NO FEAR | Kirsty Lang

NO FEAR | Kirsty Lang

Listening to Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova address a theatre full of young Mexicans has to be one of the highlights of the festival in Querétaro. Dressed in a simple white shirt dress and bright red socks, the young Russian artist and activist exudes both charisma and vulnerability. Still only 27, this young woman has packed a lot into her short life. She’s a mother, a feminist, a human rights activist, a conceptual artist and a perpetual thorn in Putin’s flesh. If the Kremlin thought that two years in a Russian prison camp would break her spirit, they were wrong. Tolokonnikova appears to have no fear.

The audience respond to her courage with thunderous applause. But then as she is about to leave the stage, a middle aged Mexican woman rushes to the front waving an envelope full of documents, shouting “Nadya, help me, please help me”. The Pussy Riot activist turns back and kneels down on the stage to listen. Tears running down her face, the woman introduces herself as Patricia Trego Ortiz. She explains that her mother and sister were kidnapped in Leon two years ago by one of the drugs cartels. This is a common practice in Mexico, the gangs kidnap family members to settle scores and intimidate their enemies. It’s estimated that seven women are murdered every day in Mexico and yet only a quarter of the cases are investigated and only two per cent result in sentencing. Patricia Ortiz says the authorities refuse to investigate the disappearance of her family so asked if Nadya would help her.

I feel like I’m witnessing an extraordinary moment. Two women from opposite ends of the globe both engaged in a struggle against oppression and violence. It’s encounters like this that make being involved with Hay Festival worthwhile.

I sense there is a real thirst for ideas here in Mexico. People feel ground down by the endless cycle of violence and corruption that has plagued their country and they’re looking for hope. I feel slightly shaken and moved by Patricia’s story but as I walk outside into the street the sun is shining and there are flags and bunting hanging from every building. There’s a band playing in the main square and people are dressed up in all manner of costumes. Mexicans love to dress up. Zombie outfits are particularly popular. It’s a week before the Independence Day celebrations and the party has already begun.

Kirsty Lang appeared at Hay Festival Querétaro 2017 on Saturday 9 September.