From the Underground Culture to the Culture of Resistance
- Roundtable Alicia Multiforum; October 26, 1999 -
I would like to thank those who were in charge of the Alicia Multiforum
for the invitation they extended to us to participate in this Roundtable.
I do not have much experience in round tables, square tables are
more our specialty, as the table most certainly must be where those
who are accompanying this act are seated: Zack de la Rocha, Yaotl,
Hermann Bellinghausen, Nacho Pineda, a compa from the Punk Anarchy
collective and Javier Elorriaga.
And more, it is quite likely that the participants at this round
table that is not round are seated on a small platform. And more,
perhaps there is not even a table, and there are only a few chairs.
Perhaps the only one who has a table is me, because they have to
put the TV on something in order to show you this video.
Good, the fact is, at this round table, those who are participating
cannot see each others faces, something that would most certainly
be happening if they were at a round table that were, in fact, round.
And so here we are, sitting around a round table that is not round,
and facing you, which is better, because from here I'm able to see
a guy whose face is the best argument for leaving the issue of round
and square tables in peace, and better that I don't tell you what
that look is suggesting either (sigh).
Where was I? Oh, yes! That here we are, facing you, at that round
table that I don't know who called "From Underground Culture
to the Culture of Resistance." No, I don't have anything against
whoever called this round table that isn't round that. The problem
is that word that is repeated: "CULTURE." So many things
fit there that, even though we are restricting them to the limits
imposed by the words "Underground" and "Resistance,"
they would not do for a round table, no matter how square it might
be, but rather for a great intercontinental encuentro that would
last for light years, without even including the time taken up in
arranging the microphone, greeting the raza, or in staying asleep
because someone has decided that culture can also be boring and
has set about demonstrating it.
Having said that, I am not going to talk to you about underground
culture, nor about the culture of resistance, nor about the bridge
that most certainly joins them. In addition to leaving the issue
for those who are accompanying us at that table that we are calling
round even knowing that it is square, I will avoid making myself
appear ridiculous and I will be able to conceal my encyclopedic
ignorance on this subject. As the greatest and well-loved Don Durito
of La Lacandona would say, "There is no problem sufficiently
great that it cannot be pondered upon." I would add to those
wise words that cause the action and the commitment, "nor is
there a round table that is not square."
I know that you are all anxious to know what in the hell I'm going
to talk about then. More than one of you might be asking if the
guitar I have by my side means that I'm going to play a song, one
of those that are so honorably played in the Mexico of below, which
we all are.
But no, I'm not going to play any songs. The guitar is for the surprise
appearance we're going to make tomorrow, October 27, 1999, with
"Rage Against the Machine," "Aztlán Underground"
and "Tijuana NO" at the Sports Palace. Well, that's if
they don't censor us first, or if the law doesn't show up, in which
case the concert will be held in the prison closest to your hearts.
And, I'm going to be sincere with you, this entire initial litany
has been to use up time, because the organizers made it quite clear
to me that I was to
speak for some 20 minutes, and I believe that 20 minutes are too
long to say that I'm not going to speak to you about underground
culture, nor about the culture of resistance, nor about the relationship
between the one and the other.
You know? We are guerreros. Some very otherly guerreros, but, at
the end of the day, some guerreros. And we guerreros know a few
things. And among the few things that we know, we know about weapons.
So, better that I talk to you about weapons. Specifically, I'm going
to talk to you about the weapon of resistance.
We, besides being guerreros, are Mexican indigenous. We live in
the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, which is turning out to
be the last corner of this country. We live like the majority of
the indigenous in Mexico live, that is, very badly.
Our homes have dirt floors, our walls are of sticks or mud, and
our roofs are of laminate, cardboard or grass. One single room serves
dining room, bedroom, living room and hen-house. Our foods are,
basically, maize, beans, chili, and the vegetables that grow in
the garden. For medicine we have some little popular pharmacy, poorly
stocked. Doctors? In our dreams. The school, if it is not being
occupied by the government's soldiers, is a hall, where up to 4
different groups of students coexist at the same time, and who are
not very numerous, because our children start working when they're
very small, between 4 and 5 years old, the women carrying wood,
grinding maize, washing clothes and taking care of their younger
brothers and sisters; when they're between 10 and 12, the boys,
to the mountain, taking care of the livestock, carrying wood, working
the fields, the coffee plantations or the pasture. Our lands are
poor in two senses: they are poor because they are ours, who are
poor as a matter of course. And they are poor because they yield
little in the way of harvest. We have only mud and rocks, the finqueros
have the good lands. The livestock and coffee that we sell to make
money, we sell to the coyotes, who are a kind of intermediary, who
pay us up to 10 times less than the price of our products in the
market. And, so, our work, in addition to being hard, is badly paid.
