I Am As I Am And You Are As You Are

Subcomandante Marcos is spokesperson and chief military strategist for Mexico’s Zapatista rebels. The following excerpt was first transcribed from a video message delivered by Marcos to a roundtable titled ‘From the Underground Culture to the Culture of Resistance,’ held at Alicia Multiforum in Mexico City on October 26, 1999.

We are fighters. We are fighters who are very ‘other,’ but fighters nonetheless. And we fighters know a few things. And among the few things that we know, we know about weapons.

So it is best that I talk to you about weapons. Specifically, I’m going to talk to you about the weapon of resistance.

Besides being fighters, we are indigenous Mexicans. We live in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, which is turning out to be the last corner of this country. We live like the majority of the indigenous in Mexico live. That is: very badly.

Our homes have dirt floors, our walls are of sticks or mud, and our roofs are of laminate, cardboard, or grass. One single room serves for kitchen, dining room, bedroom, living room, and henhouse. Our foods are maize, beans, chili, and the vegetables that grow in the garden. For medicine we have some little pharmacy, poorly stocked. Doctors? Only in our dreams. The school, if it is not being occupied by the government’s soldiers, is a hall where up to four different groups of students coexist. They are not very numerous, because our children start working when they’re very small.

Our lands are poor. They yield little in the way of harvest. We have only mud and rocks. The ranchers have the good lands. We raise livestock and coffee to make money, but we must sell them to the coyotes–middlemen–who sometimes pay us only one-tenth of the price of our products in the market. So our work, in addition to being hard, is badly paid. Even though we live in poverty like most of the indigenous population in the country, our lives are not the same. Our poverty is the same as the poverty of the others, but it is different, it is ‘other’ poverty. We are poor because that is what we have chosen. From the beginning of our uprising, they have offered us everything to get us to sell ourselves, to surrender.

If we had done so, if we had surrendered, if we had sold ourselves, we would now have good houses, good schools, hospitals, machinery for working the land, better prices for our products, good food.

But we chose not to sell ourselves, not to surrender. Because it so happens that we are indigenous, and we are also fighters. And fighters are fighters because they are fighting for something. And we, the Zapatistas, are fighting for good homes, good food, good health, a good price for our work, good lands, good education, respect for the culture, the right to information, liberty, independence, justice, democracy, and peace. Yes, we are fighting for all of that–for everyone, not just for ourselves.

If we had surrendered, if we had sold ourselves, we would no longer have been poor, but others would have continued to be so. So with singular joy we dedicated ourselves to resisting, to saying no, to transforming our poverty into a weapon–the weapon of resistance.

Through almost six years of war we have spoken about the power of this weapon; with it we have resisted more than 60,000 soldiers, war tanks, bomber aircraft, artillery, helicopters, cannons, machine guns, bullets, and grenades. With it we have resisted the lie.

If you would like me to sum it up, I would tell you that in the same way that we made ourselves soldiers so that one day soldiers would no longer be necessary, we also remain poor so that one day there will be no poverty. It is for this that we use the weapon of resistance.

Obviously, it is not the only weapon we have. We also have the weapon of our culture, of our being what we are. We have the weapon of music, the weapon of dance. We have the weapon of the mountain, that old friend and compañera who fights along with us, with her roads, hiding places, and hillsides, with her trees, her rains, her suns, her dawns, her moons.

It is not just the Zapatistas who are fighters of resistance. There are many groups who have also made a weapon of resistance: indigenous peoples, workers, women, homosexuals, lesbians, students, young people. Above all there are young people, men and women who name their own identities: punk, ska, goth, metal, thrasher, rapper, hip-hopper. If we look at what they all have in common, we will see that they have nothing in common, that they are all different. They are others. And that is exactly what we have in common, that we are other and different. Not only that, we also have in common that we are fighting to continue being other and different, and that is why we are resisting.

But we are not looking for everyone to be like we are. And it is here where this entire resistance movement–called underground or subterranean, because it takes place among those below and underneath institutional movements–meets Zapatismo.

We Zapatistas say, ‘I am as I am and you are as you are. Let’s build a world where I can be, and not have to cease being me, where you can be, without having to cease being you, a world where many worlds fit.’

First Published in English in Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, edited by Juana Ponce de Leon, (Seven Stories Press, 2001, 140 Watts St., New York, NY 10013; 800/596-7437). A version of this essay appeared in Food

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.