Linked with ¿QUIÉN ES ITSMANIA PINEDA PLATERO?
She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “The person who, in his neighborhood, is depreciated for being a criminal or a drug addict, or a thief, in Xibalbá is treated and respected as a useful and important person, as an artist”.
She says also: “The Mayan people believed that hell was to be found in their personal encounter with selfishness, envy and all that that oppresses happiness. Xibalbá was the God of hell, not the hell conceived by Christians, but a hell, which is located inside each person … “.
Itsmania Erohyna Pineda Platero – Honduras
She works for Xibalbá, Arte y Cultura.
Honduras is a country broken by the chronic inequality that has excluded young people from the centers of economic and cultural opportunity, forcing them to survive on the margins of society, with the violence and inscrutability of the gangs. With the foundation, in 1989, of Xibalbá, Itsmania Pineda created a space and an opportunity where young people have the chance to change their lives and channel their artistic energies into different socially beneficial projects.
With these activities they are able to discover new identities, based on admiration and respect from the community.The director of an important Honduran newspaper called her to intercede on behalf of one of his photographers who had been threatened by a gang called Mara Salvatrucha. As the president of Xibalbá, Itsmania Pineda was a recognized social activist in Honduras and respected for her work for the defence and social rehabilitation of the gangs called maras.
She knew very well that the territory where that particular mara operated was a neighbourhood near to Tegucigalpa, the capital city. It was not very advisable to walk in those streets by night. But at dusk she decided to go there accompanied by her husband and another woman from the organization.
They arrived calmly and went to the place in the neighbourhood christened with the name The Street of Death where the leaders were smoking and drinking. Itsmania took no notice of the hostile welcome and presented her credentials with humility. However she warned them about the damage that an attempt on a journalist’s life could cause. She reasoned with them, pointing out the virtues of understanding and forgiveness.
She offered once more, the mediation of Xibalbá as a meeting place. But it was not a good occasion and the fury of the leaders was unleashed and insults were flying. Who did they think they were? What could, they possibly know about reasons and circumstances, drugs and murders. “I do not know what in hell you are doing here”, shouted the one who was most enraged, called El Pecas, waving his gun nervously and looking for an explanation on the faces of his minions.
Itsmania made plans for dinner without imagining that an hour later a gun would be pointed at her. She sighed, feeling suffocated by the smoke and the anger that the young guy had brought to that moment. Her friend was still tranquil even if she kept silence. She felt her husband’s caress on her back. We shall go home soon, she whispered to them a couple of times looking at the green drawings tattooed on the glittering skin of the shouting crowd. She remembered one of her favourite actors and her voice, the voice of this petite woman, began to increase in volume.
“I am not here to ask you for a favour. You are the ones who need us. You know that you can count on me. I do not want to waste my time. You decide!” And then she kept quiet. And they kept quiet while they watched her going away embracing her husband and taking her friend by her hand. Suddenly she turned round, winking an eye at Tom Cruise (Actor in the film Jerry Maguire, directed by Cameron Crowe, 1996) and urged them for the last time: “Help me to help you! Help me to help you!” In the Street of Death silence reigned, but it was not the silence of death.
Itsmania recognized him instantly. Four days had passed since that night. He came into the center and directed his steps towards her. He was not armed; he did not shout or insult her. El Pecas just said: “What we want is to be respected. We can agree on a truce but on condition we are respected. El Pecas, became voluntary a kind of protector of this small, almost fragile woman. He accompanies Itsmania especially when she has to go into dangerous neighbourhoods. When they arrive he talks with the gang leaders: “This woman and her people respect us so I and my cheros (fellows) respect her too”.
In 1989, along with a group of artists and community activists, Itsmania Pineda founded Xibalbá Art and Culture, an organization for socially excluded girls and boys. There they participate in workshops, programmes of rehabilitation and cooperative activities. All the work done -and undone- is based on human respect. It is independent of if their bodies are tattooed or not or their hair dyed phosphorescent red. Young people who are members of Xibalbá carry special cards. They are not exactly diplomatic passports but they help to stop the normal hard treatment by the police and help also to allay people’s fear.
Since Xibalbá was founded, Itsmania has worked for the respect and integration of the young people excluded from the national wealth and repressed by the socio-political system. Her work has been recognized far beyond the Honduran borders. In the genesis of Xibalbá the ancient Maya philosophy is involved as well as contemporary humanist thinking. She explains it as follows:
“The Mayan people believed that hell was to be found in their personal encounter with selfishness, envy and all that that oppresses happiness. Xibalbá was the God of hell, not the hell conceived by Christians, but a hell, which is located inside each person. To symbolize this concept the Maya carved caves in the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico). Through these caves you enter nature’s hearth, built of dark and narrow labyrinths where claustrophobia cannot be avoided.
Along these labyrinths there are several doors that lead to different places: some are open towards goodness and other tempt you with evil. Each door is represented by a different colour: yellow, red, green and white. Our organization took those colours as its identification. As each person gains more confidence in her identity, she begins to overcome her fear and an Inner Light begins to shine.
This Inner Light guides her out of the labyrinths, where she finds the truth, the truth that the Mayan people personified as the sun. That power, that truth, lies in self-control, a kind of self-regulation that reduces the need for using violence. That is the way we understand it: domination by other people shall be overcome by self control, by cooperation and in that way the use of weapons will be extinguished and police forces will not be necessary any longer. What are our strategies to achieve self-control and communion with others? We achieve it through the arts”.
“The young people that came to Xibalbá knew that they had problems. They had been abandoned for a long time. They had drug problems. They felt they had no choices left in life. They had to do something if they wanted to overcome this situation “. Itsmania’s strategy as a way forward in the project took note of the love of young people towards their art. “This art can be converted into a way to give them dignity and self respect. And Xibalbá became a seedbed of talented people: “Every one had to put everything they had into developing its potential and helping it to become known. The initial group had about 250 people made up of the artists, other support groups and the directors of the organization.
We began to organize art marathons in public spaces, in the University, in the streets and squares. In those art marathons, which lasted more than 12 hours, young people who had belonged to maras, or still belonged to them, presented fascinating work. The aim was to collect funds to meet urgent social needs”.
Xibalbá has held by now more than 300 marathons in the country in solidarity with charity organizations, hospitals, and sick children whose parents need economic help to pay for operations. This work merited the recognition of the World Food Programme of 2002; the United Nations included it in its reports about the economic development of the UNDP in 2003; and the Mexican government has recognized it as a paradigm for social rehabilitation and reintegration.
Itsmania Pineda, more than convinced, maintains that: “If we want to give them rehabilitation we have to offer real options. If they function together for the bad, they can act together for the good because they have brilliant minds”. (1000PeaceWomen).
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