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Dancing with the Zapatistas

Diana Taylor, Lorie Novak, Authors

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“In Every Voice a Zapata:” The Zapatista Movement Through Its Corridos

María Luisa de la Garza and Claudia Isabel Serrano

Translated by Margaret Carson

Fiesta band. Oventic, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Jeh Custerra, 2013.

Soy zapatista en estas tierras
y muy alegre del corazón;
y todo el tiempo ando luchando
con mis corridos con acordeón.
—"Viento por viento"

I’m a Zapatista in these lands
and very happy at heart;
and I’ll keep fighting on
with my corridos and accordion.
—"Wind by Wind"

I. Introduction[1] 
If corridos about drug traffickers and other figures of organized crime have gained wide acclaim in northern Mexico, and if, on the other side of the border, in the United States, the most popular corridos are those that treat migration in its various facets, at Mexico’s southern border the greatest number of corridos are composed in Zapatista territories, where the genre has been embraced to keep memory alive, to denounce abuses, to vindicate the rights of the people, to build political community, and to communicate with society as a whole. The corrido, then, is a living, vibrant genre that still accompanies the Mexican people, especially when they experience or witness moments of crisis—natural disasters or tragedies, for instance—or conflictive situations that have social relevance, whether at a strictly local level or at a regional and national one.

The corridos composed inside Zapatista communities[2] —whether by members of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN) or by civil support bases—are nurtured, in a musical and literary sense, by two principal sources: the corrido tradition of the Bajío and the Occidente (central and western central Mexico) and that of the north of the country.[3]  Thanks to radio and film, it is from the tradition of the Bajío and the Occidente that the stereotype of the corrido emerged as the musical paradigm of the Mexican Revolution and, more generally, as the obligatory reference of Mexicanidad.[4]  The tradition of the north, in turn, has had among its principal subjects the tensions between Mexicans and US Anglo-Saxons dating from the time of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) until today, when migration and drug trafficking are the predominant themes in the songs.[5] 

The two above-mentioned traditions are mestizo; with respect to the Zapatista corridos, no narrative form within the Mayan tradition appears to have had much of an influence.[6]  It is immediately apparent, however, that it is a recently adopted genre because the metrical pattern is in a continual flux, such that a composition with eight-syllable quatrains, for example, can suddenly have lines of six, nine, or ten syllables. Moreover, the lyrics display a syntax that reflects the varieties of Spanish that have emerged as a result of its contact with Tzotsil, Tzeltal, Chol, and Tojolabal, the languages most frequently spoken in Zapatista territories in the south of Mexico.

In a musical sense, the casual listener will be most aware of this crossing of traditions in the rhythm, especially in the accentuation of notes that are not typically emphasized in the mestizo corridos of central and northern Mexico, though the Zapatista corridos do attempt to follow their melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns. A musicological study could trace the distinct musical affiliations of these corridos; here we will simply add that, depending on the origins of the musicians, the groups performing the corridos may include a harp, a violin, or, if they also play “modern genres” for dancing, a keyboard to provide the bass, at times accompanied by guitar and drums. Most frequent, however, are guitar duos and norteño-style bands, with no more than an accordion and guitar, sometimes accompanied by bass and drums. The singers are generally men, though in some cases women take part, usually as the second voice.

On analyzing these corridos, we can affirm what Catherine Héau-Lambert has argued about corridos from the state of Morelos at the end of the Porfiriato (the 35-year period from 1876 to 1911 in which Porfirio Díaz and his allies ruled Mexico), shortly before the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917): that the performers “borrowed the musical airs of the salon that were then in vogue: waltzes, columbianas, schottishches, polkas, etc, leading to an interesting process of musical transculturation within popular culture” (Héau-Lambert 2011, 167). Referring to previous decades, Juan Diego Razo Oliva writes that, during the second half of the 19th century, the northern-border troubadours legitimized and popularized their struggles—the conflictive issues of their pueblo in the face of expansive Texan power—by living and singing. Decades earlier, in the insurgent Bajío, poets and troubadors had done the same, modulating their playing and their singing by applying basic, pre-existing patterns, ranging from the couplet to the sonnet, from the décima to the elegy, from the prayer to the lampoon (Razo 2010, 17).

If, as Juan Diego Razo Oliva argues, corridos are “specific historical documents that refer to episodes of greater or lesser impact in a particular reality[...] source documents with real referents from which interpretations are fashioned and symbolic meanings and/or values of socio-cultural significance are generated,” then, the contemporary “versatile groups” that perform songs based on cumbia rhythms (or other lively genres) must be regarded as historic corridos (Razo 2010, 10). 

“Symbolic meanings” and “values of sociocultural significance,” however, are not exclusively generated lyrically, but rather, emerge from the interplay between music and lyrics—above all when new lyrics are applied to well-known melodies. "Aniversario del EZLN" is sung to the tune of "Caballo Prieto Azabache;"[7]  "El Reclamo" follows the music of "No me sé rajar;"[8]  "Los compesinos," though it changes the rhythm from 3/4 to 2/4, follows the melody of "La cucaracha;[9]  and the "Himno Zapatista" itself piggybacks on "Carabina 30-30."[10]  A “semantic snowball” is thus generated, in which the message conveyed by the new lyrics blends with all that is evoked by the older music (Turino 2000, 176). 

Finally, it is important to consider the value of the corrido as a musical genre that conveys “other” versions of socio-historical events—versions that differ from those circulated by the hegemonic media and those in power. It is to the corrido that people keep turning—both in the countryside and in the city—when a silenced or concealed truth must be brought into the open or in order to cast doubt on the discourses of political power.[11]  In the Zapatista corridos, therefore, it is not unusual to find lyrics that present counter-hegemonic discourses. This is often explicit, as in the following lines from "Nacimiento de los caracoles:" "La voz del Trío Machete tiene el gusto de cantar; nosotros no le mentimos, siempre cantamos la verdad" ("The voice of El Trío Machete is pleased to sing; we won’t lie to you, we always sing the truth"). In addition to the legitimacy they gain from having witnessed the events they narrate, El Trío Machete also turns to a musical genre that is defined by its commitment to the truth.

The legend printed on many of Radio Insurgente’s CDs—"la lucha también se hace cantando" ("the fight is also sung")—manifests in those CDs several different ways. The group Ecos de Dignidad affirms it musically at the beginning of the "Corrido del municipio Che Guevara" with the lines, “Cantando y luchando camina nuestro pueblo, que lleva en su paso rebeldía y resistencia” (“Our pueblo walks forward, singing and fighting, rebellion and resistance in its step”), and on the track entitled "Introducción" from Grupo Liberación's first CD, a narrator speaks the same message, without musical accompaniment:

Nuevamente aquí estamos con ustedes, con los demás compañeros, que nosotros estamos en pie de lucha, pero no solamente se puede hacer la lucha en un nivel, sino que de diferentes niveles se puede hacer la lucha contra el enemigo. Aquí estamos nosotros queremos luchar, pero así, por medio de las canciones, cantando, tocando, con los compañeros.

We’re here again, with you, with the rest of our compañeros, we’re ready to fight, but the fight isn’t made on just one level, we can fight against the enemy on different levels. Here we are, we want to fight, but in this way, through songs, by singing, by playing instruments, with our compañeros.

This speech is an excerpt from the greeting made by a Radio Insurgente announcer on 19 September 2003. The same announcer emphasizes the date and explains—first in Spanish, then in Tsotsil—that the music he is about to play is not solely intended for the Zapatistas, because “las canciones revolucionarias no [son] sólo para los zapatistas, sino que es para todos: los pobres indígenas del país y del mundo” (“revolutionary songs are not only for the Zapatistas, they’re for everyone: the indigenous poor of the country and of the world”).

Let’s listen, then, to some of the things they say. 


