"El Aire es Nuestro" Gender, Culture, and Resistance Among Indigenous Youth in Southern Mexico

February 04, 2010

On Jan. 26, Rollins alumna Molly Talcott ’98 returned to her alma mater to speak about the time she spent in Southeastern Mexico studying and learning from indigenous activist groups producing community radio programs. Talcott’s lecture was part of a series of lectures organized by the Women’s Studies Department and supported with funds from Thomas P. Johnson.

Talcott explained that the air around this particular part of Mexico has become increasingly privatized.  First through the “environmentally friendly” windmills, which actually pollute the farms of indigenous Mexicans, and also through the airwaves. In Mexico, two large corporations own 98 percent of the country’s media and do not allow any community-based media. As a result, many indigenous people have decided to start their own community radio stations, so that they can take back the air and use it to educate the community.

The three main community radio stations joined forces to form a network. The producers of this network explained that the mainstream media failed to provide them with honest and informative information that would “nourish” them, so they decided to build their own. They wanted to inform people of their rights so that they could empower the community to effect real change. In this way, their radio stations were the community’s way of fighting the many injustices they faced.

“People aren’t just victims,” Talcott said.  “They generate alternatives and carve out spaces.”

The rights and topics they spoke about on the radio ranged from issues of land and water to women’s rights and sexual rights. The broadcasts didn’t feature just one small group “preaching” their beliefs to everyone else; those involved frequently went door-to-door to find out what people wanted to learn about, and which topics were important to them. In addition, they emphasized the importance of allowing anyone and everyone to “claim the mic.” Community members not strictly affiliated with the radio stations would be regularly welcomed to come on the air and speak their mind. They also adopted an effective way of getting important messages across in an entertaining way. One way they did this was to play a lot of music and then short educational spots in between—like a public service announcement (PSA). Information such as safe sex practices would be repeated, making it powerful and memorable.

Talcott became interested in her research after thinking critically about her place in the world and coming to the realization she could help.

“As U.S. citizens we have a responsibility also as global citizens to find out what is going on—how our government influences the impoverishment of other countries.”

-Shannon Frey (Class of 2010)

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