Reading time: 13 minutes
The Mexican Adryana Lozana takes over the sceptre in a purely macho domain. Against all predictions and despite all obstacles she is extremely successful. A report about female courage and strategies in a male environment.
The First Time
Chihuahua 2010. Adriana Lozano remembers her first time at work well. She turns off the engine, takes a quick look in the rear-view mirror, straightens her long black hair, plucks the neckline of her blouse, puts both hands on the steering wheel and pauses briefly. Breathe, she tells herself, breathe calmly and deeply. She try to bring the rhythm of her heartbeat down to normal speed, to control her inner tremor. She has made the long dusty drive over gravel roads and tracks of the North Mexican highlands to negotiate milk prices and sales volumes with the vaqueros, the Mexican cowboys. She is doing this for the first time. She fears being ripped off because she has too little experience. But the fear of not being taken seriously because she is a woman is even greater.
Fragments of conversation and laughter from the men penetrate through the closed window. About 30 cowboys and farmers have gathered at the small ranch near Chihuahua. Chihuahua, that is Nahuatl, the language of the ancestors and means: dry, sandy land. The men are as rough as the land that feeds them. They all wear what is common in this northernmost Mexican state: cowboy hat, boots made of snake or crocodile leather, machete, knife and crop, deep wrinkles in sun-tanned faces and scepticism towards everything they don’t know. The so-called vaquero culture (cattle culture), this is their home. The men from Chihuahua are considered to be tough guys, tough, stubborn and indestructible. They worship women or look down on them. They whistle at them or beat them. In their world women belong in the kitchen or on the dance floor. But not at the negotiating table. Machos per excellence.
Adriana hesitates briefly. It would be so easy to start the engine again and just turn it off. But pinching is not an option. The family business, a dairy shop, Leche Viva, is about to go bankrupt. The father recently had a stroke and the oldest brother has taken his own life. All that remains is her, the eldest daughter Adriana, to pull the cart out of the mud and save the family business. Not only the entire family income depends on this, but also that of her employees and the approximately 400 dairy farmers who supply the farm.
She opens the car door and puts one foot out. No high heels. Knee-high boots over tight jeans. Nevertheless, it suddenly becomes quiet as a mouse. Everyone stares at her. „As if a ghost appeared to them“ Adry will say later. At the same time she had announced herself. Her name and voice betray her gender. But according to the vaqueros, a woman does not belong here. At best in the stable. For milking.
Veracruz 2015. Adriana is attending the annual meeting of livestock associations as a delegate of the Dairy Producers‘ Association. Head of State Pena Nieto, the Governors of Chihuahua and Veracruz and many other public figures are present. It will take 15 minutes to welcome them all by name. This time there are more white shirts and less cowboy hats. Out of 2000 delegates, 2 are women, one of them is Adriana. She checks in and gets a folder with documents. She is pink. Adriana looks around and notices that the others (men) have grey folders. She also wants a grey folder. „No, no“, says the lady at the reception,
„The pink folders are for women. Aren’t you a woman?“
Adriana looks at the schedules, realises that she has a different one than her colleague. With her: appointments for visits and coffee breaks. With him: lectures and working groups. It turns out: the pink folders are for the female escorts. Once again she insists on a grey folder. She is a delegate and attends the congress. The receptionist insists: pink for women. Adriana has to call someone responsible to receive her documents.
Chihuahua 2018. Rodolfo Vallecillos, white moustache, open shirt, 66 years old, sitting in front of a huge potato mountain. The knife of the 66 year old rancher has never seen a kitchen before and yet he is now tirelessly peeling it for about 100 fellow ranchers who have been blocking the tracks of Delicias for a week. It is hot, a dry wind is drying out the throats. News is coming from a radio. Men in cowboy hats sit together, on a wall, on folding chairs and bales of hay. They have been blocking the tracks for a week. It is the most important north-south railway line in Mexico. Normally trains of the Ferromex thunder here daily towards El Paso and on to North America. Metals, ores, wheat, corn, industrial goods: millions of tons are transported along this route. Now men in cowboy hats sit on the tracks and eat stew. The trains are lined up for kilometres like pearls on a necklace just outside the village. At the level crossing a truck and a tractor block the track. A banner complains: el Gobierno mata al sector lechero, the government is destroying the dairy sector!
