Once in Chiapas, one of the southernmost states of Mexico, and after a three hour ride hanging off the back of a redila (basically a small truck with an open back covered only with a metal frame from which at least 20 people hang as we rumble through the mountainous jungle of Chiapas), we reached Zapatista territory.
The Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional orchestrated a 12-day armed uprising in January of 1994, and have since continued, through non-violent means, to call attention to the plight of the indigenous people of Chiapas -- namely economic exploitation, political and social exclusion, and a sub-human standard of living. And I got to visit their territory.
I was first greeted by a sign that read "You are now in Zapatista territory in resistance, where the people rule and the government obeys." A short walk through a mud path led me to the center of their community, a community that consisted of a small group of wooden houses surrounded by mud, animals, and the massive and gorgeous Chiapas jungle. The center of the community, a sort of downtown, was made up of a small store, a church, a K through 6th school, a library (which housed an impressive collection of Mexican history, literature, and Marxism), and some Zapatista offices, all decorated with the faces and words of Ernesto Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and the leader of the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos. Messages like "Resistance into a new dawn," "United in the Struggle," and "Education, Health, and Resistance" emanated from these murals, accompanied by images of plentiful corn, of people of all colors, and of visions of justice.
The two University of Monterrey students who accompanied me and I first went to the Vigilance Committee, where women whose faces were covered interviewed me about the purpose of my visit. After waiting about an hour, they informed me I could speak to the Junta de Buen Gobierno (Council of Good Government), the governing council of the community. We went in once again for a similar interview, I asked if I could interview them and different members of the community about opportunity and social mobility, and I was told they would inform me of their decision later that day.
I spent the rest of the day speaking to a teacher, a member of the governing council, and some observers from the human rights center that enabled me to go to the community, trying to cook a meal with little to no utensils, and walking through the community as its people gathered at dusk to talk, smoke a cigarette, or simply stare at the darkening horizon as the rumbling of military convoys resonated not too far away.
As day turned into night, a member of the governing council approached me and told me I would not be allowed to perform my interviews. I also could not accompany them on their field labor the next day, which I had also asked about. And with those news ended my experience at the Zapatista community.
We headed back at 4am that night, riding the three hours back through the rainy jungle in an overcrowded and ancient American school bus, trying to sleep while standing and realizing the interminable distance between the world I had just visited, and that in which I live.
Mexico City was glorious, grand, gigantic and pulsing with the lives of its 20 million residents. I spent most of my time at UNAM, home of approximately 200,000 college students and excellent research institutes and programs. I visited the city?s museums, saw its innumerable monuments, danced with the Aztecs in its plazas, and heard Mexican professors tell a sad tale about no opportunity in a Mexico that is richer than ever.
And with a short trip in my last few days there to the town of San Blas, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, to conclude my travels, I headed back to the states.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring. I have seen so much beauty throughout these lands, beauty that has often been coupled with pain, and I hope that I was able to show you a small part of it. The remnants of a violent past, the questions about an uncertain future, the cry for some, any, form of progress, will plague any person that takes but a second to see the life south of the US border. Yet you can also see its vitality, feel its passion, hear its hopes, and dance its dances of celebration. Whether a God, or the Sun, or a feathered serpent, or any deity you choose, someone or something lovingly molded the land and sky of Latin America and gifted it with its wealth and beauty and magic and even pain, and today waits to see its people arise. There is much to be done.