what…mexico has a monkey-boy too?

July 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm (anti-racism, chiapas)

yep.  and wal-mart has decided to honor the racist comic books about a little monkey boy named: negro.  of course mexico does…no matter how many times mexicans in chiapas tried to convince me that there was no racism in mexico…i knew differently…

sometimes you can just feel it in the air…as boys are yelling negra to you from passing cars…

Though it seems clear that a comic book featuring a “Negro” monkey-boy is offensive, Mexican dignitaries think otherwise. Not only have they defended the country’s love for the comic book figure, they also issued a stamp in commemoration of Memin Pinguin in 2005. To the critics from the North, they say, because Americans don’t understand the culture, they have no right to object to the character.

I beg to differ. In the 1950s and ’60s, when the U.S. made headlines for its Jim Crow policies, dignitaries from a range of countries spoke out about segregation, refusing to kowtow to the notion that Jim Crow was simply the Southern (American) way of life, a way of life they couldn’t grasp. The same went for our “peculiar institution” of slavery. And the same goes for Memim Pinguin.

Permalink Leave a Comment

back in the states

April 11, 2008 at 2:51 am (chiapas, mexico)

so we have been back in the states for almost a week.  we had a crazy journey home.  we were basically stuck in an airport for three days.  with aza.  she was incredible for those days.  very patient with us…

i have been in a slight culture shock for the past few days back in the states.  i keep translating american dollars into mexican pesos and so everything seems so expensive.  but i am loving being reimmersed in us pop culture.

on the other hand i can barely remember san cristobal chiapas right now.  it seems like it was a different world in a time far far away.  i remember how beautiful the gardens were during the day with huge green leaves framing the sky blue.  i remember us sitting on the bed laughing.  i remember walking with aza through the crooked silly streets and being asked who the father was.  i remember aza chasing after the kitty while kitty was breastfeeding and aza trying to pull the kitty off her mamas teet.  i remember nights out with empty beer bottles on the table after a couple of hours.  i remember sitting on the ground at the encuentro with aza in the rebozo-all of my clothes dusty including my hair-rocking back and faorth waiting for the evening to come.  i remember waking up with flowers and coffee and bread and butter laying on the bed.

and now i am back here. the states.  a funny homeland.  what does it mean that ones homeland is the empire?  how do you call that home?  and yet accept all of the truth of one’s land.  this is the question that come to mind time and time again as i was in mexico.  this westerness/ us citizenship is a contested privilege to carry into the world.

most of us in the states dont realize just how privileged we are as being us citizens.  and honestly the privilege is not what we think it is going to be.  we really grew up with the idea of being a us citizen as being that we are a member of the greatest country in the world.  us nationalism is drilled into us in a way that is not common in other western countries.  i grew up hearing or saying the pledge of allegiance every school day.  i still feel my chest rise when i hear the star spangled banner.

but deeper we have been indoctrinated that our country has the best resources.  the best healthcare.  the best schools.  the healthiest food.  the most access.  and it is so far from true. we are not number one.  or number two.  more like number 76.  more like number 123.

but the privilege that we have is not necessarily from having the best resources directed to our citizens…
it is because we own the world.

and everytime i travel i am amazed at what we as us citizens have sacrificed in order to own the world.  and as we interact with other cultures we are better able to see all levels of quality of life of love of community in order to have an empire.

just look at our military budget.  and then look at our minimum wage.

so that is what partially this re-entry culture shock is about.  the way so often that us citizens think that every country that isnt us (or at least isnt first world) has to be worse living conditions than the us.  and yes in some ways yes.  i do not want to downplay what we have stolen from other countries in order to increase our empire.  and how we are responsible for the lack of resources in other countries.  but  also look at what our empire-building has stolen from us citizens as well.  we arent number one.  no where near it.  we just have the empire.  and the mouthpiece.  and the borrowed cash from china (?).

