Kaş Quetzalcoatl

•July 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

From my friend Zeynep’s villa on the peninsula near the Turkish seaside vilIage of Kaş, you can see a row of island rocks that together look like the visible top of a giant undulating underwater serpent.  At the time of my visit, I was reading about the conquest of Mexico[1] and so this vision made me think of Quetzalcoatl, that legendary feathered-serpent god who, some claim it was prophecied, would one day return in the form of a white man with flaming hair and beard.  This would have disastruous consequences for the indigenous population, as the flaming bearded man turned out to be the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortez who brought with him the most brutal destruction of Mesoamerican indigenous peoples and their way of life.

Ruminating on this most disastrous case of mistaken-identity as I gazed out across the sapphire waters to this Mediterranean Quetzalcoatl, I wondered at what is visible and submerged in contemporary Turkey and its history.  Was the half-sunken serpent a fitting metaphor for the seen and unseen of “The Deep State,” a concept introduced to me by Zeynep in our discussions on Turkish Nationalism?  Or was Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk”, the omnipresent Father of Modern Turkey, in some way the local Quetzalcoatl equivalent of his time, as a heralder of a Modernity which would later serve to harbor the influxes and proliferation of Neoliberalism and Globalization?  I am deeply suspicious of such paternalistic nation-building figures, especially as according to the mythic nationalist psyche of Modern Mexico, Cortez is portrayed as the nation’s “father” who raped our indigenous “mother” (Malintzin, the Mayan princess who had little choice but to translate for the invader, but who is portrayed by the nationalist and indigenist narratives as a traitor).  If this is how Modern Mexico was born, then it might explain the tangle of soap opera horror-show politics that now characterizes Mexico’s elite governance, not to mention the self-hatred that such a violent union implies.

Back in Istanbul, I continued to think about the “Deep State” and its manifestations, both here and back in the places where I’ve lived. Istanbul is a city that may still hold nostalgia for its former imperial glory, but which seems to have embraced a Western Modernity heralded and championed by Atatürk with unquestioning stride and pride.  Political theorists and historians will tell you that the cult of Atatürk was intentionally revived after the 1980 Military coup, first by the state, but strangely enough, now enthusiastically enforced by citizens themselves.  Thus, it is not that a mandatory law decrees Atatürk’s likeness be exhibited in every public and private place of business, but rather a sense of obligation and political posture that is set forth mainly by middle and upper-class champions of Modernity.  Posters (or puzzles–as in the room we held yoga in of Istanbul University, or carpets—as in the likeness at my local coiffeur’s, or bronze statues–as in the streets and parks) of the modern nation’s father, adorn every school, business and office, including that of my sister’s mother-in-law at the women’s health clinic, and even the stage of my nephew’s pre-school performance that I attended upon landing from Beirut.

In our day and age of Post-Everything, the very concept of the nation/state seems obsolete, and so it seems foolish to keep perpetuating identities such as “Turkish” or “Mexican”, or even more absurdly the incredibly misleading “American.”  Zeynep and I took care in calling each other on these slips when we spoke about my cooking up some “Mexican” food, or drinking some “Turkish” rakı.  In the Zapatismo of Chiapas, where I live, such Identity Politics seem to have actually evolved some, arriving at an understanding that encompasses our diverse mythological histories (as much of the Mesoamerican and Colonial, as those of Modern Nationalism), yet remains acutely aware of the construction process itself and the importance of constant self-reflection (Caminando Preguntado). The larger social identity of Zapatismo includes all of us (Todos Somos… and Detras de Nosotros Estamos Ustedes).  Theirs/Ours is a reclaimed modernity on local terms that is comfortable with past and present contradictions, always championing the diversity of the collective.  Caminando Preguntando, is the methodology for remaining ever in-process of forging this contemporary collective “re-existence,” a concept introduced at the end of my friend Jeff Conant’s latest book, A Poetics of Resistance.

Such sights, memories, and metaphorical imaginings have brought me to reflect on some ways in which national and cultural myths have constructed collective histories and identities in both Mexico’s and Turkey’s present-day modernities.  In both dominant national narratives, what is seen and unseen, but felt… and by whom, reflects a critical thinking and imagination (or lack of) that is badly needed to deal with our current era of globalization and its discontents.  Examining what explicit and hidden assumptions guide our past and future endeavors is crucial if we are to have any chance of effecting some change in our places…or at least to keep from repeating a case of mistaken identity.

[1] in John Ross’ history of Mexico City, El Monstruo, which I highly recommend.



