Students lead teach-in on Mexican politics after devastating earthquakes

Alan Perez, Reporter

Students gathered in Crowe Hall on Thursday to learn about the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Mexico and the national government’s response.

SESP sophomore Christina Gutierrez and Weinberg sophomore Erykah Nava led the teach-in on indigenous political movements and criticized the Mexican government’s response to last month’s earthquakes. The event, hosted by MEChA de Northwestern, was the second teach-in this week, and also served as a fundraiser to help those affected by natural disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island last month and left more than 40 dead.

Mexico was struck with two earthquakes in September that left hundreds dead. The first was the strongest the country had seen in a century, with an epicenter located less than 100 miles southeast of the state of Chiapas. Days later, a second earthquake struck closer to Mexico City.

Gutierrez said the majority of aid has been sent to Mexico City because of its popularity, leaving the people of Chiapas and the neighboring state of Oaxaca without necessary resources to recover.

The neglect is only a small part of the political struggle between indigenous people and their colonizers, Nava said. The Mexican government may try to capitalize on the situation to gain control of Chiapas indigenous lands, which they have been seeking to turn into a tourist attraction, Gutierrez said.

The teach-in highlighted the work of the Zapatistas, a revolutionary political group based in Chiapas. Nava said the Zapatistas seek greater autonomy of indigenous lands after the North American Free Trade Agreement threatened their economic well-being.

The group also rejects the Mexican government’s efforts to profit from the land.

“They don’t think the indigenous are using the land in a profitable way,” Nava said. “(The Zapatistas’) connection with the land is who they are. You can only imagine the tension that goes on between the Zapatistas and the government.”

Gutierrez and Nava discussed the history of indigenous people in Chiapas, including the Tzotziles — a community in Chiapas with Mayan roots. The Tzotziles have been resisting the assimilation and “Christianization” of colonizers since the 16th century, Gutierrez said, and many of the members of the Zapatista movement are from or have the support of the Tzotziles community.

Clashes with the government have forced the Zapatistas to cover their faces with masks and carry guns, Nava said. She stressed that the practice is to protect themselves from government surveillance and violence.

Weinberg senior Edward Duron told The Daily learning about the masks left him wondering how the Zapatistas approach identity.

“To have an identity is to be legible to the state,” Duron said. “If they show their ID and they are seen somewhere, or they’re made legible, then they are put in danger. … I wonder how identity works for them; how they feel themselves or embody themselves under those masks.”

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