In the middle, but not on the pot: Adriana. Tirelessly she answers the questions of the Companeros and the journalists. Adriana is the spokeswoman. But not only that. She is managing director of the „Desarrollo social Lechero“, an association of 300 milk producers and she is a member of parliament for her state at the Union de Productores de Leche del Estado (Union of Dairy Producers). If you listen to the vaqueros, you will hear nothing but words of praise and appreciation for Adriana. Rodolfo, the potato peeler, has known her for 8 years now.
„She is a very beautiful woman“ he says. After a short break he quickly adds „but also very intelligent“. As if that was a contradiction. „In the beginning she had a hard time as a woman. The machismo is already very fierce here in the north. But she has earned the respect of everyone. She is a born leader and helps us to enforce our rights.“
The dispute has been smouldering for months. The government is pushing prices down to win votes; for five years the milk price has been frozen at 6.3 pesos. Farmers argue that during this time their costs have risen by about 70 %. How is one supposed to survive? More and more of them would have to reduce their herds, sell cattle, in order to make ends meet. In the medium term, all small farmers would perish. But the government has remained stubborn.
So after a long discussion, the farmers decided to take a radical step: blocking the tracks. All or nothing. They are led by Adriana, their leader.
„Companeros, a war is not won with one battle,“ Adriana calls into the microphone, „but with many battles and one strategy.
What is meant here is the milk producers‘ dispute with the federal authorities and LICONSA, in Mexico City. Liconsa is a state-owned company that industrialises milk and distributes it to the needy at subsidised prices. And so milk becomes a political issue.
Liconsa has an interest in paying little for the milk Global players like Nestle or Danone are guided by the purchase prices that Liconsa pays milk producers. And they have remained almost unchanged at around 6.3 pesos for 5 years. In the same period, however, the cost of living has risen by around 70%, says Rodolfo, who had to sell another animal from his herd this week because the income is not enough. Now he still has 79 cattle. „We are small and medium-sized producers and will all disappear sooner or later if we don’t get more money for our milk.“
So it is about nothing less than this struggle for existence of the milk producers when Adriana talks about war and battles. But the phrase „a war is won with many battles and a good strategy“ could just as well stand for Adriana’s success, perhaps for her whole life.
To understand this we have to look back a little.
Chihuahua 1977. Adry lies as a small bundle in the arms of the aunt who caresses and cradles it. Maybe it thinks it is its mother. At least he will always say later that the aunt is her second mother. The first, the bodily one, fell into a depression at birth from which, apart from brief interruptions, she will not come out until today. Maria Elena, an orphan, who grew up with her grandparents in modest circumstances, does not want to see the child. And the father? Has disappeared. Adry first grows up with his great-grandparents, in Delicias, on the outskirts of a small town, where the children are still allowed to play and romp outside, where the adults sit together in the shade and drink lemonade. These are the happy years of their childhood.
Then the mother meets a man, gets pregnant, marries him and brings Adriana to her home. Julio Lozano is Spanish. A beautiful, smart, proud man. But also a know-it-all, quick-tempered and impulsive. A conquistador. Adriana’s mother lies at his feet. The daughter calls him Papa. Adriana is 6 years old when her brother Felipe is born. After that, 2 more siblings follow at intervals of one year: Julio and Gabi. Adriana becomes what is called „hija parental“ in Mexico. It is the child (usually the eldest girl) who takes over part of the parental responsibilities and duties. The mother gives Adriana more than a child can carry.
„I had to cook for everyone and I would be the last to eat. The father was allowed to eat first. Sometimes there was nothing left over and the cooking would start all over again.„
The little siblings are problematic. One of them hardly moves at all, the other one cries all the time. Adriana is in a permanent state of excessive strain. And fear. When the father comes home from work, he is often in a bad mood, the mother is completely dependent on his moods and busy trying to please him. „Actually, I only remember the evenings and weekends with two extremes: either both parents were euphoric and busy playing love games or they argued and fought“. The child hears both from the next room, always trying to keep the siblings quiet so that the father doesn’t get worked up. Sometimes he was beaten badly, says Adriana. For a few years the mother worked in her husband’s company. When the parents came home, everything had to be ready and spick and span: cleaning, cooking, bathing the children, doing their homework. In order to assert herself with her siblings, Adriana sometimes resorts to means that the father uses: she asserts herself with physical violence.
„For example, I grabbed one of the siblings and forced it into the shower. With a slap in the face if necessary. I was still a child myself and had learned nothing else. And then there was the fear: if I didn’t make sure it was clean, the father would beat her. And he will hit her harder.“
Adriana feels guilty when she beats her siblings. And she has the same feelings when the father hits the little ones. She feels responsible in any case. Later, the siblings accuse her of being hard.
