by Michael Anklin
The propeller noise from a flying harbinger of death cuts through the silence. Shots ring out. Masked men and women start running for their lives.
Those who witness this battle do not have to run for cover because there are no real bullets being fired.
The battle is a scene from “Zapatistas,” a play that was performed by the Tatalejos theater group in Founders Auditorium Friday.
“Zapatistas,” written and directed by Mario Zapién, is sponsored by the Catholic Campus Ministry, the Associated Students Federation Forum, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Latino Student Forum (LSF) and the Marxist, Leftist, Anarchist Collective. The play was performed at ULV for the first time last year. Last Friday’s performance was the only one this year.
The play is “a reflection of the destiny that we have had to confront since the arrival of the Spaniards to our sacred lands full of culture and ancient traditions,” said Zapién. “It is a reflection of life in flourish and unwanted death, interpreted through poetry, music and dance. Our main purpose is to demonstrate the indigenous ritualistic spirit woven by creativity and imagination.
“This spirit exists as much in its armed boundaries, as well as in its fight against economic isolation and, most of all, in its struggle against oblivion,” he said.
The play explores the origins and development of the Zapatistas movement from the death of revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to the 1994 uprising in Chiapas.
Zapata’s principal philosophy, from whom the movement got its name, was “land, liberty and freedom,” Zapién said.
The Zapatistas Army of National Liberation (EZLN) consists of peasants and Indians who are fighting against governmental oppression.
The play began showing the death of Zapata and the struggle of the Indians and peasants to survive while working for the ruthless landlords. The peasants and Indians decided to get together and fight.
In one of their first encounters with government troops, one of the Zapatistas got shot-a symbolic incident.
While the “dead” actor was lying on stage, a masked figure emerged from the shadows-the birth of the revolutionary spirit.
The masked man became known as Subcommandante Marcos. He came to Chiapas in 1983 when the Zapatistas first organized themselves, and he was chosen as spokesperson and leader of the EZLN’s military wing.
However, the organization is lead and governed by a democratically-elected leadership, which includes many women. Unlike other revolutionary movements in Latin America, the Zapatistas are not communists; they fight for democracy.
The play went on to show how a family decided to sell a cow to buy a gun. The scene ended with the family leaving to buy the gun.
Zapién said he knew a real family who exchanged a cow for a gun. The entire family was killed.
The Zapatistas ultimately declared war on the Mexican government in 1994.
“Zapatistas” communicates in different ways with the audience. On several occasions during the play, pictures of peasant and indigenous life are projected on a screen in the left corner of the stage.
Several narrators enter the play to inform the audience of historical facts.
Different characters portray the reaction of outsiders and people involved in the struggle.
A college professor denounces what the government is doing, an air-headed girl has no clue, a woman shares her desperation and the Mexican president tries to downplay the situation by calling the Zapatistas “troublemakers.”
Music, dance and poetry are used to create feelings, a spiritual atmosphere, and to give the audience an opportunity to travel into a world of indigenous culture and spirituality.
The feelings and the consciousness of the indigenous people are best portrayed by a monkey-like creature that jumps up and down the setting, vividly chanting mysterious words as if the existence of the universe was at stake.
Zapién wants people to know “Zapatistas” is not primarily a political play.
“I think people should understand that these people have been abandoned by the government and that they have existed there [for a long time] and are really trying to keep the traditions and culture alive,” said Zapién. “That’s what I like a lot about it because the modern people don’t care about that. For me it is the base of any family or any conscience to see what is behind everything.”
Indian organizational structure and Indian leadership is the backbone of the Zapatistas.
“The biggest thing that I hope students will get out of it is just to heighten the awareness of what is going on,” said Elena Cardeña, Catholic campus minister.
“I hope it is a beginning to develop a conscience about what is going on and what the indigenous communities of all of the Americas have been under continuous oppression of one sort or another,”she said.
“I was very impressed by the spiritual aspect, that they showed the ritualism of the indigenous,” said junior director of finances for LSF, Lynette Torres. “I know that the indigenous have always been exploited and this just made it kind of more real, they really are doing such [terrible] things to a part of my culture.”