other rights and benefits. Voces Mesoamericanas has established ties with social actors interested in collaborating with the Mayan diaspora – both of Chiapan and Guatemalan origins - that in both places are promoting civil and religious organizational processes.
Our organization is preparing a multimedia and social networking strategy to facilitate access to strategic information for Mayan migrants in the United States that will enable them to confront the anti-migrant policies promoted by President Donald Trump and to have a basic orientation and contacts for the protection of their rights in case of being detained and deported to our country.
In addition to international migration, Chiapan migrants have accumulated more than three and a half decades of intense migration within other parts of Mexico. It is estimated that of the approximately two million agricultural laborers in Mexico, 15 percent are from Chiapas. They mainly belong to communities of indigenous peoples (Tsotsil, Tseltal, Tojolabal, Chol, and Zoque), who move to agricultural fields in Central, Western, and Northwestern Mexico each year. A significant group goes to the cities of the center of the country and to the tourist centers of the Yucatan Peninsula and Riviera Nayarita as construction workers and employees in the service sector. Many of the Chiapan day laborers live in situations of discrimination and abuse during the journey to their multiple work destinations, by agents of the Instituto Nacional de Migración and local public security. In the workplace they face inhuman conditions of labor exploitation, isolation, and social exclusion.
The main destination states of migration from Chiapas for agricultural work are Baja California, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas. The indigenous migrant laborers (abbreviated “JIM” in Spanish) suffers multiple violations of their human rights in the agricultural fields where they work: abuses, exploitation, unfair wages, no access to social security, overcrowding, poor nutrition, and a lack of health services, among others. Most have no contracts and are "hooked" from their communities of origin by deception and false promises, and then transferred to places that are generally far from urban centers. Social and geographical isolation in the camps facilitates the violations of their rights by the businesses they work for, and serious crimes such as forced recruitment and slave labor by groups of organized crime. In addition to that, existing legal and institutional mechanisms for the monitoring and defense of their social and labor rights are ineffective.
In Voces Mesoamericanas we carry out strategic actions to contribute to the visibility of the situation of migrant workers in the northwest of the country, and above all, the generation of social networks for the promotion and defense of their rights. Examples of these actions are:
  • Establishment of Community Committees of Migrant Laborers who disseminate information about their rights, social support programs, and institutions that can be used in case of violations of their rights and other crimes against them.
  • Informational, visual, and radio campaigns for the awareness-raising of the rural and urban population, in the regions of both origin and destination.
  • Awareness-raising workshops with staff working in the agricultural fields and public officials in Sonora.
  • Workshops on social and labor rights with the JIM population in agricultural fields in Sonora.
We have also developed joint strategic actions within the framework of the Iniciativa Regional sobre Movilidad Laboral (Regional Initiative on Labor Mobility, abbreviated INILAB in Spanish), an effort of 12 organizations that proposes work alternatives from civil society, in dialogue and collaboration with public agencies, private initiatives, and unions. Its purpose is to promote actions in favor of the human and labor rights of temporary migrant workers seeking work opportunities in other countries, through the Transnational Regulated Mobility programs of the Canada-United States-Mexico-Central America region. From Voces we contribute with the design and production of radio spots on the internal migration of agricultural workers and day laborers, sharing measures to protect against possible deceptions and labor abuses.
In collaboration with Justice in Motion (formerly Global Workers) and as part of the Red de Defensores de Trabajadores Globales (Network of Global Worker Defenders), we carry out actions to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation; We also provide legal follow-up to cases of violations of labor rights of day laborers. Workshop courses are provided with members of social organizations, academia, and government institutions, to publicize mechanisms for prevention, detection, and proper channeling of cases of potential victims of trafficking.
We are part of the Red de Jornaleros Agrícolas Internos (Network of Domestic Agricultural Laborers), a coordinating space for grassroots organizations, civil organizations, and academics in places of origin and destination. The participating organizations implemented social and political advocacy actions in Sinaloa, Sonora, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, and Mexico City. Our objective is the defense of the human rights of the agricultural day laborers, these being understood in their fullest expression as the right a life without violence, with justice and dignity. The purposes and actions of the Network are:
  • We seek to make visible a situation that has historically been denied and neglected.
  • We build legal and psychosocial support networks for people who have experienced violations of their labor and human rights.
  • We walk with the workers so that as informed people they demand their rights and defend them.
  • We create ways to exert social and political influence in the defense of the rights of the internal migrants who work in unfair conditions in the agricultural fields throughout Mexico.
  • We defend and value dignified work for all people who grow our food.
Folleto de Jim
Campaña radiofónica Cultivando la Justicia
Informe Preliminar JIM
Campaña de INILAB
Education is one of the many rights denied to indigenous communities; The possibilities for girls, boys, youth, and adults to access formal education are full of obstacles, either because there are no options in their communities of origin, or because they do not have the resources to move or to afford the necessary minimum requirements to be able to attend and stay in schools. Likewise, discrimination continues to be a constant for the indigenous population, coupled with educational models that do not recognize or work to recover their culture, knowledge, needs, experiences, and ways of seeing life.
The project, Soñadores por la Educación (Dreamers for Education), promoted by Voces Mesoamericanas and supported by Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), is a way for young indigenous women and men from the Highlands of Chiapas to be incorporated into formal education processes that contribute to the development of skills that support the building of el Buen Vivir, an indigenous concept of communal well-being
As Voces Mesoamericanas, we understand education as a creative, dynamic, and dialogical process; a shared experience and encounter of thoughts and feelings, based on reciprocal relationships and with the fundamental premise of building a community that contributes to honoring the dignity of people, their history, and life itself. That is why we accompany experiences of alternative education that fit the contexts of this region and that value interculturality as an encounter of knowledge that believes in more just and equitable societies.
