"Miguel Kantun, of Lerma is Canek's friend. He wrote him a letter and sent it to his son in order to make him a man.
Canek answered him, saying he would make his son an Indian."
"Canek. History and Legend of a Mayan Hero" Ermilo Abreu Go'mez.
This is not a political text. It is about zapatista boys and girls, about those who were, about those who are, and about those who are to come. It is, therefore, a text of love...and war.
Children can make wars and loves, meetings and misunderstandings. Unpredictable and unwitting magicians, children play and go about creating the mirror which the world of adults avoids and detests. They have the power to change their environment, and to turn, for example, an old frayed hammock into a modern airplane, into a cayuco, into a car in order to go to San Cristo'bal de Las Casas. A simple doodle, traced with the pencil which La Mar provides them with for these occasions, gives them the artillery for recounting a complicated history in which "last night" can encompass hours or months, and "in a bit" could mean "the next century," in which (is anyone in doubt?) they are heroes and heroines. And they are, but not just in their fictitious histories, but also, and above all, in the fact of their being indigenous boys and girls in the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
Nine are the circles of Dante's inferno. Nine the prisons which confine indigenous children in Mexico: hunger, ignorance, illness, work, mistreatment, poverty, fear, forgetting and death.
In the indigenous communities of Chiapas, childhood malnutrition reaches 80%. 72% of the children do not even manage to complete the first year of primary education. And, in all indigenous homes, boys and girls, from the age of 4, must cut down and carry fire wood in order to eat. In order to break those circles, they must fight very much, always, even from the time they are children. They must fight fiercely. Sometimes they must make war, a war against the forgetting.
I have said that this is a text about boys and girls who were. Since it is "ladies first" with horses and gentlemen, I will begin with this memory which hopes not to be repeated.
I am talking about "Paticha." I have spoken of her before, and, through her, about all the neverborn of Mexico's basement.
Much has been written, for better or worse, about the causes of the zapatista uprising. I am taking advantage of the opportunity here to propose another point of departure: the zapatista neverborn, that is, a good part of the zapatista children. It is the rare indigenous family in Mexico that does not have 3 or 4 children dead before the age of 5. Thousands in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, tens of thousands in that attic abandoned by the reigning "modernity": the Indian peoples, the native inhabitants of these lands.
When she was less than five years old, Paticha died of a fever, a temperature burned up her years and her dreams.
Who was responsible for her death? What conscience was enriched with her disappearance? What doubt was resolved? What fear overcome? What bravery flourished? What hand was armed? How many deaths like Paticha's made possible the war which began in 1994?
The questions are important, because the death of Paticha was a hidden death. I said before that she was not even considered to be deceased, since, as far as the Powers were concerned, she was never born. And there was more, the neverborn called Paticha died in the darkness of the night, in the forgetting.
Obscurities like her death are, nonetheless, those which illuminated the imperfect night of this country, in 1994...
And, speaking of fertile obscurities, there should be a scientific explanation in order to understand how a dark cloud can give way to the powerful glitter of a lightning flash. There are many ideological explanations, but even before a man realizes, in ceremonies, books and colloquiums, the miracle of a night storm, obscurity has already created clarity, night has given way to day, and the fiercest fire had already become a fresh wind.
And so it is that this is an especially dark dawn. Nonetheless, to the surprise of the most brilliant meteorologists (or simply in order to contradict them), rays were streaming through the eastern horizon, dry branches of light falling from the luminous tree which the night conceals behind it. The night is a black mirror in that way, a shadow breaking into yellow and orange. A mirror. The frame is formed by the four cardinal points of a horizon of up and down, trees and gray dark. A mirror seen from the dark side of the mirror. The dark side of a mirror, warning of what is behind it, promising it...
All histories are peopled with shadows. In the zapatista history, there have not been a few delineated by our light. We are full of silent footsteps which have, nonetheless, made the shouts possible. There have been many who have kept silent so that the movement may walk. Many vague faces which have allowed other faces to be made clear. Someone said that zapatismo was successful because it knew how to weave nets. Yes, but behind ours there are many weavers of skillful hands, of great ingenuity, of prudent steps. And, while an incandescent and brief light is raised above every knot of the rebel net of the forgotten of the world, they are still weaving new strokes and embraces in the shadows...