II. Origins

Zapatista corridos commemorate significant events in the movement’s history—one that does not begin with the highly publicized events of 1 January 1994, but with its formation eleven years earlier, in 1983. Some corridos even date from 1969, the year that the Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Forces)—an organization that preceded the EZLN—was founded (Aguirre 2013).  Consider one of several compositions entitled "17 de noviembre"the date the EZLN was born 1983. In an almost intimate tone, the corrido recounts that day’s events using simple brushstrokes to compose a picture on a strictly human scale:

Escuchen, compañeros, les cantaré un corrido,
noviembre diecisiete, del año ochenta y tres;
llegaron compañeros a la selva de Chiapas
para empezar la lucha en toda la nación.

Traían pensamiento de continuar la lucha
del núcleo guerrillero que acompañó a Manuel;
después de atravesar una larga cordillera
los seis compañeros deciden acampar.

Para seguir sus pasos tan firmes, gigantones,
que despertó comarcas al saber de su ideal;
ya estando en campamento al ver que su bandera
ondeaba con orgullo allá en ese lugar.

Traían pensamiento de continuar la lucha
del núcleo guerrillero que acompañó a Manuel
y ahora somos miles por esa gran semilla
que el pobre campesino la hizo germinar.

Dándole su alimento también al combatiente
y con mayor esfuerzo dando seguridad;
que nuestros corazones se llenan de alegría
por todos estos años que han pasado ya.

¡Que vivan insurgentes, que vivan milicianos,
que viva nuestro ejército y todo el país!

Listen, compañeros, I’ll sing you a corrido,
on the seventeenth of November, in the year nineteen eighty-three,
compañeros arrived in the forest of Chiapas
to begin the struggle for all the nation.

They wanted to continue the fight
of the guerrillas who’d accompanied Manuel;
after crossing a long mountain range
the six compañeros decide to set up camp.

They followed Manuel’s strong, giant footsteps,
and those lands awakened to his ideals
once his flag could be seen
waving with pride in that camp.

They wanted to continue the fight
of the guerrillas who’d accompanied Manuel
and now we are thousands because of the great seed
the poor campesino has made sprout.

Giving food to the combatant as well,
and with greater effort, security;
our hearts fill with joy for all the years
that have passed since then.

Long live the insurgents, long live the militants,
long live our army and all the country!

This composition, like so many that we will present here, demonstrates that corridos recounting historic events acquire meaning through their circulation in the immediate community—one that seeks to recognize itself in the narrative rather than simply be informed by music. For those who are not part of the narrator’s community, the reference to “Manuel” can be understood by consulting history books or by listening to the details narrated in other corridos, such as "6 de agosto:"

Hoy es 6 de agosto, compas,
tenemos ya muy presente,
cuando en sesenta y nueve
nacen las FLN.

Un lunes ya en la noche,
6 de agosto, muy presente
quedará siempre en la historia
de nuestra organización.

Estaban ahí presentes
Pedro junto a Salvador;
ellos fueron responsables
de nuestra organización.

Bajo su mando tenían
a Manolo con Alfredo,
ellos fueron como ellos:
decididos en la lucha.

También estaba Alfonso,
con Ricardo muy valientes,
ellos trabajaron mucho
por nuestras FLN.

Gonzalo, unido a ellos,
empiezan con decisión
a sembrar la semillita
en toda nuestra nación.

Las Fuerzas de Liberación
Nacional, como le llamamos,
es una organización
de la clase explotada.

Today is the sixth of August, compas,
and we’ll never forget
the day in sixty-nine
when the FLN was born.

It was a Monday night, the sixth of August, we’ll never forget,
it’ll always stay in the history
of our organization

Present that day
were Pedro along with Salvador;
They were responsible
for our organization.

Under their command
were Manolo and Alfredo,
who were like them:
committed to the struggle.

And Alfonso was there
and Ricardo, both of them brave,
they worked hard
or our FLN.

With Gonzalo, who joined them
they started in earnest
to sow the small seed
throughout our nation.

Las Fuerzas de Liberación
Nacional, as we call it,
is an organization
of the exploited class.

This corrido (whose final lines celebrating the “39th anniversary of our organization” dates it from 2008) not only establishes its own place within the genealogy of the struggle, but also sets forth moral imperatives that urge listeners not to abandon the effort:

La luz de los fundadores
ilumina la nación
las fuerzas de los caídos
nos empujan a la guerra.

Debemos de responder,
insurgentes, milicianos,
unidos a nuestro pueblo
vamos a la guerra justa.

The light of the founders
illuminates the nation
the strength of the fallen
pushes us to war.

We must respond,
insurgents, militants,
united with our pueblo
we go to the just war.

The number of corridos referring to those two crucial dates—6 August 1969 and 17 November 1983—does not, however, approach the vast number of corridos referring to 1 January 1994. Musically and narratively, these corridos are quite varied: fast and slow, lengthy and brief, norteño- and Bajío-style. Moreover, some describe the full range of actions by the Zapatistas across the state, while others focus on specific towns (for instance, "La toma de Margaritas" or "Toma de Ocosingo"[12] ).  The majority speak, in general, of the “insurgent troops,” but a few focus on a “commander,” such as "El día primero de enero," recorded by Los Jóvenes Zapatistas del Sur, which celebrates the role played by Major Moisés, or "La toma de Margaritas," in which Subcomandante Pedro looms large. 

Corridos such as "Historia del 94" throw a spotlight on the uprising of the “brave pueblos” that “fight in unison,” while others such as "Firma del tratado" emphasize the thwarted plans of a government all set to celebrate, with great fanfare, the effective date of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada on the eve 1 January 1994. As the corrido goes, “Sonriendo se preparaba para firmar los papeles, cuando de pronto se escucha el retumbar de metrallas: son los pobres campesinos que se declaran en guerra” (“With a smile, the papers are prepared for signature, when suddenly there’s a blast of gunshot. It’s the wretched campesinos declaring war”).  

In a number of corridos the uprising’s watchwords “Ya basta!”—“Enough already!” —are prominent, but there are others describing the suffering experienced in the district of Ocosingo, where the bloodiest events took place the day after the Zapatistas captured its municipal seat. "Combate en Ocosingo" includes both these motifs, and adds the element of the “good surprise” the government received:

...Con miles de federales
rodearon todo Ocosingo,
sin importar los civiles;
en el momento entraron
con tanques y metralletas,
destruyendo todo el pueblo.

Insurgentes y milicianos
del EZLN
entramos en defensiva
con rifles y con machetes;
en cada bala un “ya basta”
y en cada voz un Zapata.

Me acuerdo de muchas cosas
por los sangrientos combates;
cómo fueron sucediendo:
insurgentes con el pueblo,
los federales matando
a todos los que encontraban.

El 3 y 4 de enero
continuamos los combates,
los federales aumentan
sus tropas y armamentos,
helicópteros y aviones
bombardeando poblaciones.

Yo bien recuerdo, señores,
muchas mujeres valientes
en la línea disparando
sin importar consecuencias;
por defender a su pueblo
entregan hasta la vida.

También lo vi con mis ojos
las calles llenas de sangre
causada por los combates;
obligados a rendirnos,
insurgentes y milicianos
la batalla continuamos.

Insurgentes y milicianos
heridos y algunos muertos
por defender nuestra patria;
centenar de federales
quedaron muertos y heridos
por defender al gobierno.

No lo esperaba el gobierno
el levantamiento armado,
recibió buena sorpresa
mientras que ellos festejaban
sus tratados de comercio
junto a los empresarios...

...with thousands of federal troops
they surrounded all of Ocosingo,
not caring about civilians;
then the moment arrived,
and they entered with tanks and machine guns,
destroying the entire town.

We, the insurgents and militants
of the EZLN
started defending ourselves 
with rifles and machetes;
in every bullet a “ya basta”
in every voice a Zapata.

