Activists in Mexico City are celebrating a hard-fought victory after the city’s Interim Mayor Martí Batres announced late last month that officials will not be removing a feminist guerilla artwork from the capital’s main boulevard. The unsanctioned “anti-monument,” as it is known, honors the country’s victims of femicide and disappearance and replaced a Christopher Columbus monument that was dismantled in 2020. In the years since, city officials have proposed alternative statuary options, some of which have since been criticized and renounced by Indigenous community members.
After the monument to the Italian colonizer was removed from a roundabout on Paseo de la Reforma, a thoroughfare that runs directly through the city center, feminist organizers from all over the country — many of whom are Indigenous — reclaimed the space as a site of resistance and continuous protest. On September 21, 2021, activists took over the traffic circle to install a figure of justice on the center pedestal — a purple metal figure of a woman with her left fist raised — and dubbed the area “La Glorieta de las Mujeres que Luchan,” meaning “The Roundabout of the Women Who Fight.”
The roundabout has become the epicenter of multiple protests throughout the country, including demonstrations by the leftist Zapatista-led movement for Indigenous autonomy in Chiapas; calls for the release of five political prisoners hailing from Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón in Oaxaca; and demands for the end of systemic violence against Central American migrants and the country’s Indigenous communities, who comprise over 15% of Mexico’s total population.
At a press conference on Monday, June 26, the roundabout was loud with cheers and the sounds of mariachi music as activists celebrated the news that Batres, who recently assumed office after the former city mayor Claudia Sheinbaum resigned to compete for the country’s presidency, had confirmed the city “would not touch” the roundabout, which has since been covered with thousands of names of disappeared and murdered women and protest posters.
“After an intense, long battle, we managed to make dignity prevail,” reads a press release organizers shared. “They have given us nothing, they are awarding us nothing, and we have nothing to thank them for, because it is the resistance of all the women who have been here … that has sustained this space.”
In September 2021, Sheinbaum said the city would commission contemporary Mexican artist Pedro Reyes to sculpt a bust of an Olmec woman for the roundabout, which resulted in criticism from artists, writers, and curators who argued that “a male artist who does not identify as Indigenous” should not be tasked with the design. The controversy forced the city to reverse its appointment and explore alternative options.
Then, in October 2022, Sheinbaum announced that a replica of an unearthed ambiguous statue found in Veracruz along the country’s gulf coast in January 2022 would officially replace the previous Columbus monument. Known as “La Joven de Amajac,” meaning “Young Woman of Amajac,” the replica of the artifact was swiftly rejected by activists, who criticized its depiction of a pre-conquest ruling class and lack of connection to the country’s Indigenous communities.
Activists were prepared to continue defending La Glorieta and were not anticipating Batres’s announcement, organizer Teresa Villalobos told Hyperallergic over email. Only hours before the interim mayor confirmed to local reporters that the city would not disrupt the site, Villalobos said that demonstrators were on alert on the evening of the night of June 21, when government trucks and workers pulled up to the roundabout.
“We hesitated because the government has been very strict in its insistence that both ‘La Joven de Amajac’ and La Glorieta de las Mujeres que Luchan share the space,” Villalobos explained, adding that it was not until the next day that mayor agreed to leave the “anti-monument” alone. Rather than place the replica of “La Joven de Amajac” in the center of the roundabout, city officials have decided to instead place it in a space near the site, a decision that has resulted in mixed opinions among organizers.
“For some of us, it is a triumph that ‘La Joven de Amajac’ will not be placed in the roundabout because the head of government did not succeed in imposing on the space. If the government entered, it would be like colonizing the site again,” Villalobos explained to Hyperallergic. “For others, it is a sign of stubbornness from the presidential candidate, who could have found a better place [for the sculpture] rather than insist it be like some kind of shadow.”
In addition to their long-time aforementioned list of demands, organizers are now requesting that the city recognize the site with changed names to the nearby bus stops and road signs — some of which still carry the name of the previous Columbus statue.
“We want justice, and we will take advantage of the space to achieve it,” Villalobos said.