Zapatista Women’s Opening Address at the First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle
Source: Enlace Zapatista
Zapatista Women’s Opening Address at the First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle.
Listen here (in Spanish): (Descarga aquí)
March 8, 2018. Caracol in the Tzots Choj zone.
Good morning, sisters of Mexico and the world:
Good morning, compañeras from the national and international Sixth:
Good morning, compañeras from the National Indigenous Congress:
Good morning, compañeras who are comandantas, bases of support, autonomous authorities, project coordinators, milicianas, and insurgentas:
First, we want to send a big hug to the family of the compañera Eloísa Vega Castro, from the Indigenous Governing Council support network in Baja California Sur, who died while accompanying the CIG delegation this past February 14.
We waited until today to honor the memory of Eloisa so that our embrace could be even bigger and reach even farther, all the way to the other end of Mexico.
This hug and this greeting are huge because they’re from all the Zapatista women and all the Zapatista men on this day, March 8, for that woman who struggled and whom we miss today: Eloisa Vega Castro. May our condolences reach her family.
Sisters and compañeras who are visiting us:
Thank you to all of you who are here at this First International Gathering of Women in Struggle.
Thank you for making the effort to come from your many worlds to this little corner of the world where we are.
We know well that it was not easy for you to get here and that perhaps many women who struggle were not able to come to this gathering.
My name is Insurgenta Erika—that’s how we refer to ourselves when we’re speaking about the collective rather than the individual. I am an insurgenta captain of infantry, accompanied here by other insurgentas and milicianas of various ranks.
Our work will be to watch over this space to make sure only women are here and to not allow any men to come in. Because we know how sneaky they are.
So you’ll see us walking around in order to keep watch and make sure no men come in, and if one does then we’ll grab him and kick him out. Because it was stated clearly that men are not invited; they have to stay outside and find out later what happened here.
You can walk wherever you’d like. You can leave or enter whenever you like, all you need is your nametag. But men can’t enter until our gathering is over.
There are also compañeras who are health promoters and some who are doctors here. So if anyone gets sick or feels ill, just tell any of us and we’ll quickly let the promotoras know so that they can attend to you, and then the doctor can see you if necessary. We also have an ambulance ready to take you to a hospital if necessary.
There are also compañeras coordinating various areas, including sound technicians, those in charge of the electricity if it goes out, and those in charge of keeping things clean like the trash and the bathrooms. So that those compañeras can also participate in the gathering, we ask all of you to be mindful of the trash, hygiene, and bathrooms.
There are many of us here today, but together it’s as if we are one, welcoming and hosting you the best we can given our conditions here.
Sisters and compañeras:
Our word is collective, that’s why my compañeras are here with me on stage.
I’m responsible for reading this text, but we agreed upon it collectively among all of the compañeras who are organizers and coordinators of this gathering.
As Zapatista women, we are very proud to be here with you and we thank you all for giving us a space in which to share with you our words of struggle as Zapatista women.
Speaking on behalf of my compañeras, my word will be mixed up because we are of different ages and different languages and have distinct histories.
Because just as I worked as a servant in a house in the city before the uprising, I also grew up in the Zapatista rebellion of our grandmothers, mothers, and older sisters.
I saw what it was like in our communities before the struggle, a situation difficult to explain in words and even more difficult to live through, seeing how boys and girls, youth, adults, and elders died from curable diseases.
And all because of lack of medical attention, good nutrition, and education.
But we also died, and more of us, because we were women.
There were no clinics, and when there were, they were very far away. The bad government’s doctors didn’t take care of us because we didn’t speak Spanish and because we didn’t have any money.
In the house where I worked as a servant, I didn’t have a salary. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish and I couldn’t study, I only learned how to speak a little.
Later I learned that there was an organization in struggle and I began to participate as a base of support. I would go out at night to go study and come back as the sun was coming up, because back then nobody knew about our struggle; it was all clandestine.
During that time, I participated in collective work with other Zapatista women in areas such as traditional crafts, the production of beans and corn, and raising animals.
And we did everything clandestinely—if we had meetings or political education classes, we had to say we were off to go do something else because some people didn’t know anything about it, sometimes not even within our own families.
But I also was born and grew up after the beginning of the war.
I was born and grew up with the military patrols surrounding our communities and roads, listening to the soldiers say fucked up things to the women just because they were armed men and we were, and are, women.
But as a collective, we weren’t afraid; rather, we decided to struggle and support one another collectively as Zapatista women.
That’s how we learned that we can defend and we can lead.
And we weren’t just making speeches about all this; we were actually taking up arms and fighting against the enemy. We actually commanded troops and lead battles with mostly men under our command.
