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August of 2013.
Okay so, there’s not much left now. I mean that there are not many days left until the Little School starts, not that we don’t have much more to do and say.
If anyone out there can find a school that assigns each individual their own teacher, 24 hours a day, a school that is laicized [secular] and free of cost, that provides lodging and meals during the teaching and learning, well good luck.
As you already know, the educational backgrounds of those who are going to attend the Little School stretch from not even entering nursery school to holding a foreign doctorate (and by “foreign” we don’t mean countries other than Mexico, but rather places alien or foreign to us, meaning that many educational institutions in our country count as foreign). And the calendars lived [ages] of those who will come range from just a few months old to over 90 years old. All who come, whether they are going to a community, or staying at CIDECI, or are in another geography participating via videoconference, or waiting their turn to participate, are received and held in the collective heart that we are.
Perhaps you do understand the organizational effort that the Little School represents for the Zapatista peoples.
But perhaps you haven’t asked yourself how and why a group of indigenous communities decided to host, feed, live with and share their knowledge with a group of foreigners, those who are different, others. How is that the object of so much pity, charity, shame and all those words that hide racism, discrimination, and contempt—that is, the Zapatista people—have the audacity to declare that they have something to teach? And that in order to do so, they erect, upon what was before an absurd ark in the middle of the jungle, a school so big that it covers the entire world?
Or perhaps you have asked yourself these things. But then you must also ask yourself how it is possible that people from 5 continents, of the most varied nationalities (that cheap trick pulled by flags, borders, and passports), of very great or very small learning, decide that they do indeed have something to learn from people who are catalogued in important books and government discourses as “ignorant,” “backward,” “marginalized,” “poor,” “illiterate,” and the etceteras that you can find in INEGI “studies” (The National Institute of Statistics and Geography), in anthropology manuals, and in the words and gestures of disgust of those who say they govern the world.
Why is it that both renowned and unknown people take time to listen, to travel, to learn from the Zapatista peoples?
Now, we as Zapatistas are not astonished by our persistent path through the continuous ups and downs of our struggle for life, that is, for freedom. What we are surprised by is that people like you, who could have chosen friendlier, more comfortable and comforting destinations, have instead chosen to put your heart in the rebellious mountains of the Mexican Southeast in order to, by our side, illuminate like lightning an August in the last, the smallest, corner of the earth.
Why is this? Could it be because you intuit, think, or know that the light does not come from above, but that it is born and grows from below? That it is not the product of a leader, boss, caudillo, or wise man, but of the common people? Could it be because in your stories great things start small, and what every so often makes the world tremble always starts with barely a murmur, soft, low, almost imperceptible? Or perhaps it is because you can imagine the racket of a world that is collapsing. Perhaps it is because you know that new worlds are born with the smallest of them all.
In the end, what really should be surprising is that you will be here with us, on this side. And I think it should be clear that I’m not talking about this side of the calendar or the geography.
We Zapatistas have the fortune of having the ear, word, and hand of men and women, compañer@s, whom we look up to for their moral height. Some of them have not said anything directly about us, for or against. But their words about how the world turns do.
And there are people who could easily be on the other side, with those above, or with those who from various places see us as a competitor, an obstacle, a bother, an enemy, or an animal that is impossible to tame or domesticate. There on that side they could receive honors and gallantry, homage and salutations. To get such things, it would be enough to create some distance from our path or add themselves to the complicit silence of others. Some of these people have accepted our invitation to the Zapatista Little School out of generosity. On the long path of their dignified walk, they always maintained bridges to the smallest, the most forgotten, to us.
Were there others, who also supported us, before? Yes, many. And later, on the crest of whatever wave was current, they demanded our submission and subjection to the new garments of those who have always pursued us, but now dressed as the “left.” They demanded that we bow down and thank them for their support, to be silent in the face of the same injustices as always, but now adorned with false words. Like He who Rules, they demanded our obedience. And just as we did with He who Rules, we responded with rebellion.
But these people, compas, men and women of different calendars and geographies, never demanded of us submission or surrender. And although it was not seldom that their gaze was and is critical of our path, it was and is a gaze of compañer@s. They are proof that support is not subordination (something the global left still does not understand).
We invited all of these people. But not as students. According to our understanding, these people understand what freedom according to the Zapatistas is. We invited them to include them as participants in this happiness of seeing that our path, although halting and disconcerting, continues and has one destiny, which is also theirs.
