Arts & Entertainment

Mexican indigenous teens, young adults form orchestra to end violence

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, Sep 11 (EFE).- In one of the most conflict-ridden zones of southeastern Mexico, teenagers and young adults of the Tzotzil people who have been displaced from their communities, have joined together to form an orchestra and chorus with an eye toward breaking the cycle of violence.

A group of 46 young Tzotzils, between ages 12 and 29, have formed a chorus and an orchestra they have named “For Peace in the Northern Zone,” in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, with the aim of raising awareness among the population to foster non-violence and reactivate the cultural spaces abandoned by the Mexican government.

The musical effort is a project that emerged three years ago after a study made of the young people in 46 areas in the northern part of the city, a study that revealed alarming information about the viewpoints and concerns of young people.

“They’re experiencing a lot of violence, gunfire, confrontations between groups, among the other things that are happening here,” Jorge Guillen, the founder of the Society in Action collective and the coordinator of both the chorus and orchestra, told EFE.

In addition, he emphasized the vulnerability of the young people in the most violence-ridden area of Chiapas state, one of the parts of Mexico that is most popular with tourists.

He noted that the parents and/or grandparents of the young people involved in the musical endeavor were driven out of their communities of origin by religious intolerance and resettled themselves in the northern part of San Cristobal.

Due to the violence that pervades their daily lives, Guillen began to work with the young people and with the neighborhoods and districts, over time gaining their trust which allowed him to open up spaces like the Cultural Center of the North Zone where Monday to Friday musical workshops and crime prevention tutorials are held.

“Within this plan, we have two axes: crime and delinquency prevention, and this is done with sensitivity and … a culture of peace, prevention of violence against women and issues that enable us to raise the awareness of the youth like music therapy,” Guillen said.

The orchestra, he said, tries to rescue the young people from violence, alcoholism and drug use and hopes are that it can bind more than 100 Tzotzil young people who are seeking to achieve a dream like Tania Lopez, who at age 15 clearly knows what her passion is.

“I love music, learning and singing and playing instruments and knowing more about music,” she told EFE, adding that it’s possible to achieve your dreams. “Let people seek their dreams, and let no one give up trying to achieve them,” she said in a message of encouragement for all young people of Mexico’s indigenous and mestizo peoples.

According to figures from the Child and Teenagers Protection Office of Chiapas, the state is in 16th place in Mexico for violence against children, and in second place in pregnancies of girls ages 10-14, and San Cristobal Comitan and Mitontic are the main municipalities for child labor.

In Chiapas, organizations are pushing forward with strategies to turn the statistics of violence and lack of security around and to offer better educational options that can be embraced by young people like Cesar Giron Domingues, 22, a baker who – due to lack of finances – only has a high school education.

Saying that he is satisfied with the advice that the musical instructors have given him, Giron told EFE that he is interested in joining the program despite the fact that he knows “very little about singing and music.”

He emphasized that music changed his life, although his neighborhood is an area where violence and lack of security affect everyone’s daily lives.

The violence in San Cristobal de las Casas, as in other Mexican cities, stems from the disorganized efforts of federal, state and municipal institutions, Manuel Yañez Gutierrez, a social security consultant, said.

“That’s why citizen participation is fundamental in eradicating violence, helping (stabilize) the social order and safeguarding children and young people,” he said.

EFE mmf/jmrg/szg/bp

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