421st SQUADRON (Zapatista Maritime Delegation)
(Zapatista Maritime Delegation)
The calendar? An early morning in April. Geography? The mountains of the Mexican Southeast. A sudden silence overtakes the crickets, the distant barking of dogs, and the echo of marimba music. Here, in the belly of the mountains, it sounds more like a whisper than a shout. If we weren’t where we are, you might think it was the murmur of the open ocean. But it’s not the sound of waves crashing against the coast, the beach, or the cliff edge marked by a sheer drop. No, it’s something more than that. And then… a long wail and a sudden, brief tremor.
The mountain gets up, shyly lifting its skirts a bit and, not without some difficulty, pulls its feet out of the earth. It takes a first step, grimacing in pain. Far from maps, tourist destinations and catastrophes, the soles of the small mountain’s feet are bleeding. But here all are in on the plan, so an unexpected rain falls to wash its feet and cure its wounds.
“Take care, daughter,” says the mother Ceiba tree. “You can do it!” says the Huapác tree, as if to itself. The paraque bird leads the way. “Go east, friend, go east,” it says as it hops from side to side. Clothed in trees, birds, and stones, the mountain walks, and with each step, sleepy men, women, persons who are neither men nor women, and boys and girls grab onto her skirts. They climb up her blouse, crown the tip of her breasts, continue up her shoulders, and, when they have reached the top of her head, they awaken.
To the east, the sun, just edging above the horizon, slows its stubborn daily rise. It’s quite a sight to see a mountain, with a crown of humans, walking along. But besides the sun and a few gray clouds that the night left behind, no one here seems surprised.
“So it was written,” says Old Man Antonio as he sharpens his double-edged machete, and Doña Juanita nods and sighs. The fire smells like coffee and cooked corn. A cumbia is playing on the community radio. The lyrics speak of an impossible legend: a mountain traversing history against the grain.
Seven people, seven Zapatistas, will make up the maritime division of our delegation to Europe. Four men, two women, and one other (unoa otroa). 4, 2, 1. The 421st Squadron is already stationed at the “Zapatistas Maritime-Land Training Center” located in the Comandanta Ramona Seedbed in the Tzotz Choj zone.
It wasn’t easy—it’s been torturous, actually. To get to this point we’ve had to face criticisms, advice, discouragement, calls for caution and moderation, open sabotage, lies, badmouthing, detailed sermons on the problems at hand, gossip, insolence, and a phrase repeated ad nauseum: “What you all are trying to do is very difficult, if not impossible.” All of this of course in addition to being ordered around and told what we should and should not do. All this from both sides of the ocean.
That’s on top of the obstacles created by the supreme government and its ignorant, pig-headed, racist bureaucracy, of course, but I’ll tell you about all that another time. Right now I have to tell you about our splendid Zapatista maritime delegation.
The four women, two men and one other are human beings. They were given the Turing Test, with a few modifications I considered pertinent, to discard the possibility that any of them, or all of them, might be a cybernetic organism, a robot that is, capable of dancing the cumbia del Sapito[i] with a few missteps. Therefore, the seven of them belong to the human race.
All seven of them were born on the continent called “America” and the fact that they share pain and rage with other originary peoples from this side of the ocean makes them Latin Americans. They are also Mexicans, descended from originary Mayan peoples, as confirmed by their families, neighbors and acquaintances. They are also Zapatistas, with documents from the autonomous municipalities and the Good Government Councils that show as much. They have not been shown to have committed any crimes that were not appropriately punished. They live, work, get sick, get well, fall in love, fall out of love, laugh, cry, remember, forget, play, get serious, take notes, make up excuses—that is, they live, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, in Chiapas, Mexico, Latin America, America, Planet Earth, etcetera.
In addition, the seven of them volunteered to make the trip by sea – something that doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm among Zapatistas of any age. To be frank, nobody wanted to travel by boat. How much of that is due to Esperanza and the whole Defensa Zapatista gang’s campaign of fear, which can be summarized in their catchy formulation, “you’re all going to die horribly,” I can’t say. But the fact of having defeated social media, including whatsapp, despite having no technological advantage (hell, without even a rural cellphone signal) motivated me to add my two cents to the conversation.
