When the Dead Silently Speak Out
(A text which reflects on those who are absent and on biographies, narrates Durito’s first encounter with the Cat-Dog, and talks about other things that may or may not be relevant, as the impertinent postscript dictates).
Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.
Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual,
we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water,
and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.
Me thinks my body is but the lees of my better being.
In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.
Herman Melville “Moby Dick.”
For a while now I have maintained that most biographies are merely a collection of documented, well-written (well, sometimes) lies. The typical biography is based on a pre-existing belief and the margin of tolerance for anything that strays from that conviction is very narrow, if not inexistent. The author, starting from that previously held belief, begins the search through the jigsaw puzzle of a life unfamiliar to him or her (which is why the bibliography interests them to begin with), and goes about collecting the false or ill-fitting pieces that allow him or her to document their own belief, not the life they are talking about.
The truth is that we can barely be certain of the date and place of a person’s birth, and in some cases, the date and place of death. Other than that, the majority of biographies should be categorized under “historical novels” or “science fiction.”
So what is left of a life? A little or a lot, we say.
A little or a lot, depending on your memory.
That is, depending on the fragments that life left on the collective memory.
And if that aspect doesn’t matter to biographers and editors, it won’t be important for everyone else. What tends to happen is that what really matters doesn’t appear in the media and can’t be measured in polls.
Ergo, all we have of someone who has passed are the arbitrary pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle made from the shreds and tendencies that we call “life.”
So with that confusing beginning, allow me to pick up some of those loose pieces in order to embrace and envelop ourselves in that step that today we so need and lack…
There is a concert in the Mexican silence. Don Juan Chávez Alonso, Zapatista and Mexican, gestures as if shooing away a bothersome insect. It is his response to my apology for one of my clumsy outbursts. We are in Cucapá territory, a sandy land. The coordinates for this geography and calendar show the Sixth in 2006 in the Northeast of Mexico. In the big camping tent that serves as lodging, Don Juan takes his guitar and asks if we want to hear something he composed. After tuning the guitar he begins a concert that, without words, narrates the Zapatista uprising from January 1,1994 through the presence of Comandanta Ramona in the formation of the National Indigenous Congress.
Then a silence, as if it were another note.
A silence in which our dead were quiet out loud.
Also in the Mexican Northeast, Power, in its bloody mania, paints absurdly and with impunity on the calendar of those below. June 5, 2009. Governmental despotism and greed have set fire to a children’s daycare. The victims, 49 little girls and boys, are merely collateral damage once the compromising documents have been destroyed. The absurdity of parents burying their children is followed by a weak and corrupt justice: those responsible not only are not arrested, but are given jobs in the cabinet of the criminal who will try to hide the bloodbath which he wrought on the entire country under the blue of National Action Party.
Where biographers stop their notes “because a few years of life aren’t profitable,” history below opens its notebook of other absurdities: with their unjust absence, these small children have given birth to other men and women. Their fathers and mothers have ever since held up the demand for the greatest possible justice: that such injustice is not repeated.
“The problem with life is that in the end it kills you,” Durito said once. Chapis always enjoyed his fantasy stories of knighthood, although she would have asked, with that impertinent mix of naïveté and sincerity disconcerting to those who didn’t know her, “and why is that a problem?” Don Durito of the Lacandón, beetle by origin and errant knight by profession, would have avoided arguing with her, given that in the supposed code of conduct of an errant knight, one should not contradict a lady. (This is especially true if the lady in question has influence “high up,” Durito adds, knowing that Chapis was religious, a nun, and sister, or whatever name you give to those women who make their faith their life and profession.
Chapis did not know us. That is, not as those who look at us from the outside and write and talk about us… or talk trash about us (fashions are fleeting you know). Chapis was with us. And she was with us some time before an impertinent beetle would appear in person in the mountains of the southeast of Mexico to declare himself an errant knight.
And perhaps because she was among us, all of this about life and death didn’t seem to worry her much. It was that attitude, so neozapatista, in which one invests everything and it’s not death that concerns or occupies us, but life.
