07 de julio de 2020
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Hispanic World

Mexico's Tzeltal women breaking down barriers performing traditional music

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes

Oxchuc, Mexico, Sep 22 (efe-epa).- Women of the Tzeltal tribe in southeastern Mexico are breaking down barriers performing ancestral music from their villages, a role that had been reserved for men but which some of the ladies are pursuing in their fight to gain respect and recognition and to end discrimination against their gender.

Blanca Estela Gomez, 25, is one of the women who decided to get into traditional music, and she told EFE that she gained a passion for it when she began to become acquainted with her ancestral culture thanks to the workshops offered by the culture center in Oxchuc, a town in Mexico's Chiapas state.

"I really became interested in wanting to learn when I heard the traditional music among the prayers the family made, that sparked my interest in wanting to learn, it made me want to play the guitar well," she said.

For the past five years, the Oxchuc culture center has been pursuing a campaign of inclusion, among the aims of which is to open the door to women who are interested in learning to play musical instruments and the songs that accompany the so-called "Pat O'tan," which in the Tzeltal language means "ceremonial speech," of the "Kavilto" (one who prays, or shaman).

"What our grandparents said, and they were right, is that music is sacred. There are places where only men play the music. Right now, we don't see it like that in my situation as a teacher of traditional music. I don't want to set women apart, and they say that there's gender equality, so here they learn equally and it's very nice," Manuel Santis Gomez, a teacher of traditional music at the culture center, told EFE.

The Oxchuc residents consider themselves to be guardians of an ancestral culture for which music is a fundamental part. It not only harbors melodies and lyrics, but it also contains the identity (of the people) and it contains much poetry.

Breaking the tradition has been gradual. Santis Gomez said that they start teaching the women to play the guitar and raising the awareness of the tribespeople that a women is also strong and can play too.

Blanca Estela's dream is at some point to accompany the ancestral musicians at the ceremonies, but for the moment she is content to play only for her family and friends.

"They support what I'm doing because I do it well. It's part of the culture, it's part of our tradition. Whenever we want to have a prayer within our family I can play the guitar accompanied by someone playing the harp," she said.

She said she is very secure in her abilities, adding that she's ready to accompany or lead the Pat O'tan.

Reina Guadalupe Perez has been learning to play the harp for four months, walking half an hour to get to her classes, and she dreams of playing the instrument well. So far, her family has supported her and she hopes to be accepted and recognized as a traditional musician.

"I want to play the harp, right now it's changed, they're taking us into account a bit more and ... my mother is happy I'm here, she pushed me and it's something I want to do, ... because it's something one feels and I'm here because I like this and they are new experiences," she said.

These women are the first to try and break down the myths surrounding music among their people, seeing it as an opportunity to ensure that their traditions and language survive.

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