March 8, 2019 ~ International Women’s Day
Today, indigenous Zapatista women throughout the highlands of Chiapas are selecting the fattest grains of corn from last year’s harvest for this year’s planting. Their strong hands skillfully shuck the seed from the mazorca.“These seeds, you see here, look. These go in the big basket,” she says, indicating the plump golden kernels from bottom of the cob. Her technique seems effortless as she demonstrates for her ‘Schools for Chiapas’ visitors. The smaller kernels at the top and any kernels that show the tiny holes of insect damage are placed in a separate basket, “don’t put the seeds with the tiny holes in with the seed to be planted, they are for our tortillas.” She scrutinizes every movement of our hands to make sure that no faulty kernels enter the seed basket. “We are very strict,” she laughs, a bit slyly. The compañera doesn’t much want help from novices in this critical work.
The women’s efforts in selecting and preparing the right seed it is literally a matter of life and death. Zapatista women and men know that this is their one chance to feed families for another year. The careful selection of seed, adapted to the conditions of their own milpas, has enabled the survival of their communities for millenia.
“We won’t be able to finish today because, according to our custom, the corn doesn’t like us to handle it past noon. In the afternoon and evening it likes to rest,” our hostess carefully explained. With a flash of humor and a big smile she continued, “We’ve got a busy schedule today so it’s just as well that the corn gets to rest; certainly the women sitting here won’t be resting until well after dark!”
To the concern and dismay of over 8,000 women around the world who had been in attendance for last year’s International Encounter of Women who Struggle, their Zapatista sisters announced in a powerful letter released February 11th that they would unable to host another women’s gathering in 2019. Life and work and struggle, however, continues unabated in the autonomous communities of the Mexican southeast. Corn and beans and squash are being planted; chickens and pigs and cattle are fattening; new collective works are beginning, and Zapatista autonomous governments are undergoing a massive internal reorganization to serve and protect their communities.
The Zapatista women’s encounter previously scheduled for March 2019 is one unfortunate causality of the massive anti-Zapatista media campaign filling the screens and pages of Mexican mainstream and social media. In the face of the hatred and disinformation directed from the highest levels of the new Mexican government, Zapatistas feel they cannot guarantee the safety of visitors. Instead, they must strengthen the resiliency and unity of local autonomous communities.
“If this new government of Mexico (or any of their paramilitaries or any of their newly formed militaries) wants to come get us, we’re here and we’re not afraid,” explained one respected leader. “We are not going to attack anyone, we’re not gathering weapons, and there’s no secrets about where we live, let them come, because we are not going anyplace.” After 35 years of organizing rebellion, the roots of Zapatista resistance run deep. Their collective dignified rage against the suicidal impulses of contemporary capitalism remains powerful. The rapidly escalating extremes of climate change, in particular, are in the thoughts and on the lips of the Mayan communities of Chiapas, Mexico.
“Have you ever felt it so hot in February?,” asks one Zapatista farmer, stopping to chat on the side of the road. “My grandfather always insisted we have the corn planted by the first week of February, but last night there was another killing frost and all the land around here is parched dry with these hot winds. Of course it’s all because of climate change and because the bad government wants more big projects – they want everything to be for sale because they only care about money.”
A number of massive development projects, including the infamous Mayan Train which menaces Chiapas, are moving rapidly under the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Indigenous communities across Mexico denounce the social and ecological dangers of these neoliberal projects, but repression against these critiques from below is escalating. Tuesday, Feb. 19 Samir Flores, a long-time indigenous activist with the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) from the state of Morelos, attended a government sponsored forum where he publicly criticized an energy project supported by the new Mexican president; the next morning on Wednesday, Feb. 20 he was gunned down on the steps of his home. He died soon afterwards.
“Mother Earth is very angry with us,” the farmer warns a room of his Zapatista compañeros. They nod in agreement, knowing how carefully he tends the ecology of his own parcel. “At my dad’s house they have a government water system, but the spring has gone dry and now they have to carry their water a long way. Our land is drying out everywhere because so many trees are being cut down; but our grandparents taught us real values. That’s what we have to demonstrate and teach for our kids today.”
“One hectare. This big basket of corn is enough to plant one hectare (2.2 acres) of land,” explains our Mayan hostess as the level of seed steadily rose toward the to top of the big basket. One hectare of land is enough for a Zapatista family to grow a year’s supply of corn. “Working together we women will finish preparing this years’ seed tomorrow morning; after that we’ll just have to pray for rain.”
“Look, see that little hole in that seed,” abruptly stopping to correct our unskilled hands. “Not that one. An insect has already killed it.” One seed at a time, the future is constructed before our eyes.
Later that same day, as we walk through un-planted fields in the suffocating and unseasonable heat, the coordinator explained, “Yes, our corn should be in the ground by now, but we have to wait for one good rain so the seed doesn’t die when we plant it.”
Part of working the land in Chiapas is preparing the seed, part is waiting for rain, and part is living outside of the rules and regulations of all the bad governments of this planet. Come what may, the Zapatista movement is neither surrendering nor giving up hope as a new and better world nourishes its deep roots and delicate sprouts throughout the misty mountains and steamy jungles of the Mexican southeast.
Please consider publicly giving the Zapatistas your blessings and respect by signing this solidarity letter: www.solidarityfrombelow.org
This short video about Zapatista women is available for free use in schools and communities. Check it out NOW!