But Chapis was not just with us. It is clear that we were one part of her path. And if now I tell you something about her it’s not to provide notes for her biography, but to tell you how we feel here. Because the history of this believer—her history with us—is one that makes even the fanatic atheists doubt themselves.
“Religion is the opiate of the masses”? I don’t know. What I do know is that she gave the most brilliant explanation that I have heard of the destruction and the depopulation that neoliberal globalization causes in a given territory, not a Marxist-Leninist-atheist-and-a-few-more-ists theorist, but… a member of the Christian, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman parish, adherent to the Sixth, and exiled by the high clergy (“for thinking a lot,” she told me as if asking forgiveness) to one of the geographic deserts of the Mexican plateau.
I believe (maybe I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time and, to be sure, it won’t be the last), that many people, if not all people, who approached what is known as neozapatismo, did so searching for answers to questions formed in their own personal histories, according to their calendar and geography. And they stayed just long enough to find the answer. When they realized that the answer was the most problematic monosyllable in history, they turned in another direction and began to walk there instead. It doesn’t matter how much they tell others and themselves that they are still here: they left. Some people more quickly than others. And the majority of them do not look at us, or they do it with the same distance and intellectual disdain as those who brandished calendars before the dawn of January, 1994.
I think I’ve said it before, in some other missive, I’m not sure. But anyway I’ll say, or repeat here, that this dangerous monosyllable is “you.” Like that, in lowercase letters, because that answer was and is intimate to everyone. And each one takes it with their own respective terror.
Because the struggle is collective, but the decision to struggle is individual, personal, intimate, as is the decision to go on or to give up.
Am I saying that the ones who stayed (and I’m not referring to the geography but to the heart) did not encounter that response? No. What I am trying to say is that Chapis did not come looking for an answer to her personal question. She already knew the answer and had made of that “you” her path and goal: her self as a believer accountable to her own beliefs.
Many others, many like her, but different, had already answered, in other calendars and geographies. Atheists and believers. Men, women, and Others of all calendars. It is those men, women, and others who always, alive or dead, place themselves before Power, not as victims, but to challenge it with the multiple flag of below and to the left. They are our compañeras, compañeros y compañeroas… although in the majority of cases neither they nor we know it… yet.
Because rebellion, friends and enemies, does not belong exclusively to the neozapatistas. It belongs to humanity. And that is something that must be celebrated. Everywhere, everyday and all the time. Because rebellion is also a celebration.
The bridges that have been built from all corners of the planet Earth to these lands and skies are neither few nor weak. Sometimes with gazes, sometimes with words, always with our struggle, we have crossed them to embrace that other who resists and struggles.
Maybe that’s what it means, not anything else, to be “compañeros”: to cross bridges. Just like in this embrace-made-word that we send to the sisters of Chapis who, like us, miss her and, like us, need her.
Impunity, dear Matías, is something that only Justice can grant; it is the system of Justice exercising injustice”
Tomás Segovia, in “Cartas Cabales”
I have already said that, in my humble opinion, each person is the hero or heroine of his or her own individual story. And in the soothing complacency of narration, “this is my personal story,” actions and mistakes are revised, the most incredible fantasies are invented, and narrating anecdotes resembles a bit too much the accounting practices of the miser who steals what is not his.
The ancestral desire to transcend one’s own death finds a substitute for the elixir of eternal youth in biographies. Of course, this substitute may also be found in one’s descendants, but the biography is in a certain sense, “more perfect.” It is not just someone who resembles you, rather it is the “I” extended in time thanks to the “magic” of the biography.
The biographer from above uses the documents of the time, perhaps testimonials by family, friends, or compañer@s, of the person whose death is being appropriated. These “documents” have the same accuracy as meteorological forecasts and the testimonials obviate the delicate separation between the “I think that…” and the “I know that…” And so the “veracity” of the biography is measured by the number of footnotes on each page, as these footnotes have the same value for the biography as do the expense sheets of money spent on governmental “image”—the longer they are, the truer they are.