I am going to write some names. It won’t include all of them. But in naming them, we name those who should appear at our side and also those who won’t appear because death has already appeared on their path. But they are in our memory, which is our best and only weapon and shield. We will miss them, for example: the untiring activity of the compañera sister Chapis; the firmness of the compa Rosa de Querétaro; the gaze-as-bridge of Beverly Brancroft; the happy laughter of Helena, the determined struggle of Martha de Los Ríos, the clear word of Tomás Segovia; the wise ear of José Saramago, the brotherly sentiments of Mario Benedetti, the ingeniousness of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, the serene consistency of Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez, the profound knowledge of Carlos Montemayor, the brotherly embrace of Andrés Aubry and Angélica Inda, among many others.
Although they, and some others, appear on the list of invited students, they are not that. They are, to use scholarly jargon, exempt.
It would be good to greet them with a hug, here or in the geography from which they generously watch and listen to us. Whether they come or not, they are with us as what they are, our compañeras and compañeros.
Here I will only put the names of a few. There are more. We will send to all of them, along with our embrace, admiration, and reiterated respect, a letter of exemption that is merely an academic simile to show our gratitude. So here are some of the exempt, with honor, from the course “Freedom According to the Zapatistas”:
.- Our dear mothers and grandmothers, the Doñas of Chihuahua and Sinaloa, in the Mexico below and to the left.
.- Our grandmothers and mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in the dignified Argentina.
.- María Luisa Tomasini, our grandmother in Chiapas.
.- Pablo González Casanova.
.- Luis Villoro.
.- Adolfo Gilly.
.- Paulina Fernández C.
.- Óscar Chávez.
.- John Berger.
.- Carlos Aguirre Rojas.
.- Antonio Ramírez Chávez.
.- Vicente Rojo.
.- Immanuell Wallerstain.
.- Gilberto López y Rivas.
.- Noam Chomsky.
.- María Luisa Capella.
.- Ernesto Cardenal.
.- Neus Espresate Xirau.
.- Marcos Roitman.
.- Arturo Anguiano.
.- Gustavo Esteva Figueroa.
.- Jorge Alonso Sánchez.
.- Hugo Blanco Galdós.
.- Miquel Amorós.
.- Neil Harvey.
.- John Holloway.
.- Malú Huacuja del Toro.
.- Armando Bartra.
.- Michael Hardt.
.- Greg Ruggiero.
.- Raúl Zibechi.
.- Eduardo Galeano.
.- Daniel Viglietti.
.- León Gieco.
.- Sylvia Marcos.
.- Jean Robert.
.- Juan Villoro.
.- Mercedes Olivera.
.- Bárbara Jacobs.
.- Mayor insurgente honorario Félix Serdán.
.- María Jesús de la Fuente Viuda de O’Higgins.
.- Inés Segovia Camelo.
.- Obispo Raúl Vera.
.- Bárbara Zamora.
.- El Mastuerzo.
.- Rocko Pachukote.
.- Francisco Segovia.
.- Zach de la Rocha.
.- Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas.
.- Juan Carlos Mijangos Noh.
.- Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME), México.
.- Ignacio Del Valle.
.- Confederación General de Trabajadores, Estado Español.
.- Víctor Flores Olea.
.- Magdalena Gómez.
.- Brigada Callejera “Elisa Martínez”.
.- the twitter crowd.
.- the alternative media crowd.
* * *
Idle Advice (because I know you’re not going to pay any attention to what I tell you).
On Chess and Nightmares.
Let’s say, for example, that you are sent to the Little School in the zone of the Caracaol of La Realidad. After a busy day, with blisters on your hands and feet but also with that happy pain that only comes with learning, you are sitting outside your shelter. You light a cigarette as you watch the light of the day cede to the shadows of the night. You see your surroundings as if in slow motion. There is a silence of everyday goings on, which allows you to notice the stubborn chirping of crickets, the playful light of fireflies, the buzzing of mosquitoes. You decide to take out your portable chessboard. As you’re setting up the pieces, a little girl or little boy approaches (you think abut 8 or 9 years old), and squats down beside you. The little girl or boy watches what you are doing with curiosity and asks, in total innocence, “what’s that?” You feel flattered to have this opportunity to teach something, especially because ever since you arrived, you’ve been corrected constantly by your Votán and the family with whom you are living. So you take a puff on your cigarette and say: “Ah, this is a game called chess.” And here is the decisive moment. You are tempted to say exactly what you should not say. You think that, after all, it’s just a little girl/boy and it would be fun to teach them this mysterious game of intelligence, tactics, and strategy. So you say the cursed words: “Do you want me to teach you how to play?” And it’s done. The die have been cast. The little girl/boy says, with total innocence, “okay, I’ll try.” Then comes the nightmare.
