In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the University’s Division of Student Affairs hosted an intimate conversation at the Trotter Multicultural Center yesterday afternoon with journalist Lydia Cacho.

Cacho, who is from Mexico, discussed her career, specifically how she’s launched battles against Mexican officials through her journalism in an effort to contribute to the human rights push in the country.

Cacho is the founder of Ciam Cancún, a shelter in Cancún for battered women and children. She has dedicated her life to speaking out for the abused and putting an end to sex trafficking and child prostitution and pornography through hundreds of articles and several books.

Engineering sophomore Nicole Bettes, public relations chair for the University’s Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee, asked questions while Cacho explained — partly in Spanish — that while Cancún has a reputation of being a tourist city, sex trafficking and other human rights crime aren’t uncommon.

“I enjoy the nice side of Cancún and I believe it’s beautiful,” Cacho told the audience of about 20 students and faculty. “But I deal with the dark side too.”

It’s not easy to protect women from violence in a country where many officials and civil servants are corrupt, Cacho said.

“In Mexico, when we call the police they will go to protect the batterer,” she said.

The idea for Ciam Cancún was an extension of Cacho’s work in radio, through which she often spoke out against domestic abuse.

“All of these women started coming to the radio station and saying to me, ‘What you’re saying is true, but where can we go?’” Cacho said.

Cacho explained how she stayed in a battered shelter to understand an abuse victim’s experience. Helping people through first-hand experience is necessary to fight Mexico’s human rights problems, she said.

“We cannot eradicate violence if we do not work within ourselves as individuals,” she said.

Despite her efforts, Cacho said her actions are rarely well received, especially because she is a woman working to eradicate political corruption.

“The government in Mexico thinks of me as a public enemy,” she said. “We have a macho society in Mexico. And the fact that I am a woman and a journalist, that I have a sense of humor about this and I am not a victim — the government doesn’t know what to do.”

But Cacho’s work has paid off. By exposing some of these human rights crimes through her journalism, the Mexican government has passed several laws against the violence of women and child pornography. She said the criminal justice system is a mess and she believes it will take a long time to see it corrected, but that change has to start somewhere.

“We are, I believe, in the seeds,” she said. “Eventually we will see a change.”

As Cacho told several stories of her work in the shelters — where women and children have been held at gunpoint — several audience members seemed taken aback by the extent of the corruption, while others nodded along, obviously familiar with similar tales.

Despite these issues, Cacho said she has faith that Mexico will overcome these challenges and move forward.

“We are a huge country with many good things to give to the world and ourselves,” she said.

Marilyn Williams, a University alum and adjunct lecturer in the University’s Undergraduate Comprehensive Studies Program, said it was moving to hear from an activist who puts her life on the line every day, especially since people in the United States appear somewhat unaware of the extent of the danger in Mexico.

“People go there to party and to enjoy their spring break but they don’t know what truly goes on in that area when they leave,” Williams said.

Rackham engineering student Paul Arias, chair of the University’s Hispanic Heritage Planning Committee, said it’s important to draw attention to the Latino community on campus.

“We want to bring big speakers to give the Latino community here a visibility that perhaps has been lacking in the past few years,” Arias said.

In an interview after her speech, Cacho said she has high expectations for University students to initiate change.

“I think the world is pretty much a mess because of what my generation did,” she said. “And I just truly expect a revolution from the younger generation.”

Students shouldn’t be afraid of the obstacles ahead of them, but rather rise to the challenge and embrace them, Cacho said.

“You have to take the world in your hands because otherwise it will destroy you,” she said. “This is your chance.”

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