I remember many things
about the bloody battles;
how they were waged:
insurgents alongside the pueblo,
the federals killing
everyone they found.

On the third and fourth of January
we continue fighting,
the federals increase
their troops and weapons,
helicopters and planes
bombard populations.

I remember it well, señores,
the many brave women
taking aim on the front lines
no matter what;
to defend their pueblo
they give even their lives.

I saw with my own eyes, too
the streets full of blood
caused by the fighting;
though pressed to surrender,
we insurgents and militants
keep on fighting.

We insurgents and militants
were wounded, some killed
while defending our country;
a hundred federal troops,
killed and wounded
while they defended the government.

The government didn’t expect it
an armed uprising,
they got a good surprise
while celebrating
their trade agreements
with big business...

Among those who lost their lives during those battles[13]  was Francisco Gómez, the “rebel guerrilla” who held the “rank of a comandante,” as described by the Trío Machete in the "Corrido de Francisco Gómez" (Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena Comandancia General del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional México 2004)

Con grado de comandante,
era hombre muy derecho;
aunque cargaba su arma,
siempre respeta a su pueblo;
quería tierra para todos,
educación, pan y techo.

Cuando salió pa’ Ocosingo,
ya la muerte le rondaba,
se despidió de Azucena,
la mujer que más amaba,
también de sus nueve hijos,
sabía que no regresaba.

With the rank of comandante,
he was an honest man;
though he took up arms,
he always respected his pueblo;
he wanted land for everyone,
education, food, a roof over their heads.

When he left for Ocosingo,
death already shadowed him,
he said farewell to Azucena,
the woman he loved the most,
and to his nine children,
he knew he wouldn’t return.[14] 

Francisco Gómez is the subject of other corridos whose titles reflect his combat name, Comandante Hugo, or the name he preferred, Señor Ik.[15]  He wasn’t, however, the only Zapatista commander killed in the early days of January 1994. Subcomandante Pedro, about whom perhaps the greatest number of corridos have been written,[16]  also perished, though not in Ocosingo. An account of his death, which mentions the plan of action he made prior to the uprising, is given in "La muerte del compañero subcomandante insurgente Pedro," recorded by Ecos de Libertad on their CD 26 de octubre:[17]  

Voy a contar esta historia
a los que son zapatistas,
les diré lo que pasó
allá por las Margaritas:
mataron al subcomandante
insurgente Pedro, valiente.

Con su carabina en la mano,
peleando firme y valiente
le tocó la mala suerte:
varios balazos le dieron,
pero al final no caía
porque era un valiente insurgente.

Llegaron las sanitarias
para ver qué estaba pasando,
el subcomandante Pedro
casi ya no podía hablar
porque estaba muy mal herido
 por las balas que le dieron.

Esto fue el 1° de enero
del año 94,
perdimos al subcomandante
insurgente Pedro, valiente (...)
nos dejó muchas historias
que no vamos a olvidar
es un ejemplo para nosotros,
los que somos zapatistas. 

Sus tropas no se rindieron,
ellos siguieron combatiendo
porque ellos sí lo sabían
que esto sí puede pasar;
así matan a los hombres
que no se saben rajar.

El subcomandante Pedro
era el mando de esa región,
él había hecho los planes
cómo debemos pelear,
a todas las unidades
insurgentes y milicianos.

Compañero subcomandante,
aquí estamos presentes,
continuando los trabajos
que usted nos enseñaste
juntos con todo el pueblo,
vamos, vamos adelante...

I’m going to tell this story
to the Zapatistas among you,
I’ll tell you what happened
over there by Las Margaritas:
they killed subcomandante
insurgent Pedro, the brave one.

With his carbine in hand, 
fighting steady and brave
he met with bad luck:
several bullets hit him,
but in the end he didn’t fall 
for he was a brave insurgent.

The medics arrived
to see what was happening,
subcomandante Pedro
could barely speak
he was badly wounded 
by the bullets they gave him.

It was the 1st of January
in the year 94
we lost subcomandante
insurgent Pedro, the brave one (...)

He left behind many stories
we’ll never forget
He’s a model for us,
for those who are Zapatistas.
His soldiers didn’t surrender,
they kept fighting
because yes they knew
that yes it could happen;
That’s how men are killed
who won’t surrender.

Subcomandante Pedro
was the officer for that region,
he had made the plans
of how we should fight,
for all the units
insurgents and militants.

Compañero subcomandante,
here we are, present,
continuing the work
you taught us
alongside the entire pueblo,
let’s go, let’s go forward...

At the outset of the armed uprising, the EZLN issued the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, a declaration of war subtitled “Hoy Decimos ¡Basta!” (Today We Say Enough!). In it they insist on their right to fight for work and for land; for a roof over their heads; for food, health care, and education; for independence, freedom, and democracy; and for justice and peace. These demands appear in various forms in a number of corridos, especially the ones about the 1994 uprising, and they serve as inspirational elements in songs about the foundation of the EZLN. They are the reasons that justify the struggle.

At times the demands are described one by one or are summarized by “democracy, justice and freedom.” In some instances, it is assumed that listeners know what the demands are, as in the corrido "Vamos, compañeros" by Dueto Horizonte: “si al gobierno no le gusta lo que canto, pues que cumpla nuestras demandas” (“if the government doesn’t like what I’m singing, then let them meet our demands”).  Or they may be carefully enumerated for the sake of attracting followers to their cause. Such is the case in "El insurgente," recorded by the Trío Montaña to the melody of the celebrated corrido "El Asesino," famously sung by Los Cadetes de Linares:

Me dicen el insurgente por ’ai,
y dicen me anda buscando la ley
porque con otro yo quiero acabar:
con el estado burgués. 

Por once puntos vamos a luchar;
ahorita se los voy a platicar;
cuando termine van a decidir
si nos quieren apoyar.

La tierra para poder cultivar;
un techo donde poder habitar;
educación para todos igual 
vamos a solicitar.

Necesitamos de buena salud,
para eso necesitamos comer;
trabajo para poder producir
también vamos a exigir.

A todo esto le voy a sumar
independencia total para que
ningún gringuito nos venga a joder
y a nuestro pueblo explotar.

Por todo esto juramos vencer;
por eso estoy decidido a luchar,
y de esta manera llegar a ganar
la paz y la libertad.

Over there I’m called the insurgent
they say the law’s coming after me
because I want to do away with someone:
the bourgeois state.

We’re fighting for eleven demands
I’ll tell them to you now;
when I finish you can decide
if you want to support us.

Land to cultivate;
a roof over our heads;
equal education for all
are our demands.

We need good health,
and for that we need to eat;
and we need work so that we can produce
these are also our demands.

To all that I’ll add
total independence, so that
no gringuito can come fuck us over
and exploit our pueblo.

For all this we pledge ourselves to victory;
that’s why I resolved to fight,
and in that way arrive at
peace and liberty.

Several corridos treat the perceptions of the uprising in Chiapas at the local and national level during the first few days of 1994. One such corrido, "Terroristas en Socoltenango," captures the voice of “the people” and the media:

Año del noventa y cuatro
como a las tres de la tarde,
en radio y televisión,
que allá empezaron la guerra
Soldados encapuchados
 que no se sabe su origen
atacan en San Cristóbal,
Margaritas, Altamirano. 

La noticia al día siguiente
de aquellos encapuchados:
son grupos secuestradores
y que también terroristas...

La gente de aquel poblado
se escuchan murmuraciones,
será que empezó la guerra
o ya es castigo de Dios.

Mucha gente ya, señores,
ya les daba por llorar,
pues si es castigo de Dios
todos vamos a morir.
A pocos días después
dicen que son zapatistas,
que luchan por una causa
que ellos no son terroristas.

