Delayed by our on-road adventures, we came short of our target of San Cristobal so spent the night in the somewhat modern capital of Chiapas, Tuxla Gutierrez, where we indulged in our first big meat meal in a Mexican steak house (and John was happy with the portions!).
The Importance of March 8
Arriving in San Cristobal on Sunday morning, we set out for El Centro where we found several pedestrian streets filled with a mixture of Indigenous people selling crafts, mestizo families out strolling, and domestic and international tourists.
The main plaza was the site of International Women’s Day celebrations, where placards and speakers denounced state and domestic violence (and alcoholism) and proclaimed their commitment to fight for land, territory, food sovereignty, and women’s participation in decision-making. A march of women – Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from all over Chiapas as well as international – descended on the square from UniTierra (another University of the Land) located on the forested hillside outside of the town. This was the culmination of a three-day meeting of sharing stories and strategies, related to the Zapatista autonomy movement. It was moving to see the diversity of women connecting their local issues to global processes.
On March 8, we also remembered Elizabeth Harris, on the fourth anniversary of her death.
After the International Women’s Day rally, we visited churches and a museum of local history, featuring a beautifully curated collection of huipiles (woven blouses) of diverse Indigenous communities in Chiapas and Guatemala, each with its unique design. These huipiles have become symbols of resistance and cultural reclamation for many women in this region.
An Alternative University of the Land
Later we made our way out to the campus of UniTierra, where the women had been meeting, as it was also the site of a week-long workshop Deborah helped organize with Mexican muralist Checo Valdez ten years ago for the VIVA project, bringing together popular educators and community artists from five countries. With only a vague memory of its location, we wandered about in the nearby countryside for an hour, enjoying the adventure, but almost giving up before going just a little further down the road to find the well-hidden campus in the woods. We were given a tour by one of the Indigenous students, Miguel, and noted many new buildings, student-run farm and bakery, and art everywhere. We visited briefly with Raymundo Sánchez Barraza, the director, who reported that Checo continues training local Indigenous artists in mural production, and invited Deborah to two more women’s events in the next week (when we’d be in Guatemala).
Back in town, we visited “Tierra Adentro”, a restaurant/ gallery/bookstore where Deborah collected yet more books as background for the film on food sovereignty and Indigenous women’s struggles.
The ride the next morning through rural Chiapas was impressive for its well-organized milpas (cornfields) on the hillsides and scenes of children going to school.