FOMMA – Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya

FOMMA (FOrtaleza de la Mujer Maya) is a collective of Mayan women who use theater as a tool for education and community building. They are performers, playwrights, and teachers who tour their work in their communities and internationally, performing plays in Spanish and in the Tzeltal and Tzotzil indigenous languages that focus on women’s and indigenous rights, literacy, cultural survival, ecology, health, and education. In 1994, Mayan actresses Petrona de la Cruz (from Zinacantán, Chiapas) and Isabel Juárez Espinosa (from Aguacatenango, Chiapas) founded FOMMA to support Mayan women and children. Using the tools of theater and puppetry as empowerment, they opened a cultural space where women can represent the often traumatic experiences they have lived and imagine alternative realities. Isabel and Petrona explain that the collective has attempted to meet the needs of women who have left their highland villages in search of work. They create workshops that combine literacy in Spanish, Tzotzil, and Tzeltal with skills training in such things as bread-making and sewing, while offering childcare so that the women are free to attend these classes.


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“Seeking New Paths,” a play first presented in 2010 that we saw in 2015, tells the story of four sisters. When their parents immigrate to the United States, their aunt and uncle come to them, seeking payment of a debt incurred by their father that they then use as a pretext for robbing the girls of their own home. Three of the young women decide to immigrate and search for their parents, while one of the sisters decides to stay in her community with their grandmother. While crossing the US-Mexico border, the three women are accosted by a coyote (human trafficker) and are separated from each other in the ensuing melee. Two of the women successfully cross the border and find jobs, one as a house cleaner and the other as a laborer at a chicken farm. The youngest of the sisters dies while crossing the desert. A couple that the sisters meet en route to the border decides to return to Chiapas instead of continuing northward.

Like many of FOMMA’s plays from the 1990s, which tend to discuss internal migration within Mexico, this play seeks to foster support for settling down in one’s ancestral lands, but situates such an effort within its current context in which people, primarily men, from indigenous communities throughout Mexico, find themselves obligated to immigrate further away from their families than in previous decades. Immigration today involves assuming greater risks over longer distances, which has various costs, personal, familial, physical, and otherwise; often these costs are incurred by coyotes, who now tend to align themselves with organized crime and human trafficking. The play explores this dynamic in particular during a scene in which the coyotes attempt to separate young, female immigrants from the rest of the migrant group with the clear goal of abusing them sexually. One of the sister’s monologues at the end of the play states:

When we arrived at the border, there was a coyote waiting to take us to the United States who asked us for more money…but we didn’t have any…He started to look at us menacingly and started accosting us. My sisters ran away and the man grabbed me and shut me in a house with even more women…I thought that my sisters were dead, and I felt sad and alone.

Difarnecio explains that, during the staging of the play, the actresses “embedded” themselves in the experience of crossing the border, studying the entire process in order to represent it faithfully. The fact that none of the play’s authors has migrated to the United States herself has interesting implications for the methodologies used in the play’s staging. The three sisters’ monologues and that of the couple at the end of the play disseminate a clear message: more can be lost in attempting to cross the border than can be gained on the other side. The play also explores the rights of indigenous and rural women to hold property, a problem that becomes even more pressing in the context of immigration as rural populations become dominated by the women left behind who struggle to assert their rights to the lands their fathers, husbands, and brothers abandoned when they headed northward. Of course, it suggests the need to recognize matriarchs as equal landholders. The dialogue between Andrea, the older sister, and her uncle, Domingo, illustrates the stance that FOMMA adopts regarding this issue:

Uncle Domingo: That’s why we came to this house—no one holds the rights to this land. You all are women. We have two sons.

Andrea: What does that matter to us? We are women, but we have hands with which to work, so we should also have right to the land on which we labor.

This dialogue reflects the limits placed on rural, indigenous women struggling to survive in the absence of their fathers, brothers, or husbands, a dynamic further complicated by debts incurred by immigrants during their trek northward and the repercussions felt by their families who have remained behind.