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Dancing with the Zapatistas

Diana Taylor, Lorie Novak, Authors

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I AM: A Poetic Conversation

Guillermo Goméz-Peña

In the early 90s, I wrote a poem, "Spanglish Lesson," as part of my trilogy The Rediscovery of America by the Warrior for Gringostroika, which five years later would inspire Subcomandante Marcos to write his famous poem “Marcos Is Gay.” 15 years later, I have taken Marcos’ text, rewritten it, and made it my own again in "Rewriting Marcos," the poem I am performing in the video above. In other words, this is my voice, developed by Marcos and reappropriated by my older self as an attempt to remap my consciousness in the new century.

With all my humility and admiration for el Sup, whom I hear is currently fighting his last battle with a terminal disease as vicious as the government. Marcos we will miss you badly...

Rewriting Marcos (2012)

Dear X, querida Muerte,

You ask me with your characteristic candor who am I? Or rather who I have become and what I stand for in this time and place? And I warn you: It is a complicated answer to fit in a Saturday morning revisionist poem but, because I love you, and I embrace formidable challenges, I’ll give it a try, fully aware of the dangers of overusing the rhetorical statement “I am.”

In Mexico, I am an activist against violence; in the US, I am always against amnesia, but to be more geographically specific, in the Sonora desert, I am a Yaqui elder who remembers the way things were before the Spaniards and the Anglos arrived; and in Oaxaca, I am a Zapotec teen who has chosen to forget. It’s a survival strategy and if you want me to elaborate, I can stretch my identity even more across borders and continents and states…

I am a homeless Vato in Wall Street
a Mexican janitor in Los Angeles
a Pakistani cab driver in London
a Palestinian punk in Tel Aviv
an anarchist Goth in Athens…

I am NOT really
but strategically speaking…I can be
a dandy lost in the Arab Spring
a queer activist in San Francisco,
a defiant low-rider in Española,
a poetry book banned in Arizona;
I am, que soy, performing, anger and imagination.
Performing fluctuating cartographies and identities.
Performing real and fictional memories
and I just can’t stop being ‘others’…
Verbi gratia:
a transvestite in Tijuana
with infected implants and a foul mouth,
a Turkish graffiti artist in Berlin
risking his life at 3 in the morning,
an Algerian DJ in Paris or Madrid
making his oblivious enemies dance,
a Russian sex worker in Amsterdam
giving pleasure to those who hate immigrants
a neo-Nuyorican poet in Manhattan,
double exile; 3rd generation; 4th world
I am que fui, que soy,
a permanent border crossing gypsy, alien, wetback, ghost,
sudaca, indignado, ocupa, sin tierra, el 132 del otro 99%
& yes, y por supuesto,
I haven’t forgotten,
I am still a Zapatista in Chiapas,
cuarta region del planeta Poesia
poque todos somos Marcos, Evo, Antanas,
y todas somos Tawakkol Karman,
Rigoberta Menchú & Arundati Roy,
folded into one humungous dream
“We are,”
or rather I am
all of us but no one in particular, nadie,
an orphan of all nation states,
But always an artist, a writer,
an artisan of images and words
obsessed with crossing borders on stage
at street level and in my dreams
defying all nationalisms and fates
contesting organized religion and the capital Art World
aclaro estimado público/ lector:
I don’t pretend to speak for you
I just acknowledge our parallel experiences
and multiple desires
and act upon them,
like an adolescent rebel
who happens to be 56
it’s called “performance art.”
(I howl)
but, to tell you the truth,
tonight, when the performance is over
I’ll be merely myself again,
un emigrante más
un mexicano menos
sin tierra
ni chamba

Marcos Is Gay (1997)
Some time ago, in an attempt to discredit one of the Zapatista leaders in southern Mexico, Sub-comandante Marcos, government officials there tried to put forth the idea that Marcos was gay. In a region where machismo still runs strong, it was hoped this would tarnish the leader's credibility.

He responded by writing a poem:

Yes, Marcos is gay.
Marcos is gay in San Francisco
Black in South Africa
an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 pm, a peasant without land,
a gang member in the slums,
an unemployed worker,
an unhappy student,
and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.

Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed
minorities resisting and saying "Enough". He is every
minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority
that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated
group searching for a way to speak. Everything that
makes power and the good consciences of those in power
uncomfortable—this is Marcos.

Source: Ray Goforth and Kim Goforth, eds. Social Justice 27 (17 October 1997)

Spanglish Lesson (1992)

okay vatos
repeat with me:
vivir en estado de sitio
is a translatable statement
to live in state of siege
es susceptible de traducción
an Aztec in Nova Hispania
a Mexican in San Diego
a Puertorrican in New York
a Moroccan in Paris
a Pakistani in London

vivir en estado de alerta
is also translatable my dear

to live in state of alert
with your wings ready to flap
& your eyes ready to question
[I snap my fingers and scream.]
why, why, why, why…
Ayy!! I, I
a child of the Mexican crisis
a new foreigner in the art world
allowed to exhibit his wounds
in immaculate neon coffins…
why, why, why…

the war goes on in El Salvador
as the performance continues in [city in which I
am performing
the war goes on in the Persian Gulf
as the performance continues in [city in which I
am performing
same war, different Performance
aquí, allá
al Sur…de la… Chingada
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