Today, with the internet, twitter, facebook, and their equivalents, biographical myths and fallacies circulate and take shape, and voilà, these fallacies reconstruct the story of a life, or fragments of it, so that soon the biography has nothing to do with what actually took place. But that doesn’t matter, because the biography is published, printed, circulated, it is read, cited, and recited….just like the lie.
Check the modern sources of documentation for future biographies. That is, check Wikipedia, blogs, facebook and the relevant “profiles.” Now compare these sources with reality:
Doesn’t it give you chills to realize that, maybe, in the future:
Carlos Salinas de Gortari will be considered “the visionary who understood that selling a nation was more than a family business (taking family to mean blood and politics of course), it was an act of modern patriotism,” and not as the leader of a band of traitors (don’t act the fool, we all know that a number of those that supported the reforms made to Article 27 of the constitution—that watershed moment in the destruction of the Mexican National State—are today members of the “mature and responsible” opposition);
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León won’t be remembered as the “Statesmen” who dragged the entire nation from one crisis to an even more severe crisis (in addition to being one of the intellectual authors, with Emilio Chuayffet and Mario Renán Castillo, of the Acteal massacre), but rather as the one who took “the reigns of the country,” with a singular sense of humor…and ended up being what he had always been: a second-rate employee in a multinational corporation.
Vicente Fox will be the proof that the posts of President of a Republic and President of a soft-drink subsidiary are interchangeable…and that useless people can occupy both posts.
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa will be known as a “courageous President” (with others doing the dying) and not as a psychopath who stole a weapon (the Presidency) for his wargames…and who ended up being what he always had been: a second-rate employee in a multinational corporation.
Enrique Peña Nieto will be thought of as a cultured and intelligent President (“ok, he is ignorant and foolish, but crafty”; this is the new profile that they are developing in the corridors of political analysis), and not as a functional illiterate (either way, as the popular saying goes: “that which nature doesn’t give, Monex can’t buy”)…?
Ah, the biographies. Often they are autobiographies, even if it’s their descendants (or their buddies) who promote them and, in doing so, are able to adorn their own genealogical tree.
The criminals of the Mexican political class who have misgoverned these lands will, according to those who suffered their abuses, always be mere unpunished criminals. It doesn’t matter how many lines they buy in the press; or how much they spend on spectacular events that will fill the streets, the written press, the radio, and the television. From the Díaz (Porfirio and Gustavo) to the Calderóns and Peñas, from the Castellanos and Sabines to the Albores and Velascos, the general rule is that of exposing the ridiculous frivolity of the “juniors” (but only on social networks since the paid press still considers them “mature and responsible people”).
But the world turns and in the continuous rise and fall of the politicians up above, one can pass quickly from a picture on the cover of “Hola,” to one that says, “WANTED: DANGEROUS CRIMINAL,” from the revelry of the December of NAFTA, to the hangover of the Zapatista uprising; from “man of the year” to the “hunger strike,” undertaken with a “chic” brand of bottled water (what can I say, even in protests there are social classes), from applause for bad jokes to the upcoming murder of a supposed family member; from nepotism and corruption dressed in witty remarks to an investigation for links to drug trafficking, from extra large military uniforms to fearful and bloody exile, from the binge of the December of the sell out to…
With all of this and what follows, am I saying not to read/write biographies? No, but what makes the old wheel of history move are collectives and not individuals. Historiography thrives on individualities but history learns from a people.
Am I saying that we don’t have to write/study history? No, but what I am saying is that it is best done in the only way that it can be done, that is to say, organized with others.
Because, friends and enemies, when rebellion is individual it is pretty. But when it is collective and organized it is terrible and marvelous. The former is the material of biographies, the latter is what makes history.
It is not with words that we embrace our Zapatista compañeros and compañeras, atheists and believers.
To those who carried a backpack and history on their backs in the night.
To those who took lightening and thunder in their hands.
To those who put on their boots without having a future.
To those who covered their face and their name.
To those who died without expecting anything in return.
So that others, everyone, in a morning that is yet to come, would be able to see the day as we must,
that is to say, head-on, on our feet, and with the gaze and the heart upright.
