Monday, May 07, 2007

Zapatismo and Queer Struggles

Alot has transpired in the past week or so...the students at the Autonomous University "Benito Juárez" in Oaxaca City have taken back their radio station and various groups (1,2) have reclaimed the center (Zócalo) of Oaxaca City as a space of protest...national and international actions and events marking the first anniversary of the attack on Atenco and demanding the release of Mexico's political prisoners..the LAPD wildin' out on the Immigrants' Rights/Anti-War march on May Day...and Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) denouncing state agression against the NYC march. Meanwhile, a bunch of us here in Brooklyn were at a packed BBQ/concert raising funds for MJB to go to the US Social Forum (USSF) this summer in Atlanta (you'll find info on their upcoming community dinner fundraiser in this post). And, speaking of the USSF, the deadline for workshop proposals is May 11! Oh, and in case you haven't seen it yet, the English translation of the call for a Continental Indigenous Encuentro this October in Sonora, México is up...spread the word! All this, yes, but it was USSF delegation preparations coupled with friday's jam-packed fundraiser for FIERCE! that inspired this week's post...

Zapatismo & Queer Struggles
... or some observations to continue a conversation
Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a gang member in Neza, a rocker in the National University, a Jew in Germany, an ombudsman in the Defense Ministry, a communist in the post-Cold War era, an artist without gallery or portfolio.... A pacifist in Bosnia, a housewife alone on Saturday night in any neighborhood in any city in Mexico, a striker in the CTM, a reporter writing filler stories for the back pages, a single woman on the subway at 10 pm, a peasant without land, an unemployed worker... an unhappy student, a dissident amid free market economics, a writer without books or readers, and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains of southeast Mexico. So Marcos is a human being, any human being, in this world. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized and oppressed minorities, resisting and saying, 'Enough'!

This may be one of the best known quotes from Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos. Taken from a 1994 interview, it was actually Marcos' response to the media frenzy following an interview he had done with a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in which he stated that he had been fired from a restaurant in San Francisco for being gay. The Mexican press ran headlines claiming that Marcos had "admitted" that he was homosexual. Coming from the early days after the uprising, this would turn out to be just one of many attempts to discuss queer sexuality and liberation struggle made by the Zapatista spokesperson over the past 13 years...

Indeed, the language of the Zapatistas has attracted queer radicals from the first days following the 1994 New Years' uprising. The language of fighting for "a world where we [in the zap's case, mexico's indigenous] fit" and for "a world where many worlds fit" found obvious resonance with queer folks in struggle.

In "Message from the Zapatistas", a video message sent this year to New York City (in response to Movement for Justice in El Barrio's "Message to the Zapatistas"), Marcos admits that this resonance initially surprised them. This surprise soon gave way to a steep learning curve, however, that found the Zapatistas embracing the many allies who came forward. In this way it could be said that they were both contributors to and open-minded observers of a process that I'm calling "queering the sectors" of the left.

queering the sectors

The three traditional sectors of the Mexican left (and, perhaps it should be said, "The Left" in general) are workers, peasants, and students. The Zapatistas, in asserting the centrality of their indigenous identities and cultures, are pushing the rest of the left to see them as more than peasants. They are pushing the left to see that there is also something valuable in their experience as indigenous peoples. They recognize in their indigenous culture a powerful non-conformity with the capitalist westernization of Mexico being led by its neoliberal politicians. And they've found many others who also do not conform.

As the Zapatistas began attracting supporters after their 1994 New Years uprising, they began recognizing "new sectors" in struggle: youth organized into musical subcultures (punk, goth, etc), women (organized as women!), and yes, queer folks. And so, by the time we reach the Zapatistas' Sixth Declaration, released in June 2005, we see the three traditional sectors completely exploded:
We are inviting all indigenous, workers, campesinos, teachers, students, housewives, neighbors, small businesspersons, small shop owners, micro-businesspersons, pensioners, handicapped persons, religious men and women, scientists, artists, intellectuals, young persons, women, old persons, homosexuals and lesbians, boys and girls – to participate, whether individually or collectively, directly with the zapatistas in this NATIONAL CAMPAIGN for building another way of doing politics, for a program of national struggle of the left, and for a new Constitution.