Y dicen de aquel hombre,
que es un líder extranjero,
y que se hace llamar
el subcomandante Marcos...

In the year ninety-four
around three pm,
on the radio and TV,
the news that war broke out.
Masked soldiers
from where, no one knows,
attack San Cristóbal
Margaritas, Altamirano.

The news the next day
about those masked men:
they’re kidnappers
and terrorists, too...

The villagers
hear rumors,
did war break out
or is it God’s punishment.
Many people, señores,
had already started crying,
for if it’s God’s punishment
we’re all going to die.

Some days later
they say it’s the Zapatistas,
who fight for a cause
and that they’re not terrorists.
And they say about that man,
that he’s a foreign leader,
and that he calls himself
Subcomandante Marcos...

It is well-known that every discourse is in dialogue with other social discourses; what is notable about this corrido, however, is that it doesn’t establish the typical contrast between discourse and counterdiscourse. Instead, its author creates a small mosaic of the impressions related to the Zapatistas without attempting to establish criteria or make any judgments. In fact, the corrido ends with two lines that, musically and narratively, leave the song in midair: “Esta historia va a seguir,” the Dueto Horizonte says, "y la sabremos después" (“This story will continue, we’ll find out what happens later”). 
The corrido "Zapata no era extranjero" also treats the discourse of the media, but for the purpose of setting the record straight: “Zapata no era extranjero, ni tampoco son los nuestros, son puritos mexicanos, casi todos chiapanecos” (“Zapata wasn’t a foreigner, and neither are our [leaders]; they’re pure Mexican, almost all of them from Chiapas”).

III. Resistance

Over the years, the federal, state, and municipal governments have adopted various counterinsurgency strategies, which are recounted in corridos telling of ambushes, betrayals, pursuits, and kidnappings. In the aftermath of the ceasefire of 12 January 1994, the violent events narrated by the Zapatista corridos mainly refer to attacks by paramilitary groups that have links to political parties. One important exception, discussed below, are the corridos that recount “Zedillo’s betrayal” on 9 February 1995.

Because the EZLN’s genealogy goes back to 1969, tragic events that occurred in the 1970s are also featured, as well as those occurring after 1983. The corrido "7 de Marzo," for instance, refers to the death of “compañero Alfredo,” who “fell while carrying out his duty as a revolutionary” in 1977. Similarly, "26 de Mayo" commemorates “Mario and Ruth,” “compañeros who fell in the year 1983.”

Significantly, corridos such as these depict notable figures from those years as brave individuals, as defenders of the country, as tireless workers who are an example to the new generations for whom they serve as an inspiration. This is shown in the corrido "26 de Mayo," which declares that “el ejemplo de ellos sirve en nuestra organización, en cuarteles insurgentes, en el monte, en la ciudad” (“their example serves us in our organization, in insurgent barracks, in the countryside, in the city”). It is typical for these corridos to use the metaphor of the seed that bears great fruit, as in the "Corrido del compañero Manuel," which exemplifies how an image is constructed of these “heroes of our struggle” who must be treated, as the corrido "Compañero Manuel y Salvador" affirms, as “heroes of our Mexico.” Let us look at the "Corrido del compañero Manuel" (one of the most accomplished corridos in musical and literary terms), which was composed “in the heart of the Zapatista rebel autonomous municipality San Pedro Polhó:” 

Escuchen esto señores,
disculpen la interrupción,
es importante que sepan
lo que hace tiempo pasó,
hay muchos que no lo saben,
por eso lo canto yo.

En México hay mucha gente
que siempre se ha rebelado,
que quiere mucho a su pueblo
y que por él ha peleado.
Manuel y sus compañeros
no han muerto, siguen luchando.

Sí, compañero Manuel,
aquí están los insurgentes,
que levantamos el arma
que tú dejaste al caer.
Sí, compañero Manuel,
luchamos por nuestra patria.
Si muero será peleando,
buscando la libertad.

Por las sierras y montañas
ellos fueron caminando,
y en el camino sembrando
semillas de libertad.
Manuel y sus compañeros
no han muerto, siguen luchando.

Esas semillas, señores,
el pueblo las cultivó,
y al cabo de algunos años
el fruto se cosechó.
Manuel y sus compañeros
en muchos se convirtió.

Sí, compañero Manuel,
aquí están los insurgentes,
que levantamos el arma
que tu dejaste al caer.

Listen to this, señores,
pardon the interruption,
it’s important that you know
what happened some time ago,
there are many who don’t,
and that’s the reason for my song.

In Mexico there are many
who have always rebelled,
who dearly love their pueblo
and fight for it.
Manuel and his compañeros
haven’t died, they’re still fighting.

Yes, compañero Manuel,
here we are, the insurgents,
we take up the arms
you left us when you fell.
Yes, compañero Manuel,
we fight for our country.
If I die, it will be in battle,
in search of liberty.

Over the sierra and the mountains
they travelled by foot,
and along the way
sowed the seeds of liberty
Manuel and his compañeros
have not died, they’re still fighting.

Those seeds, señores,
were tended by the people,
and after some years
the fruit was harvested.
Manuel and his compañeros
 were turned into the many.

Yes, compañero Manuel,
here are the insurgents,
we take up the arms
you left us when you fell.

As noted above, after the ceasefire on 12 January 1994, the corridos mostly refer to attacks by paramilitary groups. However, we cannot fail to mention the military offensive taken on 9 February 1995 to capture Subcomandante Marcos, not only because, while attempting to capture the leaders of the movement, the military destroyed one of the most powerful symbols of Zapatismo, the first Aguascalientes (spaces for Zapatista culture and encounter with civil and governmental groups), but also because the action itself is the theme of several corridos. 

At times, these corridos focus on the military’s plan to end the political-cultural project of the Aguascalientes or on the operation itself. This is the case in the corridos "9 de febrero de 1995" and "La traición de Zedillo."[18]  We will use this last corrido, whose title in English means “Zedillo’s betrayal,” which is more concise and has more developed lyrics, as our example, despite the fact it does not treat the ambush by the Zapatistas against the federal troops approaching the community of Guadalupe Tepeyac: 

El día 9 de febrero,
año del 95,
el gobierno zedillista
traicionó a los zapatistas,
dictó órdenes de aprensión,
buscando a los combatientes.

Llegaron los federales
en la selva Lacandona,
con los cinturones flojos
cercaron con sus cañones
Aguascalientes primero,
corazón del pueblo entero.

Helicópteros alertas
y aviones de combate,
por toda la serranía
hubo vuelos bien rasantes,
buscando a los guerrilleros
y pedir la rendición.

Ninguna de sus acciones
han podido separarnos,
mucho menos desarmar
a las tropas insurgentes,
soldados del pueblo pobre,
muy consciente y muy valiente.

El subcomandante Marcos
 decidió de no enfrentarse
no por temor a la muerte,
sino por amor al pueblo,
respetando el cese al fuego
que el gobierno lo pidió.

Los civiles y las tropas
respondimos con valor,
con firmeza y decisión
luchando por la nación.
Defender nuestra bandera,
es decir, la patria entera.

Ya con esta me despido,
no se les vaya a olvidar:
hay que estar bien convencido
que el gobierno es muy traidor,
engañando a los más pobres
y vendiendo nuestra patria.

On the 9 of February,
in the year 95,
Zedillo’s government
betrayed the Zapatistas
it gave orders to capture,
and searched for combatants.

The Feds arrived
in the Lancandon forest
those gutless cowards
they laid siege with cannons,
first at the Aguascalientes
at the heart of the pueblo.

Helicopters hovering
and combat planes,
flying low,
strafing the mountains,
looking for guerrillas
and ordering surrender.

None of their actions
could divide us,
much less disarm
the insurgent troops,
soldiers from a poor pueblo,
very conscious and very brave.