However, even though we live like most of the indigenous population
in the country, that is, in poverty, we do not live the same as
most of the indigenous population. Our poverty is the same as the
poverty of the others, but it is different, it is "other"
poverty. We are poor because that is what we chose. From the beginning
of our uprising, they have offered us everything to get us to sell
ourselves, to surrender.
If we had done so, if we had surrendered, if we had sold ourselves,
we would now have good houses, good schools, hospitals, machinery
for working the land, better prices for our products, good food.
But we chose not to sell ourselves, we chose not to surrender. Because
it so happens that we are indigenous and we are also guerreros.
And guerreros are guerreros because they are fighting for something.
And we, the zapatistas, are fighting for good homes, good food,
good health, a good price for our work, good lands, good education,
respect for the culture, the right to information, liberty, independence,
justice, democracy and peace. Yes, we are fighting for all of that,
but for everyone, not just for ourselves. That is why we zapatistas
are guerreros, because we want "For everyone, everything, nothing
If we had surrendered, if we had sold ourselves, we would no longer
have been poor, but others would have continued to be so.
Good, but you are asking yourselves: Where is the weapon that this
handsome, attractive, nice guerrero was going to talk to us about?
I'll tell you now.
It happened that, when they saw that we were not surrendering, that
we were not selling ourselves, the government began attacking us
in order to force us to surrender and to sell ourselves. They offered
us many things, money, projects, aid, and, if we rejected them,
they became angry and they threatened us. That is how we came to
understand that, by refusing to accept government aid, by resisting,
then, we made the powerful angry. And there is nothing a zapatista
guerrero likes more than making the powerful angry. And so, with
singular joy we dedicated ourselves to resisting, to saying "no,"
to transforming our poverty into a weapon. The weapon of resistance.
Almost 6 years of war have now spoken with that weapon, with it
we have resisted more than 60,000 soldiers, war tanks, bomber aircraft,
artillery helicopters, cannons, machine guns, bullets and grenades.
With it, we have resisted the lie.
If you would like me to sum it up, I would tell you that we made
ourselves soldiers like that so that one day soldiers would no longer
be necessary, as we also remain poor, so that one day there will
no longer be poverty. This is what we use the weapon of resistance
Obviously, it is not the only weapon we have, as is clear from the
metal that clothes us. We have other arms. For example, we have
the arm of the word. We also have the weapon of our culture, of
our being what we are. We have the weapon of music, the weapon of
dance. We have the weapon of the mountain, that old friend and compañera
who fights along with us, with her roads, hiding places and hillsides,
with her trees, with her rains, with her suns, with her dawns, with
We also have the weapons that we carry by nature, but it is not
the time to be going around punning, much less now, when you've
all become very serious. And, in order to chase away your seriousness,
I'm going to tell you a joke, no, don't believe it or be frightened,
I'm not going to tell you a joke, better that we leave that to Zedillo,
who, as president, is nothing but a bad joke. No, better that I
go on to the next issue that I'm going to talk to you about.
Music and Resistance. Notably Rock, but not just rock. Notably music
groups, but not just music groups. I mean, not just what we see
and listen to, but also what makes our seeing and listening possible.
Because the raza gets down when it listens to Rage Against the Machine,
to Aztlán Underground, to Tijuana No. Or to "Durito
Against the Sup" (which is a group that's going to be formed
if Durito keeps on giving me whooping cough).
