Raoul Wallenberg Award Recipient Speaks at Neutral Zone

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Sarah Kerson and Shadi Ahmadmehrabi

She couldn’t play soccer. They wouldn’t let her. Lydia Cacho, a Mexican feminist and human rights activist, discovered sexism at a young age. “Girls shouldn’t play soccer in Mexico.”

Cacho, who was in town to accept the Raoul Wallenberg HumanitariLydia Cacho Speaks at Neutral Zonean Award, came to the Neutral Zone to talk about her life as a journalist in hopes of sparking discussion. The B-Side was not arranged as a lecture hall, but rather an open forum. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, mirroring Lydia herself.

Growing up in Mexico City, Lydia considered herself middle class. But her feminist mother often took Lydia and her family of six to see the slums that they weren’t a part of. “I would see the starving kids and ask ‘why them?’ Why can’t they go to school?”

Cacho still doesn’t have an answer.

“If you do, let me know,” said Lydia, addressing the small, yet attentive crowd.
In 1999, Cacho founded CIAM Cancun, a shelter for battered women and children, often victims of sexual abuse. “For us, it’s a magical place. It’s a place where people can come and are recognized as humans,” said Cacho, who supported the center with her salary as a journalist during its development.

Cacho met the inspiration for her 2005 book Los Demonios del Edén (“Demons of Eden”) at the Cancun based shelter in 2004. The story a young woman told of her escape from a trafficking circle prompted Cacho to investigate child pornography in Cancun. Her results were published in 2005. Although the book was not well known at the time, it was controversial. Cacho was captured and tortured for 20 hours by a group of men hired to silence her.

“They asked me if I was brave enough to keep writing,” said Cacho. Although Cacho agreed to stop writing at that time, she went on to write another book about her experiences as a journalist.

Cacho now has a newspaper column where she cannot be censored and is free to express her opinions. Cacho continues to cover human rights issues. “I’m doing something I think everyone else should do,” Cacho said.

Cacho has bright hopes for Mexico in the future and wants to see a cultural revolution occur. “It’s gonna get really worse before it gets better,” Cacho said. It is her opinion that the only way to stop sexism and abuse is to interrupt the cycle. Cacho believes the upbringing of men in a society, particularly in Mexico, is a contributing factor to the stereotypical male/female gender roles. Cacho believes a key component in interrupting the cycle of male dominance and the sexual abuse of women is to provide everyone with sexual education that discusses the emotional side of sexual relationships as well as the physical side. Lydia was raised with a clear understanding of this because of her mother. As a sexologist, Lydia’s mother made their house an open atmosphere meant for discussing everything.

North Star, a discussion group for women at the Neutral Zone, put on the event. The group is run by teen facilitators Hilary Burch and Caroline Robb and is overseen by advisor Natalie Berriz. The group often discusses feminist issues and is an active participant in the community.