Only 500 years later

Words of the Zapatista Peoples

August 13, 2021.

Sisters, brothers, hermanoas:

Compañeros, compañeras, compañeroas:

The Zapatista communities speak through our voices.

First, we would like to express our thanks.

Thank you for having invited us.

Thank you for having welcomed us.

Thank you for having housed us.

Thank you for having fed us.

Thank you for having taken care of us.

But above all, we’d like to express our gratitude for the fact that despite differences and obstacles you have all agreed to what we’re doing today. Perhaps it seems small to you, but for us Zapatista communities it is huge.

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We are Zapatistas of Mayan descent.

We are from a geography called Mexico, and we crossed the ocean to share these words with you, be with you, listen to you, and to learn from you.

We are from Mexico and in and with you we find love, care, and respect.

The Mexican state and their administrations don’t recognize us as citizens of this geography. We are strangers, foreigners, undesirable and unwelcome in the same lands that were farmed by our ancestors.

For the Mexican state we are “extemporaneous.” That’s what it says on the birth certificates that we managed to obtain after we made many trips and incurred many expenses on visits to the offices of the bad government. And we did all that to be able to come to where you are.

But we didn’t come all this way to complain or even to denounce the bad government we have to put up with.

We only share this because it is this same bad government which has demanded that the Spanish State apologize for what happened 500 years ago.

You should understand that in addition to being shameless, the bad government of Mexico is also ignorant of history, twisting and adapting it to its liking.

So let’s leave aside the bad governments that each of us have to put up with in our geographies.

They are just overseers, obedient employees of a greater criminal.

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Those of us who make up the Zapatista Maritime Squadron, known as the 421st Squadron, are here in front of you today, but we are just the first wave of a much larger group. There will be up to 501 delegates. There are 501 of us just to show the bad governments that we are ahead of them: while they simulate a false celebration of 500 years, we [nosotros, nosotras, nosotroas] are already heading towards what’s next: life.

In the year 501, we will have explored the corners of this rebellious land.

But don’t worry. The 501 delegates will not arrive in one fell swoop, but in waves. Right now in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, they are preparing the Zapatista airborne company, which we call “The Extemporaneous” and which is made up of Zapatista women, men, boys and girls.

The airborne company will be joined by a delegation from the National Indigenous Congress-Indigenous Governing Council and the People’s Front in Defense of the Land and Water.

All of us [todas, todoas, todos] have suffered to obtain our documents and vaccines. We have gotten sick and recovered. We have been hungry and far from their families, communities, lands, language and culture.

But all of us are excited and enthusiastic to meet you, not at large events but in the places where you all resist, rebel, and struggle.

Some might think that what interests us are large events and media coverage and would evaluate our successes and failures from that perspective. But we have learned that seeds are exchanged, planted, and grown in the terrain of the everyday using everyone’s own knowledge.

Tomorrow doesn’t grow in the spotlight. It is nurtured, cared for, and born in the unobserved shadows during the early morning, when the night just begins to cede ground.

The earthquakes that shake the history of humanity start with a single, almost imperceptible cry of “Enough!”; a discordant note in the midst of the noise; a crack in the wall.

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For this reason we have not come to share recipes, impose visions or strategies, or promise bright and instantaneous futures, crowded squares, or immediate solutions; nor did we come to convoke you to join marvelous coalitions.

We came to listen to you.

It certainly won’t be easy: we are so different, so distinct, so distant, so opposite, and above all, so contradictory. Many things separate us.

Perhaps as we begin to talk, like it or not, we will not just share our history, but will also demonstrate our conviction that what’s ours is what counts and what is true.

Each look backwards to the past divides us, and this difference is not unfounded: each glance back brings out legitimate pain and rage about the past.

It’s true that in looking to the past we find what we seek, whether it’s rage, resentments, condemnations or acquittals. Even though there are serious and profound studies of history, we can find those that are most convenient for us, that prove us right and justify us, which we then turn into the “truth”.