If you ask the old father today how Adriana was as a child, he admits: „I don’t know. She was obedient and hard-working. I didn’t really get much out of her. I was a man of work.“ Thinks for a moment, sighs and adds „A man who didn’t pay enough attention to the children. They needed me more.“ That is how he sees it today. Not then.
At that time he ignores his daughter and noticeably prefers the other children, the physical ones. No matter how hard Adriana tries, the desired attention is withheld from her. Only her aunt, whom she cared for so lovingly during the first few months, stands by her side, giving her comfort and advice. Sometimes, says the aunt, she has come to check on things. Once she discovered Adriana in the toilet. She had locked herself in there to do her homework in peace. She kneeled down in front of the toilet bowl and used the toilet lid as a desk.
Adriana sometimes protests at home, wants to fight for freedom, wants to go out and play with her friends. Then the mother says: „You have to earn what you eat here first. Or manipulated. „You want to play. Yes, go ahead. Then your sick mother does the laundry. Then she’ll get worse. As long as you’re okay.“
Today Adriana says she has mastered the art of manipulation, learned it from scratch. That is why she became a leader.
„Even a baby manipulates you. Then the mother, religion, politics. But there is dangerous, toxic manipulation. That’s when a person manipulates others through lies, guilt and victimhood, and all for his own well-being. A leader also manipulates, but with facts. He tries to unite rather than divide and does it for the good of others.“
An Armour for Women
Delicias 2018. While the coffee bubbles, Adriana gets ready for the day. She designed the modern house where she lives alone for a while. She is proud of it. Large, bright rooms, bright, cheerful furnishings. In her walk-in wardrobe she makes a selection for today: patterned silk blouse with a low neckline, a cardigan jacket, tight jeans, above them knee-high leather boots with ladies‘ heels. She applies make-up, make-up, eyelashes, eyeliner, lips. „It’s part of my armour,“ she says, „the way a bullfighter dresses before a fight.“ Laughs. Choose the pair for today from eight pairs of long boots.
Mexican women can use this kind of armour . Even better: a bulletproof vest. Since 2006, almost 9000 women have disappeared throughout the country. Many of them later turned up as corpses, shot, stabbed, mutilated, disposed of in rubbish dumps. Others were never found. They had to die because they wanted to leave their husband, because they said „no“ to someone, because they were raped and the perpetrator wanted to erase all traces. Since 2011, „feminicide“, the murder of women, has been explicitly listed as a criminal offence in the law.
A recent survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography found that two-thirds of Mexican women have been victims of male violence at least once; the northern state of Chihuahua, Lozana’s home, is particularly affected. Every third Mexican woman complains that she has been harassed, discriminated against, humiliated or abused by colleagues or superiors at her workplace.
To this day, it is common practice for Mexican men to leave the country as soon as they have impregnated a woman. Hordes of single parents fight for the survival of their children in Mexico. The chance of holding a runaway husband financially responsible is almost zero. Because there is no obligation to register with the police.
Men and women are equal in Mexico, according to Article 1 of the Constitution. But the idea that women are worth less than men has become deeply rooted in the country’s culture. And in the language. When Mexicans think something is great, they call it „muy padre“ or „padrissimo“ – meaning „extreme father“. The other way round, they say: „eso vale madre“, literally: this is worth a mother, in the sense of being worth nothing. Or also: „me importa madre“. This is none of my business.
The Female Takeover
Delicias 2010. When Adriana takes over the management of the family business „Leche Viva GmbH“ resistance arises. Some employees said it bluntly: „we do not want to work with a woman“.
The accountant is one of them. Adriana depends on him. He should explain the procedures to her. He holds back documents, turns simple procedures into highly complex secrets and snide comments when Adriana asks.
„At first I thought I was actually too stupid to understand it. It was only later, when I was trained, that I understood: he deliberately made it complicated.
One of the bank’s employees also refuses himself. He claims that women are problematic. Whenever there is something to clarify, he demands to speak to the father. Adriana changes banks. Problem solved. Actually, Adriana should just wind up the ailing business. He has long been in the red. But she introduces a controlling system, renegotiates contracts, recruits big customers and kicks out her old accountant. The company recovers. Adriana builds up a network of contacts, including politicians, cowboys, trade unionists and members of associations.
Women are different and negotiate differently, says Adriana. They have a sixth sense. She once had the opportunity to bring down her worst enemy and competitor with the help of other competitors. But she refused to be part of the conspiracy. Today her former enemy is a friend, a loyal customer and an ally.
„Men are more into power and fighting. I want to measure their strength. Want to win. We women are strong in communication, awareness-raising, dialogue and the Union“.
Adriana does not want to win. Whenever there is a conflict, she wants both sides to emerge satisfied. Win-win then. If things don’t go the way she wants them to, she believes in a „grand plan“ where everything has a purpose. That gives her confidence.
One strategy that has always driven her forward is the openness with which she meets others. „I just try to be myself, to be honest.“ That makes her vulnerable on the one hand, but more credible on the other. Authenticity and transparency make her open to others. It creates trust and security and these are still the best foundations for negotiations.
Feminine, Modern, Successful
Delicias 2018. If you ask male employees today what it is like to have a woman as boss, they squirm in phrases. Their fear of giving a politically incorrect answer is so great that they even deny a gender difference in leadership style. It does not matter whether a woman or a man runs the company. After all, there is the principle of equal rights in Mexico. All are equal, female bosses, the most normal thing in the world. The female employees see it differently.
Eunice Rachel Perez has been in the company since 2013. Unlike her predecessor, Adriana is interested in the social circumstances of her employees and tries to help where she can. Adriana gives the employees more responsibility. Motivation and a feeling of togetherness in the company has increased considerably. It was a completely different management style than under the authoritarian father. Adriana sets clear rules and insists on strict adherence to them. A female attitude, she adds. This is not the first time I’ve heard that. Feminine? Why is that?
„In Mexico women are responsible for the survival of the family. The man may earn the money on his own, but we women ’stretch‘ it so that it lasts until the end of the month. Women’s sense of responsibility is much more pronounced than men’s. While the men go to the pub with their boyfriends on Friday evenings and bang the money on the head, we buy a supply of corn and vegetables and hurry home“.
A Withdrawal is not a Defeat
Chihuahua, März 2018. It is Friday, the day of the week, when the accounts must be made in the company. Adriana is urgently needed there. But first she has to hurry back to the blockade at the railway lines. The men motivate, support, make plans for the operation. The blockade is now in its second week. Adriana drives along the railway line with her car. Wagon after wagon, train after train are waiting there. She utters a sibilant sound of „I wonder what it costs? I don’t even want to know“. Isn’t she afraid that the military will intervene, clearing away truckers and tractors, dismantling the illegal occupation? No. She has not. Adriane is not afraid. Milk is a political issue for the Mexican government and it is a social issue. They would not dare to crack down so hard. Especially not in an election year. The phone is ringing. Adriana answers it. Today, decisions are to be made in Mexico City. What she hopes to gain from the blockade, the reporter wants to know. Whether she is already on the air, Adriana asks professionally. Yes, the reporter confesses. Adriana winks at me and whispers, „he wanted to keep it quiet“. She is a great speaker. She explains extemporaneously the complexities of dairy policy, why this is not about extorting more money but solving a social problem, what happens when small and medium-sized milk producers disappear from the market and what the milk prices have to do with the election campaign
Later in the camp there will be news. The government had promised to increase the price of milk, but asked for 48 hours to discuss the amount. During that time the railway line should be opened. No way! The gauchos call out and raise their fists. Adriana grabs the microphone. Say the sentence about the war that cannot be won in a battle. Suggests clearing out over the weekend. So everyone can recharge their batteries and reorganise. If the government doesn’t keep its promise, the guns could be fired again on Monday. But no, the men cannot be convinced. Pleading loudly to go on. Adriana says:
„That is the difference! For men a retreat is a defeat. It is a matter of winning or dying. Black or white. I see it differently. The goals are important, but so is the path to the goal: learning, developing, living. And not everything can be done in a hurry.“
It is put to the vote. Most are in favour of maintaining the blockade. Adriana is against, but will continue to support the group. Living democracy.
The next day, it is Saturday, the family comes to visit. The younger brother, Pancho, tattooed, has just been released from rehab. The sister is there, with her deaf and dumb child and husband, the father, old but still beautiful, the mother lost in her gloomy thoughts. Adriana is the rock in the family surf, entertaining the parents and supporting the siblings financially. Sometimes she wonders if she has made all the effort to get the father’s recognition. Maybe.
„Part of me still feels responsible for everyone. Which part is free decision and which manipulation? I have reconciled myself with my story. When you experience so much crap there are two possibilities: either you crash or you grow from it.“
You cannot prevent fear and pain in life, but you can prevent dealing with it. That is why Adriana wants to leave the dairy business behind at some point and build a school where people learn to perceive, process and transform their pain. A school of resilience. By women for women.
Text and Fotos: Gitti Müller