Winds of Fire: Community Radio Jënpoj Spreads Words of Dignity in Mexico

July 17, 2017

By Sócrates Vásquez and Colectivo Radio Jënpoj

To talk about Indigenous community media today means understanding its intimate connection to the struggle of Indigenous communities for a voice, expression and knowledge related to Indigenous cosmovisions. Access, management, and creation of media by Indigenous Peoples and communities is the exercise of our inherent right that we have as the first inhabitants of these territories hold. On the other hand, it is understood as the right enshrined in the international treaties that are signed and ratified by States. Radio is a fundamental tool for strengthening the oral traditions of our peoples. Radio Jënpoj (“winds of fire”) of Tlahuitoltepec, Mexico emerges from this space of reflection on communal life, as well as from the power dynamics and relationships with external institutions.

Yë ääw ayuujk myëjtä’äktë. Dignity of the word.
Indigenous community media represents the proud voices of our peoples after more than 500 years of subjugation, contempt, extermination, and, as some call it, linguicide. Community media is a stand against a series of policies that have been implemented since the so-called discovery, or more adequately, the concealment of the Abya Yala peoples. Being conscious about history, allows us to take positions regarding Indigenous policies of the 60s, 70s and 80s that aimed to assimilate peoples and communities under an idea of "national development.” This in reality, led to the privatization and nationalization of territories. The Ayuujk People were not distant from these policies. At the end of the 1970s, a group of Ayuujk leaders educated in public universities united to disseminate information about the despotic policies introduced in the region and about the looting of natural resources. In 1979, they founded the Committee for the Defense of Natural, Human and Cultural Resources of the Mixe Region (CODREMI).

With the need to spread the word about the various activities that were taking place, and because most people in the communities were monolingual, ideas for use of tools such as television and radio emerged. A few projects started in the early 90s, and it was in the community of Tamazulapam of the Holy Spirit where the first community television station in Mexico was established. The station lasted long enough to provide a framework for works and art projects that are recognized today at international Indigenous film and video festivals.

Tlahuitoltepec community members were trained in the production of short programs, information spots about health, Indigenous rights, and environmental care, and were broadcast to the community through loudspeakers. Later, youth began sending their own productions to governmental radio stations. With the acquired experience, Radio Jënpoj came to life on August 7, 2001.

The beginnings of Radio Jënpoj were an exercise of appropriation, use, and enjoyment of the land because aerial space is a portion of the territory we step on and breathe; when we die, we return to being part of the earth. This is why we speak of a greater right--the right of our grandparents who inhabited Ayuujk lands, the right to occupy, govern, and enjoy the land, long before the arrival of the Spanish. We do not have to ask permission to be able to exercise this right, even if it is still far from being understood by the current institutions of the Mexican State. The first transmissions in the community of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca, also began, with the participation of youth and community authorities. They were able to witness the work that had been carried out for several generations and the station reinforced traditional values, such as: the exercise of autonomy, community authority, justice, history, spirituality, reciprocity with the environment, recognition of our Indigenous rights, Indigenous women’s rights and their political participation. These are the principles on which Radio Jënpoj was founded.

The station has specifically defined an editorial policy based on the community experience. "Ayuujk tsënää'yën tanää'yën" is expressed in the following communication values:

  • Jotkujk’äjtën, xëpääjtën, xë’ejxën (Joy, celebration, and entertainment)
  • Të’ëxyëjk wënmää’ny tsyënää’yën tyanää’yën (women’s life and participation in community life)
  • Ayuujk jaaky jo'tsk ( Ayuujk literacy, reading and writing in Ayuujk)
  • Et näxwii’nyët (land and territory)
  • Tsë'ëky'äjtën mëjk’äjtën (the good life, environmental and community health)
  • Kutunk, nëkäjpxën nëmatyääjkën (authority and information)

There are many obstacles Indigenous peoples and communities face in Mexico to operate and manage our own community media in exercising our autonomy and self-determination. The long struggle to confront the various state assimilation policies has resulted in territorial, cultural, and linguistic deprivation. Public stations were set up in Indigenous communities, which rather than strengthening the identities and cultures of our peoples, became the government's mouthpiece. When the towns and communities organized to control the media, these stations are closed and criminalized. Several Indigenous communities have faced the shutdown of stations and persecution of their operators. For instance, in 2002 these closures were seen in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca; Radio Totopo in Juchitan; and Radio Ñomdaa in Guerrero. The government sanctions escalated from a mere administrative offence to a penal crime, and some community members have received punishment of up to two years in prison.