Subcomandante Marcos
decided not to confront them
not for fear of death,
but for love of the pueblo,
he respected the ceasefire
the government had requested.

Civilians and troops
we responded with valor,
with firmness and decision
we fought for the nation.
We defended our flag, 
that is, the entire country.

And with that I bid farewell,
and may you never forget:
you should have no doubt
that the government is treacherous
It plays tricks on the poorest
and sells out our country.

The southern border of Mexico has in no way escaped the problems that drug trafficking and organized crime have brought to the rest of the country. It is not uncommon, therefore, for corridos to reflect the aggressions of narco-traffickers against the Zapatistas, carried out with the support or consent of the authorities. These crimes are denounced in compositions such as the "Corrido de José López," a Zapatista authority who was assassinated on 7 August 2002. Composed as a tribute, the song relates how those in charge of investigating the homicide destroyed the incriminating evidence instead. It ends with the following lines: “El gobierno estatal y esos tres asesinos, junto con el presidente, son cómplices de la muerte del compañero José y muchas muertes ocultas” (“The state government and those three assassins, along with the president, are complicit in the death of compañero José and many more that are unknown")
What the corridos reflect the most, however, are attacks by paramilitaries and others who are close to or affiliated with political parties. It is not surprising, given Mexico’s history, that organizations linked to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) would use all possible means to combat the EZLN and its civil support bases. Likewise, it would be pointless to expect support from the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). Perhaps that explains why the corridos reflect the Zapatistas’ emphatic condemnation of violence by the group from whom one would expect, if not backing, then at least repudiation of these violent acts: the “leftist” Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD).

"Agresiones perredistas" openly declares that “it’s a myth” that the PRD is on the side of the poor, because groups associated with the party “kidnap and abuse” Zapatistas in Ocosingo, Altamirano, Las Margaritas, and Zinacantán. This widely shared vision is borne out by narratives of actual confrontations, as in the corrido "Tragedia en Zinancantán," which recounts the ambush of peaceful demonstrators marching in support of three Zapatista communities whose access to water had been cut off:

Diez de abril del 2004, como a las 7 de la mañana,
aproximadamente cuatro mil bases de apoyo
dirigiéndose a Jech’vó, municipio Zinacantán.

La marcha era apoyar el agua a los compañeros,
quien desde hace meses le habían privado del agua
y unas que otras cosas más, por militantes perredistas.

Mientras iban caminando todo estaba muy tranquilo,
unos se decían entre ellos: "Esto es algo medio raro,
quién sabe qué va a pasar;" ellos ya lo presentían,
que unas horas después empezaría la agresión.

Llegando a este lugar repartieron el agua;
se celebró el discurso, que duró 30 minutos.
Por parte de los compañeros, la marcha había terminado;
la marcha se hizo, todo, pacíficamente.

Ya venían de regreso como a las 3 de la tarde,
150 más o menos militantes perredistas
habían tapado el camino por donde iban a pasar.

Cuarenta minutos después empezó la agresión,
parte de los perredistas palos, botellas y piedras;
a los poquitos momentos se oyeron los disparos
que parecían ser [de calibres] 22 y 38.

Para tener que salir tenían que defenderse
como ellos podían, pues ellos no iban armados;
casas destruidas quedaron, sangre en ese lugar;
culpable de esa tragedia era el presidente municipal
y el gobierno estatal.

On the tenth of April, 2004, at around 7 am,
some four thousand civilian supporters
were headed toward Jech’vó, municipality of Zinancantán.

The march was in support of water for our compañeros,
who for months have been denied water
and a few other things, by PRD militants.

While they walked, all was peaceful,
some said to each other: “This is a little strange,
who knows what’s next;" they could see it coming,
the violence that would start in a few hours.

Once they arrived, they distributed water;
a speech was made, which lasted 30 minutes.
For these compañeros, the march had ended;
the march had been made, in total peace.

As they made their return around 3 pm,
about a hundred and fifty PRD militants
blocked the road where they would pass.

Forty minutes later the violence began,
the perredistas had clubs, bottles and stones;
within minutes shots could be heard
from what seemed like .22- or .38-caliber guns

In order to escape they had to defend themselves
as they could, since they were unarmed;
houses were destroyed, it was a place of blood;
the municipal president and the state government
are to blame for that tragedy.

Another way in which the government undermines the Zapatistas’ work of political organization and destabilizes their communities is by adopting environmental measures that ultimately affect the Zapatistas. In a global community in which the preservation of natural resources is a cause that enjoys legitimacy, this entails little risk for the government and even promotes its image as a state concerned about the future of humanity. It is difficult to mount a defense against actions that are ostensibly intended to protect the environment, but that entail the forced displacement of indigenous communities and campesinos who lack legal documents proving ownership of lands where they have lived and worked for centuries.

Corridos speak of situations that arise when there are competing social goods, each of which can be tied to human rights, although, of course, doubts are often cast on the true ecological intentions of the government. This can be seen in compositions such as "Desalojo de Montes Azules," a track included on the CD Los dos vientos de voz y fuego:

Yo le pregunto al gobierno:
¿Éste es el cambio pa’ todos?
¿desalojando al pueblo
entero de esta nación?
Las promesas quedaron
convertidas en traición.

Hay pueblos que viven hoy
en Biósfera Montes Azules;
todos están amenazados
por la invasión ilegal;
pretende hoy el gobierno
sacar las comunidades. 

Nuestra patria no se vende,
lo sabe el mundo entero,
pero los malos gobiernos
lo venden al extranjero,
y, vendepatrias que son,
nos dejan en el olvido.

Color de la tierra somos
y no lo pueden negar,
porque somos los primeros
y originarios que somos,
en la memoria grabada,
en la piedra y en el mar.

Nuestra tierra y su riqueza
lo venden al extranjero,
el mal gobierno, a cambio,
recibe las maquinarias
para impulsar sus mañas del Plan Puebla-Panamá. (...)

Según anuncia el gobierno,
esto es uno de los cambios,
pero no nos engañemos,
nos quieren dejar esclavos,
llenos de muerte y miseria
y así traicionar la patria.

Los latinoamericanos
tenemos que organizarnos,
y gritando nuestro lema:
 la tierra y la libertad;
Ejercito Zapatista Liberación Nacional.

I ask the government:
This is what change for everyone means?
displacing all the people
of this nation?
Promises have turned into

There are pueblos living today
in Biosphere Montes Azules;
all are threatened
by the illegal invasion;
Now the government is trying
to remove the communities.

Our country can’t be sold,
the whole world knows it,
but the bad governments
sell it to foreigners,
and traitors that they are
they consign us to oblivion.

We’re the color of the earth
they can’t deny it,
because we’re the first
we’re the originals,
recorded in memory,
in stones and in the sea.

Our land and its riches
they sell to foreigners,
the bad government, in exchange,
gets the machinery
to drive forward the shady Puebla-Panamá Plan. (...)

The government announces
that this is one of the changes,
but let’s not fool ourselves,
they want to make us slaves
full of death and misery
and so they betray the country.

We Latin Americans
must organize ourselves,
as we cry out our refrain:
land and freedom;
Ejército Zapatista Liberación National.

These final lines proclaim, like so many of the corridos we have commented on here, that before one gives up the fight, one must seek better, more effective ways to organize against neoliberal depredations.[19] 
Overcoming the contempt of those in power, the voracity of economic interests, the superficiality of the media, and the indifference of common people who believe that they have some power and don’t want to risk losing it, the Zapatistas keep developing and strengthening their ties to a significant number of people worldwide, people with whom they share the desire to build, from the grassroots and from the left, a world that is more just and free: a better world. 

In this sense, the Zapatistas not only practice and encourage resistance, but they also generate autonomous spaces in which the rules of coexistence might be different. They invite us to build spaces in accord with “each person’s way of being,” since, as "Mañanitas revolucionarias" puts it, "la patria necesita cambiar ya su situación” (“the country needs to change its situation right now”).  