And, speaking of weavers and of embraces, I tore myself away from La Mar's warmth and cool in bed, and got up to take just a short walk, in this dawn in which February repeats its delirium and announces the arrival of the March hare. And just there, where the mountain is the land of the night of below, some fireflies were becoming excited by the humid warmth which announces a storm.
A small shadow was sobbing close to the hammock. I drew near until I was able distinguish a small little man, squat, mustachioed and rather advanced both in years and in weight. Two beat up wings made of red cardboard, a pair of small horns and a tail which ended in an arrow point made him look like the devil.
Yes, a devil. A fairly ill-treated devil. A poor devil...
"'Poor devil' like hell!" the diminutive figure muttered.
I wasn't intimidated. Even though my head and legs were telling me to run far away from here, I am the man of the house (okay, of the hut, but I believe you understand me), and I should not be abandoning La Mar, who is the woman of the house. After so many movies by Pedro Infante I have been steeled to protecting the house, and, since "Marti'n Corona" and "Here Comes Marti'n Corona," I must check my impulse to take flight. Well, at least not without warning La Mar who is, as I said previously, the woman of the house of which I am the man of the house.
And so I did not attempt any "strategic withdrawal," and, as I always do when seized by terror, I lit my pipe and started talking. I made some idle comments about the unsettled weather, and, seeing that there was no response, I ventured...
"Since you're listening to what I think..."
"You might as well be shouting," responded the little man.
"And don't call me little man!" he screeched.
"Luzbel, call me Luzbel," he hastened to interrupt my thoughts.
"Luzbel? That sounds like, like...Isn't that the angel who rebelled in pride against the Christian god, and as punishment they sent him to hell?" I said.
"That mess. But it wasn't like that. History, my unhappy mortal, is written by the victors. God, in this case. What happened was, in reality, a problem over salaries and work conditions. A union, no matter how angelic it might be, was not part of the divine plan, so God opted to invoke the exclusion clause. The mercenary scribes took it upon themselves to vilify our just fight, and so we went..." said Luzbel, getting comfortable and sitting down at the foot of a Huapac.
At that point I realized how small he was, but I didn't say anything. I suppose my silence encouraged him to continue talking, and that is what in effect happened, because Luzbel began recounting a history - fitting for a devil - of terrible horror and cruelty. His story seemed to be tragedy, comedy, or part of war...
Luzbel remained silent for a bit...Except for the stars of above and those of below (the fireflies), nothing else was about in the outside night. I lit my pipe again. More to take advantage of the light from the lighter and to look at the figure of the little devil, than out of a desire to smoke. Nine circles of smoke came out of the pipe. When the last of them had dispersed, he spoke.
The history which Luzbel recounted to me might wound the sensibilities of the good and of conscientious Christians, something which is not very advisable, especially during these times when the high clergy is struggling to turn back the clock of history. But, as I am not competing for indulgences - and I have already known the hell which the Powers impose on the poor - I have nothing to worry about. In any case, I have done my duty by warning the readers, and in reminding them that I am merely transcribing what Luzbel told me, to wit:
"The God of the rich and of the ledgers was very satisfied with the Free Trade Agreement, the steps towards the first world, economic globalization and all that rubbish, which seemed more the product of hell than of the divine, since we, the devils, wouldn't be capable of such horrors."
"Anyway, what happened was that God had assigned, as he should, a guardian angel to care for each of the children of the Free Trade Agreement generation. There aren't many angels, and working as a guardian angel for children is very poorly paid. But someone called Gabriel, a pro-management leader, an archangel to be more specific, forced the wage scale in order to meet the quota. There were some protests, but not many. And so each child of NAFTA would have his guardian angel.
"But it so happened that you, the zapatistas, decided to rise up in arms on that first of January of 1994 and change everything, even divine memory. Because it just so happened that God had not remembered about the indigenous children. It's not that he hadn't had them in mind, or that he was thinking of getting rid of them, he was simply unaware of their existence.
"The God of the ledgers and the rich is an employer like any other, but very old-school. And so he believed that, while neoliberalism was seeing to dispatching all zapatista children to another world, he would have to fulfill his divine duties and to assign a guardian angel to every zapatista child.
