Teachers and students from the National Teachers University:
Teachers from the Rural Teachers' Training Schools of Mexico:
Sisters and brothers:
Welcome to La Realidad. We want all of you, and those who are like you but who could not be with us today, to know that we are very pleased to be meeting with you, and to learn of your thoughts and your words, and to be able to tell you our feelings directly, without intermediaries.
A few years ago there still lived in these mountains an old teacher, his name is Antonio, and, by spending time with him and learning from him and with him, I came to call him "Old Antonio." Indigenous of the most ancient of these lands, Old Antonio pretended to be dead during the first months of 1994. With the pretext of a tuberculosis that was stealing bites from his lungs, one dawn he remained quiet and managed to fool many into believing that he was dead. Even and when his body was buried at the foot of one of the ceibas - the largest and most powerful ceiba of these mountains - Old Antonio had the skill and the ingenuity to make his escapes and to find me, whether it was to ask me for a light for his eternal cigarettes made with the tobacco roller, or to give light to some of the stories that run through the heart and the skin of this man who was student and teacher in his time.
Old Antonio did not study education, nor did he even finish primary school. There is more: I suspect that he learned to read and to write from one of those first gods who people the histories he bestows on us, more as burden and responsibility than as entertainment and balm. But I believe that you will agree that Old Antonio was and is a teacher, and a teacher of the good. In any case, I am sure he would play a better role than the sad and pathetic ones being played by the successive officials at the National Teachers University.
I am telling you now of Old Antonio because it was during just one of these dawns that astonish and disconcert August, that rain down from the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, when Old Antonio came to where I was sitting, filling my pipe for the umpteenth time and trying to contain my indignation over the attack by the riot police against the university students a few days before. I was looking all around, at nothing in particular, perhaps trying to make out some question hidden in a corner of the multiple shadow that walks and awakens in La Realidad, when Old Antonio asked me for a light for his badly rolled cigarette. As it was, Old Antonio happened to arrive silent, he is frugal with word and gesture. But, when the tobacco smoke began to appear from his lips, so did small and great histories, like this one that I shall now tell you, as Old Antonio told it to me while watching me looking, and which is called, as I remember
A small column of smoke rises from the mouth of Old Antonio, who looks at it and, with his look, he begins to give form to sign and word. By the smoke and the looking, Old Antonio's words follow
"Look, Captain (I should clarify that, at the time I met Old Antonio, I held the rank of Second Captain of Insurgent Infantry, which has ever after been a typical sarcastic zapatista remark, because there were only 4 of us - ever since then, Old Antonio has called me "Captain"), look Captain, there was a time, a long time ago, in which no one looked. It is not that the men and women that walked these lands did not have eyes. They had them by nature, but they did not look. The greatest gods, those who gave birth to the world, the very first, had indeed created many things without making the what or the why quite clear, or the reason or the work that each thing should do or should try to do. Because each thing had its why, most certainly, since the gods that gave birth to the world, the very first, were indeed the most great, and well did they know the why or the what of all things, as they were gods. But it turned out that these first gods were not very concerned about what they were doing, they did everything as a fiesta, as a game, as a dance. Indeed, the oldest of the old do recount that, when the first gods gathered together, there would have to be a marimba, because at the end of their assemblies their singing and dancing would most certainly come. And more, they say that, if the marimba were not close at hand, then there would simply be no assembly, and so there were the gods, perched on their derrieres, telling jokes and making mischief. Good, the fact is that the first gods, the most great, gave birth to the world, but they did not make the why or the what of all things clear. And one of those things were eyes. Could the gods perhaps have said that eyes were for looking? Well, no. And so the first men and women who walked there went about with great difficulty, striking each other and falling down, crashing into each other and grabbing things they did not want, and not taking the things that they did want. And so, indeed, are many people today, who take what they do not want and which do them harm, and not reaching for what they need and what makes them better, who stumble about, bumping into one another. Or, rather, that the very first men and women did have eyes, yes, but then they did not look. And the very first men and women had many and various kinds of eyes. They had all colors and all sizes, they had different shapes. There were round eyes, almond ones, oval, small, large, medium-size, black, blue, yellow, green, brown, red and white. Yes, many eyes, two for each of the first men and women, but nothing that they looked at.
