Zapatista Freedom Movement Speaks on Campus

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An awakening in social consciousness occurred for many of the students who attended the lecture on Feminist Theology and the Zapatista Movement: A Report from Chiapas given by world-renowned Mexican anthropologist Sylvia Marcos.

Wearing miniature earrings of women dressed in traditional colorful clothing with ski masks over their faces, it was clear senior media studies major Lucia Estudillo wasn’t just attending the lecture for extra credit or on a random whim. Rather, Estudillo, an exchange student from Leon Guanajuato, Mexico, had a deeper connection to the discussion. For Estudillo, her earrings of miniature women weren’t just any women, they were Zapatistas, and the Zapatista movement isn’t happening in some distant place, but rather in her own backyard. “I feel American students can know more about my country and the issues that affect me,” explained Estudillo. “It is beautiful to see students interested in this for social consciousness.

Marcos discussed the indigenous people of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), commonly known as the Zapatistas, who in 1994 declared war on the Mexican state. Based out of Chiapas, Mexico, the southernmost point of the country, the Zapatistas are seeking autonomy from the Mexican government rather than independence. “Chiapas is a point on earth that allows hope for a better world,” said Marcos. “Permanent change can be detected.”  The Zapatistas felt the need for change to occur when the North American Free Trade Agreement was put into effect, causing for concerns on globalization and leaving the indigenous feeling their way of life was being threatened.

Marcos, who has been involved with the study of the movement since it’s beginning, explained that there is a “huge abyss between Western thought and indigenous thought,” said Marcos. “There is widespread belief that the indigenous can be manipulated by the government and treated like puppets.”

No longer willing to be treated as puppets, the organization has used arms on several occasions against the Mexican Army, which has resulted in numerous deaths and countless civilian casualties. Marcos however, chose not to focus on the military conflicts of the Zapatistas but rather the ideology and philosophical aspects of the revolutionary group. Marcos also spoke on the complex history of the Zapatistas and the Catholic Church, which is constantly balancing faith and politics. On her latest visit to Chiapas, Marcos was encouraged by an interview she had with Don Samuel Ruiz, a Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal. “If a Catholic bishop permits and supports innovation, change can happen,” said Marcos.

Change is occurring in the rural Chiapas as support for the Zapatistas continues to grow and word of their revolution continues to spread. “Students need to come and visit – feel it and experience it, and then you’ll know what you can do,” said Marcos on what students should do who want to get involved.

For Estudillo, simply attending the event and acting as a concerned citizen of the global community was a step in the right direction. “They are showing us that it can be done,” said Marcos. “A new world that is being put into action.”

The discussion was co-sponsored by the USF departments of theology and religious studies, Latin American studies and Latino/Chicano studies, and the USF Center for Latino Studies in the Americas (CELASA).

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