"But, as there were no longer any guardian angels available, he then began rehabilitating devils. In order to achieve this, he forced us to sign a humiliating commercial treaty that was damaging to hell's diabolical sovereignty. Hell had been having economic problems, and someone called Saint Peter had taken advantage of our difficulties in order to grant us a financial credit which had, as one might imagine, a diabolical clause.
"Anyway, the fact was that God was able to have the infernal work force at his disposal, under unfair conditions, and without it affecting the migration restrictions imposed on us devils if we cross the celestial border. Without our hardly being aware of it, we were suddenly second-class employees, under orders from the one who had expelled us." Luzbel broke off, in what seemed like a sob. Then he continued...
"And so, from the extra-territoriality of his financial power, God put us to work as 'guardian angels' of those who had been forgotten in the First World euphoria, the indigenous children. And now, instead of inciting good consciences to sin, of perverting innocent souls, of sponsoring business leaders, of 'inspiring' the PAN governor of Quere'taro, of advising Bishop One'simo Cepeda, or of devising Fox's post-election campaign, now we are taking care of the children of the basement, under miserable working conditions.
"So now we are 'guardian devils'!"
"Really! At a miserable salary, God (who, one mustn't forget it, is God of all creation, even of hell) is forcing us to guard zapatista children. And to think that there are still those who boast of divine goodness...!"
Luzbell was silent for a moment, and I took advantage of it to scribble a few words. And believe me, I was surprised myself. So much so that I immediately wrote Don Eduardo Galeano some lines, so that he could recount this in one of his books:
"Date: The beginning of the third millennium.
In neoliberal Mexico at the beginning of the 21st century, zapatista children are so poor that they do not even have guardian angels. Instead, they have devils with them, a little guardian devil.
During the stormy nights in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, the children are praying: "Little Guardian Devil, sweet companion, do not abandon me, neither by night or by day," and so it goes...
Vale. Salud and nada de mate.
(end of letter to Galeano).
Okay, I'm not going to drive the editorial staff crazy with any more dialogue punctuation, so I'll just recount what made this "guardian devil" unhappy.
It happened that it fell to Luzbel to be head of a squadron of "guardian devils." I don't know how many squadrons are necessary to guard all the zapatista children (who are a goodly number), but an infernal, horrific, diabolical job fell to Luzbel. He had to care for: Beto, Heriberto, Ismita, El Andulio, Nabor, Pedrito, To~ita, Eva, Chelita, Chagu:a, Mariya, Regina, Yeniperr, and, lastly - horror of horrors! - Olivio and Marcelo.
When it fell to him to be Beto's "guardian devil," Luzbel became desperate. And it wasn't the hectic life of this child-soldier, who challenged an armored vehicle with his slingshot, a Hummer with grenade launchers, as well as a "Black Hawk" helicopter of the NAFTA generation. Nor was it his tireless climbing up and down hills and ravines, looking for firewood for his house. No, what exasperated Luzbel (and made him ask for a custody change) were Beto's questions:
"How far away is the big city? Is it bigger than Ocosingo? How wide is the sea? What is so much water for? How do the people live who live in the sea? How big is the slingshot that can kill a helicopter? If the soldier's house and family is someplace else, why does he come to take away our houses from us and to persecute us? If the sea is as big as the sky, why don't we turn them upside down so that the government helicopters and planes will drown?"
Questions such as those were what motivated Luzbel's change in work. But it didn't go any better for him, because then they assigned him to care for Heriberto...
"It was terrible," Luzbel confessed. "That child hates school as if he were a Secretary of Public Education, and the teachers like a pro-management union leader. He prefers to play and to hunt for sweets and chocolate. You should see how you have to run after him when he hears a chocolate wrapper!"
After Heriberto, Luzbel went on to care for Ismita.