And they obeyed us, because what mattered wasn’t whether you were a man or a woman but the fact that you were willing to fight without giving up, selling out or giving in.
And even though we hadn’t studied, we were full of rage and anger over all the fucked up things they had done to us.
Because I experienced the disdain, the humiliation, the mockery, the violence, the beatings, the deaths for being a woman, for being indigenous, for being poor, and now for being a Zapatista.
And you should know that it wasn’t always men who exploited me, robbed me, humiliated me, beat me, scorned me, and murdered me.
Often it was women. And it still is.
And I also grew up in the resistance and saw how my compañeras built schools, clinics, collective work projects, and autonomous governments.
I saw public celebrations, where we all knew that we were Zapatistas and we knew that we were together.
I saw that rebellion, resistance and struggle are also a celebration, even though sometimes there’s no music or dancing, just the sweat and blood of the work, the preparation, and the resistance.
I saw that where before being indigenous, being poor, and being a woman only meant death, now we were collectively building another path for life: freedom, our freedom.
I saw that whereas before we women only had our houses and fields, now we have schools, clinics, and collective work projects where we women operate equipment and guide the struggle. We make mistakes of course, but we’re moving forward, with no one telling us what to do but ourselves.
And now I see that we have indeed advanced—even if only a little bit, we always manage to advance somehow.
Don’t think it was easy. It was very hard, and it continues to be very hard.
Not just because the fucking capitalist system wants to destroy us: it’s also because we have to fight against the system that makes men believe that we women are less than, and good for nothing.
And sometimes, it must be said, even as women we screw each other over and speak badly of each other, that is, we don’t respect each other.
Because it’s not just men: there are also women from the cities who look down on us because they say we don’t know about women’s struggle, because we haven’t read books where the feminists explain how it should be. They give a lot of commentary and critique without knowing what our struggle is like.
Because it’s one thing to be a woman, another to be poor, and another thing altogether to be indigenous. The indigenous women listening know this very well. And it is yet another and more difficult thing to be a Zapatista indigenous woman.
Of course we know there’s still much to do, but since we are Zapatista women, we don’t give up, we don’t sell out, and we don’t veer off our path of struggle—that is, we don’t give in.
You can see what we’re capable of, because we organized this gathering among Zapatista women.
It wasn’t just some idea that somebody had one day.
When the National Indigenous Congress and the Indigenous Governing Council said many months ago that as women we’re going to say that we’re not afraid, or that we are but we control our fear, we women began to think collectively that we too have to do something.
So in all the zones, among the large and small women’s collectives, we began to discuss what to do as Zapatista women.
At CompArte last year the idea was put forth that only we Zapatista women would present and honor the Indigenous Governing Council. And that’s what we did, because it was only women who received our compañeras from the Indigenous Governing Council and the spokeswoman Marichuy, who’s here today.
But that wasn’t all. In our collectives, we also considered and discussed the fact that we have to do more, because we see that something is happening.
What we see, sisters and compañeras, is that they’re killing us.
And that they’re killing us because we’re women.
As if that’s our crime and they’re giving us the death penalty.
So we came up with the idea of having this gathering and inviting all women in struggle.
I’m going to tell you why we thought to do this:
There are women present here from many parts of the world.
There are women who have studied a lot and have degrees, who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, teachers, students, artists, leaders.
We ourselves haven’t studied much; some of us barely speak a little Spanish.
We live in these mountains, the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
We are born here, we grow up here, we struggle here, we die here.
Wee for example those trees over there, which you call “forest” and we call “brush.”
Well, we know that in that forest, in that brush, there are many trees that are different.
And we know that, for example, there is pine, mahogany, cedar, and bayalté there are many kinds of trees.
But we also know that each pine or each ocote is not the same. Each one is different.
We know this, yes, but when we see it we say that it’s a forest or brush.
Well, here we are like a forest or brush.
We are all women.
But we know that we are of different colors, sizes, languages, cultures, professions, schools of thought and forms of struggle.
But we say that we are women and what’s more, we are women in struggle.
So we are different but we are the same.
There are many women in struggle who are not here, but we are thinking of them even if we can’t see them.
We also know that there are women who are not in struggle, who resign themselves, who falter and lose heart.
So we can say that there are women all over the world, a forest of women, and what makes them the same is that they’re women.
But we Zapatista women see that something else is going on.
What also makes us the same is the violence and the death carried out against us.
That’s how we see the modern condition of this fucking capitalist system. We see that it made a forest of all the women of the world with its violence and death which have the face, body and idiot brain of the patriarchy.
So we say to you that we invited you so we can speak to one another, listen to one another, see one another, and celebrate together.
