“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” -Cesar A. Cruz
San Cristobal de las Casas is full of art that is both beautiful and powerful. These past few weeks, I have encountered pieces of art that convey political messages and tell stories. While I walked around the city, I noticed that many of the local shops sell things related to the Zapatistas and their ideology. The state of Chiapas is known for being the place where the Zapatista movement was born. In 1994, there was an uprising of Zapatistas with anti-noliberalism ideology seeking indigenous control over land and resources. The EZLN formed a movement to protest the signing of NAFTA believing it would increase the gap between the rich and the poor in Chiapas. In present day Chiapas, Zapatista communities still exist but tend to keep to themselves in enclosed communities. Moises, a person who works with Fundacion Cantaro Azul, shared his experience of interacting with Zapatista communities in the past and told us that it is difficult to enter their communities because they usually distrust outsiders and ask them many questions about their motives, where they come from, and if they work for the government in order to decide if they will let them in. Reflecting on my choice of location to do the practice experience, I’m super excited that I have the opportunity to be in the birthplace of such a powerful and inspirational social movement.
I also saw a lot of artwork while walking by an outside market, such as jewellery, woven shirts and purses made by hand. As we walked through the market, we encountered a man working on his art. I asked him about his painting and he explained the painting method as well as the cultural and historical context of his artwork. He talked about how he lived in Palenque for five years and learned how to draw and paint there. Then he shared more of his artwork portraying Mayan and Aztec gods, explained their meaning, and taught me how to interpret the Mayan calendar. I told him about where I came from and he told me he would like to visit Canada some day because he thought it didn’t have a border like the one that separates Mexico from the U.S. I’m glad I had asked him about his artwork because I learned so much about it and enjoyed listening to his story while observing how proud he was of his art.
In addition, I have seen various messages about the 43 missing students on the walls in San Cristobal and in other towns in Chiapas. 8 months have passed since the September 26 disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who were preparing to become teachers in rural schools. While the Mexican government claims a drug cartel kidnapped the students, killed them, and disposed of their bodies, many Mexicans distrust the government’s side of the story because there is a lack of proof, questions that haven’t been answered, and persistent acts of violence and corruption in the country. I have read messages on walls that say things like “Nos faltan 43, “vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” and “el gobierno compra votos,” revealing that the people in Chiapas have not forgotten about the 43 missing students regardless of how much time has passed.