Text and Photos by Daliri Oropeza
Video by Heriberto Paredes
In this profile of defender Samir Flores, different voices narrate the relationship that Samir Flores Soberanes had with nature, with his family, with the struggle, with the radio, with his people, and with the autonomous school that now carries his name. It tells of his defense of life and gives an account of the blossoming [in others] elicited by Samir’s life.
Amilcingo, Morelos — If my dad were a tree, he would be an ahuehuete.1 Amira is talking about Samir Flores Soberanes.
A tree of pronounced and deep roots that form static serpents on the perimeter of running water. Intertwined, fibrous. The ahuehuetes grow together forming a passage of trees, limbs, and rocks. They are long-lived trees.
In this latticework of gigantic trees, Amira smiles with her mother and her sisters. They climb on the branches, on the trunks. They take photos. They remember the last time that they came with Samir.
—He climbed that ahuehuete, with the two youngest ones, here I have the photo — said Liliana, the companion of the territory defender assassinated a year ago. She is amaze that it was no trouble holding his two children up in the ahuehuete. — All of a sudden would have these ideas… Sometimes at 5 in the morning he would take us to see the dawn, we went with the girls; I followed his crazy ideas also.
This area of ahuehuetes near the river is located near the fields where Samir planted corn, beans and amaranth.
—He was really into organic agriculture and he would tell me: ‘I just found another way of planting, of how to nourish the land, but without damaging it, without poisoning it’ — according to Liliana, this was Samir’s relationship with Emiliano Zapata.
— ‘How can we call ourselves Zapatistas or how can we say that we are from Morelos where the struggle of Zapata for the territories began, to defend them, if we ourselves are doing the opposite? We are selling it, we are killing it,’ he would say and it was a dilemma for him: How could he make these contradictions, to be defending the earth, but at the same time killing it with chemicals, putting poisonous fertilizers on it while planting.
Samir collected his own corn seeds from his land, he had cobs of the rarest colors, but always red, blue, white, and purple and he saved the seeds that he considered the most peculiar.
Liliana and her children run the soles of their feet along the thick torn bark along a stream. The movement of the water can be heard in a small fall where it forms a pool. There sits the baby boy of Samir’s family, surrounded by the resplendent red of a coffee tree reflected in the water. There are three daughters and one son.
Samir struggled to keep this walkway of ahuehuetes from being privatized for tourism of the state of Morelos. Together with the community of Amilcingo, he defended it, and it remains open to public use by the community. He did it for his family and their time there.
Samir’s primary resistance was that of the Earth and organic farming. This was his first line of defense that allowed him to enter into and participate in the rest.
The growth of the ahuehuetes is slow and the years of their lives are measured in centuries. They require a lot of water to grow, and at the same time, help to maintain humidity and aquifers.
Upon entering the promenade of these thick trees, it gives the sensation of warmth and freshness.
The reddish reflections of the hanging ahuehuetes tell the story of a wind that blows spontaneously, while those who have their feet in the water, observe, turn to the sky, and smile.
Samir, the sesame seed.
The people closest to Samir agree that he was a Jack-of-all-trades, the sesame of all moles.
Farmer, campesino, metalworker, sign-maker, primary school teacher, IT specialist, he liked to ride horses, he was a base player in a Norteño band, a radio broadcaster, an announcer, and a defender of territory. He studied computer science at the university and later a year of law.
— He met a painter in Izucar (of Matamoros), learned from him, he would go in the afternoon to his workshop; he painted with oil on plates, with his finger. In Amilcingo, the plates sold very well and he told me, ‘this is what I am going to do when I get old.’– Liliana remembers her companion telling her.
He showed his oldest daughters the trails of the ravines. At first, to go on walks and know the territory, and to show them the countryside. Still, he knew that these trails could be a point of escape in an emergency.
— He was very loving with his children — Lilian described coming home to find him asleep with the two youngest. She remembers him playing with his eldest daughters. Watching movies with them. She smiles remembering the image of their two daughters, their son and Samir watching television.
—They were all gawking, they didn’t even move and I was just watching them and laughing.
Samir showed his daughters how to plant. It was an activity that they did as a family, from grandparents to the daughters.
— I liked it so much because he would take us to the countryside, so we would go there with the girls: to plant. The foods that he most liked to share with his family where those that he grew up with: Alaches (native amaranth), peanut mole, salsa made with chumiles (a beetle eaten in Morelos and Guerrero) and tacos of cuecla (moth larva) with salsa.