So, moved by my sympathy for the Defensa Zapatista gang, I asked SubMoy for permission to speak to the delegation, which, amidst the shouts, cries and laughter of children, was preparing for the invasion that’s not an invasion… Well, it is, but you could call it consensual; something like an internationalist sado-masochism that, of course, will not meet with the approval of the orthodoxy-cum-vanguard, which, as usual, is so far ahead of the masses that you can’t see them.
I introduced myself to the assembly and, putting on my best tragic face, I told them horrible things about the high seas: the interminable vomiting; the vast monotony of the horizon; the corn-poor diet, with no popcorn or (the horror!) Valentina salsa; the fact of being shut in with other people for several weeks (with whom, for the first few hours, you exchange smiles and pleasantries, and later on, looks that kill). I also described, in extreme detail, terrible storms and unknown threats. I referred to the Kraken and, in a moment of literary vice, I spoke of a giant white whale on a furious search for a leg to rip off of someone, which would of course exclude the victim from a respectable role in even the slowest cumbia. It was useless. I must confess, not without hurting my masculine pride, that it was primarily women who said, “by boat,” when presented with the options of traveling by sea or by air.
And so it was that not 7, not 10, not 15 but more than 20 people signed up. Even little Veronica, age 3, signed up when she heard the story of the murderous whale. Incomprehensible, I know. But once you meet her (the girl, not the whale), you’ll sympathize—with Moby Dick, I mean.
Why only 7, then? Well, I could talk about the 7 cardinal directions (forward, backward, to one side, to the other side, the center, up and down), of the first 7 gods who gave birth to the world, and so on. But the truth is that far from symbols and allegories, the number of people is due to the fact that the majority still does not have their passports and are still battling to get them. I’ll tell you about that later.
But I’m sure you’re not interested in those problems. What you want to know is who is going to set sail on “La Montaña” [The Mountain], cross the Atlantic Ocean and invade… err, I mean, visit Europe. So below find their photos and a brief description:
Lupita, 19-years-old, Mexican, Tzotzil, from the Chiapas highlands, speaks both her native language, Tzotzil, and Spanish fluently, knows how to read and write, and has been a local youth coordinator, regional youth coordinator, and local administrator of collective work. Lupita likes to listen to pop music, love songs, cumbia, ballads, electronic music, rap, hip-hop, Andean music, Chinese music, revolutionary music, classic rock, 80’s rock (or so they call it), mariachis, traditional music from her village… and reguetón (Editor’s note: if that isn’t “a world where many worlds fit,” then I don’t know what is. End note). Lupita’s favorite colors are black, red, maroon, and brown, and has had previous maritime experience when she traveled by boat as a young girl. She spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe and will work as a Tercia Compa [Zapatista media] during the journey across the sea.
Carolina, 26-years-old, Mexican, originally from the Tzotzil region in the Chiapas highlands now residing in the Tzeltal region of the Lacandón Jungle, speaks her native language, Tzotzil, as well as Tzeltal and Spanish fluently and knows how to read and write. She is a single mother raising a 6-year-old girl with support from her mom. She has been a coordinator of “The Women that We Are” collective and has taken classes on veterinary medicine. Carolina is currently a Comandanta in the Zapatista political-organizational leadership. She likes pop music, love songs, cumbia, 80’s rock (or so they call it), grupero and revolutionary music, and likes the colors cream, black, and maroon. As for her previous maritime experience, she has been on a single boat ride. She spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe.
Ximena, 25-years-old, Mexican, Cho’ol, from the north of Chiapas, speaks her native language, Cho’ol, and Spanish fluently and knows how to read and write. She is also a single mother raising a 6-year-old girl with help from her mother. She has been a youth coordinator and is currently a Comandanta in the Zapatista political-organizational leadership. She likes cumbia, tropical music, love songs, revolutionary music, 80’s rock (or so they call it), electronic and ranchera music. Her favorite colors are purple, black, and red. Prior to now, she has been on only one boat ride. She spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the maritime journey to Europe, and is second in command on the voyage, after Darío.
