“They are poor-poor”
Sylvia Marcos speaking at the seminar, with the Zapatista women, Selena and Sub Galeano. Photo courtesy of Jorge.
by Sylvia Marcos
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. 10 August 2015.
We are in the Seedbed Seminar convoked by the EZLN few weeks ago. A young Zapatista woman, aged 17, explains how she understands autonomy, freedom and struggle. Her name is Selena. She speaks standing next to Subcomandante Galeano, with a smile that can be discerned through her balaclava and which shows the brightness of her mischievous eyes. We know that she is content and happy, and without a hint of shyness or shame at being in front of an entire auditorium full of intellectuals, university professors, her compañer@s in struggle, we feminists, and next to the Sub.
Selena is, with Eloisa, Lizbeth and other women, one of those young Zapatistas who were born and grew up in autonomous education. She is now sitting at the end of a long row of Zapatista women, her elders, Comandantas Miriam, Rosalinda, Dalia … and another young woman, Lisbeth.
Selena talks to us about her experience as a Zapatista teenager. Woman and girl. What do girls in that age group talk about these days? What are their concerns? Their hopes, their proposals? What do they expect in the immediate future?
Recently, I heard something through the mouth of Malala, the Pakistani girl, Nobel Peace Prize winner, also 17, bombed by the Taliban and rescued from death. While she was recovering in England from the attack on her face and body, she spoke with uneasiness about her meetings with young people her age in that country. Stating that their only concerns were of the type: "Which sandals shall I wear today?", "What colour lipstick suits me best?"
It seems that this banality is the common denominator of the young people of this age. For example, if we go on the Internet, we find portraits of girls from Mayan communities who look all decked out in "dressmaker" clothing, modernized skirts and blouses based on their traditional blouses (huipiles) and petticoats, as Selena ironically observed during the seedbed. Will these be the ambitions of girls aged 17-18, today?
Selena, like all the compañeras, carries a piece of paper with notes written with a ballpoint pen, of the kind that runs in the wash and stains. She squeezes the papers while looking at them sideways, to remember what she has prepared to say tonight.
That took place during the great session specifically devoted to women at the seminar-seedbed convened by the EZLN, and held in CIDECI last May. In this session those of us who were speaking included a Kurdish woman, a Latina immigrant in the United States, the Italian historian Silvia Federici, whose speech was read in her absence; as well as six Zapatistas, there were also we three feminists: Mariana Favela, Margara Millán and Sylvia Marcos. This whole world in a session that lasted 5 hours. As for Selena, she had to talk near the end, just before Sub Galeano.
I feel close to all of them. My notes also come creased, edited and rewritten over. The original is on a computer, but it is very old and sometimes does not do what I ask, it gets stuck and blocks and will no longer process. For example, I typed dicotómico [dichotomous] and it "corrected" me to totémico [totemic]. Yes, she is an old lady … .but I like her because she is not a super tablet, which would force me to un-think, to write fast and to learn so many new clicks that it would reduce the time I have available for reflection.
So we listen to Selena:
"I will be explaining to you, actually I will read it to you… more about the youth, both Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas."…..”We as Zapatista youth are facing a low intensity war that the bad government and the bad capitalists wage against us. They put ideas into our heads about modern life, like cell phones, clothes, and shoes; they put these bad ideas into our heads through TV, through soap operas, soccer games, and commercials, so that we as youth will be distracted and not think about how to organize our struggle.”
It is the covert low intensity war, installed in the intricacies of interpersonal coexistence. Reproduced and magnified by the media, television and novels, advertising and even sports. Selena’s critical mind reveals this hidden war and brings it in to everyday existence, to daily life. In the lucid thinking of this young woman, the battle also has to take place here in the everyday, in what seems innocent, harmless, in what is not necessarily manifested as the brute force or even murder which is frequently suffered in the communities. The low intensity war is not only registered through extreme violence. It is also waged within subjectivity, to imbue the youth with consumptions and values that distract them, alienate them, dominate them mentally and emotionally. Selena discovers this, analyses it, and sees it clearly.