Liliana tells countless stories of places she went with Samir and her daughters. The ravines, the hill of Chumil, the ahuehuetes. Her face is so peaceful as she describes them. But then she furrows her brow.
She relates that all of the family dynamics changed in 2012, when Samir learned of the threat of the pipeline in the territory of Amilcingo. This same year, his third daughter was born after a high-risk pregnancy, and the beginning of construction on the thermoelectric plant in Huexca.
—Samir never stopped talking about his daughters. I don’t know at what point, but he always brought up the subject of his daughters. In other words, he always loved his daughters. If we were in a workshop, he would suddenly say, “This is how my daughters will be, or this is how yours will be, this is how they are going to become.” — shares Teresa Castellanos, who began defending the territory after meeting him. They later joined forces in this struggle.
Then, they already could not go to the countryside due to security reasons. They had to be careful which hours they went outside. Their relationship changed.
— We were afraid, we had this fear that they were going to do something to him— says Liliana with tearful eyes. –I feel that Samir contributed so much as a human being. I believe also, that he had it in his blood.
Samir held the struggle for education of his grandfather Vihn Flores very close, since it was because of his determination that they opened the last Rural Teacher’s College for women in Mexico in his town: Amilcingo. He was also assassinated by gunmen.
The pipeline and the radio
Wearing bermuda shorts and huaraches, Samir arrived at an assembly in Jantetelco, a neighboring municipality of Amilcingo. It was common to see him like that. He was accompanied by two more young people, perpetually happy.
—It hadn’t occurred to him what was going to happen to his town — explains Miguel López Vega, member of the Nahua community of Zacatepec, en Puebla. He remembers that in this visit to the Morelos town it was the first time that he saw Samir. They had already previously reported about the gas pipeline, but it wasn’t until the second visit of 2012 that Samir arrived.
The gas pipeline, part of the Morelos Integral Project, threatened the Nahua region of Puebla since 2004. It was in 2011 that they found the project on the page of the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE) When they saw the drawing of the pipeline they made the decision to inform each town of Morelos, Tlaxcala and Puebla. So they began travelling, in order to visit assemblies and inform them.
—When we saw the first reaction, we said ‘Oh yeah, and these kids are supposedly going to help us?’ It was Samir! — he remembers the Nahua defender, alluding to the fact that because he was so joyful, Samir seemed younger.
The second town in Morelos that they visited in Morelos with projections, videos and a speaker was Limones, and after that, Amilcingo. Miguel describes that the town where Samir lived was hurt by the repression that it suffered in 2008. When they arrived for the projection, there were no people. Some people approached fearfully. They didn’t want to enter.
—‘I know! Let’s surround it’, said Samir. Nothing. He did it and nothing happened. Four or five reunions that didn’t pull the people of Amilcingo. Samir joined us because the town didn’t respond. The radio was key, because it began to attract young people, they put out the speakers and it was something novel; Samir began to have more support. –Miguel recounts.
Meanwhile, many in his community called him crazy. At the beginning, Samir travelled throughout the region to share the conundrum. In the town, he installed the speaker on every corner to talk about the PIM and denounce what they were causing. His persistence moved him to put one of his dreams into action: producing radio.
—Samir had reality in his words. He always said that ‘we have to resist, compañeros, don’t back down, we are going to come out ahead, let’s fight like our ancestors, we have to leave a better future for our children.’ He was always worried about the future of the children, tells Teresa Castellanos, comrade and friend of Flores. She shared that he always explained the problems in a really straightforward way, that’s why everybody understood him.
—He had a dream of having a radio station, of giving voice to the communities, and he achieved it. Though he isn’t here now physically, those of us that are carry it forward — Liliana explains.
He was inspired by Radio Zacatepec, which was born in 2013, to set up his own Radio Amiltzinko in 2014. This gave him legitimacy. With it he promoted a government of usos y costumbres2 in Amilcingo.
Se inspiró en Radio Zacatepec, que nació en 2013, para en 2014 montar su propia Radio Amiltzinko. Eso le dio legitimidad. Con ella impulsó el gobierno de usos y costumbres en Amilcingo.
Samir was very dedicated to his programs. He tried to be very punctual. If he was late, it was better not to go on. He demanded consistency. He always asked participants to be on time. He had two programs, one at 6am, called Amenecer Ranchero, (Ranchero Sunrise), dedicated to the campesinos and the elders, who were those who most listened to him. The second was at 3 in the afternoon, when he shared the news.
