Marcos on Memory and Reality

Closing Speech at the National Encuentro in Defense Of the Cultural Heritage

I scatter flowers of War, I, of the smiling face
Since I come along with war.
I am quetzal bird and I come flying,
Through difficult passages I come along with war.
I am beautiful blackbird with red neck,
I come flying: I come to become flower,
I, into bloodstained Rabbit.
See me, I am serious now, gird your sides
|I, whose eyes wink, the one who goes smiling.
I come from inside the flowered courtyard. See me, I am serious,
Gird your sides. I am going to become flower,
I, the bloodstained Rabbit.
- Nahuatl poetry

Being what they were, the eves and the charged memories are more real than the intangible present. The eve of a voyage is a precious part of the trip.
- Jorge Luis Borges

August once again, and, once again, dawn. The sea is sleeping and a small trail of cloud is resting its white weariness above the mountain, once more it begins its flight and restive flutter, but it does not reveal the stars. Up above, the great serpent is bleeding blue pearls of light. The Moon, a lady, has just finished washing her face, and she appears at the balcony, still not sure whether she is flying in flight or staying put. Below, next to a candle, a shadow is guarding the night and memory. Another shadow approaches him and a flame momentarily illuminates two faces sans face; shadow, then, of shadow.

The cloud that was rising in flight is delayed a bit, the illuminated oozing from the serpent of light stops, the midnight sun becomes a far-off torch, the moon stands still at her window, and even a falling star is neither falling nor ascending. Everything remains quiet, motionless.

Attention! Listen! Now the word reigns...

Old Antonio had just said hello, arriving, with the goodbye that runs through his lungs. In spite of the cough - which I had to accompany (not just to be in solidarity, I had it as well, and, although it wasn't as deep as the Old One's, my throat and chest did indeed hurt, and they sought relief) - the one and the other of us lit up the tobacco we were carrying. The cigarette for him, the chewed up pipe for me. Then the bridge began, which is how the word is also called here. And, given that the dancing light of a candle was illuminating us, history came from light, then from the sun, and the morning. It is this, then.

The History of the False Light, the Stone and the Maize

Long, long ago, yes. Time was still waiting for the time to make time. The greatest gods went about, those who gave birth to the world, the very first, exactly as they always went about: racing about in a rush. Because it so happened that these first gods had taken much time with their dancing and singing, and they were late in the making of the Moon and the Sun, whose work was to give light and shadow to the world, which was moving very slowly. Then Vucub-Caquix, the seven times keeper of the seven first colors, began to think that he was the Sun and the Moon, given that many and beautiful were the colors in which he dressed, and, as he flew very high, his vision could reach far, and, so it seemed to him, it could reach everything. Men and women were already moving about the land, but they had not turned out very well. Or, the first gods had already made men and women several times and they just were not very good. It was as if the most great gods were learning, smudging the world and correcting the men and women they were creating. They lacked time, then, for the men and women of the maize to be made, the true ones. Busy as they were, the first gods did not know what Vucub-Caquix was going about saying, and that he now wanted everyone to adore him, like the luminous light. When they learned of it, the most great gods had a wonderful idea: they would call on two young gods and on two old ones to put Vucub-Caquix in his place. The two boys were called Hunabku and Ixbalanque, which are the names also carried by the hunter of the dawn. The two old gods were Zaqui-Nin-Ac and Zaqui-Nima-Tziis, the creator couple. Hunabku and Ixbalanque hurt the mouth of the false Sun-Moon, who boasted great light, with their blowpipe. Vucub-Caquix' pain was great, but he did not fall. Then the old creators went and they offered to fix his mouth and they took out his beautiful teeth and replaced them with teeth of maize and Vucub-Caquix' face fell and they had already blinded his eyes and he forget his lust for nobility and he remained exactly as he flies these mountains now, like a macaw in disorderly flight.

And so it was, there have been, and are, in the towns, those who believe themselves to be Sun and Moon, and they boast of great and powerful light. Such is gold, money and political power that is raised as path and destiny. Their light blinds and transforms, makes the false appear true and conceals the truth behind double faces. When money was made into lying gods across the land, their false priests made governments and armies so that the lie would endure. And so it went, history continues to suffer and to hope that the young and the old will reach agreement in order to wound the money from the mouth of lies and to take down the bleeding fangs. With stones and maize as arms, young and old will undress the power and stone will be among stones, and men and women just among men and women who do walk the land. They will call that struggle war, even if it is only a denunciation, an unmasking of the lie and an extinguishing of the false light that reigns, vainly, there above.

Old Antonio remains silent, gives me his hand and, saying "I am done," says goodbye and leaves. In giving me his hand, Old Antonio had left in mine a small stone and a solitary grain of maize.