•June 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Istanbul is haunted by the ghost of Atatürk.  He keeps close watch on contemporary Istanbulis (and all Turks, for that matter) to make sure they continue to be Modern.  From his high perch in every office, classroom, yoga studio, or nursery school hung with the mandatory (for modernites) poster-sized portraits, to the giant bronze statues found in university parks and ferry stations, not to mention his likeness on all currency…his stern fatherly gaze intends to remind everyone of what it means to be Modern Turkish in this nation he founded almost a century ago.  In the half-a-dozen visits I have made to this former imperial city to visit with my fellow Chi(cago)langa (from Mexico City via Chitown) sister and her new Turkish family, I have attempted to observe, feel, witness, and also question this notion of modern Turkishness, as part of my on-going exploration of how we live our present-day modernities in various places around the world.  Often, I’ve met with silence or reluctance to talk about such things from many Turks.  It seems the cult of Ata wasn’t so prevalent before the military coup of 1980, which intentionally revitalized his nationalizing presence along with related punitive measures, such as penal code article 301 which punishes intellectuals for any anti-Turkish thought.  What exactly constitutes an assault on “Turkishness” remains vague, but Ataturk’s symbolism remains hotly defended by many Turks who themselves happily don Ataturk’s image on everything from key chains to cellphones.  In Turkey today you can be assured that wherever you go, Atatürk is nearby, as he most surely was when my sister went for her citizenship exam, which consisted mainly of reciting (not singing) the opening lines of the national anthem.  She passed the testing for Turkishness; I wonder if we’d pass similar tests for our Mexicanness, whatever that is.


•February 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hoy fuí a comer con Juan, quien está viviendo en comunidad Tojolabal aprendiendo la lengua y su mundo.  We spoke about the role of spirituality, and Liberation Theology in this part of the world, como después de Vaticano III, llegaron los curas aquí y fueron cambiados por los indios.  It’s not like in other places, he said, aquí los indios les dicen a los curas como esta la cosa.  Luego esta noche, me topo cybernéticamente con esto:

cruz, Chiapa del CorzoEn 1992, mientras se celebraban los cinco siglos de algo así como la salvación de las Américas, un sacerdote católico llegó a una comunidad metida’en las hondonadas del sureste mexicano. Antes de la misa, fue la confesión. En lengua tojolobal, los indios contaron sus pecados. Carlos Lenkersdorf hizo lo que pudo traduciendo las confesiones, una tras otra, aunque él bien sabía que es imposible traducir esos misterios: –Dice que ha abandonado al maíz –tradujo Carlos–. Dice que muy triste está la milpa. Muchos días sin ir. –Dice que ha maltratado al fuego. Ha aporreado la lumbre, porque no ardía bien. –Dice que ha profanado el sendero, que lo anduvo macheteando sin razón. –Dice que ha lastimado al buey. –Dice que ha volteado un árbol y no le ha dicho por qué. El sacerdote no supo qué hacer con esos pecados, que no figuran en el catálogo de Moisés.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo

fotografía de Georgina Valverde

Digna Rabia

•January 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

digna rabia poster

“It’s like Dante’s Inferno; they are bombing people in a cage.”

(Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor currently working in Gaza).

These past two weeks I have felt much like Edvard Munch’s, silent Scream, which this poster from the Primer Festival Mundial de la Digna Rabia (First World Festival of Dignified Rage, organized by the Zapatistas), bears likeness to.  The Gaza situation is horrific.  We are organizing events here in Chiapas to raise consciousness and solidarity, as well as join in concrete actions (like the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions approach applied to apartheid South Africa) towards Israel.  I attended much of La Digna Rabia, both in Mexico D.F. and here in Chiapas where Marcos gave a powerful condemnation speech among various other events in support (John Berger read a very moving letter by Ghassan Kanafani).  The Municipal Palace was also fabulously graffiti bombed in the middle of the night with pro-Palestinian images and words saying ¡NO ESTAN SOLOS! and ¡TODOS SOMOS GAZA! amongst support for the repressions in Oaxaca, Atenco, and Oakland.  In Oaxaca, there were 200 people arrested at a demonstration for Palestine at the U.S. consulate.  So, in the midst of all this darkness, we are not staying silent, and I am actually feeling the ground shift, things are changing, but it is darkest before the dawn of course, and I think there is still much darkness to come.

Yet this land and people here in the red earth of Chiapas give me much hope and strength.  Otro Mundo, Otro Camino.  Y mucho corazón, abajo y a la izquierda.

Selva Lacandona

•December 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Rio Tulijá Pasé el fín de semana en San Jerónimo Tulijá para asistir a una boda de los compas.  A magnificent place, and I understood better Marcos’ descriptions of the Lacandon jungle.  The wedding was beautiful and we swam in the crystalline river afterwards.  My friend J also took us to an even more remote location where the river sprouts from the earth…we were not allowed to take photographs there, so it remains in my memory only.  I can’t include names and faces of our hosts for security reasons, but here is a small glimpse of my time there.


