Teresa Ortiz is a modest woman, who says she is still surprised that she received the Peacemaker of the Year Award from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a national organization that supports peacemaking. According to Don Christensen, coordinator of the Minnesota FOR, “Immigrants are among the most oppressed members of our society; Teresa Ortiz has dedicated much of her adult life, at the Resource Center of the Americas, and now at the Workers Interfaith Network, to compassionate advocacy for justice for immigrant workers and their families. Her life is a witness to solidarity with the marginalized.”
Christensen says the Minnesota FOR gives the award annually to an organization, group or individual in the community whose life “exemplifies the basic values and principles of the Fellowship of Reconciliation – Peace with Justice through Non-violence.” Ortiz received the award at the annual meeting of the local chapter of FOR held at Macalester Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul in November.
Ortiz was born in Mexico City, and came to the United States in the 1970s. While living in southwest Minnesota, she attended South Dakota State University where she received a degree in elementary and secondary education. She later went on to the University of Minnesota for additional studies in the area of education.
During the 1980s Ortiz came to Saint Paul. She taught Spanish at all grade levels at several different schools in the Twin Cities metro area – Anoka Senior High, Anoka Hennepin Community College, Tesseract, and the International School of Minnesota.
During the 1990s, Ortiz went to Guatemala for the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College. Her intention was “to introduce people to the reality of war-torn places.” In 1995 she moved with her family to Chiapas, Mexico. One of her goals to help people in Chiapas, especially the women, to organize and to build community. While there she founded the Cloudforest Initiative to work with coffee growers’ cooperatives to sell Fair Trade coffee. She continues to serve as a member of the board of Cloudforest.
|Indigenous – native, or original inhabitant of a country or a region
Zapatista Movement– Named for Emiliano Zapata (1877-1919), who fought for land reform and freedom for the indigenous people of Mexico. In 1994, the Zapastistas staged a revolt triggered by the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico sought land, respect, and political and cultural freedom.
In 1997, Ortiz began interviewing the women she was working with in Chiapas, with the hope of writing a book. Ortiz explains that most of the writing about the indigenous people in Mexico is written from the analytical point of view, with very little as told by participants. She wanted to highlight women’s voices and stories.
Her book, Never Again a World Without Us: Voices of Mayan Women in Chiapas, was published in 2001. Never Again tells the stories of indigenous women, many of whom were involved in the Zapatista movement, all of whom were affected in some way by the movement.
“By writing from the point of view of the participants, it opened the stage to people giving their testimonies,” Ortiz explains. “It is difficult to understand the movement of people who are indigenous. It is very foreign to us. When you learn that the needs of the indigenous are very much the same as we have for food, housing… the impact is great.”
Ortiz now works for the Workers Interfaith Network where she assists immigrants and any workers who need help with human rights and workers rights. Until last August when it ceased operation, she had worked for the Resource Center of the Americas for seven years.
She also does outreach in Saint Paul for the TC Daily Planet where she promotes citizen journalists, and encourages them to tell the daily stories of their communities.
A resident of the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul, Ortiz says she likes the neighborhood feel and the diversity of Frogtown, and adds, “ I love my neighbors.” She is the mother of three grown children, Gabriel, Aaron, and Carmen.
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, lives in the North End neighbood. Now working as a free lance writer, Mary is retired from Saint Paul Public Schools, and served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.