Sunday, November 10, 2013

Postcard From Mexico’s Bloggers Forum

“Once you've been to my Mexico, you won't ever be the same,” someone commented awhile ago on one of my posts on Facebook. I absolutely second that and I know for sure I’m not the same person who walked in Mexico city on the 1st of October, 2013 to participate in the Female Bloggers Forum as part of the 6th edition of Mexico City’s International Film Festival For Human Rights (DHFEST).

As every activist had and would still have inspirational people who shook her/him to their bones with their values, struggle and critical thinking, for me it was being largely influenced by rebellious feminists who did not just talk the talk but, literally, walked the walk. “I’m at her city, I might be walking on one of the spots she walked on,” I secretly and blissfully told myself every once in awhile, while I was walking around Mexico city’s streets. I’m talking here about the independent spirit who rebelled against the social construct of women of her time, Mexican legendary painter, Frida Kahlo.

I grew founder of Frida when I read about her for the first time during my first year at college. I was fascinated with her biography; being torn between pain and passion. Her remarkable genius is embodied in her resilience and abundant creativity in expressing her thoughts unapologetically and fearlessly through her paintings. Today, I like to think: if Frida was still alive, she'd be a blogger and have a -cool- blog on painting, feminism and more.

By Elienzodefrida Blog.

The DHFEST’s 1st Female Bloggers Forum hosted bloggers from around the globe who work in addressing Human Rights violations in their countries. At the Forum’s main panel discussion, I had the honor to be a speaker along with Heba Afify, a journalist and blogger from Egypt, Malaika Mahlatsi, a tireless activist and feminist from South Africa, Judith Torrea Oiz, a renowned blogger from Spain living in Ciudad Juárez and Claudia Calvin Venero, Founder of Mujeres Construyendo, the first platform for women bloggers in Latin America, from Mexico. The panel was moderated by one of Mexico’s most influential women, Carmen Aristegui, a prominent Mexican journalist.

Our discussions focused essentially on the use of social media in raising awareness on human rights and social justice. The forum gave us invaluable opportunity to talk to hundreds of people who were interested to hear about our cyberactivism in defending human rights, and it gave us also the opportunity to reform the exaggerated notions on how social media can have a role in starting revolutions.

The commemorating demonstration to remark the ‘1968 Student Massacre By Police In Tlatelolco Square’, 2nd Oct. 2013.
However, what was even more treasurable was the small but profound aside talks we the speakers had with some of the crowd. One of the most unforgettable chats I had was with a young Mexican lady called, Marina on the 3rd of October. It was one day after the commemorating demonstration which took place in the city to remark the ‘1968 Student Massacre By Police In Tlatelolco Square’. “My friends and I were demonstrating yesterday,” shivering out of anger Marina told me, “and we were tear-gassed .. I was angry and frustrated with police crackdown but I don’t want to give up being politically engaged.” Then, she paused and asked me, “how come do you still actively blog even though you are away from Yemen?” I replied, “It’s simple. The struggle for human rights and justice has no location. It’s borderless. And one important thing we must always think about, we, political activist and Human Rights defenders is that as long as we don’t give up, we don’t lose.” Marina gave me a look that said: but I can get exhausted sometimes, then I continued saying, “and whenever you feel exhausted, take a break, breathe and come back stronger.” Then, I suddenly found myself at the arms of Mariane; squeezed by a sweet hug. 

Throughout the talks we made, I contemplated over what could be the best outcome of these gatherings. I gradually found out several aspects between my region (the middle east) and Mexico’s region (latin America), that need to be ponder on. “The Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) have gone through major historical, political and social events with the Arab Spring since 2011. We, in latin America, need to hear real voices from the MENA region about that and connect the dots between the two regions’ activism,” explained to me Flavio Florencio, DHFEST’s executive director. Certainly, the void between the two regions has to be filled.

Moreover, I saw apparent similarities between the two regions, i.e. both struggling with economic inequalities, corruption, dictatorship regimes, civil wars, abuses of human rights, gender inequality, censorship and the list goes on. Nonetheless, the two regions have only merchandise trades and little of political activism trades. Another important aspect was eloquently said by Naza, my friend, the other day, “those two regions have so much in common and have to conform their strength in eradicating imperialism. Do you realise how much power they can have together!”

It’s true that the blogger forum received a positive feedback demonstrated by such face-to-face little chats, the hundreds of people who attended, the Mexican media’s generous attention and the fact that the forum was Twitter’s second most trending topic on that day in the entire country. However, what was rewarding for us the speakers was to have the chance to watch important films during the film festival, that revolved around political activism in some parts of latin America.

I can’t list all those interesting films but my favorites were the festival’s opening documentary film (Rosario) giving a portrait of the remarkable and tireless fighter who went from searching for her son -who disappeared in the year 1975 in the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León- to a life Project based on defending human rights in México. Another film that touched me was the Oscar-award winning, the Argentine drama film (La historia oficial) which tackles the issue of forced disappearances that occurred during Argentina's last military dictatorship (1976-1983). For politics geeks like myself, taking part in such event with such high political content was heaven.

In a nutshell, after being absorbed for years in the human rights arena in Yemen and the Middle East in general, it can be very easy to get swallowed into this region exclusively and forget about global social and political movements. What’s even worse is to forget to cross over intellectual borders and dare to immerse into others’ struggles. Definitely, Mexico has a gripping history with social, cultural and political history that must be learned from. Hence, I plan to widen up my horizons and dive in latin America’s rich political history.

I admit I was not only glad to see audiences’ desire to cross over those intellectual borders and want to know about the stories we told, but it also made me glad to see the great sense of solidarity they showed with our struggle in Yemen for respect of human rights and justice. “Hey Afrah! I’m from Nicaragua and I have been very interested to know about the political situation in Yemen since the 2011 uprising, and I have been following your blog ever since,” one young man told me during one of the talks. I was not only astonished by this young man’s borderless humanity but it also made me realise how a powerful tool blogging can be. Cyberactivism can be one of the great tools to connect people and it can globally raise awareness about important issues like human rights violations. That young man’s remark has awakened the remaining faith in humanity inside me.

So, how can one be the same after visiting Mexico?