Susana Asensio strolls through the crowd at a press conference Jan. 11, stopping to pose at cameras and shake children’s hands. She stands with perfect posture, smiling when she needs to and returning to a stoic frown when cameras aim away from her.
Asensio steps into the circle of Taiwanese journalists, joining President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales and President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen to pose for a picture.
A former architect and Antigua native, Asensio became the first female mayor of Antigua Jan. 15, 2016, making her one of the nine female mayors in Guatemala out of 338, according to Tribunal Supremo Electoral. Despite only occupying the office of mayor for one year, she receives criticism from citizens of Antigua.
Elizabeth Bell, Antigua Tours owner and resident of Antigua since 1969, has known Asensio for 45 years.
“She’s been criticized because she’s gracious. That is really a gender issue. They also put on her Facebook how wrinkled she looks. If a man were wrinkled, he wouldn’t be mentioned,” Bell said.
Bell explained another source of criticism stems from how citizens of Antigua thought Asensio could fix everything in two years. Asensio will occupy the position of Mayor until 2020.
A week after the press conference, Asensio tugs on the bottom of her clean white blazer, her black-rimmed glasses resting on her head. Her hands riffle through paperwork and manilla folders at the city council meeting Jan. 16. Her right hand supports her chin, a golden ring glimmering from the fluorescent lights from the chandelier above. Street vendors step up to the mic.
Two women dressed in sweatshirts and jeans stand in front of Asensio and the city council. They attempt to appeal the committee’s decision on banning street vendors. The two women express how they have been selling for eighteen years at the park named Tanque de La Unión. They ask why they are being forcefully removed from their work spaces when they have complied to the municipality’s new laws regarding food stands. They ask Asensio if they could sell their goods the next day.
Unwavered by the presence of over fifteen family members, friends and other street vendors attending the hearing, Asensio sticks to her first resolve. Her voice never changes, whether she speaks of municipality properties, street vendors, ecology or legal problems.
Asensio’s eyes lit up as she stood next to the President of Taiwan and the President of Guatemala. But sitting in the tallest dark wooden chain on Monday night, she blinks rapidly to keep herself awake.
Asensio motions the city council members to return from break with the flick of her wrist. She directs the flow of conversation, telling both council members and citizens of Antigua when they have been talking about a point for too long.
Although Guatemala largely remains a male-dominated society with conservative values, female politicians and activists other than Asensio have been gaining momentum.
Elected in 2015, Sandra Morán Reyes is the first self-proclaimed feminist and lesbian to occupy one of the 158 seats in the Congress of Guatemala. According to Latin Correspondent, Morán set up Guatemala’s first lesbian collective in 1995 and participated in the organization of the country’s first gay pride parade in 1998.
A 2012 study by George Washington State University suggests that homophobia remains deeply embedded within the social fabric of Guatemala. According to the survey, 74 percent of Guatemalans said they would not vote for a homosexual political candidate.
Morán and Asensio persevere despite pushback due to gender issues.