Interview with Ana Rosa Duarte conducted by Amalia Cordova
AD: I am Ana Rosa Duarte. I come from Mérida, Yucatán, and I am Maya. I’m here to participate and share my experience working with Mayan communities of the southern and southeastern region of Mexico, as well as to learn what is done here in this festival.
AC: Could you tell us how you began working with audiovisual media?
AD: Well, it was a matter of destiny. I left my community and went to the University and became an anthropologist. However, I was restless, the methodologies of anthropological work were not entirely satisfying, and I felt I needed to find another way to communicate, or rather to provide a voice for the indigenous communities. This was how I began thinking of using the available media—in this case [available] due to the high volume of migration to the main cities in Yucatan, to other states of Mexico and also to the United States. I realized there was access to video cameras, and it occurred to me that I should try to use that language so that the people in the communities could communicate, not only amongst themselves, but also with the outside, for them to have a voice, so that they are not limited to written forms… and also the culture is visual, very visual. In this sense. I believed I had the obligation, to a certain extent, of searching for other languages to facilitate this communication.
AC: The other day we talked about your academic trajectory. Was your appreciation of oral culture and audiovisual practice valued in your professional context as an anthropologist?
AD: Well, this has truly been a struggle for me. Why? Because the issue of discrimination is very direct, in the sense that all indigenous people are viewed as children and treated as children; what we know has no value and we have to learn everything else. The discrimination never acknowledges that there is, in fact, indigenous knowledge, and that [society] should be open to other types of “knowing;” the ideological standpoint is the view that our knowledge is worthless to the outside, so we are the ones that have to learn.
Anthropology, then, the methodology of anthropological work, for me was that I had to construct this ‘other.’ The ‘other,’ well, I am part of this ‘other.’ As a child of a campesino family, living in the community until I was twenty-four—in spite of my parents’ struggle to, put this way, that I needed to stop being Maya in order to integrate into society—in spite of all that I grew up in a community where the people spoke mostly Maya. [My parents] didn’t want me to speak Maya, but I understood everything and I would reply in Spanish. It was always a conflict for me because it was not the same for my classmates with whom I did fieldwork who are people raised in the cities...it was easier for them to construct this ‘otherness’ than for me to contruct an ‘otherness’ from which I could not separate myself. That was a recurring problem for me as an undergraduate.
Then, during my master’s program my problem was being a woman, not being an indigenous person. Having left [my village], breaking all those stereotypes of being a woman, of being prepared and molded to carry out a role in society, then, what was happening to me? Because I was breaking many, I mean many, stereotypes and many social conventions. It was not easy, it made me suffer a lot as well...but when I managed to overcome it and found that there were a lot of people following in my footsteps and supporting me, then I felt the suffering was worth it.
During my doctoral studies I was left with no other choice but to do my own thing. To end my struggle to construct this ‘otherness’ and to find, theoretically and methodologically, a way to explain this situation of the ‘other’ that in the end is not the ‘other’ but the subject who is trying as well to find a place for [her] own body of knowledge, for the knowledge of others and for knowledge we all have rights to. We have the right to our own knowledge and the right to learn from others as well, and to function as ordinary members of society without having to feel guilty. Many times what happens is that we are made to feel guilty about being different, instead of saying, “Well, we all are different and we all have to live together despite these differences.” I was very much drawn in by the tension created by how I needed to learn to respect [what was for me] the ‘other’ but the ‘other’ did not have to learn to respect me. That became my very intense struggle during my doctorate.
AC: In your work with audiovisual media, you have helped create an organization and have developed a methodology in order to circulate media and train people in video. How did this methodology originate?
AD: I started working with Byrt Wammack in 1997. For me he is a partner, the main partner in this desire to find other ways to communicate with the broader society and within the region of south and southeastern Mexico, more particularly with Maya speakers in Yucatan. Originally we formed a civil association, Yoochel Kaaj, yoochel kaaj in Maya means “images of the people,” with the goal of attracting resources to be able to develop an audiovisual project.
Also, I was an organizing member of the festival Geografias Suaves in 1999. The idea was to encourage audiovisual expression in the Mexican south and southeast because, during the course of our work in 1997, we realized that no initiative of this nature existed. Back then it was all concentrated in the capital, Mexico City, and in [the city of] Oaxaca....In any case, we decided to start all this in 1999. For us it was a very significant experience of collective and collaborative work. The premise was to construct networks between communities and also between artists and others interested in promoting audiovisual expression—of taking everything within our reach, like photographic cameras and other media like cell phones to encourage expression—using what we have instead of waiting until we had access to fancy equipment to be able to do something.
