Tere Martínez of CEDESA, 1947-2013: An Exemplary Life
By Holly Yasui
It began as a dream, fueled by the will and energy of a group of young campesinos, led by Father Guillermo (Padre Memo) Dávalos. They took on the greatest challenges that face humankind: poverty, ignorance and injustice. They created a place called CEDESA, the Center for Agricultural Development, where they lived and worked and brought others to share experiences, teach and learn. They planted crops and trees in the dry scrub-land, and ideas in fertile minds– about dignity, development and autonomy.
Among the many who contributed to this effort, the three “muchachas” – Lucha Rivera, Tere and Chela Martínez – decided to dedicate their lives to CEDESA. Lucha died in 2006, leaving Tere and Chela to carry on the work of CEDESA. A week ago, Tere died on April 17, leaving her sister Chela, the fourth pillar of CEDESA, standing alone – but not entirely. At an emotional meeting a few days after Tere’s death, the CEDESA team of outreach workers, consultants and directors reaffirmed their commitment to the dream and spirit of Padre Memo, Lucha and Tere.
Teresa Martínez Delgado was born on May 19, 1947 in the village of La Grulla, municipality of Dolores Hidalgo. At that time, no schools existed in the countryside, so Tere’s parents sent her to the city to live with her grandmother and attend primary school. Thus she became one of the few campesinas in the region who knew how to read and write. At the age of 12, she began to work as a literacy teacher and participated in courses given by Padre Memo on organizing, agriculture and handcrafts.
In 1970, Tere joined the board of directors of CEDESA, soon after Padre Memo was expelled from the parish in an “anti-communism purge” instigated by large landowners and their conservative clergy allies. In spite of this repression, Tere stood firm as the youngest director of CEDESA, and continued to organize in the villages, helping to develop community assemblies and collective projects such as corn-grinding mills and beekeeping. As a founding member of the Beekeepers Union of Northern Guanajuato, Tere remained an avid advocate for natural bee products all her life.
During the tumultuous 1980s, CEDESA with Tere, Lucha and Chela at the forefront, helped campesinos defend their rights to land and water though the regional Union of Campesino Communities of Northern Guanajuato. As a response to increasing immigration and abandonment of the countryside, Tere turned her attention to the campesino family economy. She helped implement the “Sustainable Campesino Home” project, encouraging families to root themselves strongly in their land by producing their own food and a surplus to trade or sell.
Tere was passionate about this campesino self-sufficiency project, especially fair trade and solidarity economy aspects. In 1999, she was elected president of the Mexican Network of Community Commerce. She was the driving force behind the Feria Nacional de Productores y Consumidores held annually in Dolores Hidalgo, offering a wide variety of organic products and handcrafts, and promoting barter and social coin. Tere also helped organize local community markets, including the Tiangüis Orgánico de San Miguel de Allende (TOSMA).
Teresa Martinez Delgado: a woman who dedicated herself heart and soul to a dream that she helped to make real, whose exemplary life is a light for those who follow.