Where was I? Ah yes! That the raza gets down when it listens to
a good music group, and then one feels ones bones and muscles being
controlled by nothing other than the heart and one starts moving,
shaking, jumping, a little step here and another little step there,
getting together, a "prexta pa la orquestra" (I already
know that everyone is thinking: son of a bitch, the Sup is talking
like a pachuco from the Tin Tan or Piporro films, but, whatever,
raza) well, they dance then, and they don't think about those who
are making it possible for that group to be listened to, and that
we have a place and a reason to dance. For example, the other day
I was listening to some cuts from a group that plays heavy heavy
(since it so happens that I am "educating my ear," because
before the war I was just into folk dances and polkas, ajua) and
just zapatistas and it happens that I took a look at the introduction
to the cassette or to the compact disc, and I read that there are
tons of people involved, in addition to those who play it, and I
believe the musicians do recognize the work of all these people,
but those of us who are listening or dancing just don't. For example,
here we are in the self-named "Alicia MultiForum" and
here is Zack, Yaotl, Pineda, the compa from Punk Anarchy, Elorriaga,
and this video that you are being forced to watch and listen to,
because what you wanted was to listen to Zack and Yaotl, and not
talking exactly, but partying with a song. Good, I said here we
are in this place, and whoever organized this round table that is
square, whoever or whatever is responsible for the sound being heard
well or badly, whoever takes care of this building, whoever keeps
it going, whoever opened this space so that you and we could meet,
whoever then. There it is. We don't have any idea. No way, their
place is to in the background. But, then, I'm proposing to you,
for all those people who are back there, that we give them a round
of applause that can be heard even in the back, and don't leave
them out, because, if not, neither round table, nor square, nor
concert, nor maiz palomas naranjas dridas que jais de la guirinais.
(If the applause takes a while, push "stop" on the video,
because, if not, I'm going to continue and no one can fight me).
All done now? Good, then the subject was, what is Music and Resistance.
But, as I already explained before, as far as music goes I'm just
do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si, and I still get it wrong, but we are a bit
smart about resistance. The fact is that zapatismo and rock bring
and carry something, because, if not, what are Zack and Yaotl and
I doing here (because I'm also a rocker, but an "old-fashioned"
one), sitting at a round table which, as everyone has seen, is square.
Good. If we say that zapatismo "rebounded" in rock groups
and in that way produced its "other" and "different"
effect, I believe we would be being unfair. We are talking about
groups with a long tradition of social commitment and professional
independence. What happened? Who knows. Perhaps many round tables
are necessary, even though they be square, in order to look at the
issue of rock and zapatismo.
Perhaps what happened is there was a meeting. There were words that
met, but, above all, there were, and are, feelings that met. If
there are songs from these groups that could easily appear to be
communiques, and if there are communiques that could be lines to
songs, it is not by virtue of who is writing them, no, it is because
they are saying the same thing, they are reflecting the same thing,
that underground "other," which, by being "different,"
organizes itself in order to resist, in order to exist.
Because it is not just the zapatistas who are guerreros of resistance.
There are many groups (and there are several gathered together here)
who have also made a weapon of resistance, and they are using it.
And there are all, there are indigenous, there are workers, there
are women, there are homosexuals, there are lesbians, there are
students, there are young people. Above all there are young people,
men and women, who name their own identities: "punk,"
"ska," "goth," "metal," "trasher,"
"rapper," "hip-hopper" and "etceteras."
If we look at what they all have in common, we will see that they
have nothing in common, that they are all "different."
They are "others." And that is exactly what we have in
common, that we are "other," and "different."
Not only that, we also have in common that we are fighting in order
to continue being "other" and "different," and
that is what we are resisting for. And we are "other"
and "different" to the powerful, or we are not like they
want us to be, but rather just as we are.
And what we are - far from wanting to impose its being on the "other"
or "different" - seeks its own space, and, at the same
time, a space of meeting. The "punks" don't go around
on a campaign demanding that all young people be "punks,"
nor do the "ska," or the "goths," or the "metal,"
or the "trashers," or the rappers, or, certainly, the
indigenous. Nonetheless. The Power does indeed want us to be how
they want us to be, want us to dress according to the style the
Power dictates, want us to talk the way he says, want us to eat
what he sells, want us to consider beautiful and lovely what he
considers beautiful and lovely, even want us to love and hate the
way he establishes that love and hate should be. And not just that,
the Power also wants us to do all this on our knees and in silence,
without going around jumping, without shouts, without indigenous
uprisings, well-mannered. That is why the Power has armies and police,
to force those who are "other" and "different"
to be the same and identical.
But the "other" and "different" are not looking
for everyone to be like they are. As if each one is saying that
everyone has his own way or his own
thing ( I don't know how that's said now) and, in order for this
to be possible, it is not enough to just be, you also must always
respect the other. The "everyone doing his own thing"
is double: it is affirmation of difference, and it is respect for
the other difference. When we say we are fighting for respect for
our "different" and "other" selves, that includes
fighting for respect for those who are also "other" and
"different," who are not like ourselves. And it is here
where this entire resistance movement - called "underground"
or "subterranean," because it takes place among those
of below and underneath institutional movements - meets zapatismo.