For them, there are neither biographies nor museums,
For them our memory and rebellion,
For them, our cry:
liberty! Liberty! LIBERTY!
Vale. Be well and may our steps be as great as our dead.
PS. WITH OBVIOUS INSTRUCTIONS: Now it would be nice to read, in reverse order, Rewind 1 through 3, and maybe in doing so you will find the cat-dog and resolve some of your doubts. And yes, you can be sure that more questions will arise.
P.S. WHICH RESPONDS TO, AND DEMANDS FROM, THE FOR-PROFIT MEDIA. Ah! What a moving effort by those counter-revolutionaries in the for-profit media who try to build arguments for the few counter-revolutionary readers/listeners/viewers that they have left. But, as I’m feeling generous for the holidays here are a few tips that you might use as material for your stories:
– If the conditions of the Zapatista indigenous communities are the same as they were 20 years ago and there haven’t been any advances in their quality of life, why would the EZLN “open” itself through our Little School in which people from below can see and know for themselves, WITHOUT INTERMEDIARIES, what exists here, just as we did with the press in 1994?
And now that we’re asking questions, why during that same twenty years was there an exponential decrease in the number of readers/listeners/ viewers of the paid media? Pst, pst, you might want to respond that you don’t have fewer readers/listeners/ viewers – cause that might reduce your advertising and the bribes, what you can say is that now readers/listeners/viewers are simply more “selective.”
.-You ask, “What has the EZLN done for the indigenous communities?” We respond with the direct testimony of tens of thousands of our compañeros and compañeras.
And now you, the owners, shareholders, directors, and bosses should respond to this:
What have you done, in these past 20 years, for those who work in the media, one of the sectors hardest hit by the crime enacted and encouraged by the regime that you so adore? What have you done for the journalists that have been threatened, kidnapped, and assassinated? And for their families? What have you done to improve the life of your workers? Have you increased their salary so that they could have a dignified life and don’t have to sell their word or their silence in the face of what is actually taking place? Have you created the conditions for them to have a dignified retirement after years of working for you? Have you given them job security? That is to say, so that the job of a reporter no longer has to depend on the mood of their editors or on the “favors,” sexual and otherwise, that are demanded of them regardless of gender?
What have you done so that a job in the media is something to be proud of and which does not result in the loss of freedom or of life when done honestly.
Can you say that your work is more respected by governments and governors than it was 20 years ago?
What have you done against imposed or tolerated censorship? Can you say that your readers/listeners/television viewers are better informed than they were 20 years ago? Can you say that you survive thanks to your readers/listeners/viewers and not from advertising, the majority of which is government sponsored?
You should provide your answers to your workers and your readers/listeners/viewers, just as we are accountable to our compañeros and compañeras.
Oh, come on, don’t be so glum. We’re not the only ones that have escaped your role as judge and executioner, begging your forgiveness and always receiving your condemnation. There is also, for example, reality.
Vale, for the 9th time. Or even better, for the 69th time.
El Sup saying that a thumbs-down is better than a raised middle finger above.
It is Zapatista territory, it is Chiapas, it is Mexico, it is Latin America, it is Earth. And it is December 2013; it is cold, as it was 20 years ago, and, just like then, today a flag covers us, the flag of rebellion.
Watch and Listen to the videos that accompany this text.
In one of the autonomous Zapatista schools, boys and girls dancing at a school party.
From and for León Gieco: “The landing.” Pay attention to the words, because if “there are those who resist and never complain/…./we don’t claim to see the change/only to have left something/on the road taken.”
Joan Manuel Serrat with his “It Would be Fantastic”, which could really be a program of struggle: “It would be fantastic/…/if the same ones didn’t always lose/and if the disinherited inherited./ It would be fantastic/ if the best won/ and if force didn’t make one right/…/If everything was as it should be/ and if no one ruled/…”
Hugh Laurie (who you might recognize as Doctor Gregory House), with a very special interpretation of the blues “Saint James Infirmary”. For those who die on their feet.