Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, dear reader, also on behalf of… the zapatista freedom fighters in the Mexican State of Chiapas! You probably noticed – the nativity scene pictured above is not your typical, garden-variety nativity scene. Why, Baby Jesus is wearing a balaclava, as do the shepherds, who are all armed with guns! What in Baby Jesus’ name is going on here?

Well, this nativity scene is from Tierradentro, an EZLN (zapatista) owned coffee place / restaurant in downtown San Cristóbal de las Casas. It’s a weird place, favored by Europeans and Mexicans alike, where the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, and the music is usually some new-agey kind of twang. Its customers are, for the most part, alternative scene types with laptops who combine knitwear and vaguely tribal looking accessories with The North Face cargo pants and expensive hiking boots. In a word, anti-globalists.

And that’s where the zapatistas come in: the movement was originally started in 1994 in reaction to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened the Mexican market to cheap, mass-produced US corn, effectively pushing an already poor Chiapas into extreme poverty. The EZLN, or Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, initially pursued a revolution in all of Mexico, but in the end were only able to claim some territories in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which they still control. They have taken up the cause of the poor indigenous peoples of Chiapas, such as the Tzotzil and Tzeltal, direct descendants of the Mayan people.

And that’s where those anti-globalists come in. Mostly well-educated Europeans, who feel nostalgic for ancient cultures and who feel hostile toward the corporate cultures they belong to and after their vacation is over will return to.

But how ironic: the zapatista revolution is a revolution almost trademarked. The sheer variety of zapatista trinkets is overwhelming! There’s zapatista action figures, zapatista t-shirts, zapatista calendars, zapatista posters, zapatista books, even zapatista ashtrays, zapatista cigarette lighters, zapatista keychains and zapatista bottle openers.

No surprise then to find a zapatista nativity scene.

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