I fell in love with the generous family who hosted us, and in particular with a little girl, five years old, Juanita, who made me think I might want to adopt such a girl some day in Chiapas.  We ate beef broth three times a day, danced to  Duranguillo music late into the night.  Among my dance partners was B, a campesino fighter about my age who took me inside during a pounding rainstorm, where he shared with me several stories, poems, and dreams.  Among them, the story of how he had been raised on a finca in slavery conditions, then brought by his father to this place, and how he dreamed of a resistance movement such as Zapatismo, and slowly, clandestinely, how he became part of it.  He promised to write down and send me the poem he has written about these experiences…

img_0642My friend A took me to visit the Elisa Irina Sáenz Garza Murcia clinic, named after a woman guerrilla fighter (of the FLN-the Armed Forces of national Liberation, a precursor to the EZLN), with my same last name, also from the north, who was assassinated by the army in the 70’s.  A victim of “la guerra sucia” she disappeared in 1974 from the surrounding mountains and it is said that her decapitated head was taken to a nearby military museum.  The clinic includes a section for herbal medicine and has a beautiful mural outside that shows the different local plants that can be used for healing.Mural clinica

Tejiendo Basura

•December 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Some images from the Tejiendo Basura workshop Georgina and I facilitated a few weeks ago.


•November 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

img_1151Acteal “Las Abejas”, site of the 1997 massacre of 16 children, 20 women (7 of which were pregnant), and 9 men who were praying when they were brutally attacked.  I still have few words for what it was like to be there, but I learned a lot about the importance of ritual and community in the process of mourning and healing.  In their memory, here are names, ages, and manner killed of the 45 victims.

Nombre Edad Comunidad Tipo de herida
1 Maria Pérez Oyalte 45 Acteal Arma de fuego
2 Juana Pérez Luna 8 Arma de fuego
3 Rosa Vázquez Luna 21 Acteal Arma de fuego
4 Juana Gómez Pérez 60 Acteal Arma cortocontundente
5 Marcela Pucuj Luna 68 Acteal Arma de fuego
6 Maria Pérez Ruiz Capote 18 Arma de fuego
7 Catalina Luna Pérez 24 Acteal Arma cortocontundente, cráneo
8 Instrumento contuso cortante, cráneo
9 Alonso Vázquez Pérez 35 Acteal ? Arma de fuego
10 Arma de fuego (pulmón)
11 Marcela Luna Ruiz 35 Acteal Arma de fuego, abdomen
12 Arma de fuego
13 Arma cortocuntundente, cráneo
14 Daniel Gómez Pérez 23 Acteal Cortocontundente, cráneo
15 Sebastián Gómez Pérez 11 Cortocontundente, cráneo
16 Florinda Pérez Pérez 37 Acteal Arma de fuego y cortocontundente, abdomen
17 Maria Gómez Ruiz 23 Chimix Arma de fuego
18 Alonso Vázquez Gómez o Victorio Vázquez Gómez ?-18 Acteal Arma de fuego
19 Arma de fuego
20 Paulina Hernández Vázquez 20 Acteal Arma de fuego
21 Arma de fuego
22 Roselia Gómez Hernández 6 Acteal Contusocortante, cuello, mutilación de muslo
23 Traumatismo craneoencefalico
24 Arma de fuego
25 Ignacio Pucuj 65 Acteal Arma de fuego
26 Arma de fuego
27 Susana Jiménez Luna 17 Arma de fuego
28 Marcela Vázquez Pérez 35 Acteal Arma de fuego, mutilación seno izquierdo
29 Arma de fuego
30 Maria Luna Mendez ? Acteañ Contusocortante y arma de fuego, mutilación muslo pierna derecha
31 Victorio Vázquez Gómez Arma de fuego
32 Lorenzo Gómez Pérez 40 Acteal Arma de fuego
33 Verónica Vázquez Luna 19 Acteal Cortocontundente, cráneo
34 Antonia Vázquez Luna 16 Acteal Arma de fuego
35 Antonia Vázquez Pérez 25 Acteal Arma de fuego
36 Juan Carlos Luna Pérez 2 Acteal Arma de fuego
37 Arma de fuego
38 Arma de fuego
39 Guadalupe Gómez Hernández 1 Acteal Corto contundente, cráneo
40 Micaela Vázquez Luna 3 Acteal Arma de fuego
41 Cortocontundente
42 Arma de fuego
43 Juana Vázquez Luna 45 Arma de fuego
44 Arma de fuego y contusocontundente
45 Arma de fuego