And so it would all have continued until our times if something did not once to come to pass. It happened that those first gods, those who gave birth to the world, the most great, were making their dance, because August was, then, the month of memory and of morning, when some men and women who were not looking happened to be where the gods were at their fiesta, and there they just crashed into the gods, and some happened to run up against the marimba and knocked it over, and then the fiesta became pure bedlam and the music stopped and the singing stopped and then the dancing halted as well and it was utter chaos and the first gods looking from one side to the other trying to see why the fiesta had stopped and the men and women who did not look continued stumbling and bumping into each other and into to the gods. And so it passed for some time, with clashes, falls, insults and curses.
Then, finally, shortly thereafter, the most great gods realized that the entire mess had taken place when those men and women had arrived. And then they came together and spoke with each other and asked each other if perhaps they were not looking where they were going. And then the first men and women did not look at each other because they did not look at all, but they asked what is this "looking" thing. And then the gods that birthed the world realized they had not made it clear to them what their eyes were for, or, what their raison d'être was, the why and what of eyes. And then the greatest of gods explained to the men and women what this "looking" thing was, and they taught them to look.
And so these men and women learned that one can look at the other, know who one is and who the other is, and so not bump into him, or hit him, or pass him by or run into him.
They also learned that one can look inside the other and see what his heart is feeling. Because the heart not always speaks with words that issue from the lips. Often the heart speaks with the skin, with the look or it speaks with steps.
They also learned to look at the one who is looking at them look at them, that they are those who seek themselves in the looks of others.
And they learned to look at the others looking at them look.
And the first men and women learned of all the looks. And the most important that they learned is the look that looks at itself and knows oneself and learns of oneself, the look that looks at itself looking and looking at itself, that looks at paths and looks at mornings that have still not yet been born, paths still to be taken and dawns to be birthed.
And once they had learned this, the gods who birthed the world entrusted these men and women - who had arrived stumbling, bumping into and falling over everything - with the task of teaching the other men and women how to look and what looking is for. And so the different learned to look and to look at themselves.
And not everyone learned, because the world had already gotten under way and men and women were already walking all about, stumbling, falling and bumping into one another. But some did learn and these who learned to look are those who are called "the men and women of maize, the true ones."
Old Antonio remained silent. I looked at him looking at me looking at him and I turned my gaze, looking at any corner of that dawn.
Old Antonio looked at what I was looking at, and, without saying a word, waved the lit stub of his rolled cigarette in his hand. Suddenly, summoned by the light in Old Antonio's hand, a firefly came out of the darkest corner of the night and, tracing brief luminous streamers, came close to where Old Antonio and I were sitting. Old Antonio took the firefly in his fingers and, blowing on it, bid it goodbye. The firefly left, speaking its stuttering light.
For a time, the night of below remained in darkness.
Suddenly, hundreds of fireflies began their gleaming, disorderly dance, and there, in the night of below, there were suddenly as many stars as in the sky of above, decorated by the August of the Mexican Southeast.
"In order to look, and to struggle, it is not enough to know where to direct ones looks, patience and efforts," Old Antonio said to me, joining in now.
"It is also necessary to begin and to call and to find other looks that, in their time, will begin and will call and will find others.
"And so, looking at the looking of others, many looks are born and the world sees it can be better and there is room for everyone's looks and for the one who, although other and different, looks at looking and looks at herself walking the history that is still missing."
Old Antonio left. I continued to sit through the entire dawn, and, when I lit my pipe again, a thousand lights from below lit the looking and there was light below, which is where there should be light and multiple looks
Brothers and sisters teachers and students:
We hope this meeting is successful and will allow you to know and to understand our looks.
I want to repeat that you are welcome to these lands.
We know well that your look will know how to look at us looking at you and that, then, your look will convene others, many, and there will be path and light, and, one day, no one will then stumble in the dawn.
Salud and, to look a long distance, binoculars are not necessary, but rather the long vision that dignity bestows on the one who struggles for it and lives.
>From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante insurgente Marcos.
Mexico, August of 1998.
Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN ______________________ Translated by irlandesa