Permalink Leave a Comment

some san cristobal photos

March 31, 2008 at 4:51 am (chiapas, mexico)


Permalink Leave a Comment

the power of looking

March 22, 2008 at 7:11 am (aboriginal, chiapas)

the tourists have invaded for the past week and in our humble posada there is not a habitacion left. today we watched jesus being dragged through the street being whipped…

spring is coming over the mountains. chilly nights. it rained yesterday and the temperature dropped into the bones…

some of the things i love and critique about san cristobal: the youth culture here. how it embraces (and exoticizes) its afro-links…afro-cubano, afro-colombiano. the music latino hiphop and reggae. how they lean and embrace the natural beauty of themselves, the crazy mix of cultures born out of slavery colonization voluntary migration…how timeless and influx it feels…

how middle aged couples cuddle in bars and are in love and showing that love that physical love

how tourism runs the economy here

indigenous women their babies slung on their backs wrapped in bright colored rebozos selling bright colored rebozos to tourists.

little children with black plastic shoes carrying hand made belts and bracelets run through the streets laughing steely eyed hawking their wares

how some moments it feels like everyone has something to sell…

the huge ornate churches built to impress and yet it is their dark corners where i can actually imagine mary praying

how mayan spirituality is for sale and mayan zapatista politics is for sale and mayan art culture is for sale and yet the maya are not for sale and how do they keep themselves from being on the market as another commodity?

how everyone comes wanting something from the maya and think that their pesos should cover the cost…

walking into the chamula church and trying to convince myself that it was okay to stare at women praying and not understanding if this was a show they were putting on for the over hundred toursits with their khaki shorts and cameras or if they just didnt see us or if they saw us as being part of the landscape of the church like flies hovering over the candles or if we were disturbing them but they didnt have an economic choice anymore or…and just needing to leave cause in my heart i couldnt watch them pray without denying them some measure of their dignity…

and then talking to others about it and they praised the people in the church. and didnt imagine that tourist were disturbing at all.

and living in a house here, where the owner gave tours of the house and quickly realizing that i and my daughter and our friends were part of the tour and tolerating it and laughing at it and being annoyed by it and hoping that the tours would go away. but also realizing that it was partially that we were interesting to watch was why we were allowed to live there.

and the realization that i came to one day as i was walking through the streets, feeling stared at, that everyone stares at everyone and i had every right to stare back and so i started looking at whatever i wanted for a few minutes (feeling incredibly rude and liberated) and that to look to see is powerful and that to some i am an object and to others a subject.  and that whether or not i am an object or a subject is not solely dependent on the intention of the viewer (for what do i know of others’ intention?) but on the relationship that is created between my look and theirs.   whether or not i want a relationship, or engage the look, and whether they insist upon looking without reading my eyes, my body, my walk.

and how once i was walking in the centro and three guys walked passed me calling : negra at me and i called back : hijo de puta.  and they hung their heads slightly and walked faster out of my sight.

and how foreign white women they kinda shrug their shoulders when i talk about all the extra attention as if they think i might be exaggerating or that if i am going to travel i should get used to it.  as if i should know how strange and exotic i am and maybe i should feel lucky to get extra attention.  or better said: they shrug their shoulders as if to say: its not my fault.  i dont see you that way.  and i cant do anything about how others treat you.

and i hope that my look says back to that shrug: i am not the one playing victim– you are.

Permalink Leave a Comment

why we banned legos

March 1, 2008 at 12:31 am (aboriginal, anti-oppression, anti-racism, chiapas, women of color) (, , )


http://youcantkillarevolution.blogspot.com/   The Movement

for some reason my ability to create links is disabled…damn you wordpress!!!

We had an initial conversation with the children about our decision. “We’re concerned about what was happening in Legotown, with some kids feeling left out and other kids feeling in charge,” Kendra explained. “We don’t want to rebuild Legotown and go back to how things were. Instead, we want to figure out with you a way to build a Legotown that’s fair to all the kids.”

Naturally the children had big feelings and strong opinions to share. During that first day’s discussion, they laid out the big issues that we would pursue over the months to come.

Several times in the discussion, children made reference to “giving” Lego pieces to other children. Kendra pointed out the understanding behind this language: “When you say that some kids ‘gave’ pieces to other kids, that sounds like there are some kids who have most of the power in Legotown — power to decide what pieces kids can use and where they can build.” Kendra’s comment sparked an outcry by Lukas and Carl, two central figures in Legotown:

Carl: “We didn’t ‘give’ the pieces, we found and shared them.”

Lukas: “It’s like giving to charity.”

Carl: “I don’t agree with using words like ‘gave.’ Because when someone wants to move in, we find them a platform and bricks and we build them a house and find them windows and a door.”