And this meeting is a meeting between guerreros and guerreras, among
those who make resistance a weapon, and who fight with it in order
to be what they are, in order to exist.
Or, when zapatistas say "we want a world where many worlds
fit," they are not discovering anything new, they are simply
saying what the "other" and "different" who
walk the worlds of below have already said.
We zapatistas say "I am as I am and you are as you are, we
are building a world where I can be, without having to cease being
me, where you can be, without having to stop being you, and where
neither I nor you force another to be like me or like you. Or, as
when the zapatistas say "a world where many worlds fit,"
they are saying, more or less, "everyone does his own thing."
And, before you start putting on airs, I'll go on to another subject
on the same subject.
Because it so happens then that, because we are different, we are
the same. We are the same persecuted, the same despised, the same
beaten, the same imprisoned, the same disappeared, the same assassinated.
And it is not ours who are persecuting, despising, beating, imprisoning,
assassinating us. It is not even the "others" from below.
It is the Power and their names. And our crimes are not stealing,
beating, assassinating, insulting. Nor is our crime being "other"
and "different." No, our crime is in being so, and in
being proud of being so. Our crime - which in the Power's penal
code merits the death penalty - is the struggle we are making to
continue being "other" and "different." If we
were "other" and "different" shamefully, in
hiding, guiltily, betrayed by ourselves, trying to be, or to appear
to be, what the Power wants us to be or to appear to be, then they
would give us an indulgent and pitying little pat, and they would
tell us that "they are things of youth, you will get over it
with age." For the Power, the medicine against rebellion is
time, "since it will go away with age."
Lie, what the Power is not saying is what is behind "that age"
that it assumes will cure and do away with youthful rebellion. Hours,
months, years of blows, of insults, of jails, of deaths, of rapes,
of persecutions, of neglect, a machinery working to "cure us"
if we stop being what we are and if we turn ourselves into servile
beings, or which will eliminate us if we insist on being what we
are, without regard to calendar, birthdays or the date on the birth
And so, then, we are all transgressors of the law. Because there
is a law in this system that kills and silences those who are "other"
and "different." And, by living, by shouting, by talking,
that is, by being rebels, we are transgressing that law, and we
are, automatically, criminals.
And these criminals that we are, we live in a rebel reality, where
resistance is bridge for us to meet, recognizing our difference
and our equality. And rock is also like a bridge over which those
realities walk in order to meet.
In what way is rock mirror and crystal for this very "other"
and "different" reality? The truth is, I do not know and
I do not understand. I look at and listen to groups like Rage Against
the Machine and Tijuana NO (to mention just those who are participating
in tomorrow's concert, but knowing that there are many others, and
that all of them are good - as musicians and as human beings), and
I ask myself why do they do what they do, say what they say, and
play what they play. I believe it would be better for them to tell
us what goes on with them. Perhaps it so happens that they are also
asking themselves why we zapatistas are doing what we are doing,
saying what we are saying and playing what we are playing (although,
when it comes to rock, we are fairly useless. "Useless.":
How about that? A good name for a group or for a song. "Useless,"
like that, with no qualifiers, so that everyone fits, men, women,
and those who are neither men nor women, but who are).
And, the reason for this video is to answer why we zapatistas are
doing what we are doing, saying what we are saying and playing what
we are playing, but, since I've gone over the 20 minutes I had,
it will remain open. At best, what I said earlier might help in
finding the answer.
Sale, then, raza, banda, compas, chompiras, valedores, neros, gueyes,
or, as that international philosopher who is now dressing as a pirate,
Durito, says, "everyone doing his own thing."
Then, Elorriaga's thing shall follow, who will, in his turn, tell
us whose thing is to follow, Bellinghausen's, Zack's, Yaotl's, Pineda's,
the compa from Punk Anarchy's, or I don't know whose thing then,
because, because they might have put me in the middle (which would
be in verrrry bad taste), or left me to the end, so that the raza
would already be asleep and wouldn't have to hear the outrageous
things I'm saying here.
Vale. Salud and (like it says on the cover of that fanzine that
has the good taste to call itself "ZUPterraneo"), and
with such a thing, "something doesn't smell right," which
means something like "there are things and then there are things."
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
The Sup, tuning up his guitar for the "special appearance."
Mexico, "other" and "different," October of 1999.
Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by Irlandesa: Solidarity Pages with Mexico
Reden und Texte von Subcomandante Marcos