Across the long negligee of night, thousands of lights are awaiting, waiting...

Blows That Seek Silence

Brothers and sisters, participants in the National Encuentro in Defense Of the Cultural Heritage:

We greet the ending of this first meeting in defense of memory. We know that others will follow, and that this has been just the first of many encuentros and accords that will have to be built between those of us who are resisting the buying and selling of Mexico's cultural heritage.

These have been difficult and beautiful days. Perhaps because that is just how it is. The government - all of you know this now - is continuing to attack the indigenous zapatista communities and it is continuing forward with its war. By attacking us, the government knows it is attacking memory. That is the reason for its stubbornness, its cruelty and its arrogance. What is at stake in these lands is not negligible, which saw you, throughout these days and nights, speaking, discussing, agreeing, disagreeing, singing and dancing, which is how true encuentros are made.

It has been a great honor for us to have met you, and it has been an honor for us to see you, sharing the pain and suffering, the indignation and the rage over this new military attack against the zapatista peoples. What the government did was to remind everyone that there is a war going on here, that there is an entire rebel people resisting, and that there is an occupation army, the federal one, seeking to guarantee the merchandise that those who are governing and ordering have already sold. The merchandise has a name, it is called 'national sovereignty.'

It is not the first time that blows have sought to keep us silent. It is not the first time that they have failed. Now, in addition to silencing us, the blows are trying to separate us from the principal resistance movements in the country: the UNAM university students, who are defending the right to a free education; the Mexican Electricians Union, that is defending the electric industry, and yours, the communities from the National School of Anthropology and History and from the National Institute of Anthropology and History, as well as of all the persons and organizations who make up the National Front in Defense of the Cultural Heritage. All these movements and ours have something in common: the defense of history. Because of that, every attack against one of these movements is an attack against all the others.

At least, that is how we understand it. That is why we feel that the repression against the UNAM students, last August 5, was also against us. That is why we have supported the mobilizations and calls by the SME. That is why we have joined with you in defense of memory and against the attempts to privatize the cultural heritage.

Over the last few days, we have received some notes and letters. The companeros have been collecting them in a little cardboard box. We read everything they had to say. That is why, I believe, they say there are little talking boxes there. There are requests for interviews, for meetings, doubts, requests for meetings in order to exchange experiences, questions. The intense and difficult nature of these days has prevented us from dealing with them and giving to each and every one of them the response they require. We hope you will forgive us and accept our promise to respond to them at the time and place possible.

Among the papers there is one that asks what the zapatistas want; it holds that much information has been manipulated in the media, distorting what is happening here and the path that moves and inspires us.

This is the month of August, and for us it is also the month of memory. And so I will try and respond a bit to the question: "What do the zapatistas want?"

It is not going to be easy for them to understand us now. For some strange reason, the zapatistas speak for further on. I mean that our words do not fit in the present, but rather they are made to fit into the puzzle that is yet to be made. And, thus, patience, a guerrilla virtue.

It was fifteen years ago that I first came to these mountains. In one of the guerrilla camps, a history was told to me, at dawn - as is the law - from 15 years before. Thirty years have now gone by, in this August that is soaking us. I will tell you as they come to me, perhaps they will not be the same words, but I am certain that it will be the same feeling as the man had who related them to me, when - between jokes about my pathetic appearance and clown's pants I was wearing - he welcomed me to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

Those Who Came Later Did Understand

The history is told that, in a certain town, men and women toiled at work in order to survive. Everyday the men and women went out to their respective jobs: the men to the fields and the bean crops; the women to the firewood and the carrying of water. At times there was work that brought them together as equals. For example, men and women would join together for the cutting of coffee, when its time had come. And so it passed. But there was a man who did not do that. He did work though, but not in the fields or bean crops, nor did he go to the coffee plantations when the beans reddened among the branches. No, this man worked planting trees in the mountain. The trees this man planted did not grow rapidly, all of them took entire decades to grow and to make all their branches and leaves. The other men laughed at and criticized this man quite a bit. "Why do you work at things that you are never going to see completed? Better to work in the fields, which will give you fruit in months, and not in the planting of trees that will be large when you have already died." "You are a fool or crazy, because you work fruitlessly." The man defended himself and said: "Yes, it is true, I am not going to see these trees full grown, full of branches, leaves and birds, nor will my eyes see children playing under their shade. But, if all of us work just for the present and for just the following day: who will plant the trees that our descendents are going to need, in order to have shelter, consolation and joy?" No one understood him. The crazy or foolish man continued planting trees that he would not see, and sensible men and women continued planting and working for their present. Time passed, and all of them died, their children continued in their work, and those were followed by the children of their children. One morning, a group of boys and girls went out for a walk and found a place filled with great trees, a thousand birds living in them and their great branches giving relief from the heat and protection from the rain. Yes, an entire mountainside was found filled with trees. The boys and girls returned to their town and spoke of this marvelous place.