She speaks to us about the influences of the consumerist media and the futile and ephemeral fashions that also reach inside the Zapatista zone. The models of shoes with pointy heels and platforms advertised, for example, by the New York singer Lady Gaga. Fashions that penetrate through the porous border of Zapatismo and which, although they arrive somewhat modified by a useless and fleeting consumption, exercise a power and seduction over these young women who, Selena tells us, have to walk in the mud, the moist fertile soil in their communities "to struggle and to organize ourselves."
Selena explains why she rejects these models and also the boots, which, she says, are absolutely unsuitable for their context. How will we walk on these lush and fertile but slippery paths with these contraptions on our feet? "The heel will get into the mud and we’re going to get stuck, and we’re going to have to use our hand to get the shoe out.”
“We Zapatista youth have not often fallen for this….. we buy the kind of clothes the poor wear, which as you can see is how we are dressed right now. Yes, of course we buy boots, but they are work boots, the kind that resist the mud.”
A little later, Selena reflects aloud. She remembers her compas as they return after work outside Zapatista territory and sometimes abroad. She says they are very conceited, as if they think a lot of themselves, and feel superior to those who stayed at home. They think they are rich because now they have their latest model cell phone, their smart phone, or i-phone, their leather boots, their city shoes. Luxury goods make them believe that, after what they have done, they are now more important.
Selena, Sub Galeano and Sylvia Marcos
Selena looks thoughtful but speaks sharply about those young people who go out of Zapatista territory and then return with these ways of acting, of perceiving themselves, of thinking, of consuming, of behaving. These people, Selena says, "not only continue to be poor, but now are poor-poor." The word is expressive: they behave as if they are rich, but they have lost something and, therefore, are poorer than before.
Selena, with her keen perception, borders on philosophy. There are thinkers who say that destitution arrives destroying poverty and there are philosophers who agree. Conversely, conscious poverty can be a form of power, it can come to present aspects of abundance. This young Zapatista echoes those reflections. Poverty is not a fault or a failure, nor necessarily a condition to be escaped. Poverty and frugality were the ideals of many fighters, thinkers, writers and saints. Not only in the Catholic or Christian tradition, but in many spiritual traditions: Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian. It is also true that the experience of poverty, by the limits it imposes, protects nature from capitalist economic predation and greed. Many revolutionaries have chosen poverty as a path. The reality of so many people dying of hunger in some parts of the world while in other countries food is being wasted and destroyed is an obscene and intolerable fact to which we have, unfortunately, agreed to be anaesthetized.
But within Zapatismo the values go against the infamous capitalist consumption. For this reason this young Zapatista woman has managed to escape the consumerist temptations of her age and gender. Not only does she not yield to these pressures, but she can also see them from the outside. She watches her compas who return, she sees how they act, she assesses them, confronts them and wants to correct them.
"We work in full consciousness," a compañera told us in La Garrucha.
And we keep listening to Selena: "But on the other hand, youth who are not Zapatistas are those who most often fall for the tricks of the bad governments,” she explains to us. “They abandon their families, their community, and they go to work in the United States, or to Playa del Carmen, just to be able to buy a cell phone, a pair of pants, a shirt, or a pair of trendy shoes. They leave because they don’t want to work the earth, because they are lazy,” and she adds, asking herself:
“Why do we say they are poor-poor? Because they are poor like us; but they are also poor thinkers because they leave their communities and when they come back they bring bad ideas with them, other ways of living.” “We Zapatistas are poor, but rich in thinking…..we don’t change our thinking or our way of life.” We have the wealth of our traditions and customs, Selena tells us.
"We are ‘poor-rich.’" Some synonyms surround Selena’s idea: rich can mean: abundant, valuable, lush, excellent. But these, believing they are returning rich, are only poor-poor.
"… To us, as Zapatista youth, it doesn’t matter to us how we are dressed, or what kinds of things we have. What’s important to us is that the work we do is for the good of the community. That is what we Zapatistas want……: that there are no rulers, that there are no exploiters, that we as indigenous people are not exploited.”
This article is dedicated to Movement for Justice in El Barrio, New York
Article originally published in Spanish on http://desinformemonos.org/
Selena’s Words at the Seminar “Critical Thought against the Capitalist Hydra” on May 6th 2015, can be found in English here: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/25/words-of-companera-selena-listener/
Selena’s Words in Spanish: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/06/companera-escucha-selena-6-de-mayo/
Originally published in Spanish: http://desinformemonos.org.mx/2015/08/son-pobres-pobres/