We thought it should only be women so that we can speak, listen, see, and celebrate without the gaze of men, whether they’re good men or bad men.
What matters is that we’re women and that we’re women in struggle, that is, that we don’t resign ourselves to what’s happening and that each of us—according to her way, her time, and her location—struggles. She rebels. She gets pissed and does something about it.
So we say to you, sisters and compañeras, that we can choose what we’re going to do in this gathering.
That is, we can decide.
We can choose to compete to see who’s more badass, who’s the best speaker, who’s more revolutionary, who’s the best thinker, who’s more radical, who’s the best behaved, who’s the most liberated, who’s the prettiest, who’s the hottest, who dances better, who paints better, who sings best, who’s more of a woman, who wins at sports, who struggles the most.
Whatever it is, there won’t be any men saying who wins and who loses. Only us women.
Or we can listen and speak with respect as women in struggle; we can give each other the gift of dance, music, film, video, painting, poetry, theater, sculpture, fun, and knowledge, and by doing so nourish the struggles that each of us has wherever we are.
So we can choose, sisters and compañeras.
Either we compete among ourselves and at the end of the gathering, when we return to our worlds, we’ll realize that nobody won.
Or we can agree to struggle together, as different as we are, against the patriarchal capitalist system that is assaulting and murdering us.
Here your age doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter if you’re married, single, widowed or divorced, if you’re from the city or the countryside, if you’re affiliated with a political party, if you’re lesbian or asexual or transgender or however you may call yourself, if you’re educated or not, if you’re feminist or not.
All are welcome and as Zapatista women, we’re going to listen to you, we’re going to see you and we’re going to speak to you with respect.
We’ve organized ourselves so that in all the activities—all of them—there are some of us there who can carry your message to our compañeras in our villages and communities.
We’re going to set up a special table to receive your criticisms. You can turn them in there or tell us what you see that we did or are doing badly.
We’ll look at them and analyze them and, if what you say is true, we’re going to figure out how to do it better.
And if it’s not true, well then either way we’ll think about why you told us that.
What we’re not going to do is blame men or the system for errors that are our own.
Because the struggle for our freedom as Zapatista women is ours.
It’s not the job of men or the system to give us our freedom.
On the contrary, the work of the patriarchal capitalist system is to keep us in submission.
If we want to be free, we have to conquer our freedom ourselves, as women.
We’re going to look at you and listen to you with respect, compañeras and sisters.
And whatever we see and hear, we will know what to take from it to help our struggle as Zapatista women. What won’t help, we won’t take.
But we will not judge anyone.
We will not say that something is good or bad.
We did not invite you here to judge you.
Neither did we invite you to compete.
We invited you so we can encounter one another, different and the same.
We have Zapatista compañeras here from different originary languages. You will hear the collective words from women from each zone.
But we are not all here.
There are many more of us, and our rage and anger is much greater.
But our rage, that is, our struggle, is not only for us; it is for all the women who are assaulted, murdered, beaten, insulted, disparaged, mocked, disappeared, and imprisoned.
So we say to you, sister and compañera, that we are not asking you to come and struggle for us, just like we are not going to struggle for you.
Each of us knows her way, her mode and her time.
The only thing we do ask of you is to keep struggling, don’t give up, don’t sell out, don’t renounce being women in struggle.
To close we’re asking you for something special during these days you’re here with us.
Some elder sisters and compañeras, “wise women” we call them, have come here from all over Mexico and the world.
They are women who are elders and who struggle.
We ask that you respect them and give them special consideration, because we want to end up like them, to grow old and know we are still in struggle.
We want to grow older and be able to say that we have been alive for many years and that each year was a year of struggle.
But in order for that to happen, we have to be alive.
That’s why this gathering is for life.
And nobody is going to give that to us, sisters and compañeras.
Not god, not man, not a political party, not a savior, not a leader, not a female leader, and not a female boss.
We have to struggle for life.
That’s our lot, sisters and compañeras, and the lot of all women in struggle.
Perhaps when this gathering is over, when you return to your worlds, to your times, to your ways, someone will ask you if we reached some agreement. Because there were many different kinds of thought that came to these Zapatista lands.
Perhaps you will respond, no.
Or perhaps you will respond, yes, we did reach an agreement.
Maybe when they ask you what the agreement was, you will say, “We agreed to live, and since for us to live is to struggle, we agreed to struggle, each according to her way, her place and her time.”
And maybe you’ll also respond, “and at the end of the gathering we agreed to come back together again next year in Zapatista territory because they invited us for another round.”
That is all our words for now, thank you for listening to us.
Long live all the women of the world!
Death to the patriarchal system!
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
The Zapatista Women.
March 8, 2018, Chiapas, Mexico, the World.