Luzbel recounted to me that one day Ismita had some trouble with Marikerr (that's what the girl is called, don't blame me), because he said she had broken a branch off Ismita's nance (fruit tree). But how could she break it if she was so small and the tree so big?, Luzbel asked him. "She grabbed it and broke the branch," Ismita said, and looked reprovingly at Marikerr, who was bent on a children's assault on the "Aguascalientes" store. The assault had been organized by Luzbel because, he said, "the children should prepare themselves for anything, even to govern." Ismita must be about 10 years ago, but chronic malnutrition has granted him the stature of a 4 year old child. Ismita compensates for his lack of physical height with moral greatness. He not only pardoned Marikerr for breaking the branch of his nance, he also offered him some soft drink and cookies he had gotten during the assault on the store. "No one shares," Ismita told Luzbel when the latter had objected.
Generosity does not provoke the passion of hell, so Luzbel went to care for Andulio.
After walking a great distance, Luzbel reached the home of Andulio, he of the brilliant smile. We met Andulio during those terrible days of the 1995 persecution. May was a hot wind then, burning days and nights, and Andulio stayed up all night in a tree, trying to imitate a turkey with his song. He didn't approach us often, but we discovered he had accepted us when, one afternoon, he asked for a record player, and, to the rhythm of a corrido, he began dancing. La Mar asked him then, in front of a poster, where the Sup was. Andulio hesitated, and a split-second later, turned around and pointed to me. The Sup couldn't be in the poster and in the doorway at the same time, and so, as he pointed me out in the flesh, he repeated his philosophical materialism. I had forgotten to mention that Andulio was born without hands, a genetic malformation left stumps on the ends of his arms.
"That child may not have hands, but he does have a smile that's too angelic," Luzbel said, justifying his new change. And so he came to be with Nabor.
It wasn't any better with Nabor. With 3 years behind him, Nabor has a libido that would put Casanova to shame. Luzbel could do nothing but blush, and he immediately went to another community. And so he came to Guadalupe Tepeyac in exile.
In this Tojolabal community, dislocated from their homes by the Mexican federal army, it fell to him to be "guardian angel," - excuse me, "guardian devil" - for Pedrito. Pedrito is a Guadalupe child born in exile. When the First Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism opened, his mother gave birth to him. With 3 years behind him, Pedrito is Lino's friend, another Guadalupe child. Lino was born on February 9, 1995, and he was barely a few hours old when he was expelled from his home by soldiers.
Returning to Pedrito, it so happens that he didn't want to go to school. I had already threatened to take his case to the community assembly, but no way. I warned him that if he didn't go, I was going to denounce him in a communique' directed to the people of Mexico and to the peoples and governments of the world. Pedrito just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said "send it, I don't even know how to read." La Mar defended him, saying that he was barely 3 years old, and Pedrito just stared at her, sighing, in love. But that is another history, we are now with Luzbel taking care of Pedrito.
It so happened that Pedrito decided to play horses. You imagine rightly if you are imagining that it fell to Luzbel to be the horse. And you guess correctly if you are guessing that Luzbel resigned.
"That child made the belt too tight," he said in justification.
After Pedrito, Luzbel decided to switch to a more mild-mannered gender, and he devoted himself to caring for a zapatista girl: To~ita.
Luzbel wasn't bothered by To~ita's tendency to look down on love, which "hurts a lot" (to my outrage, he characterized her tendency as "healthy"). Not by that, nor by having been dressed up like a doll by a To~ita who was determined to cut off his wings.
"You wouldn't have been the only one to have had them cut off," I said resentfully.
The "guardian devil" put up with all of that, but he could not tolerate that constant breaking and mending of teacups which is the life of zapatista girls...
And so To~ita's "guardian devil" resigned and went on to care for Eva. He didn't last long. When he was watching "School for Vagabonds" for the umpteenth time, he fell asleep and Eva took the opportunity to embroider little flowers and a "Viva the EZLN" on his wings. The shame forced Luzbel to emigrate.
After Eva, Chelita followed. A dark-haired girl of 6 or 7, with black eyes like stars. The same thing happened to Luzbel that happened to everyone, when Chelita looked at him he was left frozen (not an adequate temperature for a devil), she made him fly through the skies (not an advisable direction, given the expulsion, etcetera) and she let out with an "Ave Mari'a Puri'sima!" that was, quite certainly, too much. Luzbel felt as if they had ripped out his soul - excuse me, as if they had ripped off his wings - when they took him away from caring for Chelita and ordered him to be with Chagu:a.
