Non-traditional indigenous researcher visits UT

Marina Vences

When Ines Fernandez and Valentina Rosendo, two members of the Me’phaa nation, were raped and beaten by officers in the Mexican army in 2002, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights helped them bring charges against Mexico’s government. 

Rosalva Aida Hernandez, a cultural expert witness with the court, said the attack left a deep spiritual impact on the Me’phaa community.

Hernandez, a professor and senior researcher at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Anthropology in Mexico City, delivered a lecture Thursday on the justice system and the rights of indigenous women in Mexico. 

Hernandez has spent her academic career doing research to help other women like Ines and Valentina. Though Hernandez recognizes the limits academia has in making large changes in the Mexican government, the research she has been able to provide to advocacy groups and legal teams is also important.

“We, as researchers have limits. We can’t change the penal system for example all ourselves — we need other people,” Hernandez said. “But my team did make a big
difference to those two women who were attacked and other people we have helped release from prison.”

Paloma Diaz, the Scholarly Programs director at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, invited Hernandez because of her work and her unique
international perspective. 

“Getting students to talk with a researcher who does not use traditional research methods is important to get an idea of how her methods are seen and received in different places, like Mexico,” Diaz said. “She is trying to give a voice to women who don’t have a voice, which is something that is very important.” 

Sociology junior Zoey Hedge said she enjoyed learning about the changes Hernandez has brought about through her research. 

“I love the work she does with people in prison,” Hedge said. “[The prison system] tends to put people away and forget about them I think it’s great hearing her work that she is telling their stories.”

Both Hernandez and Diaz emphasized the privileges UT students have to bring about changes in unjust systems. 

“Just being in the United States is a privilege, and through my research, I am aware of the fact that I am a researcher who has a certain position of privilege and who is an outsider,” Hernandez said. “But I use that to help indigenous people instead of destroy them and their culture.”