We conclude this section with "Yo tengo el alma llena de coraje" by Los Jóvenes Zapatistas del Sur, a corrido directed at all the Mexican people:

Yo tengo el alma llena de coraje
porque unos cuantos nos quieren acabar,
y en todas partes nos andan humillando,
ni pa’ tortilla nos quieren ya dejar.

Los años pasan y crecen nuestras penas,
la patria linda ya se nos terminó,
porque esos vales se siguen embolsando
toda ganancia que el pobre trabajó.

Si toman tierras, dicen que las compraron;
a quién y cuándo, si son de la nación.
Ah, qué señores que cambian esas leyes
para dejarnos sin paz y ni valor.

Yo traigo el alma llena de coraje,
con esos hombres no se puede trabajar,
mientras que uno se queda con los negocios,
otros afuera nos mandan a balear.

Ya ven en Chiapas y la muerte de Colosio,
qué fácilmente nos mandan a volar,
pues qué esperamos todos los mexicanos,
para reunirnos y darnos libertad.

My soul is full of rage
because of those who want to do us in,
everywhere, they put us down
we can’t afford tortillas, even.

The years pass by and our sorrows grow,
Our beautiful country is no more,
because they keep their pockets lined
with all that’s earned from the work of the poor.

If they seize land, they say the bought it;
from whom, and when, if it’s public land.
Ah, these no-good men who change the laws
and leave us with no peace or worth.

My soul is full of rage,
with those men, you cannot work
one takes the whole business for himself
while the others, on the outside, order that we be shot

You can see in Chiapas and with Colosio’s death,
how easily they blow us off,
what are we Mexicans waiting for,
to organize and achieve our liberty.

IV. Autonomy

While seeking that the demands made in 1994 be met, the Zapatistas have experimented with diverse forms of organization, along with varied approaches to negotiating with civil society and the Mexican government. These efforts have spanned different eras and key political moments. Two events stand out in the corridos of our sample: first, the creation of the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas (Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities, or MAREZ) and the establishment of the Aguascalientes, both occurring at the end of 1994; and second, the creation of the caracoles (autonomous municipalities) and the Juntas del Buen Gobierno (Councils of Good Government) in 2003.

The corridos about the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas recall, above all, the moment of their foundation. Some of them were christened with the names of national heroes, such as Lucio Cabañas and Miguel Hidalgo, or given the names of Zapatista leaders killed in battle, such as Francisco Gómez. Other names point to crucial dates in the movement’s history, for example, 17 de Noviembre and 1 de Enero. In some instances, the previous name of the territory was only partially changed, as in the case of San Andrés Sackamch’en de Los Pobres, whose official name, San Andrés Larráinzar, commemorates a governor from the mid-19th century. 

These corridos also describe the reasons why the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas were created. The composition "19 de Diciembre," for instance, states that the municipality Magdalena de la Paz was founded “porque ya no querían estar / en manos del mal gobierno” (“because it no longer wanted to be in the hands of bad government”), and the "Corrido del municipio Che Guevara" points out that its eponymous municipality “lleva en su alma la lucha por justicia” ("carries in its soul the struggle for justice”). 

The Aguascalientes were born at the same time as the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas. Intended at first to be cultural, political, social, economic and ideological sites, over time they turned into centers of Zapatista autonomy. The corrido "La campaña militar" tells us what the perceptions were of that political effort, which created a system of governance in which decisions are made after truly and genuinely considering the opinions of the people, in an attempt to achieve the ideal of “[governing] while obeying.”

Combatientes zapatistas,
con apoyo de la población,
en treinta y ocho municipios
tomaron posición,
protegiendo en su avance
a toda la población,
permitiendo que ellos nombren
a sus propias autoridades.

Desconocimos así
a treinta y ocho municipios
que el mal gobierno imponía
a nuestra gran población,
fueron treinta y ocho municipios
que el EZ declaró,
son municipios rebeldes
que el pueblo ya organizó.

El mandar obedeciendose va haciendo realidad;
la justicia y democracia 
se van fortaleciendo más.
Son municipios rebeldes,
la conciencia marcha ya,
por la fuerza de la lucha
este sueño es realidad.

Los municipios rebeldes
y el concejo municipal
trabajan junto al pueblo
y luchan por dignidad.
Nuestras armas zapatistas
están para defender
el buen gobierno del pueblo
que avanza con dignidad.

Zapatista combatants, with the support of the people,
in thirty-eight municipalities
assumed their positions
protecting as they advanced
all the population,
allowing them to name
their own officials.

Thus we disowned
thirty-eight municipalities
that the bad government
imposed on our great people,
There were thirty-eight municipalities
that the EZ declared
were now rebel municipalities
that the pueblo had organized.

To govern while obeying
is becoming a reality;
justice and democracy
get stronger and stronger.
They’re rebel municipalities
their consciousness now raised,
by the force of the struggle
this dream is a reality.

The rebel municipalities
and the municipal council
work alongside the pueblo
and fight for dignity.
Our Zapatista weapons
are here to defend
the good government of the people
which goes forward with dignity.

The "dignity" with which this corrido ends is one of the key concepts of the Zapatista struggle. As Jérôme Baschet has written, dignity “is not, for [the Zapatistas], an intrinsic quality of being, nor is it an essence. It is acquired in resistance, in the struggle against that which denies them dignity, against all humiliations.” (2013, 63). 

In 2001, after several frustrated attempts to demand implementation of the San Andrés Accords, which they signed in 1996 with the Mexican government, the Zapatistas embarked on a march that followed an itinerary unprecedented in Mexican history: from Chiapas to the Congress of the Union in Mexico City. It is regarded as "a watershed moment on the path of the Zapatista struggle," since when the Zapatistas saw that their expectations would not be fulfilled, they began to build autonomy in their rebel territories (Muñoz 2011) . In 2003, two years after the march, "se despidieron Los Aguascalientes[…] y por la tarde del día 9 nacieron los caracoles” (“it was good-bye to Los Aguascalientes[...] and on the afternoon of the ninth the caracoles were born”), as "Despedida de los Aguascalientes," a dance song celebrating that great political wager, recalls.

The five caracoles (formerly aguascalientes)—La Realidad, Morelia, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios, and Oventic, “didn’t come into the world by themselves,” Raúl Romero recalls, “they were born with the Juntas del Buen Gobierno. Both represented the maturation of the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas (MAREZ) over their almost 10 years of struggle” (2013).[20]   As to what this new step meant, the corrido "Fundación de los Caracoles" tells us the following: 

Con el permiso de ustedes, compañeros,
voy a cantarles este nuevo corrido;
la fundación de los nuevos caracoles
es la esperanza de un nuevo amanecer.

La casa de la Junta de Buen Gobierno,
así lo sabe todito el mundo entero,
ejemplares gobiernan para el pueblo,
hombre valientes que son de corazón.

Nuestro gobierno es para servir al pueblo
y mejorando para una vida digna;
viva esos pasos tan fuerte y gigantones:
la democracia, justicia y libertad.

Seguiremos luchando, compañeros,
y construyendo nuestra autonomía;
es un derecho para los explotados,
para los pobres de toda la nación

With your permission, compañeros,
I’ll sing you this new corrido;
the foundation of the new caracoles
is the hope for a new dawn.

In the house of the Juntas del Buen Gobierno,
as everyone all over knows,
exemplary men govern for the people,
brave men with a heart.

Our government is for the people
for its betterment, for a life of dignity;
Long live those strong and giant steps:
democracy, justice and freedom.

We’ll keep fighting, compañeros,
and building our autonomy;
it’s a right of the exploited
and the poor of all the nation.

