Maribel was one of the first women who entered the building, alongside another mother, Yesenia, whose room is next to the kitchen. Yesenia has been in the spotlight since protesting against the murder of her daughter years ago.
She carries around a small cookie tin with money she has earned from selling bandanas and water bottles with protest messages, and her own quotes from a speech that made her well-known throughout Mexico: “The one who wants to break, may break, and the one who wants to start a fire, may start a fire, and the ones who won’t, don’t get in our way.”
Past Yesenia’s room is the biggest office, which used to be the ombudsman’s office, where the group of people who are searching for their family members stay.
A violent crackdown
“We are different movements. That’s their space, we don’t go there,” one of the activists tells me. Some of the mothers who initially refused to leave on the first day have left after seeking the services they needed; it’s the feminist activists, including the Black Block’ who are holding the building, with about 20-30 women staying there overnight.
When night falls, protest music on the speakers and a woman called Flor de Fuego (meaning fire flower) performs a fire show with a replica of one of the portraits painted on her back.
Yesenia receives a night call from someone who tells her that the state secretary wants to meet her right away. “Tomorrow. It’s late now. And not too early. I want to sleep late,” she replies, more to the crowd than the person on the phone.
In a small office with the lights on, two other women and I try to sleep, while we discuss feminism and whether they should sell the paintings. The next morning the discussion continues as one of them washes the dishes. Yesenia is already awake, as are the women at the door who take turns to guard the entrance.
As I write this, other Human Rights Commission facilities in the country have been taken over. There has been a violent crackdown by police, leading to arrests of women, including one who is pregnant. After the women’s release, though, they went back to the building to set it alight.
I can’t stop thinking about Yesenia’s answer to my question: “Have you noticed you’re starting a revolution?” I asked her before I left. “No, I’m completing it”, she responds.
- Eleven Mexican women are estimated to be murdered every day, often after being sexually assaulted. Their killers are seldom found. Only 10% of total criminal cases result in prison sentences, and when it comes to rape, only 2% of assailants face jail time. Over the past few years, feminist activists have become more militant in their demands for justice.