He had a very expressive way of narrating, making gestures when nobody could see. Liliana remembers him with a subtle and simple way of being, very understandable for everyone. He tried to be straightforward in his explanations, so that the people understood what he was talking about.
He was the announcer that had the biggest audience; after his murder many people stopped listening to the radio, the audience waned. The people in the community express nostalgia about not hearing him when they turn on the radio. He was the first to transmit his voice when Radio Amiltzinko went on air for the first time.
Professor Jorge Velázquez affirms that Samir was the driving force behind the recognition of the system of usos and custombres in Amilcingo. Since 2000, the community had voted by ballot and ballot boxes. Since the beginning of 2017, the municipality returned to its own way of electing authorities. Faith in this process was possible due to Samir’s radio broadcasting work.
—Samir used to say, ‘My people have to stand up; my people have to get involved, because my people have been involved in the struggles, but they have also been very sheltered (madreado)??.’ Then he talked to us, and told us, ‘you compañeros, are going to help me wake this town up. The people here have to understand that what is coming is serious for all of us.’ And so we went many times to Amilcingo — Teresa Castellanos related.
According to what his friends describe, especially Teresa, Samir Flores had a calling for attracting people.
— Listening to Samir was like learning a bit of his wisdom, that is, he was very wise. He had the truth in his words, this was what attracted people— in two heartbeats, all of the emotions pass across Teresa’s face.
—Samir is missed, and needed by his community— says professor Jorge in a slightly lower voice. — To do him justice is not just to punish those materially and intellectually responsible; it is to continue organizing against the megaprojects, not only in Amilcingo, but in all the places where they plunder, this is what he sowed.
The gift of Samir
—We didn’t know about the problem of the thermoelectric plant that was coming our way. Back then was when they informed us about everything that was coming for the communities. That is how I met Samir. When they arrived, we were in assembly and they informed us what I was happening, but when we saw Samir, we thought he was a child, because he is short and skinny with his backpack and hat. You didn’t look at his face. Besides that, he was a “swallower of years.”3
Teresa describes how Samir came to be so loved in Huexca, her town, where they built a thermoelectric that would connect the gas pipeline that passes through Amilcingo. She describes how they and their struggles became united.
—He brought a lot of words, a lot of reason, and he spoke to us all about the Morelos Integral Project. It is this beautiful memory that I have of him, and many more because from there, we also began to fight. And he was one of the people that was most here in Huexca, who stayed…The people went to the assembly just to listen to him.
Samir visited all the towns that surround the volcano Popocatépetl; and those visits they made jointly with members of various communities in Puebla and Morelos was the beginning of the creation of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of Land and Water.
—It was an unlikely infatuation because, because they didn’t so much love the man, but the words that he used to address the people. I don’t think that anyone else will ever have it again. He was someone very special to all the communities. Including after we started going to Ayala; when Samir spoke in Ayala, he awakened the conscience of the people — Teresa describes with enthusiasm.
Sharing the salt of the earth
Samir always had a relationship with food. If you came to the radio station or his house, he would offer you something to eat, no matter who you were or where you came from.
—Everyone that came, whether they were from the group, the media, or radio, whoever it was that came, his house was always the place. Then he would ask me: ‘Do you have enough food? Because there are so many people coming. Is it enough? And if not, just put a little more water in the beans.’
Teresa Castellanos describes Samir’s presence as transmitting a desire for joy, a desire to live, a desire to participate. It is one of the reasons she believed that he could unite the struggles. His participation in the National Indigenous Congress was like that also.
When the Constitutive Assembly of the Indigenous Governing Council and the naming of María de Jesús Patricio Martínez as spokeswoman and possible candidate for the presidency, Samir did not hesitate to participate. Miguel López remembers it.
—Samir got up and said: ‘Let’s get involved in this proposal. In Amilcingo we have beans, we can put in beans.’ We didn’t know what was going to happen. We joined in and said that here (in Zacatepec) there is corn and beans. He was in this line of food, of cooperation.
It was Samir that raised the issue of food in that reunion in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in 2017.
—That was a gift that Samir had: awakening conscience, some the very beautiful and that he …. without realizing it, just by talking to him, people loved him, just for the simple fact of knowing his enthusiasm when he spoke. The people said: ‘Hey I want to know him’ — Teresa shared.
Miguel describes this gift in a different way:
—Amilicingo is a community of struggle, but without Samir, I don’t think they would have stood up. I saw it. I swear, it was his life, he went on and went on until he managed to conscientize his people. Who else? This is why he is so loved — he exclaims and remembers him with a smile.
