Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 237 | Abril 2001



Two Sketches of the Zapatista March

A friend of envío participated in the Zapatista March. We selected a few pages from his extensive daily notes that reflect two aspects, two moments of this rich historical event, one hopeful, the other discouraging.

Arnaldo Zenteno

The Zapatistas reached Milpa Alta in the hills surrounding Mexico City on March 8, under a full moon. They came from Anenecuilco, the land where Emiliano Zapata was born, where he signed the "Land and Freedom" Plan of Ayala and where he was ultimately betrayed and assassinated. When the Zapatista caravan neared Milpa Alta, the celebration was already underway.

It was a woman’s idea

The main square in Milpa Alta was filled to overflowing. Multi-colored banners welcomed the march with greetings and slogans. There were popular musical groups, testimonies, songs from the 1910 revolution, jokes, humor-filled critiques and a steady stream of congratulations and poems dedicated to women, because it was their day, International Women’s Day.

When the Zapatista caravan came into town, it was met by an impressive sea of townspeople jammed together in an area of several blocks. They had waited for over three hours with boundless enthusiasm. The reception contrasted with the previous day’s events in Cuautla and Anenecuilco, where PRI politicians propagandized against the march on the radio and in the schools in an effort to intimidate people.

The women of Milpa Alta organized the celebration, and designed it especially to recognize and celebrate women. Although the crowd called out for him to say more, Subcomandante Marcos spoke for only three minutes. "The brains, the driving force and the spirit that brought us here were feminine," Marcos said, revealing that it was a Zapatista woman who had come up with the idea of marching to the capital. "The women are behind us, pushing us on," Marcos said. "They have reminded us that they are also marginalized because they are women, are poor and are indigenous. I would add that they are also marginalized because they are insurgents. They are in the shadows today, but we hope the day will come soon when their faces and their light will shine through."
As in all other towns they had passed through, the community handed Marcos the staff of command. "This staff belongs to them, to these women and all insurgent women, and I hope they can hear me where they are." With that, Marcos turned the podium over to the women.

"We may be ugly, but our hearts are not"

A woman from Milpa Alta welcomed the Zapatistas and gave a special welcome to Comandanta Ramona—who did not come on the march—"wherever she may be." She was followed by an indigenous woman from Michoacán, who spoke about the ideas and feelings expressed in the National Indigenous Congress on the marginalization, exploitation and humiliation indigenous women suffer. After her, the 4 women who were among the 24 Zapatista commanders on the march took the podium.

Comandanta Fidelia was the first to speak. "I invite you to join us in the fight against this terrible monster we carry inside us, this enormous poverty that attacks us. Help us achieve the right we are now denied to soothe our children. If we women fight, we can transform the struggle. We are willing to fight to the death. We may be very poor and illiterate, but we know how to defend ourselves and we are here. People may be startled to see us so ugly, with our faces covered by these masks. We may be ugly, all covered up, but our hearts are not." The crowd yelled back, "You’re not ugly, you’re not ugly!"
Comandanta Yolanda was the next to speak. She said no positive changes could be seen in Chiapas and gave examples: "We used to be able to go out at any hour of the night with no problem, but since the army came we can no longer walk freely. We don’t need the army to take care of us."
Comandanta Esther recalled that this March 8 commemorated the 147th anniversary of women who gave their lives demanding a reduced workday, a struggle they won. "We give life. Without women, there is no way to transform the world," she said, evoking the sacrifice of her forebears in the struggle.

Tomasa, a Purepecha indigenous woman from Tarasca, Michoacán, spoke about equality in the relationship between women and men, rejecting all practices and customs, including those among indigenous people, that undermine women’s dignity. "Machista attitudes can be found not only in the state, but in our communities too," she said. She also spoke about COCOPA’s bill on indigenous rights, noting that it would establish a legal basis for respecting women’s dignity and integrity and guaranteeing equality between women and men.

The women spoke with great strength, clarity and tenderness. And the crowd responded to their words by chanting, as a much larger crowd in the Mexico City’s main square would do a few days later, "You are not alone, you are not alone!"

