Enero Zapatista Committee Organizes Month Long Series of Events
By Brent E. Beltrán
Twenty years ago on January 1 an unknown, rag tag rebel group walked out of the fog and rain forest of Chiapas, Mexico and into the imaginations of millions of Mexicans, indigenous people and lefties throughout the world.
On that fateful day, from below and to the left, the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN/Zapatista Army of National Liberation) made their first of many appearances upon the world stage.
Named after the great Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata the Zapatistas demanded work, land, shelter, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace not just for themselves but all Mexicans and oppressed people throughout the world.
Though the EZLN never laid down their weapons they have committed themselves to a peaceful path since the initial armed uprising in 1994. For the past twenty years they have enjoyed relative autonomy within their communities. Though with the recent return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional to power in Mexico the possibility of the Mexican army attacking them is ever present.
For the past ten years a group of San Diegans called Colectivo Zapatista has been organizing events every January called Enero Zapatista (Zapatista January) to commemorate the uprising and to share the ideals of Zapatismo. This year they and other organizations formed the Enero Zapatista Committee to organize this month’s events.
“Enero Zapatista was started 10 years ago as a way to celebrate the uprising of the EZLN. Enero Zapatista events were seen as spaces to bring awareness about the Zapatista struggle and at the same time build resistance and community to help strengthen the organizing work against injustices here at home,” wrote Colectivo Zapatista member Enrique de la Cruz. “We also seek to build bridges with other struggles for justice around the world.”
January 1, 1994 was not only a significant event for Mexicans in Mexico but it also had significance for Chicanos and Mexicanos in the US. The Zapatista uprising was a rallying call for those that have faced injustice. The EZLN showed that los de abajo (the underdogs) can take on the mal gobierno (bad government).
When the Zapatistas, and their charismatic spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, burst forth upon the international scene California was mired in the anti-Mexican hysteria of the Pete Wilson administration. At the time the soon-to-be voted on Proposition 187 was looming over the heads of every undocumented Mexican and their family members. The Zapatistas gave them hope and an example on how to organize. They were the wind from below that helped lift the heads of not only indigenous Mexicans but those of us who struggled here in the US.
The EZLN helped revitalize the various leftist social movements around the world including the somewhat dormant Chicano one here in the US. Many of the late 30’s to 40-something year old Latino activists doing work in San Diego today got their inspiration from the Zapatistas. Myself included who, within a week of the uprising, had helped put together a special issue of the UCSD student newspaper, Voz Fronteriza, which highlighted the uprising and their demands. Since then the Zapatistas continue to hold a special place within myself.
Twenty years have passed since the initial uprising. The Zapatistas have faded from the international scene yet their struggles remain the same. This is why organizations like Colectivo Zapatista and the Enero Zapatista Committee continue, every January, to commemorate Zapatismo. They want to let us all know that they still exist and that they will always exist.
There are thirteen Enero Zapatista events organized by various groups including Colectivo Zapatista, Association of Raza Educators, Party for Socialism & Liberation, International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement, Unión del Barrio, Association of Chicana Activists, Palestinian Youth Movement, San Diego Immigrant Youth Collective, KmB San Diego and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement.
The events are taking places throughout January at different locations in San Diego including Voz Alta, World Beat Center, Centro Aztlán Marco Anguiano, Malcolm X Library, Larsen Field, UCSD and other spaces. The closing event takes place on January 25 from 6-11pm at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. There will be art, food, vendors and a lineup of performers sharing their artistic skills.
I asked Enrique what can the readership of San Diego Free Press do to support the Zapatista cause? He responded by writing: “One of the most important things that the Zapatistas mention when asked about what other communities can do to support them is to get organized and struggle in their own communities. By organizing ourselves against injustices that happen right here in our own communities we help strengthen the ties amongst those who struggle in and around the world.”
Want to help carry on the continuing legacy of the Zapatistas? Be a Zapatista wherever you are. Organize within your neighborhood and give solidarity to a community like Barrio Logan that faces a corporate funded referendum to allow maritime industry businesses to continue polluting residents.
[This article was updated to reflect that the Enero Zapatista events are organized by the Enero Zapatista Committee and not just Colectivo Zapatista.]