On Risings and Awakenings in Chiapas, Mexico

Recuperated Land in Chiapas, Mexico
Spring 2014, Planet Earth

The early morning smell of smoke arrived long before dawn.

That perception of smoke made itself known just as the first rooster noises disturbed the night; but this sense of an early-morning fire brought only comforting thoughts of pounded tortillas, steaming beans, and smoke-filled kitchens.  GMO-free corn tortillas cooking in a Mayan home in Zapatista territory in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.In the blackness of night where dreams swim happily alongside consciousness, those faint wisps of sacrificed trees and early rising cooks provoked a deep and profound meditation on risings and awakenings in Zapatista territory.

However now, hours later as a strong morning sun warms my face, much of that profundity seems as thin and inconsequential as the mist rapidly burning off the surrounding orchard.  But perhaps those misty insights of the early morning will help guide you the reader, and me the writer, through this first-ever Schools for Chiapas blog.

In this blog Schools for Chiapas volunteers, participants, and supporters will do their best to describe for you the smells and sights and sounds and feels of Zapatista education.  Here in this blog, we will share the sounds of Zapatista schools where education promoters reject the name of “teacher” and encourage their students to teach as they grow strong.  We will sing unexpected songs from schoolings on rocky, hand cultivated corn fields and we will try to capture the feel of profoundly independent scientific studies carried out in tiny rural health clinics and muddy, rock filled hillsides.

In many situations a predawn smell of smoke, or the arrival of masked men and women, would legitimately be cause for great alarm.  Yet the smells I awoke to this morning tell an important story about freedom-loving Zapatista education and emerging women’s empowerment since it was male AND female students who lighted that 4:30am fire while grounding corn for the morning’s tortillas.  Nor was I startled this morning when I saw photos of the participants of a recent bread-making workshop at the local secondary school all wearing masks.

Those of you familiar with the work of Schools for Chiapas know that the masks worn by our hosts and teachers here in Chiapas are never a cause for alarm.  It was on Jan. 1, 1994 that thousands of Mayan people wearing black ski masks and red bandanas to hide their faces rose up in the hours before dawn sounding a prescient alarm to the world about the dangers of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the horrors of corporate driven globalization.

Two young Zapatista students smiling through their signature red masks while standing in front of their school garden in Chiapas, Mexico.Twenty years later those same masks have come to symbolize a unique – even quirky, but surprisingly persistent – effort by the  indigenous peoples of Chiapas to collectively preserve and rescue their cultures, their communities, and perhaps most importantly, their children.  And twenty years later a few of us in  Schools for Chiapas still find ourselves waking up in tiny villages to smell the tortillas and to add our small sands of support to this Mayan rebellion which is still so full of hope and wonder.

Thank you for hearing and sharing our word.

And thank you for all of your efforts to make the world a better place.  As you read our new Schools for Chiapas blog please be patient with us when we are unclear, understanding when we are inarticulate, and congratulatory when we get it right.

In other words, let us hear from you in good times, yes.  But even more importantly, please let us know when we leave something out, when we gloss over an issue, or when we simply get it wrong!  Join us on this Zapatista path to birth a new and better world!

Dignity. Democracy. Justice.

Por y para los niños y las niñas,

Peter Brown,

Co-coordinator Schools for Chiapas, U.S. public school teacher, and member of the Peace and Justice of the U.S. National Education Association.  https://www.facebook.com/pedrocafe

pedrocafe@schoolsforchiapas.org
www.schoolsforchiapas.org   www.escuelasparachiapas.org