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Palabra del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional


Votán III. IAQ Section (Infrequently Asked Questions).

Votán III.

IAQ Section (Infrequently Asked Questions).

What you always wanted to know (or be warned) about the Zapatistas, their renowned Little School, and the potential consequences of attending.

July 2013.

So, it seems it is becoming more or less clear what the hell the Zapatistas are thinking when we talk about the little school.

But it is as expected that you would now have more questions than answers. Perhaps you are no longer worried about your footwear, but now you have other questions. It occurs to you that perhaps it is true what they say about Zapatismo being a 21st century rebellion, that they are skilled in all things cybernetic (they even have a graffiti artist for virtual walls). So you go to the nearest internet café, turn on the computer, and search “Zapatista little school, doubts, common questions, FAQ, etc.”

The screen makes, as they say, an “elegant cybernetic maneuver” to elude the National Security Agency, and enters the ultra secret server of those transgressors of the law: the ZPS (the English acronym for Zapatista Pozol Server). After a resounding “Fuck You XKeyscore,” appears on the screen, you are asked to enter a password. You try “MARICHIWEU” and the screen displays “No.” You try “NOSOTR@S” and the screen says “Nope.” You try “DURITO” and the screen says “Ah hell no.” Annoyed by these obstacles, you leave an insulting message directed at the North American government and, after you sign your name, the screen opens as if it were a door – in 3D, with dolby surround sound and all that, and a sign appears that says “Zapatista Little School, IAQs – Infrequently Asked Questions. You may add yours at the end,” followed by a long list of questions and answers, such as the following:

Find the concern that most closely matches yours, link to its question and see the corresponding response:

– I haven’t gone to college/ I am not an artist/ I am not a well known person/ I don’t represent anyone/ I’m not a director or a leader of anything/ I am very young/ I am very old/ I have never been to school/ I am new to learning about the Zapatistas and I have never been in a community/ I wasn’t born yet or I was very young when you emerged in the public spotlight /I didn’t know anything about this until the day of the end of the world/ I just learned of you a few weeks ago and asked you to invite me/ I don’t know why you invited me, I don’t even like the Zapatistas, well okay I like the Zapatistas but Marcos is a clown who is taking advantage of those poor little Indians and I-will-tell-them-not-to-be-fooled-and-rescue-or-redeem-them-myself/whatever etcetera is in style/  ___________(your particular case)-


Will I be treated the same as someone who knows the Zapatista anthem by heart, who has attended all the activities of/by/about Zapatismo, who has an EZLN t-shirt, who can recite perfectly that refrain of “it is an honor to be…” – ah no, that is from another channel-, who has fancy boots and mountain climbing equipment, who has been to community many times and has supported the indigenous people soooo much, I mean really so, soooooo much? Does this stuff matter in the Little School? Is it an impediment to being able to attend or to asking for an invitation?

Responses (in order of questions asked):

Yes. No. No.


Can I stay and live in a Zapatista community?



Argumentative Question:

But I have thought it through and I am very determined to stay, can I?

Reiterated Answer:


Emphatic insistence:

Please? Please? Please? Can I stay?

Equally emphatic Answer (in the order of questions asked):

No. No. No. No.


Can I give more than 100 pesos for the education materials as a demonstration of solidarity with the Zapatista indigenous communities?


Yes, but neither we nor others will know how much was given, nor by whom. At registration, you will see a bucket or a box (I don’t know what they will put out) and there you will deposit your 100 pesos or however much you would like to give. No one but you will know if you only gave 100 pesos, or more, or less, or if you put in a prepaid card, or a subway ticket, or an insult. After registration, the assigned compas will empty the bucket or box and to give its contents to a Zapatista Little School commission. So we also won’t know who gave or how much they gave. And this way no one can complain or demand special VIP treatment because “you don’t know who I am, nor all of the positions I have held and prizes I have received, nor how veeeerrrry much I have helped the communities/ and you are not going to humiliate me by putting me together with people who have never even been to community/ and besides, you have nothing to teach me and everything to thank me for/ and the only indigenous image that I can digest is that of those who bend on one knee to adore me; the image of rebellious indigenous people, that it to say, ungrateful indigenous people, gives me indigestion” (as has already been stated by one highly “illustrious” person from the artistic-cultural sphere).


Can I take gifts to the family that is going to host me?



