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Community Media Grants Coordinator | Raquel Xiloj: A Maya Leader Standing Up for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The first time I met Raquel Xiloj (Maya K’iche’) was during a site visit to a community on the southern coast of Guatemala. She was a young sociologist eager to learn about the struggles of rural people, especially Indigenous Peoples. As a Maya K’iche’ woman born in Guatemala City, Xiloj was always aware of the inequality, racism, and discrimination Indigenous Peoples faced in the urban and mostly mestizo environment where she grew up. She told me on that occasion, “I decided to study sociology to understand the causes of social problems and contribute with actions to change them.”

A few years after that meeting, we are pleased to announce that Xiloj has joined our family at Cultural Survival. After working for different civil society organizations, particularly with Indigenous Peoples and women, Xiloj says, “When I found out about the opening for the position of Community Media Grants Coordinator, I applied with great joy because it is an opportunity to continue with my commitment to creating a more just, inclusive, and democratic world for Indigenous Peoples.”

Xiloj’s exploration of her identity as an urban Indigenous woman enabled her path to support Indigenous Peoples’ rights. “My family had to move from a very poor village in Totonicapán to Guatemala City more than 40 years ago in search of better opportunities and access to basic rights, but this involved the progressive loss of our language and some cultural practices,” she says. Still, there are many cultural elements that Xiloj continues to integrate, such as gastronomy, Maya K’iche’ words, and spirituality and cosmovision, both consciously and unconsciously, into her daily life in Guatemala City.

For Xiloj, connecting with her family history is connected to feeling a deep appreciation for the struggles and efforts of all Indigenous Peoples, along with the awareness that there is still much to change in relation to the historic and current sociocultural conditions disproportionately affecting Indigenous Peoples. Being Indigenous and living in Guatemala City is often seen as not complying with the cultural stereotypes associated with Indigenous Peoples, such as not having an education or living in poverty.

Over time, Xiloj has reclaimed her right to reconfigure and redefine her Mayan K’iche’ identity while integrating other identities, such as being a young activist with a progressive philosophy. As a self-identified feminist, Xiloj says she struggles with the implications of patriarchy and machismo in private, public, and institutional spheres. “I do not consider myself alien to these realities and experiences. As women, these systems intersect in our daily lives and are omnipresent in our life trajectories,” she says.

Since starting at Cultural Survival in March, Xiloj has enjoyed sharing identities and experiences with a diverse team. She says there is much to learn and integrate in her role as Community Media Grants Coordinator to administer the Indigenous Community Media Fund and support Indigenous community radio stations around the world through grantmaking. “Since I have been at the organization, I have felt very comfortable and inspired by the team and the values that guide Cultural Survival, both internally and externally,” she says.

As a determined, curious, methodical person with a life purpose related to the pursuit for justice, balance, and harmony in society, Xiloj views life as a system of interconnected elements related in complex, nonlinear and dynamic ways, a holistic and comprehensive way of seeing the world and the systems we influence. Outside of work, she loves reading, watching videos about philosophy, doing puzzles, listening to electronic, synthwave, and K-indie music, and revitalizing her K’iche language. Professionally, she wants to learn more about project management, Indigenous community radio, and statistics.

The Indigenous Community Media Fund 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 globally. In 2021, the Indigenous Community Media Fund supported 57 media projects in 23 countries, totaling $340,500.

Photo by Diego Cesar. 

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