Indigenous Man Honored with Reebok Award

A Mixe man from Oaxaca, Mexico, is among the winners of the 2005 Reebok Human Rights Award for his use of video to improve the lives of indigenous and peasant communities.

Carlos Rojas, 28, was awarded the prize on May 11 during a ceremony at the University of California, Los Angeles. He received $50,000 to help further his work.

As a child, Rojas’ father’s family urged him to forget his Mixe background; if he didn’t, they said, he would never lead a decent life. Although indigenous peoples constitute more than 40 percent of Mexico’s population, their voices are ignored, even on topics that directly concern them such as their land, cultural traditions, and natural resources.

When Rojas moved to his mother’s hometown in Oaxaca to seek work in his early twenties, Rojas says, he was stunned to find her family wearing traditional clothing, speaking their own language, and following their own customs. The disparity between their pride in their heritage and the way society treated them awakened in Rojas a passion for supporting Mexico’s indigenous people.

When community members took over an abandoned television station, Rojas learned video production and witnessed the profound impact programming about their own community had on its members. As his expertise grew, so did his conviction that documentaries were the tools he needed to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples. Since 1998, he has worked at the Chiapas Media Project, a partnership that provides video and computer equipment and training to indigenous communities. Rojas teaches indigenous students to produce videos about their own communities. He also uses video to monitor and document human rights abuses against the indigenous and peasant communities in southern Mexico. His documentaries have exposed injustices, freed mistreated victims, and provided crucial evidence against human rights violators.

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