Liliana, his companion confesses:
—I have learned to be more human.
Professor Jorge remembers:
—Samir opened the microphone from the first moment to the families of the Ayotzinapa 43. We gathered supplies and took them.
Like a long-lived ahuehuete, Teresa suggests that Samir lives:
—And many, many years will pass, a lifetime, and until we no longer have this body we are going to miss that part of him, but we also know that Samir doesn’t leave us, that Samir is with us. The flesh may be gone but the spirit remains, and this encourages us to continue in this struggle, but for me Samir is alive, and he will continue to live, no matter who it may concern. Because Samir, he will never stop fighting, we will see him when the volcano trembles, when the moon is bright, when the stars are most illuminated, when the air comes heavy and full of dust and fury; that is Samir, that is Samir, when the earth trembles. That’s Samir, because Samir is just that — he not only makes the hearts of the people tremble, but also the earth.
The school and the community
Through Radio Amiltzinko, Samir Flores undertook his spontaneous project: The Little Popular School It began as radio workshops every Saturday, and later became regular school workshops. In little time they formalized it and began practices in the countryside, planting trees in the ravines on the banks of the river.
—The work of Samir was to help everyone— assure Professor Jorge Velásquez, with whom he fought one of the biggest battles for education in the Nahua community of Amilcingo.
After the tremors in September of 2017, the businessmen of the gas pipeline, pushed their own school with the promotion of the Federal Electrical Commission and all of the facilities of the Secretary of Public Education. They ruled erroneously to move the school from the center of the community to the one that they built as a benefit of the megaproject, promoted by the Central Cardenista Campesina.4
The little popular school ran by itself. What they did from the assembly of the community was to move it and make a commission of solidary teachers that gave classes in the Emiliano Zapata school while the closure and remodelling happened. Samir was in charge of giving classes to the fifth grade. He was also elected as president of the parent’s committee.
For months the community of Amilcingo brought their own experts, architects and independent investigators who determined that the school neither had defects nor did it need to be demolished. While all the paperwork happened, Samir poured his energy into teaching. He wouldn’t do his radio program until the children understood the class topic.
He also managed to bring the radio to the school at least three times to do broadcasts during recess. Bringing the radio closer so that the children could talk, say what they wanted and be in contact with their community.
— The relationship with the people was very important, turning on the radio was to give voice to his people. It is a means of alert and communication. To alert, with the bell and with the radio. The radio is part of the community. To be in resistance against the megaproject was to unite everyone, the radio, the assembly and with that they were able to be an autonomous people. Even the school was part of this. The radio served to unite us. Exchange messages from the people to the radio and vice versa — Liliana analyzes.
From Teresa’s analysis, Samir managed to teach the children that they have to fight not only with the pencil and notebook, not only with the book and written words of books, but also with facts and the truth.
—He was a very demanding teacher. Even though he wasn’t a teacher, he had the attitude and the heart to teach. Samir had two left feet, but for the end of the year dance, he put on the Dance of the Pineapple from Oaxaca with his students. We don’t know how he did it — remembers his friend and colleague Jorge Velazquez.
All the people in the school talked to him. For the students, it was difficult to know whether to call him ‘maestro’ or ‘Don Samir.’ Even so, they had a lot of trust in him, all of the children greeted him. There are students that remember very well that he taught them organic agriculture. Now the school bears his name and is registered with the Secretary of Public Education.
In a chat that Jorge and Liliana had, they recognized the repetitions of history. This is their reflection about it:
—We don’t know now how many years have to pass until another person, another fighter who will mobilize the community again, who will stand up again, so that it can have a leader…not a leader, but a person who unites us, who will reconnect us.
In the early morning of February 20, 2019, gunmen tried to cut down the ahuehuete de las resistencias. They murdered Samir Flores at the entrance of his house, who was just going out to see what he could help with before going to his Radio program, Amanecer Ranchero.
This article was originally published in Pie de Página on February 15th, 2020, just before the first anniversary of Samir’s murder. This English interpretation has been lovingly published by Schools for Chiapas. #SamirVive
- Ahuehuete is nahuatl and its meaning is debated between “old man of the water” and “drum of oak.” In English, it is called a Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
- indigenous customary law or local forms of rulership, self governance, and juridical practice often recognized in Latin America (to an extent)
- Expression meaning he looked much younger than his age.
- A national agricultural cooperative formed in 1988.