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Kasim Tirmizey
Date Published: 
September 01, 2006

Zapatista Stories is a collection of stories taken from writings by the Zapatista spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos. Since the armed uprising of the Zapatistas on January 1, 1994, Marcos has written communiqués that have been published in Mexican newspapers, as well as on the internet. In addition, various collections of his writings have since been published in books.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is made up of stories with the beetle Don Durito de la Lacandona who sees himself to be a knight errant, a Zapatista Don Quixote of sorts. These are complex yet humorous stories that reference history, politics, and literature. Marcos first comes across Durito busy studying “neoliberalism and its strategies of domination in Latin America.” When Marcos asks what use that knowledge is to a beetle, Durito responds by saying that he needs to know how long their struggle will take so as “to know how long we beetles will have to take care that you don't squash us with your boots.” In “Durito and Bertolt Brecht”, Durito helps Marcos with a paper he is presenting at a conference about Culture and Media. The beetle knight errant gives him a joint paper that he and Bertolt Brecht wrote. In it, he explains the ways that culture, via art, education, religion, and the media, is used by power to make the masses believe in the system that maintains injustice by describing how the sea world would look “if sharks were humans.” Durito then goes on to describe the struggle for another culture of the sea, one that is inclusive to all sea life forms.

The second part of the book is composed of stories with Old Antonio, Marcos's mentor. In these stories, Old Antonio smokes cigarettes and tells Marcos tales of the Mayan gods, who love to dance and walk while asking questions. Through these stories we can understand some of the philosophies of the Zapatistas. In “The Story of the Others”, Antonio explains that the greatest gods “did not all have the same thoughts, but each had his own thoughts and they respected and listened to one another. ... if it hadn't been, the world would never had been born.” Although they had their differences, the gods met in an assembly where each had an opportunity to speak and they reached an agreement. The first agreement was “to recognize the difference and to accept the existence of the other...none of them was greater or lesser than the others.” This story, like others in this collection, demonstrates the meaning of the famous Zapatista slogan, “Un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos” (A world where there is room for many worlds).

Alternative ways

The final section of this book includes stories about Zapatista children. “Toñita on International Women's Day” is a story about five-year old Toñita who returns to her home after it has been raided and destroyed by the Mexican Army. She looks around for her little teacup, and when she finds it broken “Toñita sits on the ground and, using a mixture of earth and spit, she begins to stick the teacup pieces back together. Toñita does not cry, but there is a hard icy glitter in her eye. Brutally, like indigenous women for the last five hundred years, Toñita ceases to be a child and becomes a woman.” In just a few words, Marcos describes the childhood lost by so many girls all over the world. The stories of Zapatista children and Old Antonio show us the importance of listening to two groups that are often marginalized in the societies of today: children and our elders.

This collection of stories can be read as is; however, it is more rewarding if the reader tries to contextualize the stories in the time and place when they were written. A short chronology of Zapatista history and helpful footnotes are provided just for that purpose, but it’s necessary to research from other sources as well for a more detailed history of the Zapatistas. In any case, this book allows the reader insight into the Zapatista’s world and their alternative ways of thinking and being. When many stories in this world reinforce ideas of exclusion, materialism, and the glorification of power, it is refreshing to read stories which give importance to diversity, solidarity, and those below.

Katabasis Press, 2001