Chagu:a, as her name indicates, is not called "Chagu:a," but Rosaura, but no one calls her as she is called. She must be about 8 years old. In a small gang of warlike children, the one who is the leader is not a boy, but a girl, Chagu:a. She is the first and fastest in climbing trees in order to catch cicadas, she is the fiercest and most accurate in fights with stones and mud, she is the first to throw herself into the fray, and, up until now, no one has ever heard her ask for mercy. However, when she approaches us, something strange happens: Chagu:a is a tender and sweet girl who embraces La Mar and asks her to tell her a story or to fix her hair, or she just hugs her and stays quiet, sighing from time to time.
Luzbel did not resign because of the confusion provoked by Chagu:a's "tender fury," but because he was hit on the head with a rock during an altercation, and the bump it created on his skull left him with a third horn which did not suit him at all. And so Luzbel went to care for another girl, Mariya.
Mariya must be about 7 years old, and in her village she is the one who has the best aim with a slingshot. We discovered this, we and the village, during one of our travels through those lands.
After walking for several hours, La Mar and I collapsed under the lintel of a hut. We had not even caught our breath when Hu'ber, Sau'l, Pichito, and an indeterminate number of children of equally indeterminate names, arrived. All of them had brought their slingshots, and they asked to have a contest to see who had the best aim. Mariya was already sitting next to La Mar, and she didn't say anything. Without getting up, I organized the turns, and I indicated that they should set up a can 10 steps away. Each and every one of them took their turn, and the can remained in place.
When I asked if everyone had had their turn, La Mar said: "Mariya hasn't."
To everyone's outrage, Mariya joined in and borrowed a slingshot.
A murmur of disapproval went through the group of men (I wasn't among them, not because I wanted to be seen as a feminist, but because I didn't have the strength to get up and support my gender).
Mariya gave the boys a swift look of contempt, and that was enough for them to stay quiet. A silence reigned, which had little to do with mockery and much with expectation...
Mariya drew the slingshot, closed one eye - as and how mandated by slingshot manuals - fired, and the can leapt with a metallic crash.
Mariya and La Mar broke into cries of jubilation: "The women won!"
We boys were left shocked, contrite and open-mouthed. "Don't worry," I told them in consolation, "We'll have the contest without Mariya next time." I don't think I convinced anyone.
Luzbel has been educated in the "old-school," that is: slingshots are not for girls. And so he had what we call a "crisis of macho conscience," which came over him when Mariya won in the rough and (formerly) masculine sport of firing at cans with a slingshot. And that is how Luzbel came to go elsewhere.
In other communities, Luzbel looked after Regina, a child of about 9 or 10 years of age who behaved as if she were 30. Mature and responsible, Regina is sister and mother to her little brothers and sisters, bodyguard of the insurgents, the best tortilla maker in the barrio, and a sun when she smiles. Despite his experience in infernal burnings, Luzbel resigned when he couldn't tolerate the burning of his fingers when he turned the tortillas on the stove.
"It wasn't the burns," Luzbel told me, "but that I had to get up at 4 in the morning to make the fire, grind the maize and make the tortillas. And that was just to start the day."
Lacking sleep, and with his fingers burned, Luzbel went to care for Yeniperr.
Yeniperr is an excellent example of the bird who conquers the machine. When the helicopters make low overflights above the community, Yeniperr chases them with questions. In the face of such fierce projectiles, the warlike machines withdraw, and Yeniperr continues to flutter about amidst lovebirds and hummingbirds. When Yeniperr flies, she often gets lost and has nothing to fear, unless Capirucho and Capirote are anywhere close by.
Luzbel lasted barely a few days with Yeniperr. According to what he told me, it wasn't the fear of government helicopters and planes that made him ask for a change in work.
"I've never been into this flying. That's why I'm a fallen angel," Luzbel said, rubbing his backside.
They should never have done it, but it so happened that they assigned Luzbel, owing to a lack of personnel, to care for two children: Olivio and
Marcelo, that is, Capirucho and Capirote.
