Appointment Of Teacher Delfina Gómez Stirs Up Debate On Racism

“I would never take a penny from anyone , that is not the product of my work and my effort.” This is the phrase that has ignited social networks in Mexico after the appointment of Delfina Gómez as head of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP) this week.

The statement is old and was produced in a television interview when she was a candidate for the governorship of the State of Mexico in 2017. In a matter of hours, the word nadien became a trend. And the disqualification and ridicule began:

“This lady cannot spin a sentence, she cannot read or speak.” ” Nobody better than Delfina at the head of the SEP.” ” Nobody like her to steal money from teachers.”

Delfina Gómez, 58, is the second woman to take office , after the appointment of Josefina Vázquez Mota in 2006. Daughter of a bricklayer and a housewife, she has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the National Pedagogical University and another postgraduate at the Tecnológico de Monterrey.

She has nearly two decades of teaching experience and was a school principal for 10 years. She has been a deputy, elected senator and mayor of Texcoco, her hometown. No line on his resume was included in the attacks.

The arrival of Gómez breaks with the profile of the Secretaries of Education who had been appointed in this Government and the previous ones. He replaces Esteban Moctezuma, an economist with a postgraduate degree from the University of Cambridge.

Moctezuma arrived after Otto Granados, now visiting fellow at Harvard University, and Aurelio Nuño, educated at Oxford. “I believe that the Ministry of Public Education had never been occupied by a primary school teacher,” said the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, when announcing the appointment.

“Most of the critics do not question her political or professional experience, but rather her origin and profession are used to disqualify her,” says Elisa Velázquez, a researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History. “This is a sample of the problems of racism that exist in Mexico, although this is often denied or silenced,” says Velázquez.

“López Obrador is a president of symbols and this nomination sends an important message,” says Manuel Gil Antón, a specialist at the Colegio de México. The first sign is to appoint someone who knows education from the field and not behind a desk.

The second is the turnover in the traditional ruling elites. “He is a person who does not have the academic blazons of his predecessors, but who is much more like how the teachers of the country are seen”, says Gil Antón, “he is also very different from the teachers of Finland or the Scandinavian teachers with the that the Mexican aristocracy dreams of ”.

Gil Antón describes the teasing as “unacceptable” because of its class and racial bias. And gender. No appointment in the Cabinet has been so questioned in López Obrador’s two-year tenure.

Two weeks earlier, the president appointed Tatiana Clouthier , an English Language graduate, as Secretary of the Economy, and the response from the government’s most radical detractors was not so furious.

The appointment of Clouthier, with a lighter skin tone and the daughter of a former presidential candidate for the conservative National Action Party, went virtually unnoticed.

“We almost never see racist or class insults when the person in question has economic power,” says Velázquez. “Racist and class manifestations accumulate: not only is she of humble origin, she is also a woman,” he adds.

Public scrutiny is higher for women too and tends to address issues that men never touch, whether it’s how they look or “who’s behind them”: as if they couldn’t think for themselves or, in any case, make responsible for their own actions.

“If a woman does it badly in a public position, all women fail; if a man does it wrong, he is seen as an individual failure ”, affirms Edith Matías Juan, from the Indigenous Professional Center for Counseling, Defense and Translation.

“It is no less than criticism to surface when she is appointed Secretary of Education, an issue that worries everyone, but in which many prejudices are also deposited,” adds Velázquez.

The taunts against Gomez not only ranged from classism to racism, a division that still provokes heated debates in Mexico. They also start from language to define the person in question.

This linguistic racism not only drags the belief that there are superior and inferior languages, it also hierarchizes the ways of expressing oneself in the dominant language, says Matías Juan.

“Although on paper this linguistic diversity is increasingly recognized, the stigmas for speaking differently continue to reproduce,” he says. It begins with the difference between saying pecsi or Pepsi and ends in the denial of rights and exclusion:

Women who suffer obstetric violence for not being Spanish-speaking, men unjustly convicted for not having a trial in their language,people who are ridiculed for their way of speaking .

“These criticisms only portray those who make them,” says Marco Fernández, an Education specialist from Mexico Evalúa, a think tank that is often critical of López Obrador.

“The crux of the discussion is not in whether he has diction problems or not, there are more important issues, such as who is going to surround himself in his close circle or what his management will be like after the tsunami of the pandemic”, says the professor of the Tecnológico del Monterrey.

Mexico faces desertion and emotional upheaval due to the coronavirus crisis, budgets limited by the president’s austerity policies and the challenge of returning to classes in person, issues ignored in the uproar on social media, says Fernández.

In Gil Antón’s opinion, the fact that a teacher directs the Education portfolio does not guarantee anything by itself, but it does open the possibility of a change that improves dialogue with the teaching profession, takes teachers into account and fills them with contained the “New Mexican School”, a project promoted by Moctezuma, which has not finished landing or materializing.

“The president has defended that Gómez knows about Education, the issue is that he really listens to it,” he warns.

It remains to be seen whether the closeness between Gómez and López Obrador will translate into a greater margin of action for an ambitious administration at the head of the SEP. If its proximity to the educational unions will shore up or diminish that need for change.

If the new secretary will be able to circumvent the bureaucratic labyrinth of the SEP and the state secretariats to make a difference. If the old complaints about the collection of “tithes” to trusted workers will weigh down his political career.

None of these issues is due to her being a woman or her social origin, nor can they be resolved until she formally assumes office. “Let’s start by evaluating her by what she does in her new position,” concludes Velázquez.

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