Then we realized that as a civil association we encountered many limitations; access to certain types of funding brought about many limitations to our freedom of expression. This led us to organize ourselves as a collective, the Turix Collective, as we now call it, in 2000. This gives us the possibility of working with the freedom of expression that we all have a right to. In the Turix Collective, participants are people from the communities and also artists and academics—because there are various academics who are in Mexico City, in the Yucatan Peninsula, even here in the United States—there are turixes who roam around. We adopted the turix philosophy because it is just a little bug [the dragonfly], a little animal which travels very rapidly everywhere, making thousands of paths all around the world. That is that is basically the philosophy we use in Turix.
AC: You touched on the subject of freedom of expression. Not long ago you were invited to Mexico City to an encounter where you had significant input in the discussion regarding children’s rights. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience?
AD: Yes. All of a sudden an invitation arrived for a first festival about children’s rights. [Festival of Children and Media, Mexico City, July 2010] Well, we thought about whether we had been working with the rights issue or not. As I was invited to give a presentation about identity and globalization this gave me the possibility of doing, to a certain extent, a brief analysis of Turix’s trajectory and, we realized, "Wow!" Turix is working on [children's rights]—the right to a child’s freedom of expression, using the media within their means, including drawings and any tools they may have available that don’t have to be something expensive—we realized that Turix has been doing since 2000. On Turix’s Website we work with drawings; we are working in podcasts, which are audios of the children telling stories, relating life experiences, or whatever they want.
We don't impose a specific theme, it's rather open, the only thing we do with the workshops when we arrive at a community is say, “Here are some cameras we brought”—many of which are borrowed—“and these are the buttons, and these are the main forms of portrayal. Well, here you have it and you can do with it whatever you want.” We try to fuel children’s creativity, young people, and adults, because many times adults also get integrated. Many children get bored with using the camera but want to act, they want to sing, they want to tell the stories of their grandparents, or they go and ask their grandfather if he wants to tell a story in front of the camera. All that is work which involves the whole community, not only the family, not only the children.
It also has to do with the right to use their own language, the freedom to use the language because they have the choice, they can work in Spanish or in Maya…so, the right to culture, right to language, it all gets developed in the end. When I started thinking of how to prepare my talk I began to see our work in those terms, but our goal wasn't to follow the rights which have been recognized by the UN Convention [on the Rights of the Child], but rather just do something, right? Doing something and seeing what results, finally, doing what they want to do.
In my university I am in charge of the development of media studies and one of my current projects is about the right to free expression, autonomy and self-determination recognized in 2001 by [reforms made to] the Mexican constitution ....One of the conclusions I’ve reached is that we do not need a legislation to enforce our own rights. Then, of course, some say, well, there should be legislation. I agree that it should exist, but we ourselves as indigenous people also have to find certain mechanisms which prevent this same legislation from becoming an obstacle. Because often they tell you it is a certain way and you are satisfied with what you are told, but when the time arrives to enforce it, they find loopholes, so instead of protecting your rights they limit them. At least that is what I have gathered in my investigation so far regarding the subject of a right to Mayan culture.
Linguistic rights exist in all of Mexico now, and linguistic rights are being focused on in Yucatan; there is a need to rescue the Mayan tongue as if it wasn’t being spoken. More than sixty percent of the population currently speaks Maya. But naturally, if I am sent by the government and I want to find people who do not speak Maya, people who speak Spanish, who go to school, and as a result have stopped speaking their mother tongue—if you will reward me if I don’t speak Maya, well, then I will simply tell you I do not speak Maya. It is a political game. Autonomy is something lived every day; it is a way of living, and it has always been this way, because if it wasn’t, then I think no indigenous groups would exist anywhere in the world, if they didn’t possess this capacity. And it is a capacity we have for constructing these networks and often as a way of keeping ourselves strong.
AC: And, don’t you think that there also exists a prejudice or a pre-established notion of what indigenous audiovisual media should be? Or not?
AD: Well, complexity exists everywhere, right? Complexity in that we cannot consider that we are all equal. In many instances I have fought against being labeled as indigenous. There are many who have asked me, "Then, you are Maya?" And I have said, "Well, I do not want to call myself Maya." And it is not because I feel embarrassed to say I am a Maya. I would prefer to say that I am Ana Rosa, that I have the right to fight for whatever I want to fight for and to work for whatever I wish to work for, even while remaining within a university, a higher level educational institution where it is not recognized.
