And all the rest

The second week of my journey in Chiapas was a little less hectic than the first. We didn’t have nearly as many interviews, and many of the towns we visited during our day trips didn’t allow photography.

One of our first destinations was Acteal: The site of the Acteal Massacre on December 22, 1997. On this day, 43 indigenous Mayan people (mainly women and children) were brutally attacked and murdered by 300 paramilitary (state-trained and state-funded pro-governing party civil defense). The group Las Abejas was holding a 3 day silent prayer and fast to protest the oppression and exploitation of indigenous people in Chiapas. While the Las Abejas activists professed support for the goals of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, they renounced their violent means. Many suspect this affiliation as the reason for the attack, and government involvement or complicity. Soldiers at a nearby military outpost didn’t intervene during the attack, which lasted for hours, and the following morning, soldiers were found washing the church walls to hide the blood stains. It was an emotional visit, especially after viewing the site of the graves.

Later in the week, we visited a Zapatista community. Most of the people wear ski masks to avoid identification, and every visitor must go through a screening and hand over identification before entering the village. Unfortunately, even though we scheduled a visit with the head committee, we never had our submitted questions answered. We wanted to know about women’s positions within the community and their interaction with the outside communities. They gave us short, structured answers and then abruptly finished the meeting. It was a bit of a let down, especially because of all the hype that surrounds the Zapatista revolution and their autonomous towns.

Of all the women-focused development programs we visited throughout the 2 week, the most comprehensive was an organization call Cedach. They are based in San Crostobol de las Casas and are a feminist socio-political and literacy group. They focus on empowerment through literacy training with female domestic workers in Chiapas. We spent an afternoon with them and experienced one of their typical sessions. We participated in drawing, reciting and conversation after we conducted a series of interviews. Our day ended with a huge group meal with all the women and their wonderful children. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity to listen to these women who shared their personal stories and strengths with us.

Cameron arrived on our last day (the 15th) and joined us for our Farewell Fiesta. After most of the women in the PSU group left Chiapas, Cameron and I switched hotels and went to an amazing non-profit hotel called Na Balom. It was just a 20 minute walk from the first hotel, but felt as if we entered the middle of the forest. The building were built in the 1930’s by a Dutch Archaeologist and a Swedish Photographer couple (perfect for Cameron and me). These two donated all the buildings to the state of Chiapas, and all the profits go to the indigenous Lancandon people of the region. These people can even stay and eat at Na Balom for free anytime they are in San Cristobol.

This trip would not have been possible without being part of the PSU Capstone group. We had access to information and locations that are usually not accessable to tourists. I will post our video footage as soon as we finish the editing process.

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