Of course it is only natural that you will build a relationship of affinity with the people you stay with. But personal “gifts” distort the community balance and convert a political relationship into a personal one. In that case, you stop relating to a cause and start relating to a person, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but you are not coming to make friends, rather you are coming to learn. What you can do, is to leave whatever you wish to donate at CIDECI, either at registration or after the course, and the donations will go to the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Councils), who will distribute them EQUITABLY among all of the Zapatista communities. But remember that for us, that is, for the families who will receive you, what is important is the person, not what they have or what they give. And it should be the same for you also, what should matter is the Zapatista people as a whole, not the particular family or Votán with whom you relate most closely, because it is not a small group of people who are attending to you but rather the entire organized Zapatista people, synthesized for you in a family and a guardian.


Why isn’t it permissible for me to give something to the people who will open their home to me, feed me, take care of me, and teach me?


Look, there are Zapatista families who aren’t going to host anyone, but they have participated in any case in this effort and are helping out with food, materials, and transport. They participate as much as any family who is going to host guests. So would it make sense that there is not gift for these families because you can’t see them? Would it make sense that to these families you won’t give your contact information in case some day they are in your geography, or so that they can call you or write you? Does it make sense that for those children you didn’t meet there won’t be any sweets, clothes, toys, or presents?

For example, there are Zapatista villages under paramilitary threat. They couldn’t host Little School students since security there is precarious and we wouldn’t have been able to properly care for our guests. But these families prepared like everyone else, supporting those who were going to serve as host families, building, sweeping, washing, mopping, painting, cooking, gathering wood, helping to provide the food that you will be served. You don’t know these people and you won’t meet them in the Little School. If the paramilitary and police aggressions increase, they may be displaced. You may or may not find out about it (for example, check the number of web visitors to the last Good Government Council denunciation), but for you they will have neither a face nor a name.

They will be invisible, just like hundreds of thousands of Zapatistas. Will anyone take them into account even though they are invisible to you and everyone else?

Yes, us, their compañeros and compañeras. That’s why we try to distribute anything we receive from outside equitably. The most and the best of what we receive is given to those most in need.

There’s something else we should mention about donations. We know very well that out there, the dominant stereotype of indigenous people is as objects of pity and charity, and that you should give them those things that you don’t need anymore and are about to throw away. It’s like one enormous telethon syndrome. Its equivalent can be found in the political class in charity photoshopping (i.e., there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a “national campaign against hunger”… or a photocopier).

We Zapatistas call this “an aspirin to soothe the conscience.”

And in our long walk through the ups and downs of the struggle, we have seen many things. One of them is that in difficult moments, those who have the most give only what they don’t need; and those who have the least, give what they can’t spare. Someone who has money and goods donates the blankets that they don’t use, the clothes that don’t fit them, the shoes that went out of style, the change that they don’t really need. And those who have to struggle through every day to make a little bit of money in order to put something on the table other than a threadbare tablecloth, if even that, give the change that they needed to achieve their barest level of survival.

The indigenous Zapatista peoples do not deserve your pity. Despite the disdain expressed toward us for being out of fashion, and despite not being counted as part of the current “historic” movement of the conjuncture (whichever movement that may now be), we have risen up with dignity, just as we did 20 years ago, just as we did 50 years ago, just as we did 500 years ago. And we will keep doing so. Don’t insult us with your charity.

We have not asked you for anything else: all we have asked you for is the cost of the course material (one hundred pesos) and your willingness to learn. We will provide your lodging. We will provide your food. It won’t be a 7-star hotel nor will there be a grand buffet, but in every tortilla, dish of beans, vegetable, pallet, hammock, and rain poncho you can find the affection and respect of all of us for all of you, because you are our invited guest, our compañero, our compañera, our compañeroa.

You don’t and won’t owe us anything. The outcome of the Little School is not militancy, belonging, submission to command, nor fanaticism. What follows the Little School is something that you, and only you, can decide… and act upon. We didn’t invite you in order to recruit you, train you, un-train you, program you, or, like they say, “reset” you. We have opened a door and invited you to come in and see our house, to see what we have constructed with the help of people all over the world who gave us not their leftovers but the eyes and ears of compañeros, to whom it never would have occurred to expect our eternal gratitude, who would never have expected us to pay homage to them as homage is paid to those who have things and give orders.

You are who you are, and only you can decide whether to keep being that or something else.

Now, to round out this fragment of the Infrequently Asked Questions Section:

You aren’t a celebrity? You haven’t studied extensively? You have never been in a Zapatista community? You weren’t even born when the EZLN came out publicly? You didn’t know about any of this until the day of the end of the world, or even after that?