These children seemed to squirm at the implications of privilege, wealth, and power that “giving” holds. The children denied their power, framing it as benign and neutral, not something actively sought out and maintained. This early conversation helped us see more clearly the children’s contradictory thinking about power and authority, laying the groundwork for later exploration.

really interesting article about power privilege ownership authority etc. what i find most interesting is the way that the kids at several points construct their own and others power in much the same way that i hear adults/friends/relatives do even though they are much older…and, thus should know better….for instance the way that one of the powerful kids describes that he gave to the younger kids…’like charity’. in which he understands very clearly what giving to charity is (and why i have a high critique of charity-world in a capitalistic system).

and how even at that young age, the powered children are very defensive and in denial that they had more power than others. or that this power may not have been deserved or may have been yielded unfairly. or that the very act of giving can be so disempowering to those to whom you give..

even more so i am interested right now in how do we own something? what makes us an owner legitimately? and what does that ownership entitle us to do? does the ownership of something mean that you can then make up the rules for its use?

for instance, if i own a lego and you own a house…who in the end determines what i get to do with my lego? how much agency do i have, if you can tell me where to put the lego on your house?

i am thinking of this in terms of andrea smith’s book: conquest. about indigenous women and communities and the anti-violence movement. in which she says that all knowledge is not knowable. in other words, simply because someone knows something and has shared this knowledge with you does not mean that you can do whatever you want with this knowledge. you do not own the knowledge in the sense that you have rights or freedoms that come with this knowledge. instead we can think of this as a series of obligations that this knowledge sets upon you. for instance perhaps you can only use this knowledge and share this knowledge in ways that the person who shared this knowledge with you intended.

so lets think about these ideas of intellectual property and how the very knowledge that is gathered stolen from indigenous communities is then used as a weapon to disempower those same communities by denying access to the communities to that which the communities shared with outsiders.

my partner and i were talking today (about christianity) and i said that i thought that we need to stop imagining that we can be omniscient. that the mistakes and oppressions that we commit are not committed because we do not know the right thing to do or the right thing to say, they are committed because we imagine strive for a place a state of being in which we always know the right thing to do or the right thing to say. a state in which we know the right thing to give at the right time. it is this striving to be omniscient or to be as close to omniscient as possible. and the more omniscient we become, the more omnipotent we can act. that white people (in particular) do not need to cast off the erroneous dominant history and take on (know, own) another more accurate and holistic history and make it the dominant paradigm (this better more accurate history making white people even more omniscient) , white people need to stop trying to ‘know’ what is the ‘correct’ history. all knowledge is not knowable.

instead we can come to a place where we deconstruct the dominant history de-legitimize it and then sit in the uncomfortable place of not-knowing. but i can hear you resisting (ah, white folks i know you…i really know you…) asking yourselves: but what would that accomplish? what would be the point of not-knowing? isnt that just giving up and doing nothing?

well, first you would get a teensy experience of how the rest of us live our lives, those of us who are side notes, blips on the screen of dominant history (sidenote: yesterday i once again spent a few minutes answering the questions of where my people were from. answering: from the u.s. is just me teasing them, because i know they are about to ask where my parents and grandparents are from. so i launch into the memorized speech about the descendants of slaves and then he looks me and says: but what about the rest of your family? where are they from? and i talk about 500 years of history and the intermingling of the indigenous and africans…and then he says: so you dont know where they are from? only from the states? this is a conversation you have constantly when you are a sidenote to history) so that we learn histories that cause cognitive dissonance in and of themselves, histories that we cannot relate to, histories that we know to be wrong and yet do not have an alternative history which is acceptable to mainstream society for no other reason than that it is not the dominant history. (ahh…the tautologies of my private and public school education!) and we sit in that (spiritual?) place of not-knowing, of disconnected realities, of uncertainty of our place in the world and we have to act daily. survival compels us. since we were not meant to survive and have. and that is our history.

second, learning to act when you are no longer striving towards omniscience and omnipotence is well, ashe. and even sometimes helpful. i am not just talking about learning how to blithely shrug off responsibility (the ability to respond) with ‘i dont know’. that is copping out. (and i do it all the time) but acting in such a way as to realize that the knowledge that we have can only be utilized in ways that the giver of that knowledge intended and requested. that our primary obligation is to see that knowledge as an obligation between giver and givee and not a right to share or use this knowledge as we see fit.

andrea smith poses these types of questions in her essay: spiritual appropriation as sexual violence. in which she looks at spiritual appropriation through the lens of ‘to know’ in the biblical sense is to have ‘sexual intimacy with’.

so what does it mean to ‘know’ something is that a way to ‘own’ something? and if we ‘own’ it does it mean that we can do what we want with it. (yes, i am asking even those of you who claim to mean well…i mean everyone intends well, means to do the right thing…which is why the road to hell is paved with good intentions…)

can we act, not because we know the right things, the right histories, the right perspectives, but because we have obligations/responsibilities/relationships/rightness (rather than right knowledge) to those who came before us, to those spiritual practices which sustain our survival, to those peoples and communities who have knowledge that we should never know?

and how do we own what we own? and when is it ours? and where do we keep that knowledge? and what do we plan to do with it?

