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Mexico makes history, electing its first female president

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For the first time since their country became a republic more than 200 years ago, Mexicans have elected a woman as president. NPR's Eyder Peralta chronicles the moment from Mexico City.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The day starts with the quotidian machinations of democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: Polling stations are set up at homes and at schools, sometimes, like in this small town of Izucar de Matamoros, in a tent in the middle of the street. The smile on Minerva Jortina Perez Carrera (ph), however, reveals this is no ordinary election.

MINERVA JORTINA PEREZ CARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "I don't even know how to tell you what I'm feeling," she says. Perez is 80 years old. It means she was born before women could vote. And today she had just cast a ballot for Claudia Sheinbaum, a 61-year-old woman engineer running for president. In the old days, she says, this was unimaginable.

PEREZ CARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

PEREZ CARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "Thank God," she says, "things have changed. And thank God, she says, that, at her age, she gets to witness it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

PERALTA: We move from tiny town to tiny town. We see lines of men in cowboy hats, women in their finest shawls. And just as the sun rises to its highest point, we reach the town of San Nicolas Tolentino. And the reality of Mexico punches us in the gut - a funeral for Jorge Huerta Cabrera, a 31-year-old who was running for city council. But he was gunned down by rivals on Friday.

This is what these elections have been marked by here in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: More than 30 candidates this season alone - this election season alone have been assassinated. And so it's been an election full of historical firsts - the first woman president but also an election that has been marked by historical violence.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: The procession moves past one of the voting stations and into the cemetery, Huerta's uncle, Margarito Guillermo Montezuma (ph), tells mourners, "this is reality in Mexico. Politics is a blood sport, and they want nothing to do with it."

MARGARITO GUILLERMO MONTEZUMA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "We leave this to divine justice. God will give us what we deserve," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Mexico is a country of contrast. Celebration follows death. A country full of machistas can elect a woman president. And just after a funeral, we arrive at Mexico City's main square to hear the news. Claudia Sheinbaum, the former mayor of Mexico City, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants who fled the Holocaust in World War II, has just been elected president.

MARTA JELITA LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "Imagine," Marta Jelita Lopez (ph) says, "that a machista country would want a woman in the presidency. It's incredible."

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "I dreamed about it," she says. "And now I am living it."

(APPLAUSE)

PERALTA: And just like that, Claudia Sheinbaum takes the stage.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in Spanish).

PRESIDENT CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "I didn't get here alone," she says. "I got here with all of you women, with our heroines who gave us a country, with our ancestors, with our mothers, with our daughters and with our granddaughters."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: Fireworks explode in the sky. Women all around me hug each other. They hug the Mexican flag, and a 200-year-old glass ceiling is shattered.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS POPPING)

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is an international correspondent for NPR. He was named NPR's Mexico City correspondent in 2022. Before that, he was based in Cape Town, South Africa. He started his journalism career as a pop music critic and after a few newspaper stints, he joined NPR in 2008.