Zapatismo Now & Then (México DF & San Franciso)

Next week I am starting a new research project: a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, tracing translations of Latin American guerrilla ‘mountain literature’ by Anglo-American poetry networks, from 1960 to the present, & thinking about this poetry in terms of ecopoetics and radical Latinx environmentalisms.

These images are to get the blog started. They were taken in Mexico City and San Francisco in June, and differently express the historical dialectic of Zapatismo, its ongoing urgency in the present, in terms of the ramping up of attacks on indigenous communities and ecosystems, and its specificity as an agrarian uprising during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). The first is a banner outside the artisan market in Coyoacán, a wealthy area in the south of Mexico City, for the campaign against impunity focused around the disappearance in 2014 of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, Guerrero, signed by the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army). Lucio Cabañas, Mexico’s best-known guerrilla leader during the cold war/dirty war period of the 1970s who fought for the rights of the poor and for the rights of the forest, was also a maestro at Ayotzinapa; history thickens, or present concerns become more dense, as Armando Barta suggests in his new edition of Los nuevos herederos de Zapata. Un siglo en la resistencia 1918-2018 [The new inheritors of Zapata. A century in resistance 1918-2018].

Then there are four amazing historical images of the Zapatista Liberation Army of the South during the revolutionary period, between 1911-15, displayed outside the Biblioteca de las Revoluciones de México, on Plaza del Carmen in San Ángel. It’s really something to see these agrarian defenders mounted on horseback, before going into battle and, most interestingly, female Zapatistas held prisoner––it’s not clear by whom. The last pictures are details from the large Zapatista mural on the gable end of City Lights, the famous Beat bookshop in San Francisco. This is the long inscription explaining the mural’s meaning and history:

‘These images of peace with dignity were originally painted in Taniperla, a peasant tzetzal Maya community in Chiapas, Mexico. The Taniperla mural, “Life and Dreams of the Perla Valley”, commemorated the life of the village and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation’s struggle to end five hundred years of repression. Upon taking up arms to defend themselves, the Zapatistas seek to foster justice for the poor and the marginalised, opening a space for local democracy. On the 11th April 1999 Taniperla was invaded by the Mexican army. The army set fire to sown fields and houses, destroyed the mural and occupied the village. Many of those who inspired the mural – artists, peasant leaders and human rights workers – were imprisoned. Since then the mural has been repainted in different places across the world. Its voice and its inspiration are still alive and the Zapatistas continue to fight for liberty, justice and peace. Like the corn that grows from the buried seed, symbol of hope and rebirth, the Taniperla mural reminds us that creativity outlives violence and that the dignity of life is not easily silenced.’ 

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‘We are missing 43!!! Alive they took them from us, alive we want them back! We are all Ayotzinapa!!! (Southern Collectives adherent to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle by the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation)’
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‘Mounted Zapatistas in a street, 1911’
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‘Members of the Zapatista Army before going into combat, group portrait, c. 1915’
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‘Zapatista women prisoners, 1913’
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‘Municipal palace set on fire by the Zapatista forces, 1911’
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Details from the Zapatista mural on the gable end of City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA

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‘These images of peace with dignity were originally painted in Taniperla, a peasant tzetzal Maya community in Chiapas, Mexico. The Taniperla mural, “Life and Dreams of the Perla Valley”, commemorated the life of the village and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation’s struggle to end five hundred years of repression. Upon taking up arms to defend themselves, the Zapatistas seek to foster justice for the poor and the marginalised, opening a space for local democracy. On the 11th April 1999 Taniperla was invaded by the Mexican army. The army set fire to sown fields and houses, destroyed the mural and occupied the village. Many of those who inspired the mural – artists, peasant leaders and human rights workers – were imprisoned. Since then the mural has been repainted in different places across the world. Its voice and its inspiration are still alive and the Zapatistas continue to fight for liberty, justice and peace. Like the corn that grows from the buried seed, symbol of hope and rebirth, the Taniperla mural reminds us that creativity outlives violence and that the dignity of life is not easily silenced.’

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