How One Young Filmmaker Told The Heartbreaking Story Of Mexico's Indigenous Women To Achieve Real Change
At only 21 years old, Liliana Caracoza is already an award-winning documentarian. Her short film Historias Indígenas, which she conceived, organized, and fundraised by herself, placed second in the Girls Impact The World International Film Festival, a prestigious contest with celebrity judges such as Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed, and Christy Turlington. But for Caracoza, the prize was just the icing on the cake. What was really important to her making her documentary was the chance to witness the stories of indigenous Mexican women's struggles and share them with the world.
When she was just 11, Caracoza moved from Mexico to the United States, where she says she was a victim of abuse in her home. But she was able to reclaim her past trauma, and utilized it as inspiration to combat domestic violence on a global scale. "Growing up, I saw a lot of domestic violence in my house," she says. "I always wanted to do something regarding that, since it was something that I saw and I actually lived."
When Caracoza had the opportunity to do a reporting project through her journalism apprenticeship at The Seattle Globalist, she knew what her project needed to be. "Some people went out into the community [for their projects], but I knew that what I wanted to do was help women and do it abroad," Caracoza says. She ran a Kickstarter campaign, raised nearly $2,000, and embarked on a life-changing trip to make a documentary about the problems facing indigenous women in rural Mexico.
At the end of a grueling two-day journey over the rough, unpaved roads of rural Mexico, Liliana arrived in the small community of Huayacocotla, where she met the group she would shadow while filming her documentary for one month, Agrupación de Derechos Humanos Xochitépetl (Xochitépetl Human Rights Organization), or A.X. The nonprofit organization provides legal services and community workshops to educate indigenous peoples about their human rights, including safe homes and gender equality.
Indigenous peoples are largely discriminated against in the public and private sectors in Mexico and are often denied access to legal and social services by institutionalized racism, according to the United Nations Development Program. One woman Caracoza met, Isadora Petronilo Molina, was working with A.X. to get her husband released from jail after he was allegedly imprisoned without without a fair trial, as she claimed in Caracoza's documentary. "They took advantage of him for being indigenous, for not having enough education," Molina said.
I knew that what I wanted to do was help women and do it abroad.
In addition to systematic discrimination, there is a deep cultural history of machismo that contributes to oppression of women, especially in rural Mexico. One in five Mexican women is married before the age of 18, and as many as 67 percent of Mexican women suffer from domestic violence, according to Rose-Linda Fregoso, a University of California Santa Cruz professor of Latin American and Latino studies.
In the documentary, Caracoza interviewed Reina Martinez Olivares about her allegedly abusive husband, whom she married at age 12. Olivares told Caracozashe tried to escape the marriage and return to her mother's house, but her mother turned her away. "A wife is supposed to stay with her husband until death; we are supposed to be treated like that," Olivares stated in Caracoza's documentary. For Caracoza, it was difficult to hear Olivares' story, but it showcased exactly why her story and others like it need to be told. "The legal system has failed them in every way, and the way they live in such poverty, it's just heartbreaking," Caracoza says.
A.X. is working to change these statistics and the realities of Mexican women, and Caracoza wanted to show the world how to help achieve this change.
Caracoza's experience was much richer than just filming her documentary, she says. She got a real feel for the people in the communities she visited, and was overcome by their positivity and joyfulness. "All the women that I met, they were absolutely generous in every way," she says. "They were in really hard environments, and they still made me feel like I was at home. They gave me inspiration and a lot of confidence." Caracoza attended a wedding and sang "La Bamba" with her hosts, who took her on a tour of the amazing mountain sights in Veracruz. Caracoza's experience added personal context to her documentary — despite all these women had been through, they were generous, caring, and triumphantly strong.
Over the course of her month in Veracruz, Caracoza interviewed more than 40 people for her documentary and filmed dozens of hours of footage. The final project, Historias Indígenas, is a moving tribute to the struggles of indigenous women who are learning to take back their rights from the culture and institutions that have oppressed them for so long. A few months later, Caracoza found out her video had placed second in the GITW Film Festival and all her hard work had paid off — the women's stories would be told all over the world.
Since her trip, Caracoza has started school at the University of Washington at Tacoma and changed her career path to study law, with an emphasis on human rights — despite the shift in professional focus, she is still dedicated to sharing the indigenous women's stories with the world and fighting for their rights. "Either you can bring justice or keep doing injustice," Caracoza says. She hopes to continue her work in Veracruz someday soon, and hopefully use her education and resources to bring her work to other countries as well. "This trip impacted every single aspect of my life," she says. "I'm doing what I'm doing right now so I can do a better job in the future."
Images: Courtesy of Liliana Caracoza