March 18, 2009

Comandante Ramona
Zapatista Council
7823 Camino Flores
Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas

Dear Comandante Ramona:

            I am writing to you because your life has truly inspired me as a young, Chicana woman, and as a college student, I want to share with you how I relate your activist work to concepts I have learned in my Chicana/o Studies classes.

Your real name and details of your pre-revolutionary life remain unknown, yet what I do know about you relates to your role as a guerilla, indigenous rights activist, and women’s rights advocate. From what I have learned about you, I know you remain closely associated with Mexico’s Subcomandante Marcos since he launched his Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994. Together with him, you lead the guerilla group called the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). You are the most famous female Zapatista figure for your important role early in the uprising. As a member of the Zapatista leading council, you have served as a symbol of equality and dignity for indigenous and impoverished women and a promoter of traditional handicrafts, extremely important causes which I also support.

I admire the strength with which you were able to led a group of rebels into the town of San Cristobal de las Casas on New Year’s Day 1994 demanding indigenous rights for the people of Chiapas while protesting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which came into effect that day. After the rebellion ended, you were sent to the first peace talks with the Mexican government in February 1994. Then in in 1996, you broke through a government encirclement when you traveled to the capital to help found the National Indigenous Congress.

I believe all your activist work has helped return pride to Mexican indigenous peoples who for so long have felt marginalized. You are an empowering female figure and as a leading women’s rights activist, you helped write the Zapatistas‘ “Revolutionary Law on Women” in 1993, which demands basic social rights for women, including rights such as: the right to work and receive a just salary, the right to an education, the right to choose their partner and not be obliged to enter into marriage, and the right to be free of violence from both relatives and strangers. For all your considerable work in advocating for indigenous and women’s rights, I am inspired to be a voice of justice just as you. Even though you are not from the United States, I nonetheless believe you are a role model for Chicanas and for all socially conscious people, because you have taken a stand against U.S. imperialism by protesting the NAFTA and you continue to support Mexico’s indigenous peoples, despite the U.S.’s ongoing political and economical involvement in supporting Mexico’s elites and exploiting their poor.

There are also connections that I make between your activist work and the concepts I have learned in my college classes. For example, I can relate your activism to Laura E. Perez’s concept of land and place in her book Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities. Perez describes the idea of “knowing your place and having a place […] shaped by our sense of belonging socially” (146). For marginalized peoples, however, this sense of belonging is constantly being challenged by dominant social powers who seek to oppress them. Perez phrases this well when she explains the “twilight sense of belonging to the Americas as ancestral homelands yet today being socially marginalized, systematically disempowered, and the objects of devaluation within it as Indigenous, negatively racialized people” (147). I believe these ideas relate to your activism for Mexican indigenous rights. Just as in the U.S., indigenous cultures in Mexico have been devalued in favor of Eurocentric notions of superiority and ownership, despite the fact that it was the indigenous populations who owned and inhabited the land of Mexico long before Cortes and the Spanish arrived in Mexico and annihilated and subjugated mass numbers of native people. Despite their ancestral claim to the land, it is indigenous peoples today in Mexico who are pushed around, looked down upon, and controlled by Mexican elite and U.S. imperial powers. Therefore, your activism in promoting Mexican indigenous rights has challenged this idea of indigenous peoples being racially inferior, helping to restore their sense of place and belonging after centuries of being told by colonial powers that they do not belong anywhere. 

In her book, Perez also describes the similar concept of “politics of place.” She explains it as “the idea of place as an effect of social and political power and as a site of struggle […] and of social space as a reflection of racialized social, political, and economic orders, which is particularly appropriate for thinking about Indigenous, Mexican American, Chicana/o […] experiences ” (148). In this sense, Mexico has been an ongoing, violent place of struggle, with a history of bloody conquest and revolution, and a place that continues to oppress its own people. I believe that despite the fact that your activism has been concentrated in Mexico, your work is empowering for all people who have been marginalized in some way by government or society. Therefore, although the “politics of place” in Mexico are particular to its own history, a similar pattern of oppression has been repeated in different places at many times. Which is why I believe that the struggle for indigenous rights that you are a part of is of utmost important because it is not just challenging Mexican and U.S. elitist notions, but it speaks out against the long histories of indigenous oppression everywhere, dating back to age of discovery and conquests, that despite the advancement of time, remains as real and significant today as it was then.

Another author that I have learned about that I relate to your activism as well is Gloria Anzaldua. In her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, I feel you can relate to two concepts in her work: cultural tyranny and intimate terrorism. For the first concept, Anzaldua describes culture as an imposing force that dominates mainstream ways of thinking. She explains that “culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts, that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted through us through the culture” (16). When I thought about this, I related it to the anti-indigenous attitude, or culture, in Mexico, which you are well aware of and challenge in your activist work. What I have learned and seen firsthand about this anti-indigenous attitude in Mexico is reflected in a variety of forms, such as the way in which dark-skinned Mexicans are looked down upon and Mexicans with lighter complexions are considered more attractive. Another example is the way in which Mexicans who continue to practice indigenous lifestyles are seen as primitive or slow to modernize, and on the other hand, U.S. and European imports and influences are seen as fashionable and refined. This anti-indigenous culture, initially believed and promoted by the Spanish conquerors to control the natives, persists as popular belief in Mexico today. Inclusively, anti-indigenous attitudes continue to survive  in all of Latin America in general. Therefore, as Anzaldua explains, hegemonic culture is interpreted as knowledge by those who live under it and by it, and knowledge, by its very nature to be believed factual, makes it difficult for it to be revised or questioned. Your activism on the other hand, goes against this form of cultural tyranny by challenging the  notion that indigenous peoples are inferior and therefore deserve to be marginalized, a belief that has horrendously lied to those that say it and those that hear it.

In speaking about culture, Anzaldua also classifies it as patriarchal. She says that
“culture is made by those in power-men. Males make the rules and laws, women transmit them” (16). On the other hand, your activism has advocated for women’s rights, challenging this idea of male superiority. Rather than abiding by male-centered norms and laws, as part of your activist work, you helped write your party’s “Revolutionary Law on Women,” which promotes women’s rights and female autonomy. I also feel that besides your activism, just you as a leadership figure in a revolutionary party is empowering because it challenges the idea that women, or specifically “good” women, can only aspire to be mothers and wives. Your example, on the other hand, shows that women can be proactive rather then submissive, opinionated instead of quiet, and lead rather than follow. Anzaldua notes about Mexican-influenced culture that “Women are made to feel total failures if they don’t marry and have children” (17), and yet you have gone against those gendered roles to prove  that an empowered woman is not limited to being a wife and mother, but anything she chooses, even something as seemingly radical as a revolutionary.


Rachel Sherman