We can judge and condemn in this way, but in doing so justice is forgotten.

We can find many things that divide us and pit us against each other like this.

We fight with our family, with our group, collective or organization, and in our neighborhood, region and geography.

Each person carries pain that marks them and rage that moves them.

This pain and rage, which are not small, are there.

Therefore, we Zapatista peoples say that only a larger threat, a more terrible pain and a greater rage will allow us to agree to direct our rage and pain upwards.

But it’s not that the differences among us disappear, like in the false calls for “unity” often made by those above when those below try to hold them accountable.

No, what we Zapatista communities are talking about is a cause, a motivation, a goal: life.

It’s not about abandoning convictions and struggles: on the contrary, we think that the struggle of women, otroas, workers, and originary peoples should not only not stop, but should be even deeper and more radical. Each individual faces one or more heads of the Hydra.

All of those struggles, yours and ours as Zapatista peoples, are for life. But until we destroy the monster in its heart, its heads will continue sprouting and changing shape in even more cruel forms.

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Today, in these times, we see and are suffering under the destruction of nature at an enormous scale, with humanity included.

Underneath the rubble, ashes, mud, contaminated waters, pandemics, exploitation, disdain, dispossession, crime, racism and intolerance, there are human beings without life. And each life is a history that gets converted into a number or a statistic and forgotten.

The future—the history to come—is, like the present, a real nightmare. And when we think that it couldn’t get any worse, reality comes and smacks us in the face.

So people look out for themselves and, in the best of cases, for those close to them: their family, friends and the people they know.

But just as in each corner of the planet and in each beating heart there is tragedy today and more to come, at the same time, there is also resistance, rebellion, and a struggle for life.

Living is not just about not dying, about surviving: living as human beings means living with freedom. Living is about art, science, joy, dance, and struggle.

And of course living is also about disagreeing, discussing, debating, and confronting.

There is someone or something that is stopping us from living, taking away our freedom, deceiving us, scamming us, cornering us and taking away the world from each one of us with bites, cuts, and wounds.
We can identify the responsible party, look for a culprit, confront them and bring them to justice. We look for someone or something to pay and answer for this pain that leaves us isolated and alone [solos, solas, soloas], forcing us onto an ever-shrinking island, so small that only each person’s ego is left.

And even there, on that small island, far from everything and everyone, we’re supposed to be something else and are still not allowed to be what we are—even there in our individual history, made in part by collective history: in a room, a house, a neighborhood, a community, a geography, a cause which should be changed and betrayed to be part of something else. A woman who is to a man’s liking, unoa otroa who is accepted as hetero, a youth who is to the satisfaction of maturity, an old age tolerated by youth, a childhood disputed by youth, adults, and the elderly, an efficient and docile workforce for the overseer, an overseer to the liking of the boss.

And this pressure to transform ourselves into what we are not takes the form of violence which is structural. The whole system is made to impose the mold of normalcy.

If we are women, we should be so according to the mold made by men.

If we are otroas, we should be so according to the mold made by heterosexuality.

For example there are even clinics to “correct” sexual difference.

Really, the system itself is a gigantic and brutal clinic to “cure” our “abnormality:” a machine that attacks, isolates, and liquidates that which is other and different.

All day, every day the system tries to tame and domesticate us.

And we resist: everything that’s alive and entire generations resisting and rebelling, saying “no” to imposition and shouting “yes” to life.

It’s true that this is not new. We could go back five centuries and see the same story.

What’s ridiculous about all that is that those who oppress us today pretend to play the role of our “liberators.”

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However, something is different: the pain of the Earth and nature has joined together with our pain.

And here we can either agree or disagree. We can say that it’s not true: pandemics will end, catastrophes will cease to happen, the world and our life in the world will return to how it was before, even though this “before” was and is full of pain, destruction and injustice.

We, the Zapatista peoples, don’t think so: not only will things not return to how they were before, but they will actually get worse.

We, the Zapatista communities, name what is responsible for these wrongs and call it “capitalism.”