awkward steps

Although we see no mention of trans-folks in the Sixth Declaration itself (a collectively written document), the Zapatista spokesperson had already been making attempts to integrate the terms transgender and transexual into his lexicon. Shortly before declaring the Red Alert which preceded the release of the Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas bounced back into the media limelight with the announcement that they were challenging Inter Milan (a professional soccer team in Italy) to a series of matches. An amusing exchange followed, including this suggestion:
And, perhaps, in order to differentiate ourselves from the objectification of women which is promoted at football games and in commercials, the EZLN would ask the national lesbian-gay community, especially transvestites and transsexuals, to organize themselves and to amuse the respectable with ingenious pirouettes during the games in Mexico. That way, in addition to prompting TV censorship, scandalizing the ultra-right and disconcerting the Inter ranks, they would raise the morale and spirits of our team. There are not just 2 sexes, and there is not just one world, and it is always advisable for those who are persecuted for their differences to share happiness and support without ceasing to be different.

I've seen no responses yet from the Mexican "lesbian-gay community" (please send them my way if you have!). Inter Milan, however, has accepted the challenge so we may one day see how this spectacle turns out and how that particular invitation was received.

Following the release of the Sixth Declaration, in the early days of building the Other Campaign, the Sixth Commission of the Zapatistas began employing the language of "other loves" to poetically capture what we might say with "queer" or the litany of letters "TLGBTSQQ" (Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Queer, and Questioning). And as you'll see from the photo and link above, there were queer radicals more than ready to join with the Zapatistas in building the Other Campaign, but not without struggle...

When the members of Oaxaca's Sexual Diversity Collective addressed Delegate Zero (Marcos) during his 2006 listening tour to build the Other Campaign, they reminded him that the queer struggle was important and could not be left out (as it had been in his speeches in the state up to that point).

Later that evening, I watched Delegate Zero make a speech from the Zócalo in which he stumbled a bit, replacing what was perhaps meant to be "transgénero" (transgender) or "transexual" with "transgénico"...meaning "transgenetic." He immediately caught himself, however, and looked back sheepishly at Tlahui, who was waiting to speak adorned with a purple wig and a stunning rainbow dress.

a work in progress

The previously mentioned "Message from the Zapatistas", sent this year to NYC's Movement for Justice in El Barrio, perhaps marks a new level of understanding and connection being made by Marcos:
We were finding we had allies that we didn't expect and learning to listen and come to understand their struggle and how it was linked to ours...not only will we not conform, but we will fight against this system, raising our difference almost like a flag...autonomy means we can be compañeros even if we raise different flags...gays and lesbians approach us and we do not have to become gays or lesbians or, being gay or lesbian, we don't have to choose this as the basis of our struggle.

Now that we are in the second stage of Zapatista participation in the Other Campaign (not to mention the continued emergence of the Zezta Internazional), we're gaining the opportunity to hear not just from Marcos but more and more directly the voices of the indigenous comandancia; as well as the declarations and denouncements coming from the Zapatista communities (distinct from the political/military organization). And in these spaces we're hearing from queer radicals throughout Mexico and the world who are committed to building an anticapitalist movement "from below and to the left."

I've shared the thoughts here...more a series of vignettes than anything another stick in the fire fueling this dialogue. Because it's in this dialogue between all of us, and in the transformation and action that follows, where I find hope.


Unknown said...

very interesting rj, thanks for this. will def pass it on.

Unknown said...

this is so thrilling, RJ! will share with other comrades in southerners on new ground (SONG) and ubuntu. good to see you on the streets of durham.

lex said...

thanks for this rj.

Unknown said...

Hello RJ!
Friends of SONG ( turned us on to this article--we loved it so much we put it on our website--giving you a credit and link of course! Hope that is ok! Keep up the good work--it is really helpful to have this information out there!
Best, Caitlin, SONG

RJ Maccani said...

Hey ya'll (I feel like I can really share my "up south" Cincinnati roots here with you!),

It's really nice to know that sometimes something you've written is of some use, right? So thank you so much for the positive energy...I hope we get to connect/reconnect at the US Social Forum in Atlanta this summer.

Let's be the change and make the change!

much love,