Olivio, or the self-styled "Sergeant Capirucho," has confessed to me that, when he is big, he is going to be "Sup." "And, you, Sup, what are you going to be?", he asked me, knowing that the fulfillment of his aspirations would leave me without a job. "Me?" I asked, in order to gain time, "I'm going to be a horse, a child horse, and I'm going to go there, very far away.", and I pointed to an indefinite point on the horizon. "You can be Sergeant," Olivio consoled me, while he discovered a little turtledove who was fluttering about, oblivious to Capirucho's hierarchical aspirations and to the fearsome slingshot hanging from his belt.
"Corporal Capirote," Marcelo answered when they ask him what he is called. Without any shame whatsoever, and perhaps making use of the military privilege of his rank, he went wherever he pleased and would start looking for sweets and chocolates, recounting incredible histories, or he would he would set about spying on the women while they were bathing.
Olivio and Marcelo, Capirucho and Capirote. These two boys play at confusing each other when they recite poetry. Four poems make up their repertoire, and they always devise ways to mix them up with each other. The result? It doesn't matter, if, in the end, they get a piece of candy or a chocolate, if they can sketch "little marbles," or go hunting, always unsuccessfully, for rooks. Capirucho and Capirote believe that there is no better remedy for lack of love than a good rook to eat together.
These two dwarves, excuse me, children, have overcharged batteries. They are about 7 years old, and they broaden their radius of activity every day. They pursue the "erello" ( a species of salamander up to a meter in length) among thorns and acahuales, but they don't get very close to it. They have taken Luzbel from one end to the other, his wings were full of thorns and scratches, they filled his pockets with pebbles (for the slingshot), and they "fried his brain" with their constant blather. The nights were not enough to allow for Luzbel's recuperation, and he would have to follow behind them early in order to fish for conch, crab and shrimp, to go to the coffee fields, to be stung by ants, bees or by any of the community's "wild" animals, to kick a deflated ball, to eat everything they found within their grasp and their height, and to listen to them recount exploits which had never occurred. But what depressed Luzbel the most was that they made him a target for practicing with the slingshot.
Luzbel is old now, his age goes back to the beginning of time. I am saying this not so you will pity him, but so you will understand him. I know Capirucho and Capirote, and I am certain that the work of caring for them would leave God himself (who, incidentally, is not young either) exhausted.
That is why Luzbel did not surprise me when he told me he was definitively resigning from taking care of zapatista boys and girls.
"I'd be better off going to Kosovo or Rwanda or any place else where the UN is carrying out its mission to promote wars," Luzbel said, sitting up. "There's bound to be more calm there."
And, as he got ready to walk away, he added:
"Or the Diocese of Ecatepec or the upper echelons of Mexican business, which is turning into the same thing. There is corruption there, lies, outrages, theft and all those evils more appropriate for orthodox devils such as myself."
I understand Luzbel's desperation and despair. I am certain that he would have rather not have tried to organize an angelic union if he had known that, in the course of time, he was going to have to be following after these children.
By the light of a firefly, I added a postscript to the letter to Eduardo Galeano:
"P.S. Which Provides More Details. - Don Eduardo: In the indigenous mountains of Mexico, God is not alive. Nor the devil, not even if they pay him..."
It was almost dawn now, and so I said farewell to Luzbel and returned to La Mar.
The majority of the indigenous boys and girls of Guadalupe Tepeyac in exile were born and raised away from their homes. There is another political party in government in Mexico, and these children continue to be held hostage (now by those self-styled "promoters of change") in order to impose surrender on them. What has changed for these children? The history of their native town seems like a story to them, it is so far away in time and space that it seems to them to be a very long trip to return to it. Complicated and petty political calculations and a stupid pride are what expelled them from their village, and what is refusing to return to them what belongs to them.
Not only in this nomadic village, but in all zapatista communities, boys and girls are growing up and becoming youngsters and adults in the midst of a war. But, contrary to what might be thought, the teachings they receive from their towns are not of hate and vengeance, even less of desperation and sadness. No, in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, the children are growing up learning that "hope" is a word spoken collectively, and they are learning to live dignity and respect for the different. Perhaps one of the differences between these children and those from other areas, is that these are learning from the time they are little to see the morning.
More and more boys and girls will continue to be born in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. They will be zapatistas, and, as such, they will not manage to have a guardian angel. We, "poor devils," will have to care for them until they are big. Big like us, the zapatistas, the most small...
>From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico, February of 2001.
Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN ______________________ Translated by irlandesa