After the first explanations of “this one is a pawn,” “this is a bishop,” “this is a horse,” and so on, the girl/boy will sit down in front of you and it’s a done deal. You will spend the rest of the afternoon and part of the night listening to “checkmate” over and over again. And later, a little before the dreamt dream replaces the lived one, you will murmur, “Damned Sup, I should have paid attention to him.” I, from close and from far, will light my pipe, dig into my bag of animal crackers and think: “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.” I have heard cussing in dozens of different languages, when the chess “teachers” are beaten by the children of the zone of La Realidad. After all, they call this place “Reality” for a reason, do they not?
Let’s say, for example, that you are assigned to the zone of the Caracol of La Garrucha. Same situation as the above. But this time the child has a ball in his hands. He says, asks, challenges you with, “Where you come from do they know how to play soccer?” You feel Pelé and Garrincha, Maradona and Cruyff, Ronald and Messi (it’s not a Table Dance, eh), Puskas and Di Stéfano (is that too far back?) or whoever corresponds to your geography and calendar beating in your veins. I recommend that you smile and ask about the weather or whatever, but… you begin to see red and well, knowing sports chauvinism is well tolerated even on the radical left, you dismiss my advice, adjust your boots, tennis shoes, sandals, toes, or whatever, and stand up saying, “Do we know how to play soccer where I come from? Let me show you, c’mon.” Later at night, as you begin to doze off, you will run through the damages in your mind and you will say it was the fault of the keeper, the defense, the midfielder, the forward, the referee, the steep field, the mud, the cow shit, that in the end the spanking you got wasn’t so bad really, that you’ll have a rematch tomorrow. But, with one last yawn, you will murmur: “Damned Sup, I should have listened to him.” And I, from both close and far, will light my pipe and lie back as I think: “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.”
I have seen multinational teams of authentic football masters succumb on the “soccer fields” of the Caracol of La Garrucha. In this zone, even the cows know the magic of dribbling a ball.
On Pozol Agrio (a sour corn drink).
Let’s say you are in whichever zone of the 5 caracoles you are assigned. “There’s a party!” you hear. You get up, even though your whole body hurts as if you had spend the whole day trying to get on public transport during rush hour in your own geography. You go over to where the noise is coming from. You hear a jubilant shout “pozol agrio!” Now pay attention to what I’m telling you: turn around on the spot and go back to the house where you are staying. If someone offers you some, pardon yourself with a “thank you, but I’m very full right now” as you rub your stomach with satisfaction. But, double or nothing, you say to yourself, “Well, I came to share, so I should also share the happiness that this pozol agrio appears to provoke,” and you ask for and receive your cup. As you spend the entire night in the latrine, you will have to light a cigarette, even though you don’t smoke, and with the flash of the lighter you will think, “Damned Sup, I should have listened to him.” And I, from not so close and perhaps quite far, will light my pipe, and, murmuring, “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so,” I will go even further away because believe me, there is no tobacco that covers that odor.
If you think that something might make you sick, or if you feel bad, or if something isn’t sitting right in your stomach, don’t eat it. Don’t feel obligated to eat what you can’t eat. You won’t be looked upon badly, or expelled from the Little School, and no one will criticize you or anything like that. On the contrary, you will be given medicine for your stomach and asked what you can eat that won’t make you feel bad. Because we know well that with regard to food, what pleases and nourishes is found in the word that seasons it. And yes, you can bring what you like to eat, as long as you share it.
And when I say share I don’t mean giving everyone a portion, but sharing the story of the food you bring, how it is prepared, how it is eaten. And no, sharing a stomachache is not part of community life.
Yes, you can bring a ball, a guitar, a theater piece, a movie, or a story to tell. Only remember, everything is done in collective. Not the collective you came with, but your collective here: your family and your Votán. If you hear someone say “what a happy ton,” they aren’t talking about the weight of the firewood or the water drum. It’s just one of those strange translations that abound here: “ton” (tonelada) means “tune.” You’re welcome.
There should be a sign at the entrance of any Zapatista community that reads, “Abandon any hope of rhyme.” If someone nearby is practicing a “slogan” for the welcome party or the farewell party, and you hear “hey hey, ho ho, there are a shitload of us and we will win,” don’t even think about saying that it doesn’t go like that or that it doesn’t rhyme. Because if you do, you’ll be bombarded with, “why not? You don’t think there are a shitload of us? You don’t think we’re going to win?? And finally, “well you understood me, didn’t you?”
* * *
Vale. And don’t forget to pack three basic things: something for the cold, something for the rain, and something in which to stockpile your memories.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Marcos’ Speed of Dreams: Selected Writings (City Lights) is the subject of an essay by Brenda Norrell in the August edition of CounterPunch’s Digital Exclusive newsletter.