La Historia y Antecedentes de Chiapas, Mexico

About 14 days ago, I embarked on a journey with just my small Northface backpack and my camera, not really knowing what lie ahead of me. Ok, I read some blogs and travel guides and I did know a good deal about the area I was heading to, but what I did not know was anything about the learning experiences I was going to have and the crazy adventures I was going to go on while in the jungle of Mexico on the border of Guatemala. Also, side note: I had the least amount of luggage and the smallest bag out of everyone; however, that does not mean that I want to always travel like this, it just means that I can. (Do not get any ideas Mom). Keep in mind all of you as you read this that my New Year’s resolution was to do things this year that maybe I wouldn’t normally do; you know, step out of my comfort zone. I think if I stayed in my comfort zone I would have been laying on a beach in the Yucatan Peninsula. Also for Dad, Grandma Betsy, and Mimi, keep in mind as you read a lot of what I am going to tell you, I am here, back in Cholula, untouched, unharmed, and in great condition. Much of what I am going to talk about, I waited to write about because I wanted to see it first hand, see if I felt scared at all (not hardly for even a second) and experience this area of Mexico before I alarmed all of you. Also remember that I was traveling for the most part in a group of eight students all of which can speak and understand some Spanish, and two that speak and understand very well. Before I get into my trip I am going to give you all some historia y antecedentes (history and background) of the Chiapas area.  Chiapas is the southernmost state and according to most Mexicans it is also the poorest state in Mexico with the second largest indigenous population. Of the 4.2 million people in Chiapas, about 1.25 million are indigenous. Many of the indigenous communities of Chiapas rely on subsistence farming and live without running water and electricity. It is definitely a great place for stargazing if there is not a full moon overpowering everything. Most of the indigenous communities in Chiapas are of Mayan decent and typically wear traditional handmade clothing. I unfortunately do not have many pictures of any Mayans because in most of the small villages they will not allow you to take any pictures of them because they believe that the pictures will steal their souls. However, I do have a picture of my friend Libby in a traditional Mayan outfit she bought in the market for a Halloween costume so as soon as I can get that picture off my small camera I will post it. For women, the clothing generally consisted off a colorful short-sleeve silk blouse with embroidery, a long, heavy black skirt made from yak fur, I think, or something similar, and a Mayan wrap belt. I have one of the belts so I can show you all first hand. Obviously, during the holidays the clothing became much more elaborate. We were in Chiapas for Semana Santa (holy week, also vacation week for all of Mexico) and Pascua (Easter). It was really cool to see the Semana Santa traditions and festivals first hand after doing so many presentations on them in high school. The men we came across in some of the indigenous towns around San Cristobal dressed fairly normal, some wore the hand-woven tunics; however, the men in the Lancadón Jungle wore long white polyester dress tunics that fell to almost the floor with long, longer than the hippy days, black hair.  The interesting thing about the Lancandóns is that until the 1950s they lived deep in the jungle and hardly had any contact with the outside world. There are approximately 800 left in three main settlements in this region and they now rely on low-key tourism as their means of living. We actually stayed in a camp in one these indigenous villages and it was probably the two best nights of the trip, in terms of everyone being happy, but I will get more into that later. All of the people we met during our stay in Lacanjá Chansayab were unbelievable nice, friendly, accommodating, and helpful and they certainly live a completely different lifestyle than we are used to seeing. Daylight Saving took place one of the nights that we were camping in this village and it threw us all off because they do not acknowledge the time change or really know too much about it at all, so for about three days we did not know what time it was or who actually changed their clocks, or what the bus schedules were, but no worries it all turned out alright.  To prepare myself for this journey and too make sure I had all the information I needed, I read up on some of the history and issues that are related to the Chiapas area. From these readings and from visiting that area I learned that the indigenous groups are treated as second-class citizens and the government does very little to help them out. It was interesting because as we were driving around I started noticing all of these official government signs as we came into each village that listed the population, some other information about the town, and then they all had a sum of money posted underneath. I am still unclear on exactly what that sum of money was for, but our guess is that the government is trying to show how much money they are putting in to each area of Chiapas to pacify the people and that is what these signs are for. If this is wrong and someone knows what they really are I would love to know, but that is just our guess. Of everything I have read and learned, the most interesting thing to study has to do with the Zapatista Army. Because of this group, Chiapas has generally for a long time been considered an unsafe place to visit (especially thanks to American news). Since 1994 this armed revolutionary group has been in a declared war against the Mexican state.  On January 1, 1994, on the day of NAFTA’s initiation, there was a Zapatista uprising that took place in Chiapas. Zapatistas are better known here as the EZLN or the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. They can be identified by the red star placed on a black background. They are made up of about 3000 insurgents and militia and tens of thousands of civilian supporters. While traveling around Chiapas you will definitely go in and out of their territory and see their signs, and at times have to pay a few pesos toward their cause so be prepared for that if you are headed down there. They take their name from Emilio Zapata, a commander of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and are fighting for libertarian socialism, libertarian municipalism, libertarian Marxism, and indigenous Mayan political thought. They side with those that are a part of the anti-globalization social movement and want indigenous control over the local resources. At first they wanted their uprising to start a revolution in all of Mexico, but because this did not happen they decided to focus on the problems in Chiapas, the gap between the rich and the poor, and more support for the indigenous populations. Although you can find some negative information about them and the dangers surrounding them, we found them to be very passive, they kept to themselves, and really we did not have any problems with them. Of course it is important when you are traveling to know a little bit about what is going on with them and just be aware that you will come across them, but as long as you don’t get in their way or voice your opinion against their cause, you will make it out alright. Really going down there we wanted to sell Tony to the Zapatistas, we all had dreams that a few years from now he would led them to their next uprising and then we could all take credit, but they wouldn’t take him.  I will hopefully get the beginning of the journey up by the end of the week, so keep an eye out for it.


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