I have been thinking about being brave lately. There is much I would like to say about it, but right now I want to only direct my thoughts to a group of people in my native Mexico, who are showing a degree of bravery that is very likely to happen often, but that thanks to social media is becoming visible just now. This about a group of teachers in the southern State of Chiapas who are being publicly shamed for wanting to do their job. No, you didn’t read wrong. Mexico is that surreal.
For a bit of context, Chiapas, which borders with Guatemala to the south, is famous for its contrasts. It is one of the most illitterate states in the country, the majority of such population being indigenous women. The state is a large producer of folk art and beautiful textiles, and it also provides Starbucks some of its famous coffee. Due to social conflicts that include stark inequality and oppression of the indigenous populations, which are in themselves issues too deep to discuss here, Chiapas is drowning in corruption that has led to, among many other effects, the near abandonment of public education.
Current president Enrique Peña Nieto tried half-heartedly to win back an angry population who was calling out to abuses of power and permantently absent teachers. Thousands upon thousands of children and teenagers in the region are systematically doomed to poverty through being denied the most basic right of going to school. He proposed a bill in 2013 that would require teachers to take periodic tests in order to ensure they were qualified (some such teachers had not finished grade school themselves, but had gotten their jobs through bribes or inheritance), and would investigate, fine, or fire teachers who failed the exams, failed to show up to work for three days within a month (without motivation) or simply faled to show up at all, all according to the Mexican labour law.
Fair enough, right? Well, it made a lot of people very angry.
The latest wave of violence and crime fueled by this mob of leeches (I’m not even going to apologize, I am beyond being nice to these jerks) as part of their “strike” that began in mid-May, includes threats to kidnap and display public servants as retribution for jailing the vandals, and the public shaming of teachers who refused to go on strike. They were made to march barefoot no doubt under a sorching May sun, then sit down at the square for the strikers to more comfortably shave their heads. Oh, and they made them wear signs that read “Our heads were shaved because we are traitors”. And you thought the cartels were bad…
Amid all this humiliation for chosing to do what is right, without any authority coming up to stop the madness (that’s got to make you feel safe right? …), something incredible can be seen in all the pictures rolling around. The shamed teachers have a defiantly peaceful look. Their worn faces tell me this isn’t youthful idealism, and I can imagine they do what they do out of a hardened conviction and a clean conscience, which is so rare to find in public jobs in Mexico these days. It is so easy to be brave when you are in a majority, when you are not threatened, when you have nothing to lose.
I have nothing but admiration for the teachers and staff who are going through this right now. I don’t expect my ranting will help in any way or stop the human rights abuses that run rampant in my otherwise beautiful country. But if it can serve as a reminder that real bravery is possible, to remind myself and others to stand up for what is right despite the stakes, then I think their hair was not chopped in vain.