Aside from the government’s violation of rights, private businesses have carried out a series of campaigns aimed at criminalizing community initiatives, calling them "pirates, clandestine, and an unfair competition." By lobbying both in the chamber of deputies and in government agencies, they push for the shutdown of these stations. Local and partisan authorities see their interests being impacted by public access to information available in Indigenous languages, which has speared greater organization and defense of land. Communities have been pressured and intimidated to stop producing radio programs. Two Triqui women broadcasters were murdered in 2008 for organizing outside of the institutional framework addressing the issues related to women’s rights and autonomy of our peoples.

It is necessary to continue advancing community media and organizing communities to defend their territories, increasingly threatened by extractive industries and development projects that do not take our peoples’ cultures into consideration. It is necessary to support and show solidarity with community initiatives, such as Radio Jënpoj, that for sixteen years  has been broadcasting from the slopes of the mountain of 20 deities, an emblematic place of resistance for Ayuujk people; a space where our hearts are happy with the sounds and gifts that are enjoyed at every celebration. The station also broadcasts online at

Radio Jënpoj is a cultural icon that revitalizes the community. It represents the people who listen to it and informs them of what is going on in their community, including current problems and offers possible alternatives. The station proudly highlights the participation and organization of women in the radio.

Drought and seed germination

Today, community media remains an obstacle for federal and state development projects, which continue to violate our cultures so that we abandon our "backward practices." Our language, although recognized in legislation, is not used in official documents. Our traditional medicine is not acknowledged as science unless it is registered as a patent by some foreign pharmaceutical company. Our clothing is exhibited in big museums by foreign curators. Our territories are not recognized as communal property, unless the Procomun (a program of certification of communal plots of land) comes to register the records of private possession, which results in alienating agrarian rights in favor of being servants to those who pollute our Mother Earth. Our religions and sacred practices are considered a thing of the past. Gender violence that is still present in our communities is merely a product of “rustic machismo,” and not recognized as a result of colonization.

The alienation of peoples happens through education, the Catholic religion and, now, the bombardment of consumerist ideas, sensationalist news devoid of essence orchestrated by large commercial radio and television monopolies. These are the people who are uncomfortable with our way of broadcasting because in community media we value the voices of those who for centuries have been deprived of the right to express their voices. Now, we, women and men, can speak in Ayuujk, in Zapoteco, in Chinanteco. Now, we can play the music of Cempoaltépetl, our Hymn for Konk and Tajëëw. Now, our leaders have the space to send their messages of support in Ayuujk to other communities that have been affected by natural disasters. Now our grandmothers and grandfathers can sit around the fire of Jënpoj (winds of fire) to pass on stories from generation to generation, from those who are already in the Jatu'uk et-näxwii'nyët (the other world). Now, our Ayuujk girls and boys sing, play, talk and learn from this side of the microphone, without being censored for saying what they think and feel. We all seek the ëy'äjtën tsuj'äjtën / ëy'äjtën mëjk'äjtën (the good life) in accordance with our Ayuujk philosophy of life.

With the passage of time and cyclical space, we have rights as human beings, we have rights as Ayuujk Zapotec, and Chinantec women, we have rights as Indigenous Peoples and we demand that these rights are respected. We do not want development that is genocidal, feminicidal, and detrimental to our Mother Earth. We want to continue walking together as a community. We will continue treading our paths between the mountains, between furrows and rivers, to send our voice and have it return, and to let Radio Jënpoj be the means to do so.