Thursday, December 3, 2009
Zapatistas: In the Language of Love
By Brenda Norrell
Photo: Maria Garcia cooking for Marcos and the Comandantes in Sonora, near the Arizona border. Photo Brenda Norrell
It is popular now for writers to try and explain the Zapatistas with intellectual rhetoric. But when we rode with the Zapatistas, it was in the language of love, it was in the spirit of resistance, and we were all prepared to die.
When the Zapatistas spoke of autonomous governments and dignity, it came from the depth of their beings, from the wellsprings of their souls, from the earth mother within them. Mayan corn farmers, with only their little plots of corn as a means of survival, were being driven off their lands by corporations and paramilitaries. Fighting for their land meant the survival of their families.
In our journeys from the Tucson barrio to Chiapas, spanning more than a decade, Maria Garcia ignited hearts with the understanding of the true spirit of the Zapatistas movement. It was this love of the Indigenous Peoples, this passion for the struggle for autonomy and justice, that drove us forward.
Not everyone could see, not everyone had two legs and not everyone could understand the languages and dialects, but always there was the unspoken language of love. Far beyond rhetoric, it was this love that has always powered the movement.
On the Zapatista caravan through Mexico, sitting next to me was Miguel, from Nogales. Without the gift of physical sight, he brought a special spirit, a special grace. We described to him the colors of Mexico, the colors of the flowers in the fields where the revolutionary Zapata once lived. It was on the Zapatista caravan, that the Nahuatl warrior from Guerrero came aboard our bus. With one leg, he hopped aboard, and rushed forward, serving as security. At home, he said, there was no food in the villages. He was lean, too lean, and about 20 years old. Others came, too, leaning on their canes, or with walkers. Still others came nursing their newborns, or mourning the loss of their loved ones killed by the paramilitaries.
A few years ago, Jose Garcia, Tohono O'odham, and his wife Maria, and I traveled to the Zapatistas stronghold near the Guatemalan border in Chiapas. With us were Mayo community leaders from the west coast of Mexico in Sinoloa. A huge Zapatista flag waved on a car at the entrance to their village, where most of the Mayo people survived by collecting firewood or herding their goats. Their village vowed to be the first autonomous Zapatista village in the western region of Mexico. After our trip, the two Mayos and their families were beaten by Mexican officers. The Mayo leaders were imprisoned.
In this sadness, in this intense struggle since the early 1990s, there was also humor. Walking through San Cristobal de las Casas with Hopi photographer Larry Gus, there was a stout looking 50-something-year-old US CIA agent type, with a shaved head. As he rushed past, the man snarled at us, "F---ing Navajos."
Another favorite story from that time was when I was lost on a mountain in Zapatista territory, with a Mexican military helicopter hovering overhead. It was at a time when the Zapatistas were being assassinated near Oventic and we were there as human rights observers, as human shields.
Maria remembers that it was her chiles that saved me as I came down the mountain. The bright red chiles had fallen, one by one, from the lunch bag all the way on the mountain trail. I followed the chiles back down, on the foot trails down the mountain. Unfortunately at the top of the mountain, none of the lunch was saved, as a horse ate the lunch bag hanging on a tree.
That was in 1995, when Jose, Maria and Larry were on the Indigenous delegation to Chiapas, along with Dakota, Tohono O'odham and Yaqui. We looked down the barrels of the Mexican military's AK47s, wore handkerchiefs over our faces in solidarity with Mayan corn farmers in the mountains, and stood in solidarity with the women and children who face death each day.
Since that time, Jose Matus, Yaqui ceremonial leader who was a member of the delegation, cofounded the Indigenous Alliance without Borders. Mike Flores, Tohono O'odham, organized the Indigenous Border Summits of the Americas in 2006 and 2007. Their words have been their weapons.
Jose Garcia, Tohono O'odham, and his wife Maria, have kept alive the language of love. They lost ownership of the home where they lived in the barrio in Tucson for 30 years, where they now live as renters. But from that barrio in Arizona, stretching through the heart of Mexico, they carved out a home for all of us, in the language of love.