Panelists speak of Zapatismo’s influence on U.S.

Cindy Von Quednow

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Urban Zapatismo and its influences in the U.S. was the topic for a panel discussion held at the University Student Union Theatre on Monday.

Zapatismo, a rebel movement toward autonomy and participatory democracy based in Chiapas, Mexico, is not isolated within the confines of that country. It is also applied nationally and internationally.

Mexican journalist and author Gloria Mu’ntilde;oz Ramirez, and Juan Haro, an organizer visiting from New York, talked about the history of the Zapatista movement and the importance of unity in conquering the global effects of neoliberalism. Their respective presentations and films were in English and Spanish. Alejandro Reyes of Radio Zapatista in Berkeley provided the translation. Sirena Pellarolo, associate professor of modern and classical languages and literatures, moderated the event.

“The only way we will be able to achieve liberation is by uniting all our communities, in New York, throughout the U.S. and throughout the world,” said Mu’ntilde;oz, author of “The Fire and the Word,” a history of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN in Spanish). “Neoliberal policies try to divide communities. We all have something in common, and that is the key in this struggle,” said Mu’ntilde;oz.

Both panelists showed videos, illustrating the past, present and future struggles of EZLN, both in the rural and urban setting.

Mu’ntilde;oz offered a brief history of the Zapatista movement in Mexico. The EZLN began an insurrection against the Mexican government on Jan. 1, 1994, the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. As the conflict subsided, the rebel group renounced their arms and started a mobilizing throughout Mexico and the world. The two sides signed peace accords in 1996, but the Zapatistas started building their own autonomous municipalities throughout the Chiapas in 2003 without the formal recognition of the Mexican government. They continue to struggle for land rights and independence.

Although Zapatista farmers believe that land belongs to those who work it, it is still in danger of being taken away by government officials, as portrayed in a video shown by Mu’ntilde;oz. This is no different in the urban space, as gentrification and displacement are increasingly making it difficult for people living in large cities, like Los Angeles or New York, to maintain their urban space.

Haro, an organizer with Movement for Justice in “El Barrio” (neighborhood), a collective based in East Harlem that seeks to better the conditions of the city by fighting against gentrification, said the Zapatistas are an inspiration and a model for their struggles because they are also fighting to protect their land.

Haro said the organization was established about three years ago and is comprised of approximately 400 community residents made up of mostly women, people of color and immigrants. Since more members could not make it to the event, Haro introduced them through video.

Haro presented a documentary of “First Encounter for Dignity and Against Displacement” (named after the Zapatista “encuentros”), an event in which 26 groups from various states gathered in New York on October 2007 to discuss the issues that affect them. The video showed how Zapatismo is applied on this side of the border as members called for the solidarity of the people in Los Angeles to join them in their efforts.

CSUN was the first stop in Haro’s week-long tour of Los Angeles. He will address issues dealing with housing and gentrification in cities such as Oxnard and South Central.

Mu’ntilde;oz also acknowledged the importance of organizing, noting that networking is key in garnering support for a cause. “Sometimes we feel alone. But through these kinds of encounters, which go beyond the university setting, we start to realize that we are not alone,” she said.

Mu’ntilde;oz explained how people can learn from the horizontal organization of the Zapatistas.

“The everyday struggles of these communities and peoples allow us to imagine other struggles,” she said, as she explained the intricate design of Zapatista municipalities, which is modeled after a snail.

“The coil represents the entrance from of the word of resistance and rebellion and the moving out of the Zapatista word, struggle and resistance,” said Mu’ntilde;oz.

Although Mu’ntilde;oz touched on a lot of the EZLN’s goals in terms of autonomous health care, transportation and media, she focused mostly on the process of autonomous education. She admitted it is not easy because it is entirely free of establishments and boundaries.

“The school is not in the buildings. It’s not even in the teachers or the students. It is in the community,” she said.

Although passing and failing is not as clear as it is in established education, Mu’ntilde;oz said those that go their separate ways or decide to use their knowledge for their personal benefit and don’t contribute to the community are the ones who fail.

Brieanne Buttner, a third year Chicana/o studies major and urban studies minor, agreed with this concept. “We need to realize the importance of learning as a privilege and not forget that we have a responsibility to use our knowledge and bring it back to the community,” said Buttner after the event.

“I hope that people take what they’ve learned here and take it beyond the walls of the university and share what they have learned with others,” said Monica De La Torre, a graduate student and organizer with the Chicano/a Graduate Student Association.