Permalink Leave a Comment

messy and beautiful

February 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm (anti-racism, chiapas)


This encuentro says much about the evolution of women’s participation in the Zapatista movement. In its early years, the EZLN, like many other revolutionary movements, saw the importance of women’s participation, but for the sake of strengthening the movement, rather than to promote women’s liberation as a goal in itself: “Compañeras, the revolutionary struggle needs you..!” As time went on, the EZLN began to recognize the importance of women having their own spaces, their own voices, and real leadership within the movement.

This is not an uncommon process. During the encuentro, I was talking to a member of the Via Campesina delegation, a Brazilian woman representing the Landless People’s Movement (MST) and she nodded thoughtfully and said in Portuguese, “yes, it’s the same process that the MST went through.”

This women’s gathering represents how far the Zapatista movement has come in valuing women’s voices and participation. It is difficult to imagine an event like this taking place even a few years ago.

this echoes what an indigenous friend from chiapas said to me.  that this was an amazing step for zap women and that what we are watching and participating in is a process in which zap women are able to organize themselves and decide for themselves what is their role in their communities.   it is can be messy and beautiful.  complicated and necessary.

Permalink Leave a Comment

collective writing on the zapatista womens encuentro

February 20, 2008 at 11:15 pm (anti-racism, anti-sexism, chiapas, Motherhood, women of color)

okay so this is the second article i found online on the zapatista womens encuentro


unlike the previous article that i cited, this article is written by 4 women, rather than one man.  at least one of whom i have met a couple of times and hung out with at the encuentro.  and we had a good strong conversation on the role of women and community in the encuentro and in the states.  so good for them for creating collaborative work.

For centuries, indigenous and poor women have carried the responsibility of these tasks. Their backs have held the weight of the survival of their families, communities, and cultures. Their resistance is inseparable from that of their communities, serving as an integral source of strength. The Zapatista women emphasize a dynamic relationship between derechos y deberes [rights and responsibilities]. As young women born to white feminists in the US, we joined many 2nd and 3rd wave feminists in the crowd who’ve been taught that women’s liberation means equal rights, that it is a movement towards independence and self-determination. Our politics of feminism and solidarity are perhaps tested, seeing the women of this indigenous Zapatista movement declare their rights as integral to their collective responsibility, for the well-being of their community. Indigenous men, standing at the edges of the auditorium, shading their eyes from the sun nodded in agreement as the voices of the Zapatista women demanded the right to education, emphasizing the responsibility to become promoters of education. As their voices demanded the right to choose their own partners, they emphasized the responsibility of participating in family and community matters. By having a women’s encuentro, they sought to have their voices heard and not spoken over or marginalized. But when questioned about whether this was the beginning of their own women’s movement, and if they wanted to create more women-only spaces; they emphasized that the movement included their brothers, husbands, children, elders…everyone in the community. This appeared as something distinctly different from women’s liberation; more like collective liberation. Or better yet, described as Zapatismo.

i am really grateful for them writing about the relationship between zap women and first world women in a cogent critical way.   but i really want to point out that there is a strong history in mujeristas, black feminism, red women movement, womanism that has had this same critique (for decades).  one of the leaders of third world feminism is rebecca walker, who is the daughter of alice walker, one of the primary articulators of ‘womanism’.  my primary critiques of third wave feminism is the emphasis on ‘choice’ and how this emphasis on ‘choice’ reinscribes the erasure of a class critique on feminism.   and by (kinda) erasing the history of the ways and strategies of women of color struggling for community liberation, by just lumping all feminists from the first world, under this banner in which our primary goal is individualism, this paragraph denies the complexity of womens thought in the first world.

i also question the dichotomy of ‘women-only spaces’ and  collective liberation.    in nearly every community i have seen womens only spaces already exist. often by the ways that ‘womens work’ is circumscribed.  the question is (in my humble opinion) how and when are these women only spaces utilized. and in the same way that i know that my liberation is experienced through motherhood, in part because motherhood is one of those social spaces in which i connect with women across the social borders and hierachies, i also see my experience and enjoyment of motherhood to be part of the collective liberation of our communities and our worlds.

Permalink Leave a Comment

article on the womens encuentro

February 20, 2008 at 10:41 pm (anti-racism, anti-sexism, chiapas, women of color)


so john ross wrote the first article i read about the zapatista womens encuentro that we attended.