At the university, I have to stop being Ana Rosa Duarte who was raised in an indigenous community, and I have to become the investigative professor of 'X' level who belongs to the 'XYZ' and all those sort of labels needed to be important and to give prestige to the university—because if I say that I am a Maya, that definitely does not happen. But in the sense that I am not ashamed to say I am Maya, what worries me a lot of the time is that the institutions themselves have created this stereotype of being Maya, so that if you are Maya, you get ‘indigenous privileges,’ a scholarship to go study your doctorate, for example.
I’ve seen that [the indigenous identity] becomes an authority that speaks on behalf of others. That is something I’ve always questioned. I’ve always said, "Well, I do not want to generalize and say that we Mayas are a certain way or we are better than the whites or we are better than...." I do not want to say that. We are human beings and we live a certain way and we are struggling for a recognition of our way of life, and we may also have desires to know about others and their culture, and many times we integrate aspects of that into our lives. I mean, we all want a good life.
No one wants to live segregated, but why is there segregation? Many times groups of people have left Yucatan, for example, during the many invasions we’ve suffered, even though many people in Yucatan think, or say, that nothing of this sort happen has happened there. But a large portion of people are segregated; they are living in their own state, you might say, trying to avoid any contact with national society. And, because they are trying to live their own life, because they have been so beaten down, they are still suffering from these blows. I'm not referring to physical attacks, such as happened in our past—but the discrimination is horrible. Not only a discrimination that exists in incidents that occur every day, but rather the words, the expressions, the discourse being managed...it is extremely discriminatory. For those of us who are not able to stand that, well, then it is better to distance ourselves as much as we can within our realm of possibility.
AC: Of course, it is discrimination which drives you to marginality.
AD: Well, I would not call it marginality. It is an isolation that is an attempt to preserve our own way of life by having the least contact possible, or just what is absolutely necessary. So what really worries me is when amongst ourselves we deem ourselves authorities. That often happens with indigenous video and I’ve questioned it. I feel I’ve tried to work for plurality even if it involves self-criticism.
AC: As a filmmaker and an academic in media studies, what have you thought of the productions you’ve seen during the festival selection process?
AD: The truth is I am a thousand times grateful for the opportunity to be here participating as a member of the selection committee. All the works I’ve seen have been supremely enriching to my process of learning and also as a filmmaker interested in this form of expression, not self-expression, but collective expression. It has been a very. very important process of learning and one I’ve always wanted to have the possibility of taking part in. Why? Because the groups who have spoken through film are diverse, and they have given me the possibility of seeing parallels with what I’ve lived and experienced until now in my little place, in my country.
And the possibility of seeing how, just as we turixes are trying to build networks, it turns out that there are also networks that don't yet exist because we are working in isolation, because of conditions that cannot be changed. But it seems that these networks have the potential to be much broader in Latin America. What has surprised me—I’ve had the hypothesis that there was, in fact, a lot of media production even though there weren't the media tools there are now—I haven’t been able to quite explain that. But right now you can see it in an obvious way through video. Before, it was speculation, a hypothesis we say in academia, but now you can say: “Heck, yeah! How awesome!”
And all these issues regarding climate change, issues of food and agriculture, all these struggles for land, for traditions, for the way of life in the communities is something so beautiful to watch [in these videos], to now be able to say, “Yes, I had reason to suspect that this is something within us as human beings, in our relationships with nature, because we are part of nature.” So, it is something, well, it has been a truly surprising but very beautiful experience.
It simply excites me incredibly, and has given me much more energy to continue working….But working for the community is changing the community, that is, working for the community on their terms. However, I feel that as someone receiving income which comes from society, I have a debt to society, and society to me is not the politicians, it is the people themselves; the people, those who live their day-to-day lives.
AC: Seeing videos from different places, of different genres, lengths, durations, styles, is there something you feel you would like to see in Latin American audiovisual media or in Yucatec media, like more work from a certain group, from children or teenagers? Turix is one of the few media projects to work with youth. It’s not very common in Latin America.
AD: Well, obviously, for me youth expression is incredibly important. It is very important because I know there are many resources being directed towards youth. I would like to see how they use all that, what ideas they have, if they support their community. I know that the youth have, as I did when I was young, that struggle of having to stop being indigenous to be, supposedly, modern—who knows what I would be if I didn’t recognize myself as part of a community? I know that that struggle has always existed amongst young people, and now with the impact of globalization it is a very intense struggle that young people have to go through. So, yes, in that sense I would like to see more of what the young people are doing and where they are directing their interest, and how they visualize culture and their own social group.
AC: Perfect, we are just in time, so thank you very much.
AD: Of course, thank you, Amalia.
Image credit: Ana
Rosa Duarte - courtesy of the filmmaker; Ana
Rosa Duarte - photograph by Stephen Lang