San Manuel is a small Indigenous community of the Tseltal and Ch'ol speaking people, located in the first canyon that forms the first two mountain ranges in front of the plains of the Gulf of Mexico and at the height of the city of Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. According to the 2020 census, the community is formed by 390 people. But in reality it has more than 700 inhabitants, because many inhabitants were not counted in the census for unknown reasons.
The vast majority of people in San Manuel identify themselves as campesinos, which is one of the most deeply rooted and long-standing daily practices of the Tseltal and Ch'ol Peoples. Cattle raising is a newer practice that has taken hold over the last 40 years, and has dramatically altered the ecosystem as large expanses of jungle and mountains have been cleared to make way for pastures.
San Manuel was founded sometime in the 1940s-50s, but was not officially recognized by the national agrarian registry until the 1970s under the government of Luis Echeverría Álvarez. A few of the original Tseltal and Ch’ol founders still live in the community, while the rest have passed away. With the introduction of a road for vehicular traffic, the community began to experience small changes, but with the passage of time these small changes have become important and worrisome.
The relatively recent arrival of satellite television and the internet has supplanted more conventional media like newspapers and radio. Faced with this shift to a more generic and globalized media landscape, and with the objective of preserving the right to our own communication, a group of youth and young adults began to work through the collective Tseltal Bachajón Comunicación (TBC) to form Radio Comunitaria Ixim, The Voice of Our People.
Prior to the inception of Radio Comunitaria Ixim, we had been producing documentary videos of and for our people. These productions were broadcast in our communities as part of the Indigenous Film and Debate Showcase, which aimed to create space for reflection on issues of interest and importance to the community. Radio content was produced with the same objective as the films and debates and broadcast through social media and other online platforms.
These activities required an enormous effort but yielded relatively little impact, so we began to rethink our strategy to achieve a greater, more efficient impact of our work. Ultimately, we conceived the idea of starting a community radio station with the purpose of promoting the rights of our peoples.
A few years passed before our dream of community radio became a reality. It was not easy to land on the idea; it was difficult to install the equipment, and we had little knowledge of how to operate it. We evaluated the pros and cons of starting the station in various communities in terms of short and long term sustainability. This exercise gave us clarity in how to move forward and begin preparations for Radio Comunitaria Ixim, the Voice of Our People, in San Manuel.
Since the founding of the TBC collective and our the idea of working with radio, our purpose and objectives have been clear: we aim to contribute, via media, to the development of our Indigenous Peoples, and to contribute to the recovery of the cultural values and identity of our Peoples, our food sovereignty, education, defense of territories, defense and promotion of the rights of women, youth, children, and the promotion and defense of individual and collective rights.
After many sacrifices and much effort, we launched Radio Comunitaria Ixim, the Voice of Our People, in 2022, with the support of Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Community Media Fund and a contribution from our collective, TBC. Those of us who actively participate in the collective are committed to working at the radio while training the Indigenous youth of the community and the region. It is not easy to get young people to participate in radio, as today’s youth are not interested in returning to conventional media and are more interested in social media networks.
We work in various formats on the radio, ranging from small informative pieces to discussion programs. Audience feedback has been positive; one of the most popular programs is “Música regional de nuestros padres y abuelos tseltales y ch'oles” (regional music from our Tseltal and Ch’ol parents and grandparents), which is broadcast live on weekdays from 6 to 7 p.m. In addition to regional music, the program presents topics of interest to the Indigenous communities such as the cornfields, the rain, individual and collective rights of people, and more. Also beloved is “La voz del campo,” which is a two-hour program broadcast on weekday mornings starting at 5 a.m. It focuses on topics of interest to the people such as opinions about the Mayan Train, food sovereignty, our native seeds, and many other important issues.
A unique feature of the station is that programs are broadcast both in Spanish and in our Indigenous languages, Tseltal and Ch'ol. The programs focus on the activities of key people in the community and the history of San Manuel, among other notable topics. The community has been invited to take a more active role with the station, but we know this is not easy given that the majority of our community members do not have any experience with radio. We are motivating more Indigenous youth to speak on the radio, and we are happy that some have joined since the station’s first days of broadcasting, even though many still have a bit of fear of speaking behind a microphone.
While our station has been a success, there have been some challenges. We spent a lot of money to acquire brand new antenna equipment, including the highest quality cables, following the recommendations of an expert. The engineer in charge of the installation had to come back three times, representing a major expense that could have been avoided if all the equipment had been in good condition from the beginning.
Cultural Survival has supported TBC’s goals and aspirations from the outset, which was critical to our success. Upon the idea of the creation of our community radio station, we acquired the necessary equipment. Although we already had some consoles, microphones, computer equipment, and other accessories, with the support of Cultural Survival, we were able to acquire and install the tower and the antenna. TBC also took care of the acquisition of a 150-watt transmitter.
All of the difficulties experienced during the installation phase were made up for when Radio Comunitaria Ixim, the Voice of Our People, began broadcasting with the utmost joy and energy. The community of San Manuel and TBC collective have been energized by this important achievement.
In 2022, Tseltal Bachajón Comunicación received a grant from Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Community Fund, which provides opportunities for international Indigenous radio stations to strengthen their infrastructure and broadcast systems and creates training opportunities for journalism, broadcasting, audio editing, technical skills, and more for radio journalists from Indigenous communities around the world. In 2022, the Indigenous Community Media Fund supported communities with 23 grants totaling $138,000 to Indigenous community media outlets from 13 countries.