Don’t worry or even think about that. Here we don’t look at academic resumes, nor one’s history in life or in the struggle; we only look at the heart. There will be people who come to the little school who have multiple doctorates and other people who have never even been to nursery school; there will people over 90 years old and others who haven’t yet lived a year. We will receive everyone (todos, todas, todoas)[i] with the same affection of compañeros, and we will attend to everyone with the very best that we have, we will teach and show ourselves to all equally, and treat all of you with the same painstaking care.

So leave all of those qualms, traumas, and resentments for the television series of your choice.

Instead think about, for example, what you can tell your family and friends later, or put on your blog or your profile, something like this:

“I remember when Pablo (González Casanova), Luis (Villoro), Adolfo (Gilly), Immanuel (Wallerstein), Paulina (Fernández Christlieb), Oscar (Chávez), and this one guys we called “el Mastuerzo”[ii] because that’s what he was, and another we called “el Rocco,”[iii] I don’t know why, and a few other buddies that went by the odd names of Comando Cucaracha, SKA-P, and Louis Ling and the Bombs, and other compas that I don’t remember anymore, but we all studied together at the Little School and hung out during recess and got in trouble for not doing our homework. And one day we found Toño (Ramírez Chávez) and Domi (the only Domi there is) painting graffiti on a wall that faces out, toward our worlds, and so all of us together grabbed whatever was at hand and started painting. But just then the concierge came and we all ran. The concierge stood there looking at the wall, then left and came back with a bucket of paint and a brush. We thought he was going to paint over what we had made, which had lots of figures and colors. But he didn’t. You aren’t going to believe me, but the concierge took the brush and started painting on the wall. But it was a very different kind of painting, because he only drew a crack in the wall… and then he left. But the strangest thing was while we were at the school, the painted crack on the wall became real, and then each day got bigger and deeper. The last day of classes we all got together in front of the wall, watching and waiting to see if the crack would break the wall. We were there watching when a Zapatista compa in a bright multi-colored ski mask came by and said, ‘the school is over, what are you still doing here? Go back to your lands!’ And we all left. I’m telling you the story so you can see that I have in fact been to school. What’s that? What’s this aerosol paint can for? Nothing, I was just looking at that wall there in front of us, The One Who Rules lives on the other side. But that wall is so big, so well-maintained, so solid, so powerful, so intimidating, so indestructible, so gray. And I was thinking, ‘That wall is missing something… a crack.’”


Vale. Cheers and you don’t need to buy paint and a brush, you will already bring those in your heart. Just search them out. What you decide to do with them is part of your freedom.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.

El SupMarcos.

Concierge, night watchman, and street sweeper for the Zapatista Little School (don’t leave a mess behind!)

Mexico, July of 2013.


Watch and listen to the videos that accompany this text:

Fragment of a wonderful parody of the telethon and other charity festivals/fund drives. The entire cast of  [the show] 31 Minutes campaigning for funds to rescue the arch-multimillionaire Señor Manguera, owner of the television station. I recommend watching the entire program, I didn’t put the whole thing here because it’s really long. 


Women of Seville, Jeréz, and Andalucia, show their indignation with humor, talent, and sagacity. Dedicated to those who don’t scare easily.


Eduardo Galeano tells the story of how the world is, that is, those who are in the world, and warns us that… well, listen.


Oscar Chávez (one of those who has best known how to see us, that is, understand us) with “Los Paliacates,” accompanied by Los Morales.


[i] The EZLN often uses the suffix –oa (compañeroa, todoas) to provide a noun form that is not strictly feminine or masculine.

[ii] Best known as member and drummer of the Mexican rock band Botellita de Jeréz.

[iii] Lead singer of Mexican rock band Maldita Vecindad.


2 Comentarios »

  1. suerte ,espero algun dia estar y vivir esa experiencia ,saludos y suerte…..

    Comentario de jorge betanzos moreno — agosto 4, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

  2. Me encantaría poder vivir una experiencia cercana a lo que ustedes han logrado; en un proceso seguramente difícil pero que observo que con grandes resultados. Es un verdadero gusto ver que la fuerza de ustedes recae en cuestiones que no se consiguen con dinero, sino que son cuestiones de otras dimensiones totalmente opuestas: el fortalecimiento de identidades(aprender a descubrirse, aceptarse y amarse), el valor por la educación verdadera y la organización. Seguro yo no les puedo dar nada y yo si obtener mucho aprendizaje desde donde estoy pero al menos sepan que desde mi punto cardinal les mando todo el corazón a su causa que también es nuestra..éxito en al escuelita!

    Comentario de Erika Clairgue — agosto 5, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

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