Going Back to School…. in Chiapas, Mexico!
Wow! Everybody knows that going back to school involves many new experiences. However, I think I took this to a whole new level by taking a course in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. I have only been to Mexico once before and that was many years ago for just one week. It was pretty is about all I remember. On that trip, I had virtually no contact with the local people, just the large group I was traveling with. This trip is a completely different experience. We are a small group, just five students, with a professor who has had a strong connection with Chiapas since 1994. So he knows everyone! We’ve been here for a week now, and we are exhausted. We have been all over town, day and night, visiting various organizations working for peace and justice.
Maybe Chiapas doesn’t ring a bell for you? It’s the state where a Zapatista uprising against the Mexican government took place in 1994 demanding human rights for the indigenous (native) peoples and justice for the poor. The many organizations we are visiting existed some years before that uprising because Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who served the Diocese of San Cristobal from 1960-2010, helped them get started. Just a few decades ago, indigenous people were not even allowed to enter the city of San Cristobal! The organizations are making progress but there is still a long ways to go. It is amazing to see all these groups working together to change the system or, in some cases, to create their own system to meet people’s needs.
What do I hope to learn from this experience in Chiapas? I’d like to know how to organize and empower the voiceless back in the Chicago area. On Sunday we visited Acteal, a small, very poor, indigenous community up in the mountains, 90 minutes drive from town. They don’t even speak Spanish but they were organized and fighting for their human rights for some years before they were attacked in 1997. The paramilitary killed 45 people, mostly women and children, while the police watched. In spite of, or maybe because of, this massacre, the people are still politically active, fighting for their rights. They also have a women’s collective that makes and sells beautiful embroidered clothing. I think that is a great idea. So many creative people in Chicago want to sell their own artwork or crafts but it might be more effective to work together and form a collective.
I think we have a lot to learn from the people of San Cristobal. We need to work together more to get things done! You’ve heard the saying, “Two heads are better than one?” Then what if you put ten heads together? Or twenty? I bet we could accomplish even more!
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