The men and women gathered together and they went to the place in great surprise. "Who planted this?" they asked. No one knew. They went to speak with their elders and they did not know either. Only an old one, the oldest of the community, could give them the information and he told them the history of the crazy and foolish man.

The men and women met in assembly and had a discussion. They saw and understood the man whom their ancestors had dealt with and they admired that man very much and they were fond of him. They knew that memory can travel very far and arrive where no one can think or imagine, the men and women of that today in the place of the great trees.

They surrounded one that was in the center, and, out of colored letters, they made a sign. They had a fiesta afterwards, and dawn was already approaching when the last dancers were leaving to go to sleep. The great forest was left alone and in silence. It rained and it ceased to rain. The Moon came out and the Milky Way molded its convoluted body once again. Suddenly a ray of moonlight insinuated itself among the great branches and leaves of the tree in the center, and, by its small light, the sign of colors that had been left there could be read:

"To the first ones:

Those who came later did understand.


* * *

This that I am recounting to you was told to me fifteen years ago, and fifteen years had already passed when what they told me had come to pass. And yes, perhaps it would be pointless to say it in words because we say it with acts; but yes, those who came later did understand.

And if I am telling you this, it is not just to give our regards to the first ones, nor is it just to gift you with a little piece of that memory that would seem to be lost and forgotten. Not just for that, also to try and respond to the question of what the zapatistas want.

To plant the tree of the morning, that is what we want. We know that, in these frenetic times of realpolitik, of fallen flags, of polls that substitute for democracy, of neoliberal criminals who call for crusades against what they are hiding and that which feeds them, of chameleon-like transformations; in these times, to say that we want to plant the tree of the morning sounds foolish and crazy, which, regardless, has not become a theatrical phrase or an outdated utopia.

We know it, and, nonetheless, that is what we want. And that is what we are doing. How many people in the worlds that make up the world can say as we can say, that is, that they are doing what they want to do? We think there are many, that the worlds of the world are filled with crazy and foolish persons who are planting their respective trees for their respective tomorrows, and that the day will come when this mountainside of the universe, that some call "Planet Earth," will be filled with trees of all colors and there will be so many birds and comforts that, yes, it is likely that no one will remember the first ones, because all the yesterdays that are distressing us so today will be nothing more than an old page in the old book of the old history.

In that tree of tomorrow, a space where everyone is, where the other knows and respects the other others, and where the false light loses its last battle. If I were pressed to be precise, I would tell you that it is a place with democracy, liberty and justice: that is the tree of tomorrow.

This is what the zapatistas want. It might seem that I have been vague in my response, but it is not so. I have never before spoken so clearly. In any case, times will come in which these words will fit, and, together, their embrace will expand and they will be heard and guarded and they will grow, that is what the words are for, and, yes, also, those who go about.

"Motion for Pozol!"

Men and women, participants in the National Encuentro in Defense Of the Cultural Heritage:

Before ending this, we want to be, and to make ourselves, bridge, and to send our greetings to, and with, those who are far away and persecuted: the students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Among the letters that the talking cardboard box spoke, one came in which we were informed that the Independent Union of Workers of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (SITUAM) had brought the amount of 21,900 pesos as humanitarian aid for the purchase of maize for the communities in resistance. We have consulted with our chiefs from the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee and we would like to ask the companeros and companeras from the SITUAM to listen to the following:

It was with concern that we read in various newspaper reports that the students on strike at the UNAM were having a lot of problems in their kitchens, because they were eating nothing but potatoes and tinned food. This has concerned our companero and companera chiefs very much, because they are reading that the students are not eating their tortillas nor taking their pozol. "How, then, are they going to resist?" they tell-ask me. I merely shrug my shoulders, since what I would not give for a succulent La Migaja tin of sardines. But the Committees were not thinking about sardines, but about the tortillas and pozol the students would need in order to resist the bad government. Good, after a long discussion, and not a few histories about the advantages of pozol and tortillas, they came and told me; "The Committee says to see that you send the pozol and tostadas to the students on strike, that is what they say." My mouth was watering, I went to the Committee and I asked to say my word. I said that the UNAM is in Mexico City and that Mexico City is very far from here. "How many checkpoints distant?" they asked me, because now the companeros measure distances by the number of checkpoints there are between one and the other point. I told the truth, that I did not know, that there were many, but that the problem was the kilometers and the time and that the pozol would arrive sour. "Sour!" they said and laughed, since sour pozol is a delicacy here, they say (it always gives me a belly ache). And, to the shout of "sour pozol!" ("motion for pozol!" they would say in the CGH, I believe), they took out the marimba and they made themselves a fire and heated their tostadas and then one took out his bottle of sour pozol and, yes, the party went on. I remained smoking, and I refused the pozol that they offered me, but I did let the tostadas in, I hadn't eaten. When, at last, everything returned to normal. I presented the problem again: the pozol would already be moldy when they arrived in Mexico City (yes, I was careful not to say "sour" again), ergo, it would not be a good idea to send pozol. "Good, then," they told me. "Send them tostadas." And so I did, but then what I am about to tell you came to pass:

Tostadas That Produce "Bad Ideas"

A group of compas left, carrying pans of tostadas, on a mission to deliver them to the General Strike Council of the UNAM and to the school assemblies, along with a message where we asked forgiveness for not having sent pozol. When crossing through the checkpoint at Guadalupe Tepeyac, a high ranking officer stopped our companeros and searched the cargo. He asked them who those tostadas were for, and the compas said that they were for some relatives who were studying in the city. "That's not true!" the officer responded. "It's for the strikers. Take all the tostadas away from them!" The soldiers at the checkpoint did what they were ordered. One of them took a piece of tostada and put it towards his mouth. "Don't do that, soldier!" the officer reprimanded him. "Don't you know that those are zapatista tostadas and they produce bad ideas in those who eat them? Bury them far away from here!" And so tostadas are now prohibited by the Firearms and Explosives Law and they may not cross the checkpoints in order to go to the UNAM and produce bad ideas in those who eat them. I was saddened by the failure and I so informed the committee. The committee said not to be concerned, that we would still see about how the students on strike would be able to eat tostadas and to take pozol in order to have the strength to resist.

* * *

This is the history. Now that we have been made aware of the support that the brothers and sisters of the SITUAM have lent, the Committees are asking me to ask you the following:

Take that money and carry it to Mexico City and buy maize for the CGH and for the assemblies and for the guards and for the brigades of all those young people who are fighting for free education. Tell them that the zapatistas sent it so that they can eat their tostadas and pozol, if they should so desire, and not just potatoes and tinned food. Tell them that we send greetings and we hope that this maize we are sending them knows how to speak the bridge that we are, and that we are not sending them stones because they certainly have them there. That they continue to be strong, that they open their hearts to all the words and that they not forget that here we care for them, admire them, and, although far away, we also embrace them.

This is what the Committees asked me to ask the companeros and companeras from the SITUAM, and, as we are sure that they will say yes, let it then be that we have only been a bridge between two dignified movements: that of the university workers and that of the university students.

This goes, then, as a special service for the press present, this is the note:

"The Independent Union of Workers of the Metropolitan Autonomous University made delivery of their aid of X tons of maize to the striking students at the UNAM, through the unusual behavior of the EZLN. The zapatistas, through the voice of their masked leader, stated that that is exactly how the zapatistas are, unusual bridges that cross not only Mexico, they say, but all the different worlds that are in, and have been in, the world. At the end of the act, the Sup wanted to let out with a goya, but a croak came out, and he opted for being the victim."

You are welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

Memory Has Its Own Reality

Brothers and sisters:

It might appear odd that I have brought together a Nahuatl poet, Popul Vuh and Jorge Luis Borges for this closing. Especially Borges. And, although I could say that this month is the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, that is not the reason why he is sharing space with our most ancient wise ones and storytellers. No, it so happens that a book reached my beat up desk. The wind had played with it and it had opened it to the page entitled "The 22nd of August of 1983." I do not know if August was insinuating itself into my memory in this way, but the fact is that nature was imitating art, the words that are at the top of this writing, along with the Nahuatl, jumped out from that page. Perhaps Borges came in order to remember that cultural heritage is not just one thing and that everything has something of the universal. Or perhaps he only came to tell us, in his way, that memory has its own reality, like La Realidad that joins us together has memory. Or perhaps he only came so that he might tell us all that, in effect, this is just the eve of a long voyage and that, therefore, the voyage has already begun.

In the end, we know -and that is why we are here - that the fangs of the false light will fall, and, with stones and grains of maize, a tree will grow in any place in any world. And, even if no one then has memory, the tree will know that the first ones were necessaryand they kept their word.

Meanwhile, the soil will have to continue to be prepared. Patience will have to be known well, and, despite the stupid olive green, the struggle must continue, so that the word becomes bridge and stone and maize and tree and hope of tomorrow. All of that and more is what the zapatistas are and want.

Salud and, although it appears that we are defending the past, in reality in La Realidad we have agreed to defend tomorrow.


>>From the mountains of the Mexican southeast
By the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee -
General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Subcomandante insurgente Marcos
La Realidad, Awake
Mexico, August of memory, 1999

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN _________________________ Translated by irlandesa

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