We also say that it is only through the total destruction of this system that it will be possible for each person, according to their own ways, calendars and geographies, to be able to build something else.

It won’t be perfect, but it will be better.

What is built after that, those new relations between human beings and between humanity and nature, will be named whatever people want to call it.

We know it won’t be easy: it’s not easy now.

We know that we won’t be able to do it alone, with each person on their own plot of land fighting against the head of the hydra they happen to face, while the heart of the monster remakes itself and grows even larger.

Above all, we know that we will not live to see the day when, in the end, the beast burns and crumbles until all that remains of it is a bad memory.

But we also know that we will do our part, though it may be small and future generations may not remember it.

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As the Zapatista communities that we are, we see signs. But perhaps we are wrong as the peoples that we are. You see how they call us ignorant, backwards, conservative, against progress, pre-modern, barbaric, uncivilized, unwelcome and inconvenient.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe we are backwards because here, as the women that we are and the otroas that we are, we can go out without fear that we’ll be attacked, raped, butchered and disappeared.

Maybe we are against progress because we are opposed to the megaprojects that destroy nature, destroy us as peoples, and leave death as the next generation’s inheritance.

Maybe we are against modernity because we oppose a given train, road, dam, thermoelectric plant, mall, airport, mine, or toxic waste dump, the destruction of a forest, the polluting of rivers and lakes, and the cult of fossil fuels.
Maybe we are backwards because we honor the land instead of money.

Maybe we are barbaric because we grow our own food and because we work to live and not to make money.

Maybe we are inappropriate and inconvenient because we govern ourselves as the peoples that we are and because we see the work of government as one of the many responsibilities that we as community members must carry out.

Maybe we are rebellious because we do not sell out, give up, or surrender.

Maybe we are everything that they say about us.

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But we see and hear something: we know something is happening and is going to happen.

That’s why we are on this journey, because we think and know that we are not the only ones who struggle and we are not the only ones who see what is happening and is going to happen.

Our corner of the world is a small geography of struggle for life.

We are looking for other corners and want to learn from them.

That’s why we came here, not to bring you insults and complaints or to collect on unpaid debts, even though this is in fashion and everyone would agree that we have a right to these complaints, or they say that we don’t know what we should do, so the bad governments will do it for us.

It’s also currently fashionable for these bad governments to hide themselves behind pseudo-nationalisms.

The flag of nationalism covers us together with those who oppress, persecute, murder, and divide us.

No. We did not come here for that.

The banner of nationalism hides not only differences but also, and above all, crimes. Under a unified nationalism, they shelter the violent man and the assaulted woman, heterosexual intolerance and persecuted otredad [otherness, other sexualities], predatory civilization and annihilated originary people, exploitative capital and subjugated workers, and the rich and the poor.

National flags hide much more than they reveal.

This is why our resolve for life is global. It does not recognize borders, language, color, race, ideology, religion, sex, age, size, or flags.

This is why our journey is a Journey for Life.

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This marks one of the few times where we will talk at an event in which only a few speak and many listen.

We will take this opportunity to make a respectful request.

Tell us your history, no matter how big or small.

Tell us your history of resistance and rebellion: tell us about your pain, rage, and your “no’s” and your “yes’s.”

Because we Zapatista communities have come to listen and to learn the history that exists in each room, house, neighborhood, community, language, and the ways that you do and don’t do things.

After so many years, we have learned that in each act of dissidence, rebellion or resistance, there is a clamor for life.

In our view as Zapatista peoples, that’s what this is all about: life.

Someday when someone asks you, “Why did the Zapatistas come?” together we can respond, without any shame on your or our part, “They came to learn.”

Five hundred years later, the Zapatista communities came to listen to us.

From Madrid, in the geography called Spain, in the lands and under the skies renamed
SLUMIL K´AJXEMK´OP or “rebellious land”.

In the name of the Zapatista communities.
The Zapatista Maritime Squadron, known as the “421st Squadron”.
Planet Earth. August 13, only 500 years later.