Note: This piece was written in 2001 during an important effort by the Zapatista movement to convince the Mexican government to honor and implement the Peace Accords of San Andres. This peace agreement, although signed by the Mexican government and the Zapatistas, is still not implemented and remains the most important issue for the indigenous peoples of Mexico and of those throughout the Americas.
The Zapatour Arrives in Mexico City
Tenochtitlan, March 11, 2001
Tonight I have been rewarded for my sins with an audience (along with three other compañer@s) with three comandantes of the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). The comandantes are Tzotzil. They wear native dress of hand woven cotton and wool, walk in huarache sandals (their feet are an amazing chronicle of a life lived outside and unshod), and of course, they wear ski masks. I am greeted with hugs from the comandantes. Being in their presence is striking for what it is not. These small men are soft spoken (one needs to listen to hear them), they project little ego, are quiet in their demeanor, and very, very patient. Theirs is a silence and patience born of 500 years of resistance. Today they have shaken the foundations of power in the country and exhibit no hint of hubris. This rebellion is truly a journey with no destination
My message to them was that I came from far away to stand with them; that behind me are thousands who could not come, but who are nonetheless standing at their sides. I tell them that they are not alone.
I write this to bring a little of what I witnessed to you, and hopefully, to bring a little Zapatismo closer to you.
In 1521 HernÃ¡n Cortez conquered Mexico. Seen through the lens of indigenous perspective, it is one of the most tragic events in history.
Five hundred years later Zapatistas from many nations, beliefs and cultures are being pulled here to the center of the world.
Called by memory
called by ancestors of the past
called by the necessity of the present
called by dreams of the future
called to re-conquer the world.
But this is the anti-conquest, Zapatismo. This conquest does not seek to take power, but rather, to distribute it. A conquest by poetry and dreams. A conquest that seeks to liberate and not to enslave. A conquest of “the voice that arms itself to be heard. The face that hides itself to be seen.” A conquest that does not confront but encircles. This is the rebellion that dreams itself.
Twenty three comandantes and one sub-comandante accompanied by an entourage of traditionally dressed Indians representing more than 40 groups, rebels, anarchists, puppeteers, educators, grandmothers, workers, children, students, authors, musicians, poets, dreamers, planners, thinkers, ghosts of ancestors, spirits of the unborn, and one Quixote, me.
This morning the unarmed army of the EZLN boarded their caravan of trucks, trailers, buses, vans, cars and bicycles. The route from Xochimilco at the southern end of the valley of Mexico follows the historic route of Emiliano Zapata and arrives finally in the Zocalo at the center of modern Mexico City, the heart of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan.
It required almost four hours to make the sixteen-mile journey. Hundreds of thousands of supporters fill the streets, intersections, windows, balconies and rooftops along the entire route. Some people have traveled for days just to get a glimpse of the Zapatista caravan. Everywhere, Zapatista t-shirts, banners, flags, raised fists, victory signs, waves, chants, slogans and the knowledge that today history smiles on los de abajo.
I ride in the Yellow Camioncito for Peace school bus of the San Diego based Schools for Chiapas (you must get in touch with this group and travel to Chiapas – http://www.mexicopeace.org ). The bus has a wonderful sound system that projects a lively mix of music fit for a rebellion into the crowd as we travel slowly toward the Zocalo. We hang out the windows, sing along with the blasting speakers, dance, drum, yell, scream, shout, laugh and cry non-stop for hour after hour. The people love the bus. They respond to it, and we to them. This is a happy army. In this revolution dancing is de rigueur.
As we neared the Zocalo moving forward became impossible. The caravan is surrounded by an ocean of Zapatistas. We de-bused and locked arms to join a human chain that formed a protective circle around the comandancia (The comandates have been surrounded by a human shield throughout the journey as protection against threats of violence from the opposition). The protective bubble proceeds to the front of the crowd where the comandantes take the stage.
The Zocalo in Mexico City is one of the largest central squares in the world. Today it was filled with more than two hundred thousand Zapatistas. Counting the multitudes lining the route, this event has turned into the largest event in the history of the country.
The comandantas and comandates talk about mobilizing the entire country in order to secure the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and culture. The forces of neo-liberalism and NAFTA mean death for the indigenous. But, today the focus is on hope and not despair. Today the struggle for justice is a celebration. Today the people know that liberation is possible.
After the event, the unarmed army disbands to celebrate.
Later, late tonight the world is asleep and I watch from my balcony fascinated. The Zocalo is deserted except for a circle of indigenous drummers and dancers illuminated by a tropical moon. The drumming fills the air. I can look down on the square from my room and see them dancing. In this incredible moment almost unnoticed, the indigenous are once again responsible for the center of the world. For the first time in hundreds of years, it is theirs.
It appears to me that
they have opened a door to another world within this world
a shimmering gate where there is
a confluence of
the memories of the past
the necessity of the present
the dreams of the future
to keep the gate open they drum and dance through the night
in the center of Tenochtitlan
the navel of the moon
the symbolic center of the pre-conquest world
they hold the door open and pull dreams through it
while at the same time they push the burden of 500 years of sorrows.
I want to go down and be with them, but I am worried that I might distract and/or hider them so I remain a vicarious observer of this circle of beating drummers and methodical dancers, mediators of dreams and sorrows that pass through this gateway to worlds within worlds.
Today has become tomorrow. The sun will soon rise over the mountains directly into my east-facing window. I should be up to greet it properly, and then head down to the street to join the rebellion…
From the center of Tenochtitlan,
un duende rebelde