A few years ago, when your heart was still beating next to my heart beat, I sent you my obituary. But some of your daughters, trained to lie and cheat, assaulted the words and messages of this essay. And you didn’t receive that letter I wrote you.
Now I am here writing you the Breviary of Revolt and Resistance as a symbol of the voice kept in the silence of the night. Because from the night they rose, from the night they/we emerged, from the night they/we were born. You were born to open the eyes of the forgotten Mexico. To remember and never forget our history, suppressed for 525 years. Sacred guardian of time, mother of protection, counselor of the wise, sower of peace and harmony. For the imposed testimony not to fracture our seeded hope, our furrowed path, and not to slim our extended memory in your heart. Today, the ink of my writing revolves around the struggle, our struggle and our resistance coagulated in the traces of the years by the oppression, marginalization, poverty, oblivion, and exclusion for over 525 years. Our struggles and resistances are written in the book of time. I briefly present some fragments of the constant battles that aboriginal peoples of these territories have fought since the year the impostors, the falsifiers of history, and the powerful arrived. I sketch some periods of uprisings, revolts, and struggles of the aboriginal peoples of Chiapas that are stored in the memory and seeds of words sown in the signs of the land through the years. Uprisings and struggles sheltered with the hope seeded in the path of Native people until the political compass of a system of oppression turns its course towards the respect and dignity of our people.
In the memory of time, back in 1668, in the town of T’ulum (now named Tuxtla Gutiérrez), the Zoque people rose up against the authority and administrator of the Spanish Crown for the inhumane treatment of native peoples. The years continued their course, and in 1712 from the heart of K’ank’uk’ (sacred yellow quetzal bird), Tseltal peoples along with the Tsotsil and Ch’ol rose up against the exorbitant taxes raised by the ecclesial leaders of the Spanish Crown, directed especially against the Native peoples. In addition, the church increased the recollection of the sacraments in the indigenous populations. K’ank’uk’, the yellow quetzal, extended its flight and called other towns: Chenalhó, Teultepec, Tenejapa, Oxchuc, Chalchihuitán, Guaquitepec, Tenango, Ocosingo, Chilón, Bachajón, Yajalón, Petalcingo, and Tumbalá (among others). A year later K’ank’uk’ was shot down by the Spanish militia, who reunited in the states of Chiapas, Guatemala, and Tabasco attacking from different flanks. Time continued walking, and in 1869 the Tsotsil people of Chamula revolted against the power and religious supremacy that the mestizos of San Cristóbal wielded against the original peoples. Tsajaljemel, the place where the organization of the rebellious Tsotsiles was centered, constituted a sovereign space of religion and also a site of Mayan commercial exchange, based on their forms of community redistribution. The Guides of this attempt of freedom were shot dead in the main square of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The usurpation, the robbery, the oppression of the Spaniards since their arrival in these lands continued cruelly punishing the Native peoples.
This brutal form of repression continued until the 20th century. Various insurrections led the communities of Native peoples against the usurpers. The domain of the so-called kaxlan (colloquial term for Spaniards or Mestizos — literally means “chicken”) extended over the original peoples with the passing of time. Towards the 20th century, the conditions of survival for indigenous peoples became far worse than before. The free access granted by the government to foreigners of English, German, North American, Spanish, and French origin to found farms in the Chiapas territory increased the repressive situation for the original peoples. Stripe shops and absolutely horrendous farm jobs (in semi-slavery conditions) were the instruments of domination, control, and exploitation. In addition to the growing presence of foreign farmers in Chiapas, agrarian reforms that were implemented in Mexico between 1940 and 1960 never came to Chiapas, where landlords remained protected by the state, leaving Native people in even worse conditions of servitude. The vast majority survived in the rustic jacales (rudimentary houses made with mud, straw, and wood) that the finqueros provided to their workers after recruiting them from the municipal capitals, especially in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In addition to the landlords’ dominance, an agricultural and economic crisis was taking place throughout the country, in which, once again, those most affected were the Native peoples.
In 1970, groups of Native peoples and peasants began to organize. One of the most important moments for indigenous peoples trying to organize in Chiapas took place in 1974 with the Indigenous Congress held in San Cristobal de Las Casas, which carried the slogan “Equality in Justice.” The Tsotsil, Tseltal, Tojolabal, and Ch’ol peoples participated in the congress, meeting and discussing in their four original languages. The congress represented 400,000 delegates of indigenous peoples, and addressed the main problems that had been afflicted them over the past several years: the problems of land rights, trade, education, and health.
In 1992, in the face of so much humiliation and dispossession from the landlords and the undermining efforts of the government, members of the Tsotsil, Tseltal, Ch’ol, and Tojolabal peoples arranged a huge march in San Cristóbal de Las Casas to protest 500 years of exploitation. In its most symbolic act of ¡Ya basta! (We’ve had enough!), they destroyed the statue of Diego de Mazariegos, the impostor and usurper of the lands of Jobel, originally a Tsotsil territory. Diego de Mazariegos implanted the King’s town of Chiapas, nowadays known as San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
Two years later, those born from the night, those without voice, those from below rose up in arms against the Mexican government ruled by Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The demands and imperatives of this armed movement were: work, land, shelter, bread, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice, and peace. Starting on January 1, 1994, the Mexican government began using the army to wage a counterinsurgency; paramilitaries conducted hostile raids, and many other subtle methods were used to try to disorganize the struggles of those who needed the most. January 1, 1994, is one of the most momentous historical moments for the aboriginal peoples of Chiapas, Mexico, and the world. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in Spanish) entered four municipal capitals: Altamirano, Ocosingo, San Cristóbal, and Las Margaritas. On this morning the EZLN rose up in arms to act against the misery, poverty, and exploitation, and the thought, the voice, the word, and the heart of all the peoples born in the night were sown. They left their blood written in the letters of time to honor the memory, our memory, the memory of all in our geography: the geography of below, the sacred guardian of time, the mother of protection, the lady counselor of the wise, the seeder of peace and harmony.
Translated from Spanish by Marc Delcan (Pensaré Cartoneras).