Dreamtime with the Zapatistas


In The Speed of Dreams, the necessity and romance of specific words and language is revealed, in the poetry that gave birth to the revolution.

There is no single word that adequately translates "campesinos." The word means comrade, partner, and close friend, but not one of these can replace the word campesino. The word "peasant" is not adequate, either, which refers to the people of the fields.

There are other words that resist translations, as revealed in The Speed of Dreams, selected writings of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 2001 – 2007.

For many of us who journeyed with Marcos and the Zapatistas on the caravan through Mexico, and spent decades going back and forth between Arizona and the Zapatista strongholds in Chiapas, the specific words and translations were not what we sought. We were attracted, and propelled forward, by the spirit of the movement, the deep love of humanity by those within the struggle, and the necessity of the resistance.

Now, nearly two decades after my first trip to the southern mountains of Chiapas, I find myself once again in southern mountains, this time it is the desert mountains of southern Arizona. In a silent home, a copy of The Speed of Dreams has been left behind. There is no television, telephone or Internet to distract me. There is only this silence and The Speed of Dreams. I am, at last, alone with the words of Marcos.

Among the profound messages shared within The Speed of Dreams is the power of words. There is the reality that the unspoken word ultimately becomes the act.

There are words woven deep within the heart of language that resist even the best translators.

"Ejidos," like campesinos, is one of those words, which refers to the communal land shared by the people of the community. Ejidos, which refers to the historic struggle for Mexican land reform, "prioritizes subsistence and collectivity as opposed to profit and hierarchy," explains the book's editors Canek Pena-Vargas and Greg Ruggiero.

In the careful use and play of words that signifies the struggle with brilliance, the editors also speak of immigrant words. "These immigrant words – as of yet undocumented by Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionary – have no single-word English equivalent."

Words, as Marcos explains, ultimately and naturally became the Zapatistas weapons.

Marcos speaks of the respect and dignity that is the object of the struggle that has risen from the indigenous Zapatistas.

"But for us, pity is an affront and charity is a slap in the face."

 Pulling from his chest full of memories, Marcos remembers a single pink stiletto heel, size 6 and a half, that arrived without its mate, in the piles of useless computers, expired medicines and extravagant clothes that were donated to the movement.

"I always carry it in my backpack in order to remind myself, in the midst of interviews, photo reports, and attractive sexual propositions, that since First of January what we are to the country is a Cinderella. These good people who, sincerely, send us a pink stiletto heel, size six and a half, imported, without its mate, thinking that, poor as we are, we'll accept anything, charity and alms. How can we tell them that we no longer want to continue living Mexico's shame?"

Marcos also describes a type of sophisticated charity that comes from some NGOs and international agencies that decide what the community needs, without consulting them. A community that needs clean running drinking water or a school, might be offered instead a class on herbs.

It is possible, Marcos says, to live without welfare, and "to govern for ourselves without the parasite that calls itself government."

Leftovers, paternalism, or allowing others to impose their projects has no place in the struggle. Zapatistas say, "Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves, and if we say it, it is what we live."

Marcos celebrates those who support the Zapatistas with their peace camps, caravans, attentive ears, the companera word, and all of it that is without pity and charity.

In "When the Word Appeared," there is the story of how the word appeared and gave birth to thought.

"And so the history of the world is the history of that struggle between those who want to dominate in order to impose their world and their way, taking away the wealth of others, and those who do not allow themselves to be dominated, those who rebel."

Marcos describes the efforts of those who have not surrendered, those who have not sold out. In naming the champions, Marcos recognizes Mapuche in Chile and companeros in Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond.

"To the indigenous brothers and sisters of Ecuador and Bolivia, we say you are giving a good lesson in history to all of Latin America, because now you are indeed putting a halt to neoliberal globalization," Marcos says in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle.

The declaration was made in June of 2005. In the years that followed, Ecuador and Bolivia led the world by adopting the Rights of Nature as law. Bolivia hosted the Conference on Mother Earth and Climate Change, resulting in declarations by Indigenous for the protection of Mother Earth.

With the creation and formation of the words, there has been a great amount of reflection.

Wrapped within The Speed of Dreams, there is the beauty, simplicity, and struggle of life in the Lacandon Jungle. There's the struggle of getting dry and staying warm during the July rains and the inevitable wearing out of boots, with the front toes gaping like open mouths. Marcos shares a great story of a trip to the river to bathe, and another about the fierce indigenous Mayan football games in the villages. Marcos also describes the weight of walking, bent over, from carrying the burdens of others. Those stories are the heart of the book, so it is best to get the book and read those stories for yourselves.

For those who traveled in delegations to Chiapas through the years, and always wondered what the Zapatistas might be saying about you before you arrived, there's an interesting dialogue as a group approaches. Marcos speaks of the multiplicity of the groups that would visit the jungle, and how one of the rebels referred, not in a negative way, to those in the group as "absolute chaos."

The Speed of Dreams font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> is a call to dreaming, as it was then, as it is now.

So, my companeros, thank you for your words and the times we shared, all turning round, inside out, and back into the present. 

Brenda Norrell has been a journalist in Indian country for 31 years, covering the west and Mexico. She spent 18 years on the Navajo Nation and now publishes Censored News http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com 

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