The Chiapas Media Project and Crisanto (español)
essay 2 of the series
Building the Global Grassroots Infrastructure

April 28, 2001

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-2.htm
it is also available on the Boston Indymedia Center Website at
http://boston.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=2166

Note: Some errors in the original (English) text are corrected here,
thanks to Guillermo Monteforte, who translated it into Spanish.
The corrections are indicated by curly brackets, thus
{...}.

Summary:The Chiapas Media Project, set up to teach video film-making to indigenous Chiapanecos so they could document their own lives, went to the village of La Garrucha, where for four days they offered intensive workshops. {Originally La Garrucha was deep in the heart of the Lacandon rainforest, but it was settled about 30 to 50 years ago by campesinos driven to seek land, who have since then transformed it.} There in La Garrucha, in the summer of 1998, I met Crisanto, a skilled indigenous film-maker from the adjoining southern state of Oaxaca.

      I first met Crisanto in the early dawning light in the village of La Garrucha. [Accounts of our first trip to this village are at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Mexico/EsaysN/1998-07-27Tourists.htm and http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Othr/1998-10-10Garrucha.htm.] {Within this small community in eastern Chiapas} is an aguascalientes, almost completely enclosed with chicken-wire. It is one of five aguascalientes, each serving as the coordination and training center for some of the 32 self-declared autonomous rebel municipios in Chiapas. The La Garrucha aguascalientes serves seven of them, and is also the seat of one, Francisco Gomez. {La Garrucha was originally deep within the Lacandon rainforest, but the campesinos who settled there 30 to 50 years ago have transformed the area.} Our group, all from the U.S., was a delegation of the Chiapas Media Project. We had arrived about 5:30 in the morning after a trip of several hours from San Cristóbal de las Casas, a trip timed to give us the best chance of passing through military, immigration and other official check points when they would be closed, to avoid harrassment. It was now only an hour or so after we had crawled into our hammocks. I was up again, unable to sleep.

      Crisanto, a campesino film-maker who lives in the northern Sierra of Oaxaca, stood quietly on the still-muddy pre-sunrise field, silently drinking in the fog-shrouded forest climbing the adjoining hillside. He, along with a few other skilled video film-producers, had come to conduct workshops for indigenous people. The U.S. contingent had flown in to Mexico City a few days earlier, and then down to Chiapas. Our task was to learn. My Spanish was too rudimentary to learn much from words. But Crisanto's warmth expressed itself without needing many words. He was there to do, not to talk. Like so many indigenous people, unlike us, he did not feel compelled to verbalize everything. We stood for a while in the quiet. It was July 29, 1998, early morning in the tzeltal-speaking zone of the canyon region of Chiapas.

      Even earlier, unknown to me then, young men, chosen by their {communities}, were trekking through mountain paths from their villages to La Garrucha. Their responsibility: to become video-makers who would then document life within their communities. Some walked for six to eight hours to get there. When Tom Hansen, one of the cofounders of the Chiapas Media Project, talked that spring at Northeastern University about their work, I was hooked. Indigenous lives seen through indigenous eyes, eyes unwarped by advanced degrees in sociology or anthropology. Great! Both in the short range and for the long haul. The immediate benefit, some protection against military harrassment, the so-called low-intensity warfare of the Zedillo government; in the long term, seeing indigenous peoples not as quaint subjects for study but as living seres humanos, human beings just like us, but with different cultural "tarnishing." I chose that word deliberately. None of us are free of it.

      For four days Crisanto and the other experienced film-makers gave workshops, and the young short-term apprentices soaked it all up, a crash course. They filmed everything. Even I was an "actor" in a re-creation of our delegation arriving at La Garrucha in our bus (falsely depicted in daylight). At the end of the four days, with much merriment, we all watched their not-quite-professional movies. Then came the gifting ceremony. The video equipment that the trainees had been learning to use during their workshops was distributed to {the various regions, apportioned among them as the local autonomous authorities had decided}. And then a big dance on the basketball court.

      During those days I also saw Crisanto Manzano Avella, a Zapotec Indian, doing what campesinos do. With his machete he felled a dead tree, cut it up, split the pieces, bundled them, carried the load, tump line around his forehead, from the woods to the open-air kitchen, and stacked it for firewood. He built fires, made coffee, took part cleaning up after meals, whatever needed doing. The same muscles and fingers and eyes that made him an artisan with his machete also made him an artist with a video camera. What I didn't know then was that Crisanto had been for many years, un luchador social, a social struggler, seeking justice, a better life for the poor people of his mountain community.

      That realization came to me abruptly two and a half years later, in Cambridge. It was Tuesday, February 20, 2001. I was set to end my three weeks in Boston the next morning, leaving for San Cristóbal, where, a few days later, I would join the historic Zapatista caravan to Mexico City. A final check of e-mail before closing the computer. Shit! An emergency message from my friends in Oaxaca, that started, "We are expressing our worry about the physical safety of Crisanto Manzano Avella, indigenous video producer, and his family." The first paragraph read: "Crisanto Manzano Avella, friend, colleague and important international influence in indigenous video, is currently suffering threats and aggressions by the caciques of his village, Tanetze de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, México." My friends had written a letter to the national daily newspaper, La Jornada, and asked for faxes to be sent to President Vicente Fox, the Secretary of the Interior Santiago Creel, and the Oaxaca State Governor José Murat.

      The threats were no minor matter, I knew. Many people in the "outside" world know about the Mexican government's counterinsurgency war in Chiapas. Relatively few are aware of the struggles in Oaxaca and Guerrero, the other two most economically impoverished states. There the old corrupt power structure, under steady pressures for change, is trying to hold on, using familiar time-dishonored methods: threats, violence, kidnappings, killings, torture, and imprisonment on framed charges. I knew I "had" to get faxes out, that day, in Spanish. Crisanto and people like him are the salt of the earth, strong links in the global grassroots infrastructure we are building. (to be continued in essay 3 of the series Building the global grassroots infrastructure)

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