The Zapatista companeras’ struggle for inclusion and parity with their male counterparts grates against separatist politics that some militant first-world feminists who journeyed to the jungle espouse. Lesbian couples and collectives seemed a substantial faction in the first-world feminist delegations. Although no Zapatista women has publicly come out, the EZLN has been zealous in its inclusion of Lesbians and Gays and incorporate their struggles in the rainbow of marginated constitutioncies with whose cause they align themselves.

i didnt see alot of lesbian couples.  a smattering.  nor did i encounter alot of ‘seperatist politics’.  yeah i saw zines (mainly in spanish frankly) and tshirts with a woman with a fist in the air or some symbolism of female biology, but there is a difference between being seperatist and being pro-woman.

Sadly, the Encuentro of the Women of the World with the Zapatista Women did not provoke much formal interchange between the rebel companeras and first-world feminists – who were limited to five-minute presentations on the final day of the event. Nonetheless, a surprise Zapatista womens’ theater piece did imply a critique: in the skit, a planeload of first-world feminists with funny hair (played by the companeras) lands in the jungle to deliver the poor Indian women from oppression.

this was a really cute play.  but it is irresponsible for mr.  ross to emphasize this critique of zapatista women as part of disparaging first world women.  this play was also and much more so a critique of men’s role in the movement: zapatista, indigenous, and international.  and yet no where in this article does ross speak to the critiques that zapatista women had of international (read international men) role in the movement.  instead he makes it seem as if the zapatista women tolerated having these ‘militant seperatist lesbians’ (o000h scary lesbians) at the encuentro.

Among international delegations in attendance were women representatives from agrarian movements as far removed from Chiapas as Brazil and Senegal, organized by Via Campesina, an alliance that represents millions of poor farmers in the third world, and a group of militant women from Venice, Italy who have been battling expansion of a U.S. military base in that historic city. Political prisoners were represented by Trinidad Ramirez, partner of imprisoned Ignacio del Valle (67 year sentence), leader of the farmers of Atenco. A message from “Colonel Aurora” (Gloria Arenas), a jailed leader of the Popular Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), who now supports the EZLN, was read. Although he reputedly lives only a few villages away, Subcomandante Marcos (or his penis) did not put in an appearance at the womens’ gathering.

okay.  the reference to marcos’s penis is just one more attack on international women’s presence at an encuentro which was entitled: zapatista women meet the women of the world.  why doesnt he have a critique of his presence at the encuentro?  what i hear is a great resentment that in this encuentro it was not only expected that zap men take a back seat but that he does as well.  for instance there was a constant reminder from the zap women leaders that there were spaces that were women only and i saw lots of international men.  so many that plenty of times i couldnt find a seat.

Ladling out chicken soup at her makeshift food stand, Dona Laura told La Jornada chronicler Hermann Bellinghausen that once the womens’ “Encuentro” had concluded, everything would return to normal – “only normal would be different now.”

Although the Encounter amply demonstrated the increasing empowerment of the Zapatista companeras, how much of what was said actually rubbed off on those who came from the outside is open to question. “I didn’t really get a lot of it,” confided one young non-Spanish-speaking activist on her way home to northern California to report back on the womens’ gathering to her Zapatista solidarity group.

and this is the linchpin.  this is the only international woman (mujer del mundo) who gets a direct quote.  even though the vast majority of women there (international mexican indigenous) could understand spanish. and it is one of the last lines that he writes in this article.  oh this poor little girl who doesnt understand zapatista women like he the zap women expert does.  and so he can minimize and ridicule the participation of women from his part of the world (he too is from northern california) , by making her representative (and those evil seperatist lesbians) of international women at the encuentro, he can make this encuentro really about zap women meeting international men.

look i got my own critiques of the way that white women co-opt the movements of indigenous women and lump the lives of women together with little to no acknowledgement of the price of white women’s liberation to indigenous women and women of color.  but i am also really critical of the ways that white men denigrate white women by using women of color and indigenous women as props.  like the big white man is going to save and protect these little zap women from the evil separatist (vagina dentata)man-hating women.  it is denigrating to all of us.

maybe rather than him working on this article he should have done what the zap women asked him to do on all those infamous signs posted around la garrucha: take care of the kids, bring firewood, cook some food.

Permalink Leave a Comment

January 4, 2008 at 10:53 pm (anti-oppression, chiapas)


Permalink Leave a Comment

stencil art in san cristobal

January 2, 2008 at 4:09 pm (chiapas)


Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »