- Associated Press
As a Child, She Sold Street Tamales; a Senator Now, She’s Shaking Up Mexico’s Presidential Race
10:47 JST, July 21, 2023
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A street-food salesgirl who became a tech entrepreneur and senator is shaking up the contest to succeed Mexico’s popular president and offering many voters the first real alternative to her country’s dominant party.
Xóchitl Gálvez, 60, helped her family as a girl by selling tamales on the street. Today the straight-talking opposition senator is a long shot against Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, which holds Congress and 22 of Mexico’s 32 states.
Despite her slim chances, Gálvez seems to have shaken the president so badly that he’s been insulting her almost daily during his morning briefings. The opposition senator comfortably sits in the national spotlight nearly a year ahead of the June 2, 2024 national election.
“She fills a space that was completely empty,” said Roy Campos, president of polling firm Mitofsky Group. “All of the opposition population starts to see her and it generates hope.”
Next year’s election is López Obrador’s chance to show if he has built a political movement that can outlast his charismatic leadership. Whoever his successor is, they will have to tackle persistently high levels of violence, heavily armed drug cartels and migration across the nearly 2,000-mile border with the United States.
Campos’s group has not conducted an opposition candidate survey but that doesn’t prevent him from feeling comfortable declaring Gálvez a “political phenomenon.”
A political independent who initially set her sights on competing to be Mexico City mayor and often travels the sprawling capital on a bicycle, Gálvez entered the Senate chamber in December dressed as a dinosaur, an allusion to party leaders known known for their archaic, unmovable practices. At the time, López Obrador had proposed electoral reforms that critics said would weaken the country’s National Electoral Institute. The Senate passed them earlier this year, but the Supreme Court later blocked them from taking effect.
Gálvez never shies from conflict with López Obrador. She went to a judge in December asking for an order to let her speak at the president’s daily press briefing. She was granted the order, but the president rejected it.
Gálvez’s fluid use of profanity, contrasting with her comfort moving in political circles, is an advantage with much of the working class, and with many young Mexicans. She registered this month to compete for the presidential nomination of a broad opposition coalition — the historically leftist PRD, the conservative PAN and the PRI that ruled Mexico for 70 years — joking that López Obrador was her campaign manager.
López Obrador remains highly popular, and while he cannot run for another six-year term, several high-profile members of his Morena party have been jockeying fiercely for months. They include Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Interior Secretary Adan Augusto, who all agreed to resign their positions last month to campaign in earnest.
Their faces are plastered on billboards across the country, while Gálvez makes clever videos often shot with her own iPhone, some viewed millions of times.
Mexican society is looking for someone new to believe in, Gálvez told The Associated Press.
“We’ll have to see how much I manage to connect and how much I can convince,” she recently told the AP.
Growing up poor in the central state of Hidalgo, her father was an Indigenous Otomi schoolteacher. He was also abusive, macho and alcoholic, Gálvez said. She learned to speak his native ñähñu as a child, holds her Indigenous roots close and favors wearing embroidered huipils.
As a girl, she sold gelatin and tamales to help her family. She worked as a scribe in a local civil registry office as a teen. At 16, she moved by herself to Mexico City and worked as a phone operator until earning a scholarship that allowed her to study computer science. Then she started a technology company, that, as López Obrador noted recently, has won government contracts.
Gálvez served as Indigenous affairs minister for President Vicente Fox, a plain-talking politician from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) who broke the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s 70-year stranglehold on Mexican politics.
While she entered the Senate with the PAN, she has registered to compete for the nomination of the broad coalition of the country’s traditional parties.
Galvez has assured PAN voters that she wants to keep advocating for them despite her moving to win over other parties with interests outside the traditional conservative base.
Her sense of humor and ability to speak comfortably, even at times profanely, with people in the street are characteristics she shares with López Obrador. They may be why he treats her as a threat.
The president accuses Gálvez of using her humble origins and speech to “trick” the poor, who make up much of his base of support. Instead, he paints her the candidate of the rich, the “oligarchs” and “conservatives.”
She dismisses him as a fearful male chauvinist.
“He’s going to try to deny my origins and deny my work, but there it is,” she said.
“I had to face a very patriarchal culture, very macho, where as women we weren’t seen as anything else but for work,” she said.
Gálvez said she’s not put off by the challenge posed by the favorites from the president’s party.
“They’re there because they want to continue doing the same as the president,” she said. “They don’t have their own identity.”
Víctor Gordoa, president of Public Image Group, said Gálvez’s life story is the kind that can reach people across social strata, resonating with the working class who see themselves in Gálvez, as well as the wealthy who see her as a potential weapon who has been untouchable so far.
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