Testimony from a BriCO Volunteer

*Text and photos by Fagan K.

A red pickup truck crawled up the dirt road deep in the forest of Chiapas, alongside a small, uneven soccer field. The children stopped their play and turned their backs to the passing vehicle to hide their faces until the vehicle disappeared behind the tall pine trees. They then resumed the game, where I was in the goal, between two pieces of firewood, playing my first-ever soccer match – on Zapatista territory.

In 2021, I was a human rights observer with Frayba Human Rights Center in Chiapas, Mexico. Our mission was simple but profound: monitor and document the provocation and harassment by land invaders on Zapatista land. Every day during my 16-day post, after the chorus of coyotes stopped howling from the hills at night and before the morning fog burned off, the land invaders, funded by a local political machine of prominent church members, police, and politicians, stole beans and corn from the Zapatista milpas, siphoned their water supply, and threatened them in their milpas. They brought alcohol and drugs into the community and harassed them with impunity. They surveilled them and our team of human rights observers. This constant seige prevented the villagers from leaving their small village to attend school, work, and cultural events.

Nearly every day we went to the milpas to harvest, and after I put salve from the autonomous clinic on my feet to treat the constellation of fire ant bites, we played soccer and volleyball, or we listened to the compas play the marimba, or we talked about how the then two-year invasions crippled their local economy and nearly their community. I was lucky enough to play with the children, drawing pictures and goofing around, or speaking with the elders fireside about the revolution. It was unnerving to know that these seemingly peaceful hills were the setting to so much violence and pain.

Before we left the community, each compa offered us their gratitude and well wishes, and asked us to tell their story when we returned to our homes. When it was my time to say goodbye, my throat tightened and my heart ached. I spoke through tears when I told them the pain I experienced meeting such beautiful and kind people who shared their stories, their culture, their tears and their homes with us, knowing that no more than 30 feet away land invaders provoked them. It was painful to get the words out but I’m grateful I could.

The mal gobierno of Mexico is complicit in this ongoing campaign of harassment, violence and displacement of the indigenous Maya communities like those in Nuevo San Gregorio, Caracol X. The mal gobierno learned after the 1994 revolution that the military could not defeat the resistance, that public opinion was against them not only in Mexico, but through a broad solidarity network from the US, Basque Country, Catalunya, South Africa, the north of Ireland, Korea, Palestine and far beyond. Now, the government uses proxies in the form of belligerent private capitalists who invade the autonomous lands. Whether by private families or paramilitary groups like ORCAO near Moises-Gandhi, the mal gobierno turns a blind eye to the kidnappings, forced displacements and and even assassinations in the communities.

After my time in Chiapas with Frayba, I returned to New York to sell their artisanal goods at mutual aid pop-ups, along with my own artwork that they inspired in me, to raise funds for their autonomous health clinic. At these events, on social media, and on the streets I shared my experience with hundreds of people. I urge people who benefit from the Mayan people and territories, be they tourists, gringos and other foreigners who buy products made from cheaper labor, or anybody who is a humanitarian to get involved. Anybody can show solidarity through financial support, as human rights observers, as artists, as activists, as influencers; anybody can stand alongside the Zapatista movement for liberation from violence, exploitation and land theft.

Vivan Lxs Zapatistas,

Fagan K at Gnarly Headache

At Schools for Chiapas, we are tremendously grateful for the creativity, commitment and solidarity of volunteers like Fagan. Thank you for your support!

You can apply to serve in the BriCO’s here! Or if you want to volunteer from home or in some other way, we’d love to hear from you.
*Please note: At this time, there are NO ENCAMPMENTS in Zapatista territory, but the need for human rights observers is as great as ever.

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