Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 5, 2014

We Rode with the Zapatistas

The impenetrable stronghold of the Zapatistas

By Brenda Norrell
Marcos with Tohono O'odham near Arizona border
Photo Brenda Norrell
Censored News

When people speak of Che, they often speak of his deep love, love for humanity, love for Indigenous People, and love of justice.

Those of us who traveled with, rode with, and supported the Zapatistas over the past 20 years, were drawn together because of this same manner of love, this love of humanity, and wanting to build a better world and expose the injustices.

Those of us who live in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, and along the US Mexico border, felt a special measure of this love. We rode with the Zapatistas on the caravan through Mexico, made the long journey to the Chiapas jungle strongholds, and were honored and gifted with two visits from Marcos and the Commandantes in Sonora, just south of the Arizona border.

Photo Brenda Norrell
We laughed together, cooked together, struggled together, and were bound by a force that can not be put into words, a stronghold and force that surely Che felt, and a force that began long before 1994.

We were, and are, Tohono O’odham, Yaqui, Mayo, Dakota, Hopi, Navajo, and yes gringos and so much more. We were joined by Mohawks from the north, Seri and Cocopah from the west, and the fierce Indigenous from Guerrero in Mexico, who spoke Nahautl.

Among those from Guerrero was one that will be forever imprinted in my mind as a symbol of this struggle. He was a lean young man in his early 20s. He had only one leg, and hopped from place to place on one leg, with a stick to balance. When he was asked in Michoacan why he was here on the Zapatista caravan, he said, “We have no food at home.” When the call for security came, he was the first to volunteer. 

I think of him now, and the young Mayan mother who lived up the footpath in the mountains of Chiapas, grinding the corn from her cornfields for her young children, never knowing how long they could survive, how long before the lands would be seized by the military and corporations. 

At night in the jungle highlands we hung a flashlight from the roof of the hut for light. There was a warm glow, and someone had walked to town to bring us visitors a cold sweet drink, a gesture of that deep, boundless and borderless love. The year was 1995.

Rising from the shadows, Zapatistas in northern Mexico
By Brenda Norrell
UN Observer and International Report 2006
MAGDALENA, SONORA, Mexico – Subcomandante Marcos urged Indigenous in the United States and Mexico to rise up as warriors from the shadows and defend their lands and people from the corporate and political greed that is advancing as a death march.
“We were already dead and we were called upon to become warriors, according to our legend,” Marcos told O’odham and others gathered here during the Other Campaign’s tour of Indian country in northern Mexico on Oct. 21.
Speaking in poetic verse in the border region, Marcos told how the Zapatistas emerged in Chiapas, dying to live again.
“We were dead, we became what we are: shadows. And in a strict sense we are that: ‘shadow’s warriors or warriors of the shadows.’

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