Through collective efforts, each year we carry out a campaign with the HIPGive platform where we raise funds for scholarships that contribute to transportation, food, lodging, tuition, and materials. To this day we have contributed to 25 young people that live in migratory contexts who can continue with the dream of higher education.
"For me going to school is very nice, I really like it; My parents are proud of me, nobody in my family had ever gone to school. I want to keep going to help my community. " Teófila, a Tsotsil youth from the community of Dos Lagunas.
"Today I learned a phrase, ‘I am only if you are,’ it means that we are in relationship with everyone else, it’s a strong phrase! We have to see each other, help each other, support each other, that is community. " Lucio, a Tsotsil man from San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
"I have learned a lot, I am not the same as before, now I see differently and I think we can do much to improve our communities. In the future I want to study to be a lawyer. " Abraham, a Tsotsil youth from the community of Yabteclum.
"I left my community many years ago to work because I wanted to save up money to go to school, it was always my dream. When I returned, my mother became ill and I spent my savings there, I became sad. Now that I can study in high school, I am fulfilling my dream, I am very happy and I’m not going to stop studying." Patricia, a Tsotsil youth from the community of Poconichim
Our organization works to accompany processes of organizing among migrant people, we understand the complexity of the problem and we believe that there are several ways to contribute to overcoming historical inequalities and promote a dignified life in communities of origin. However, we consider the right to education to be a fundamental tool as a catalyst for other human rights.
Studying is not just learning knowledge, it is not just receiving data, sitting down to listen, having a piece of paper that proves what you know; To study is to open the heart and the mind, it is an encounter, it is to value what we are, to recognize and share experiences, it is to work with confidence for a just future, it is to dignify life, to have hope and to build dreams. That's why we will not stop being dreamers …
The southern border of Mexico is characterized as a place of both transit and destination for Central American migrants. However, Chiapas is also a state with high rates of national and international migration, mostly from indigenous and peasant populations. In this migration, there are situations that are not very visible, such as those experienced by women.
Indigenous migrant women from the region of Los Altos de Chiapas are employed as domestic workers and / or nannies. They are also contracted as street vendors of handicrafts and as laborers in northwestern states. Their main destinations are cities within Chiapas (Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de Las Casas), the Yucatan Peninsula, Tabasco, Mexico City, and Puebla, as well as the agricultural fields of Sonora, Baja California, and United States of America ( Alabama, Georgia, Florida, among others).
The work they do is valued very little by society and regulated very little by labor laws, which places the women in a situation of high vulnerability where gender, class, and ethnicity intersect in a way that intensifies inequalities, exploitation, and various forms of violence.
We speak of women in migration considering not only women who leave, who are in transit, or who return, but also of women who remain and who experience other situations rarely taken into account. In this sense, from our commitment to walk with the indigenous migrant peoples of Chiapas, we emphasize the importance of working specifically with women in migrations in places of origin and destination, promoting and defending their rights as women migrant workers.
With the vision of continuing to raise awareness of this issue with the public, we are conducting research on Violence towards Women on the Southern Border of Mexico, in collaboration with the Fray Matías de Cordova Human Rights Center in Tapachula and the team of Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (Community Studies and Psychosocial Action, abbreviated ECAP in Spanish) in Guatemala. This initiative aims to develop in its second phase creative strategies regarding social advocacy and public policies, which make visible the multiple violence that women live in migration, and contribute to the creation of social and legal mechanisms for the defense and promotion of their rights.
Estado del arte Investigación IDRC
Women in the region of Los Altos de Chiapas have had years immersed in migratory contexts (either origin, destination, transit, or return), with implications that have not yet been sufficiently seen. Those who keep building their daily lives knowing that their relatives are far away and in conditions of insecurity or in the worst cases in crisis (deaths, accidents, disappearances, among others); Those that are facing violence of all kinds while in transit and at their destination; Those who return from the United States or from some part of the interior of the country after having lived an experience that changed the way they see the world. All of them have experienced migration from a different stance and faced daily pressures, but they have not been able to share what they have experienced, recover energies, give new meaning to their customs, learn from experience, promote self-affirmation as migrant women, participate in social life, and demand their rights.
Indigenous migrant women do not have formal and informal educational spaces where they can strengthen their human development. That is why one of the goals of Voces Mesoamericanas is to encourage the inclusion and participation of migrant women, girls, boys, and youth in organizational processes for the exercise of their rights. This is how the idea of creating the educational alternative Sjamel jol ko'ontontik li antsotike, - Opening our hearts and minds as women, School of Indigenous Migrant Women, as a space of personal and collective growth to increase self-esteem and participation in processes of social and political organization as migrant women and family members of migrants.
The School aims to be an innovative and creative pedagogical model, framed around the right to education for youth and adults. This school focuses on the training of women from community-based groups with whom we work - such as the Indigenous Coalition of Migrants of Chiapas - and will be an appropriate education alternative for them and their reality.
We seek to have a space for a population that has been made “invisible” such as indigenous migrant women (as returned migrants or relatives of migrants) that promotes them valuing their own experience as an indigenous woman in migratory contexts; where skills can be developed, and experience and knowledge can be shared in order to demand their rights to participation, decision making, expression, education, health, and the fundamental demand of their role in the transformation of the world and in the construction of Lekil kuxlejal (Buen Vivir) in their communities of origin.
Video de la Escuelita, Tapachula
Folleto de Sjamel, propuesta educativa y narrativas de encuentros