By Marta Salvador, Alba Sud
The characteristic that joins the women in this article, and many others to whom we raise our voices this March 8, is their ability to constantly fight. This perseverance perfectly defines our protagonist: Angelina Aspuac. Angelina was born in 1977 into a Kaqchikel family of farmers in southern Guatemala, a small-town Santiago Sacatepéquez.
Most Mayan women in this area are dedicated to the art of weaving, more specifically the waist loom. In Guatemala, this practice represents a place of memory and construction of a collective identity. Ancestral fabrics are used to store cultural information while at the same time, Maya dresses bear a history of exclusion and resistance.
Angelina is currently a member of the National Weaving Movement and the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), which she joined at just 21 years old. These organizations fight for the rights of indigenous women, who are often discriminated, marginalized and live in poverty. One of the struggles of AFEDES, along with other women weavers, was the initiation of a law in the Guatemalan Congress in 2014 to protect Mayan fabrics, reforming five articles of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, the Industrial Property Law, the Protection and Craft Development Act and the Criminal Code. The main reason for this demand is that domestic and international companies are using these women-made fabrics as high-end clothing and accessories. They demand recognition of indigenous peoples as intellectual authors so that communities can reach agreements with companies and obtain compensation for the use of their fabrics.
On the other hand, the Mayans have also been exploited by the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (INGUAT), which uses indigenous culture as a tourist attraction in the country, without compensating the communities for the revenue from their visitors. The Mayans are seen as a “folklore” culture without being recognized as an authentic Guatemalan culture, with scenes of tourists dressed in indigenous clothing, which becomes a mockery to the communities.
This struggle, which is largely of poor working women, occurs twenty-four years after the 1996 Peace Accords put an end to the Guatemalan Civil War, which claimed 200.000 lives, accounting for 83% of these Mayans. That is why this March 8 we pay tribute to the weavers who are fighting for equal rights and the recognition of their place in society and, especially, Angelina Aspuac for her work of struggle and constant force.