The media: manipulation and silence

Many of us were shocked, pained and outraged by the campaign of slander, disinformation, manipulation and silence carried out by Mexico’s mass media in response to the Zapatista march. This was especially true of the two main TV channels, Televisa and TV Azteca, and more than a few radio stations and newspapers.

Examples abound. Televisa interviewed one of Emiliano Zapata’s children who dismissed the march and criticized the Zapatistas for coming to the capital with their faces covered. But it never interviewed Zapata’s other two children, who took part in the march and supported it in the town where their father was born.

The media fabricated all kinds of lies to sow doubts. Did Marcos have a bank account in the Cayman Islands? Were foreigners directing the Zapatistas? Did Zapatistas ever take baths, did they smell bad? Were they responsible for the Acteal massacre? The government itself recognizes that this massacre was committed by members of a paramilitary group who are now in jail. The debate over whether the Zapatistas should or shouldn’t come with their faces covered was carried to an extreme.

The TV news programs did not broadcast the words of the women Zapatista commanders in Milpa Alta on March 8, which were so significant. Instead, one filled close to ten minutes with a report on a store that makes and sells masks like those worn by the Zapatistas. The day after the Zapatistas’ historic arrival in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, another TV channel chose not to summarize their important speeches but to interview the cleaning crew picking up the garbage strewn around the square, reporting on the number of trucks and the kind of machinery they used. They did reveal one interesting fact, however: the workers said they picked up thousands of soft drink cans and a lot of paper, but didn’t mention cans of beer or tequila, which is quite remarkable in an event that lasted for several hours with a crowd of over 120,000 people.

Ignored by Mexican TV

Portuguese novelist and Nobel Prize laureate José Saramago, who was in Mexico during the march, as well as other commentators on a TV panel and in the pages of the newspaper Reforma agreed that the Zapatistas were being "ignored by TV." No TV channel offered a live broadcast of the Zapatistas’ arrival in the Zócalo, or any place else, for that matter. A few days earlier the two main channels had transmitted a live, four-hour broadcast of a rock concert they had sponsored "for peace in Chiapas," which was held in the Azteca Stadium. They presented viewers with the faces of indigenous children and very generic messages of peace, but did not devote a single second to broadcasting the words of the Zapatista leaders working for peace in Chiapas. As the event in the Zócalo was taking place, TV Azteca broadcast a car race in Monterrey, while Televisa later edited 10 minutes of the event for cable viewers only.

In the historic moment when the Zapatista comandantes led the march into the Zócalo’s Plaza de la Constitución, Channel 2 was presenting a comedy, Channel 4 a soap opera, Channel 7 the car race, Channel 11 a talk show, and Channels 5, 9 and 13 movies. Only Channel 22 broadcast a brief, 10-minute bulletin on the event. When Marcos spoke at 3:30 in the afternoon, not a single channel broadcast his words.

Not even the Polytechnic University’s state-owned Channel 11, which is usually so socially aware and feisty, or state-owned Channel 22, or Radio Educación, or the National Autonomous University’s Radio Universidad, understood the importance of this historic day and broadcasted the event. The vacuum was partially filled by three radio stations, Radio 13, Radio Red and Formato 21.

Unforgettable images

The over 120,000 of us who filled the Zócalo will keep the images of that afternoon in our minds forever. The respectful silence of the wait broken only by the joy of seeing them arrive, the banners everywhere, the Mazahua indigenous ceremony that inaugurated the event, the representatives of over 40 of the country’s indigenous peoples who were present that day, the raised hands, the songs, the crowd’s repeated cry of "You are not alone!"—these unforgettable images will remain alive, colorful and shining in our memories as Mexicans who are proud of our indigenous ancestors.

"Never again a Mexico without us" was the slogan that afternoon. Without us, the indigenous people, never again. "We are Mexicans and the flag should also include us," said a Zapatista indigenous comandanta. "Mexico, we have come to ask you humbly, respectfully," said Marcos, "not to allow another day to pass without seeing to it that there is a place for us under this flag, for those who are the color of the earth."

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