Yuli, 37-years-old and will turn 38 in May while she’s at sea. Originally from the Tojolabal region of the Jungle/border zone, she now lives in the Tzeltal region in the Lacandón Jungle, speaks Spanish fluently, and knows how to read and write. She is a mother of two young girls ages 12 and 6, and her partner helps care for her kids. Her partner is Tzeltal, which means that they love, fight, and then make up all in Spanish. She has been an education promoter, education trainer (training the education promoters) and coordinator of her local collective. She likes to listen to love songs, Grupero music, cumbia, vallenato, revolutionary music, tropical, pop, marimba, rancheras, and 80’s rock (or so they call it) and likes the colors black, brown, and red. She has never travelled by boat and has spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe.
Bernal, 57-years-old, Tojolabal, from the Jungle/border zone, speaks both his native language, Tojolabal, and Spanish fluently and knows how to read and write. He is the father of 11 kids, the oldest a 30-year-old son and the youngest a 6-year-old girl. His family helps to raise the little kids. He has been a miliciano [Zapatista militia], a local authority, teacher in the Zapatista Little School, and member of the Good Government Council. He likes to listen to rancheras, cumbia, huichol music, marimba and revolutionary music, and his favorite colors are blue, black, grey, and brown. His previous maritime travel experience includes being on a fishing boat and a motorized boat. He spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe.
Darío, 47-years-old, Cho’ol from the north of Chiapas, speaks his native language, Cho’ol, and Spanish fluently and knows how to read and write. He is a father to 3 children: a 22-year old son, 9-year old son, and a 3-year old girl. The youngest two will travel to Europe with their mother by plane in July. Darío has been a miliciano, a local authority, a regional authority, and is currently a Comandante in the Zapatista political-organizational leadership. He likes to listen to rancheras by Bertín and Lalo, tropical music, marimba, regional, and revolutionary music, and his favorite colors are black and grey. Previously, he has been on a fishing boat. He spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe and will be the coordinator of the Zapatista maritime delegation.
Marijose, 39-years-old, Tojolabal from the Jungle/border zone, speaks Spanish fluently, knows how to read and write, and has been a milicianoa, a health promotoroa, an education promotoroa, and an education trainer. Marijose likes to listen to cumbia, love songs, rancheras, pop, electronic, 80’s rock music (or so they call it), marimba and revolutionary music, likes the colors black, blue, and red, and has previous experience on a fishing boat and a motorboat. Marijose spent six months preparing to be a delegate and volunteer for the voyage to Europe and has been designated to be the first Zapatista to get off the boat, which will initiate the invasion… okay, the visit to Europe.
Thus, our first footstep on European soil (assuming of course they even let us disembark) will not be that of a man, nor that of a woman, but that of an other [otroa]. In what the late SupMarcos would have called a “slap in the face of the hetero-patriarchal left,” it has been decided that the first person to disembark will be Marijose. Upon stepping for the first time on European soil and recovering from seasickness, Marijose will shout:
“Surrender hetero-patriarchal pale-faces who persecute those who are different!”
Nah, just kidding, but that would be cool wouldn’t it?
Rather, upon landing, the Zapatista compa Marijose will solemnly say:
“In the name of the Zapatista women, children, men, elderly, and of course, others, I declare that from now on this place, currently referred to as “Europe” by those who live here, be called: SLUMIL K´AJXEMK´OP, which means “Rebellious Land” or “Land which does not give in nor give up.” And that is how it will be known by its own people and by others for as long as there is at least someone here who does not surrender, sell out, or give up.
I give my word.
(to be continued)
[i] “Little Toad Cumbia,” 1993 classic by Alfredo El Pulpo y sus Teclados (Alfredo the Octopus and his Keyboards).