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Celia Nichim: A Story of Struggle and Resilience

My name is Celia Flor Díaz Pérez, and I am a Maya Tsotsil woman from Los Altos de Chiapas, of the Chamo' culture. I will be 35 years old in April. I introduce myself as Celia Nichim (which means flower in Tsotsil) in some places that do not require my legal name since my surname is part of the colonial imposition.

Geographically I live in the municipality of San Cristobal de Las Casas. For most of my life, I have lived in the coniferous forests in the agrarian zone of the colonial city. At the age of 20, I left my mother's house so as not to face a marriage of convenience; in exchange, I decided to face the uncertainty of a magical and racist city. 

After living for a few months in a shelter for refugees and "problematic" teenagers, I became a nanny for a well-to-do family, which I still consider part of my family from my heart. In this house, I re-discovered books again. Previously, during elementary school, I had found in the small school library the complete volume of the children's version of The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha. The principal took it upon himself to lend me the books in the collection one by one. 

That was my first approach to literature and it became my little refuge to escape from the endless disputes at home and the constant bullying from my classmates, especially from the girls, because the teachers would put me as an example for them when I got good grades...somehow it was a way to humiliate the rest of the class. For that reason, I had constant outbursts of dropping out the school. After elementary school, there were no more books until I got to San Cristobal. Again, literature was the raft that pulled me afloat to navigate the waters of a society I did not know, and also, it also helped me understand Spanish and adopt it as a second language. 

Later on, I decided to continue studying until I finished my degree. I studied Sustainable Development at the Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH) in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The breadth of the curriculum led me to focus my studies on the social axis of development, and I did my social service in a proposal of popular environmental education for young people in rural areas, using popular education, participatory research, and dialogue of knowledge.

This experience linked me both with civil society organizations and with the main labor spaces, working on issues of territorial defense, women's rights, environmental education, and community project management. In the ejido where I live, I fulfill my community obligations and accompany a local collective of Tsotsil women in the vindication of our autonomy in a patriarchal society, looking for allies and strategies to work collectively without further violating our conditions. 

I am currently working as the person in charge of the pedagogical area of a project for beekeepers in the rural communities of Chiapas and the Peninsula, which I believe will be another of my greatest learning spaces. 

Celia Nichim participated in the Land and Livelihoods Encounter as a grant partner of our Keepers of the Earth Fund from January 15-17, 2024, in Siguatepeque, Honduras, organized by Cultural Survival. Indigenous, Maya A'echi', Maya Tsotsil and Lenca organizations from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico participated. Learn more about the meeting in this article written by Celia Nichim.