January 1, 2022
One of my life dreams is to be able to carry on a serious conversation in the Spanish language. I just completed an intermediate level review book. After twenty chapters of exercises, grammar rules and new vocabulary, I am ready to take the exam that will place me in an online intensive course this winter. Sometimes I wonder what propels me in retirement to pursue such a hefty goal. What comes to mind is the Zapatista project. I want to feel at ease hearing the poetic language of political resistance flowing from this group. When I go to various websites, I find English translations of the Zapatista campaigns. But their work is so radical that bits and pieces of this new paradigm are lost in translation. That is how important I believe the Zapatista project is for all of us as we transition to life in 2022.
Some of us know that on this date twenty-eight years ago, a small group of lightly armed Mexicans arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas and took over the city’s central park square. Calling themselves “Zapatistas” (after Mexican hero Emiliano Zapata) they declared,” Basta Ya!”– enough already. The band of new age prophets proclaimed that “another world is possible,” one that respects the dignity of every human being, one where community replaces individualism as we all learn to live in non-violence with one another and the earth itself. In truth, the Mexican government (and other world governments) has treated its indigenous population with disdain and irreverence. They have usurped lands that have been cultivated for healthy harvests for generations, building roads and selling contracts to pharmaceutical companies who, in the words of Vandana Shiva, commit “biopiracy” by robbing the natural resources of this beautiful country.
Mexicans and other Latin American citizenry have not forgotten the European invasions of their territories five hundred years ago. It wasn’t just the plundering of humans and natural resources that has had such dire consequences for the southern hemisphere. Rather, it was the indoctrination of its cultures, mostly at the hands of the Roman Catholic clergy, into the Western capitalist paradigm of self-aggrandizement, even if it means trampling the dignity of others, including the living earth and its plants, animals, mountains, water and air. As the Zapatistas rise from the ashes of this crippling paradigm, they are reclaiming the old ways of speaking and cooking and thinking about the world. A visit to the highlands of Chiapas makes visible the efforts of this small group of new world visionaries who are determined to live in resistance to the capitalist institutions of government, health, education and social welfare.
Their most recent project is to turn imperialism on its head. In the spring of 2021, a small group of Zapatistas, many celebrating the fluidity of their personal identities, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a modest vessel to “invade” Spain and the European continent. Unlike the Spanish occupation of Mexico, the Zapatista cultural invasion is one of friendship and love, a celebration of our deep connectedness to one another and to the earth that supports us all. This is the real reason I want to engage the further study of the Spanish language. I want to be inspired by the Zapatista promise of the new earth that awaits all of us if we will only look a little deeper, listen a little harder.
Importantly, this dream of speaking Spanish even better is linked to my heart’s desire to live in harmony with others. It is obvious to most of us that we live in a fractured moment of history. We are not sure if the institutions that have served (and not served) us have enough value to sustain our future together. Collectively, we have not embraced a serious response to climate change. We are still building weapons and threatening to use them to kill one another. We are negotiating a new lifestyle in the time of Covid, one that calls into question the promises of late stage capitalism: you can have it if you want it. And perhaps most distressing, our fear has replaced our trust in one another. If we view our current circumstances as a larger transition to something new, these nervous times invite us to follow our inspirations. It is time to become creative with our lives and our relationships. The Zapatista “invasion of Europe” is both a creative and meaningful response to our ailing world. If we more look deeply and listen harder, we will see a new earth sprouting up all around us. Creative responses to our toxic food supply take shape as communities share gardens and sell healthy produce to one another. Joining friends in local projects to make life easier for each other is the call of 2022. My Spanish speaking skills also help me to assist refugees and asylum seekers find a new life in the United States. I am inspired by the Zapatistas to re-create myself as a legal advocate lending a hand to women and their families as they literally cross the bridge to a new life.
May we all embrace the transition from the old paradigm of self-interest to the new world where the health of our communities and our beloved planet take center stage in our daily lives. Happy New Year!