In these recent years, the building of autonomy has been a major goal of the Zapatista struggle; as Baschet points out, it entails building commonality and community without the (Mexican) state. This work constitutes a new cycle for global struggles, a form of collective organization that goes beyond the capitalist system. (2013, 49-50). In spite of difficulties and the many prognoses of failure, the Zapatistas have been making their goal a reality, building “a world in which many worlds can fit,” as they put it. The corrido "Nacimiento de los Caracoles" by the Trío Machete, reflects this vision:

Un mundo de todos los mundos
se está allá formando;
derecho a la autonomía,
y a defender mi nación;
libertad y democracia,
¡que vivan los caracoles!

From all the worlds, one world
is being made there;
the right to autonomy
and to defend my nation;
liberty and democracy,
Long live the caracoles!

The Zapatista project of autonomy includes, along with a system of government, efforts to insure that their demands of the Mexican government will be met. With regards to the specific issues of health care, education, and communication, “promoters” responsible for these projects have been organized from within the caracoles. Several compositions tell us about their work. For example, "La canción del promotor" by Dueto Horizonte is a clear tribute to those who are dedicated to health care:

Dedicaré esta canción
a todos los promotores,
los promotores de salud,
pues hacen buena labor,
pues es parte de la vida
de nuestra organización. 

Se van por acá,
se van por allá,
por esas montañas
que suben y bajan.
Los llaman p’allá,
los llaman p’acá,
por esas carreteras
que suben y bajan.

Larga jornada
tienen que hacer,
aunque cansados
con su gestión;
con sus botiquines
y uniformados,
entre ellos se dicen:
“Duro, compañeros.”

I will dedicate this song
to all the promoters
to the promoters of health care,
because they do good work,
because it’s part of the life
of our organization.

They go here
they go there
over those mountains
that rise and fall.
They’re called to go there
they’re called to go here,
over those roads
that rise and fall.

A long day’s work
is theirs to do,
though they’re tired
by their labors;
with their first-aid kits
and uniforms,
they say to each other
“Be strong, compañeros.”

For their part, Los Originales de San Andrés not only pay homage to the promoters of education in the song "El reclamo," but also reflect on the challenges that arise, given the established order, in carrying out the project of educational autonomy:

Ahora el mal gobierno está preocupado
porque ya lo sabe que estamos educando
a todos los niños y los jóvenes del pueblo
y ya tiene miedo que avancemos más.

Yo les digo claro que nadie nos detiene
para avanzar en nuestra educación;
enseñaremos nuestra historia verdadera
para que mi pueblo sepa la verdad.

Luchemos ya juntos por la educación,
pueblos y promotores tomados de las manos;
derrotemos juntos a esos neoliberales
esclavizadores de la humanidad.

Para que se cumplan las dignas demandas
de la educación para todos los pueblos,
a los promotores y a las promotoras
de la educación trabajaremos más.

Ya aquí me despido, a mis camaradas
sólo les recuerdo que la educación
es la esperanza para todos los pueblos
habitantes dignos de nuestra nación.

Now the bad government is worried
because it’s learned we’re educating
all the children and youth of the pueblo
and it fears we’ll keep moving forward.

I’m telling you, no one can stop us
from advancing our education;
we’ll teach our true history
so that the pueblo knows the truth.

Together we’ll fight for education,
pueblos and promoters, we’ll hold hands;
together we’ll defeat those neoliberal
slave-drivers of humanity.

To realize the worthy demands
for an education for all the pueblos,
we’ll keep working
with the promotors of education.

And here I bid farewell, my compañeros,
I’ll only remind you that education
is the hope for all the pueblos,
the worthy inhabitants of our nation.

Another aspect of Zapatista autonomy and of the autonomous governments mentioned in the corridos is the participation of women at various levels and the reversal of the subordination to which they have been subjected throughout history. This battle has been waged and has been central to Zapatista governance since the first moments of the uprising, as shown by the EZLN Women's Revolutionary Law, announced concurrently with the announcement of other revolutionary laws during the 1994 uprising. More recent proof is in the textbook La Libertad según l@s Zapatistas (Liberty According to the Zapatistas), which is used in the first grade of the Escuelita Zapatista por la Libertad (Zapatistas' Little School of Freedom). The dedication in this textbook reads: “to women’s participation in the autonomous government.” The representation in the corridos of the struggle for equality merits a separate study; here we will simply state that there are a significant number of compositions that highlight the role of women, praising their commitment, their bravery, and their capacity for work. The corridos also state that it is a shared responsibility to achieve "respeto en nuestras vidas y en la comunidad" (“respect in our lives and in the community”), as heard in the song "Derecho de participación," an excellent illustration of what this section outlines whose last lines are a call to end the disrespect with which women have been treated historically:

Con la educación
ya conocimos bien
que tenemos derechos
de participación.

Con esta claridad,
con organización,
con nuestra lucha justa
nos dimos libertad.

Con esta libertad
nos levantamos juntos
para hacer trabajos
que dan vida mejor.

Los hombres y mujeres
luchamos porque haya
respeto en nuestras vidas
y en la comunidad.

Por eso respetamos
y trabajamos juntos,
ocupando los cargos
donde hay necesidad.

Por eso, compañeros,
por eso, compañeras,
sólo con la igualdad
habrá vida mejor.

Muera la humillación,
la falta de respeto,
que muera el desprecio
que sufrió la mujer.

With education
we know it well
we have the right
to participate.

With this clarity,
with organization,
with our just fight
we free ourselves.

With this freedom
we rise as one
to do the work
that gives us a better life.

Men and woman
we’ll fight to have
respect in our lives
and in the community.

That’s why we’ll respect each other
and work side by side,
carrying out the jobs
that need to be done.

That’s why, compañeros,
that’s why, compañeras,
only with equality
will there be a better life.

Let humiliation die
and the lack of respect,
Let the disrespect
that women have suffered die.

V. Conclusion

Investigations of the Zapatista corrido and of the broader musical culture around Zapatismo have great importance. The movement has had global reverberations, as shown by the number of locations worldwide that have composed musical tributes to the Zapatistas or that have helped disseminate its principles and demands. The fusion of musical traditions and contemporary rhythms with music from “the roots” is, in this case, extraordinarily rich, as is the strength that the movement gives to the traditional Mexican genres such as the corrido, thus ensuring its continuity.

The importance of music in the life of a political movement can clearly be discerned. Scholars have ample material with which to keep working on Zapatista corridos specifically, whether by analyzing the representation of all the participants (the Zapatistas, the government, political parties, civil society), by examining how political messages are constructed, or by studying musical practices on special occasions and in daily life, to point to just a few possible avenues of investigation. 

In this essay we have presented a panorama of significant events in the Zapatista movement that have been elaborated into song by insurgents, militants, commanders, and civil support bases. These songs were later recorded on CDs that are available in the caracoles and that can be purchased in stores that are sympathetic to the Zapatista movement in San Cristóbal de las Casas and in other cities. They can also be heard on the Internet. 

Zapatista songs directly interpellate us, asking us to reflect on what we do or don’t do that allows injustice, discrimination, and inequality to grow. Equally they ask us to reflect on what we do or don’t do that allows justice, democracy and freedom to take root. These songs are not just musical compositions—though they succeed on that level—they are also invitations to take steps within our environment to change our social reality. As the narrator reminds us in the corrido performed by Anhelos de Libertad, "El insurgente:" "No se trata de un corrido ni de una canción popular; es un llamado, señores, es un llamado a luchar" ("it's not just a corrido or a popular song, it's a call, señores, it's a call to battle").


[1] This article is based on research done for the project “Fronteras poéticas/poéticas de la frontera” with the Red de Investigaciones Teórico Literarias (RITELI), sponsored by the Programa de Mejoramiento del Profesorado (PROMEP) of the Secretaria de Educación Pública.

