Commemorating Tomás Cruz

(Translation from Spanish by Katherine Mosser and Racquel Cruz)

In the 1980s, a struggle over land and the rights of the indigenous people across the Mexican state of Oaxaca reached murderous heights. The Chatino people faced losing their ancestral lands and we’re engaged in a life and death battle. Despite the combined opposition of the state and landowner class, they managed to establish a village. The forces of capital fought back. On September 26, 1989, one of the movement’s leaders, Tomas Cruz Lorenzo was assassinated. On the thirtieth anniversary of his murder, a collection of writings and memories edited by one of his daughters will be published. What follows is translation of the book’s foreword. -Editors


Tomás Cruz Lorenzo (1950-1989) was a Chatino activist who belonged to that generation of communal, indigenous thinkers in Mexico, among whom you can find Floriberto Díaz and Jaime Martínez Luna. Cruz Lorenzo’s reflections, which take on anarchist hues, are a clear call for the defense of the Chatino language and culture and for the autonomy of the Chatino land that extended from the coast to the highlands of the sierra in southeast Oaxaca. Killed while waiting for a bus in 1989 (the murder remains unsolved), Tomás lives on in this collection of writings that establishes a dialogue with the new, strong, and innovative Chatino generation. This collection is a tribute that both honors the past and updates the fight and resistance to present day, taking on issues of feminism, nutritional education, traditional health practices, migration, and the defense against extractive practices on the land.

2019 saw the thirtieth anniversary of my father’s murder. His name is Tomás Cruz Lorenzo. His death was a decisive event in the history of the attacks on the Chatino people, which involved much violence against community and indigenous leaders in Oaxaca from landowner’s forces and those of the state. At this time when the participation of young people in the movement for the protection of rights is increasingly important, we do not want to forget his murder: we choose to commemorate his life. Chatino autonomy, something Tomás dreamed of, will continue to be defended and promoted by new generations.

This book, titled evitemos que nuestro future se nos escape de las manos (we can’t let our future escape through our fingers), was written to commemorate, honor, and remember Tomás Cruz Lorenzo, my father. It was born from the desire to continue his dialogue, to make his ideas about Chatino autonomy available to the new generation, and to relay the need to decide our own destiny. We want to again hear his call to reflect on and analyze questions of rights, community, health, gender inclusion, education, and above all, language.

Since his unexpected death in 1989 there continues to be pending conversations, wounds to heal. His murder left us without a friend, a father, or a husband. It was a hard blow that for a long time rendered us lost. Through his teachings, however, we can resume our course and move forward— as he would want us to. For those who didn’t know my father and never got the chance to speak with him, Tomás left enough written material that we are able to continue the conversation. This is how we want to celebrate his struggles and his wisdom.

Faced with this need to close our wounds and open new conversations, I called on many of Tomás’ acquaintances, friends, and relatives to share their memories. I also collected writings of his from El Medio Milenio, a magazine printed in Oaxaca in the 1980s, and El Imparcial de Oaxaca, Oaxaca’s daily newspaper. To encourage the new generation, I gathered some young Chatinos together who wanted to participate in the project by reading some of my father’s writings and offering their own reflections. The first exercise was to read; each month they were sent an article from El Medio Milenio to go over. In the second phase, upon finishing the articles, each participant chose one article to write a reflection about in their own style and according to their own interests. These reflections are included in this book, interwoven with the articles that inspired them.

I also conducted an interview with my mother, Isabel Cruz Baltazar, about what it means to be the wife of a social fighter and to carry on as a widow with several children and no money, due to the violence.

This book is a collective exercise in which Tomás is remembered as a father, husband, and leader. He is remembered for his fight against discrimination and for his work so that all Chatinos could have, at the very least, the basics a human needs to survive: a roof, their health, education, autonomy, land, and linguistic rights. Tomás’ work left a profound mark on the movement for Chatino rights, in particular for those of the town in which he was born to but also for Chatinos in general. His effect was so great that even in distant villages you will hear people say proudly, “I met Tomás.”

This collective memory we have compiled here is without a doubt an homage to the past, to Tomás, to his village, and to all Chatino communities. It is also a force to strengthen Chatino rights and the rights of all indigenous people in Mexico.

1. Sporadically, between 1987 and 1989, Tomás made journalistic notes on the Chatino region.

2. The municipality of San Juan Quiahije, which borders the municipalities of Santa Cruz Zenzontepec, Santiago Minas, Santa Catarina Juquila, San Miguel Panixtlahuaca, and Tataltepec de Valdés.

This piece is a translation from the book’s foreword by the editor, Emiliana Cruz. The book will be published in September (Spanish language).

The book release event will be on September 26, 2019 in the Claustro de la Biblioteca Juan Córdova