Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Chiapas

By Jana Birchum

JUNE 1, 1998:  As close as we Texans are to Mexico, many of us still find her mystifying, romantic, inspiring, confounding. Remote, isolated villages exist within mere kilometres of bustling cities and posh tourist resorts. The coexistence of First- and Third-World realities right in our own backyard is compelling enough without even factoring in Mexico's natural bounty of mountain ranges, cliffs, raging surf, biospheres, and more.

This anthology of six personal essays (by writers Jay Hardwig, Bryan Mealer, Kate X Messer, Turk Pipkin, Wendell Smith, and Marion Winik), art (by Penny Van Horn), and colorful photo essay (by Jana Birchum) simply tells stories about a land we find intriguing. This is not intended to be a comprehensive travel guide to the 31 states of Mexico. Guidebooks exist for that purpose, and for your convenience, we've listed and described some fine ones along with some other travel resources.

For every story you might encounter about dubious border guards, killer lime-green VW Beetles, political unrest, or toxic brush fires, there is a better story about surfside paradises, charming villages, scrumptious cuisine, and friendly people. See, no matter what is going on this particular season, Mexico isn't going anywhere. But we are. We're going to Mexico. Join us?

We begin with Jana Birchum's fascinating photo excursion through the volatile yet mystical Chiapas ρ homeland of the insurgent Zapatistas. Birchum stayed in San Cristobál de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas and traveled with the Zapatistas on the route of Zapata to Mexico City. Her travels left her with more questions than answers and a testimony of her experiences in these powerful images. -- Kate X Messer

In the early part of this century, a group of indigenous Mexican people led by Emiliano Zapata moved across the Gulf of Mexico, into the area of Xochimilco, joined forces with Delores Hidalgo and Pancho Villa, and took Mexico City.

Like a wave rising from the south, indigenous people again took to the Route of Zapata and headed for Mexico City in ceremonial march, September 1997, commemorating the historic events of the past to protest the current oppressive military presence in their home. The majority of these photographs follows the march of supporters of the Zapatista Liberation Front from San Cristobal, Chiapas to Mexico City.

The photo in the lower left corner shows the Mexican military surveillance in La Realidad, the epicenter of Zapatista organizing.

The classroom photo to the right of that one was taken at a program set up for the children of expulsados ρ indigenous people expelled for political and religious reasons from their homes, forced to live on the streets of San Cristobál.

The photo at right shows the burning of the forest, an event which occurs each year as indigenous people attempt to create one season of arable land. Concerned for the dangers posed by this method, environmentalists are working with the people to create alternative options to this ecological disaster. This shot was taken last year and does not depict the fires raging currently.

The photo (at the top of the page) of the little girl marching, holding the cross, was taken in January 1998, immediately following the Acteal Massacre in which at least 45 people (the majority of whom were women and children) were murdered in a raid on their village. -- Jana Birchum

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