[2] For this study, we reviewed a sample of over 300 songs, the majority on CDs that were obtained in the caracoles of Oventic and La Realidad. Others were accessed on the musical archives of websites such as Radio Insurgente ( or the Center for Documentation on Zapatismo ( The CDs have limited information, often lacking the names of the composers and only occasionally indicating the places of origin of the musicians. None of the CDs included the lyrics to the corridos; those quoted in this essay are from transcriptions we made.

[3]  For a brief summary of the different regions that produce corridos, see Avitia Hernández, Antonio, Corrido histórico mexicano. Voy a cantarles la historia. Tomo I (1810-1910) (México: Editorial Porrúa, 1997), pp. 13-22.

[4]  For more information on the role of theater, radio, and film in the construction of post-Revolution national identity, see (among others) Michael Nelson Miller, Red, White, and Green: The Maturing of Mexicanidad (1940-1946) (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1998) and Carlos Monsiváis, La cultura mexicana en el siglo XX (México: El Colegio de México, 2010). On the mythologization of the corrido, see Ricardo Pérez Montfort, “El corrido mexicano. Un recuento a lo largo de los siglos XIX y XX,” in Expresiones populares y estereotipos culturales en México, siglos XIX y XX. Diez ensayos (México: CIESAS, 2007).

[5]  The pioneering studies of Américo Paredes are of fundamental importance to the study of US-Mexico border culture, in particular With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). Another notable study is Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border, ed. Richard Bauman (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995). More recent works include María Herrera-Sobek, Northward Bound: The Mexican Immigrant Experience in Ballad and Song (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993) and Mark Cameron Edberg, El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos & the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), among others.

[6]  In 1971's "Romances y corridos del Soconusco" (in Veinticinco estudios de folklore (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1971), 195-207) archaeologist and historian Carlos Navarrete writes that though in Chiapas “there is a continuous production of corridos, it is very difficult to establish any local characteristics that are unique to the region" (199) He comments on a practice that remains prevalent, which we will discuss later: “The majority [of corridos in the region] are adaptations of old and modern texts, principally norteño, and in only a very few instances is the music accompanying the song original.” (quoted in Avitia 1997, 20).

[7]  Written by Pepe Albarrán, this song was most famously sung by Antonio Aguilar, though it has been recorded by many performers.

[8]  A song made famous by Vicente Fernández across the Americas, "No me sé rajar" was also recorded by La Banda del Recodo and other performers.

[9]  Many versions of this song and its lyric variants have been recorded, but the most famous are the versions and verses that emerged during the Mexican Revolution.

[10]  This archetypical song of the Mexican Revolution has been recorded by El Charro Avitia and Miguel Aceves Mejía, among others.

[11] Indeed, many corridos are created during and as part of social movements that call for improvements to and increased transparency in the democratic process in Mexico. These corridos circulate especially when the results of a presidential election are questioned, as in 2006.

[12] The titles refer to the EZLN’s successful capture of the towns of Las Margaritas and Ocosingo in January 1994.

[13] In a communiqué issued 10 years after the armed uprising, the EZLN published a list of those who had fallen in battle, giving their nomes de guerre, the places where they died, and their complete names and places of origin. This communiqué is available at

[14] Families of insurgents killed in battle, such as that of Comandante Francisco Gómez, were not abandoned; the movement assumed responsibility for their care. The textbook Gobierno Autónomo I. Cuaderno de texto de primer grado del curso de “La Libertad según l@s Zapatistas” states that “with the agreement of the zone or of the regions, the families of compañeros who lost their lives, such as the partner and family of compañero Francisco Gómez, were supported with provisions of basic grains" (45).

[15] On 31 August 2005, during the meetings leading up to the La otra campaña (The Other Campaign), Subcomandante Marcos published “Una pequeña historia del señor Ik” (“A Brief History of Señor Ik”) in La Jornada.

[16] Subcomandante Pedro was one of the original founders of the EZLN. He commanded the First Regiment of the Zapatista Infantry, which entered the town of Las Margaritas on 1 January 1994. He was the only Zapatista to be killed in action that day at that location.

[17] This title, which is shared by one of the corridos on the CD, refers to the day on which Subcomandante Pedro was born.

[18] A reference to the six-year presidency of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, which began on 1 December 1994 and ended on 30 November 2000. During his administration the Acteal Massacre took place, as did the 1995 Zapatista Crisis and tumultuous peace talks.

[19]  Some of the aggressions against Zapatista communities, including those made in the name of environmentalism, have been deemed Acciónes Urgentes (Calls to Action) by human rights agencies such as the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; these alerts are often later circulated by social organization such as the Área Chiapas de la Confederación General de Trabajadores del Estado Español. A 2006 Acción Urgente issued after Zapatistas living in proximity to the disputed “ecological reserve” Huitepec, on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, received threats is available at The Juntas del Buen Gobierno also often issue statements regarding these conflicts. The statement made on 16 November 2007 by the Junta del Buen Gobierno of Oventic is available at

[20]  In Zapatista territories there are three levels of autonomous government: at the local level, there are commissioners and municipal agents; in the MAREZ, authorities and municipal advisory bodies; and in the zone, the Juntas del Buen Gobierno.

Aguirre Rojas, Carlos Antonio. 2013. “Raíces, orígenes e inicios del neozapatismo mexicano.” Contrahistorias. La otra mirada de Clío 10 (20): 7-38.

Avitia Hernández, Antonio. 1997. Corrido histórico mexicano. Voy a cantarles la historia. Tomo I (1810-1910). México: Editorial Porrúa.

Baschet, Jérôme. 2013. Haciendo otros mundos: Autogobierno, sociedad del buen vivir, multiplicidad de los mundos. San Cristóbal de las Casas: Cideci-Unitierra.

Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena Comandancia General del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional México. 2004. “El EZLN da a conocer la lista de sus 46 caídos en los combates de 1994.” 14 February. Accessed 7 December 2013.

Edberg, Mark Cameron. 2004. El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos & the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Gobierno Autónomo I. Cuaderno de texto de primer grado del curso de “La Libertad según l@s Zapatistas." 2013.

Héau-Lambert, Catherine. 2011. “Corridos zapatistas y liberalismo popular.” In Las músicas que nos dieron patria. Músicas regionales en las luchas de independencia y revolución. 155-69. México: Programa de Desarrollo Cultural de Tierra Caliente.

Herrera-Sobek, María. 1993. Northward Bound: The Mexican Immigrant Experience in Ballad and Song. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Miller, Michael Nelson. 1998. Red, White, and Green: The Maturing of Mexicanidad (1940-1946) El Paso: Texas Western Press.

Muñoz, Gloria. 2011. “A diez años de la Marcha del Color de la Tierra.” La Jornada, 3 Dec. Accessed 8 December 2013.

Paredes, Américo. 1995. Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border. Edited by Richard Bauman. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Paredes, Américo. 2000. With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. 2007. “El corrido mexicano. Un recuento a lo largo de los siglos XIX y XX.” In Expresiones populares y estereotipos culturales en México, siglos XIX y XX. Diez ensayos. México: CIESAS.

Razo Oliva, Juan Diego. 2010. Corridos históricos de la tradición del Bajío: el otro bicentario: desde la gesta herioica del Cura Hidalgo hasta la democracia de saliva de Vicente Fox. Morelia, Michoacán: Jitanjáfora Morelia Editorial.

Romero, Raúl. 2013. "Los Caracoles Zapatistas y las Juntas del Buen Gobierno: 10 años del otro mundo posible." Subversiones, 9 August. Accessed 30 September 2013.

Subcomandante insurgente Marcos. 2005. “Una pequeña historia del señor Ik.” La Jornada, 31 August. Accessed 7 December 2013.

Turino, Thomas. 2000. Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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