Photo Essay: A Visit to the Zapatistas’ First International Gathering of Women Who Struggle

From March 8 through 10, thousands of women from around the world converged in southern Mexico for the Zapatistas’ First International Gathering of Women Who Struggle. The meeting took place at the Caracol of Morelia, a completely autonomous region of Chiapas.

In 1994, on the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation declared its autonomy from Mexico. Since then, many leftist movements from around the world have looked to the Zapatistas as leaders in a global struggle against capitalism, patriarchy, and Western imperialism. Their iconic black masks have become as recognizable as the face of Ché Guevarra or the Black Panther salute.

In December of last year, a group of Zapatista women issued a communiqué “from the mountains of the Mexican Southeast” inviting women from around the world to join them in a meeting of politics, art, sports, and culture:

“If you are a woman in struggle who is against what is being done to us as women; if you are not scared (or you are, but you control your fear), then we invite you to gather with us, to speak to us and listen to us as the women we are.”

They added that men would not be invited to participate in the meeting, but would assist with cooking, cleaning, and childcare duties so that women could freely participate.

Over the three days of the gathering, women led grassroots popular education workshops for each other on a wide range of topics including media literacy, mass incarceration, feminist technology, climate change, indigenous rights, gender violence, healthcare, labor rights and more. They sat for theater performances, wrote hip hop lyrics, cheered on concerts, and snapped for poetry readings. They engaged in communal art-making: drawing, painting, stenciling, sewing, embroidery, sculpture, and photography. They had their choice of classes in yoga, meditation, contact improv, tai-chi, and dance. And though temperatures scorched each day, and shaded areas were few and far between, they signed up to play soccer, volleyball, and basketball under the searing sun.

News outlets reported anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 women at the gathering, arriving from each of the autonomous Zapatista Caracols, 27 states of Mexico, and over 50 nations. In the end, perhaps the greatest offering of the meeting was this opportunity to convivir, or coexist.

See below for photographs of the gathering.

Signs welcome women of the world and advise that no men are allowed past these gates.
Zapatista women march in for the meeting’s opening ceremony.
Militia women watch guard over the caracol and make sure that no men enter.
Daybreak on the caracol.
Visitors enjoy an early morning concert.
Preparing breakfast.
A panel Discussion about how the zapatista community came to self-organize and self-govern.
A contact improv class.
A meditation workshop.
A soccer match on the first day of the meeting.
Soccer fans.
Jugglers from Colombia.
A volleyball match: Zapatista women versus foreigners. I couldn’t tell who was winning, but fans were reminded that it was effort and participation that mattered most in the end.
A stencil in progress.
A performance art piece in which observers are invited to write or draw whatever moves them on this woman’s body.

All across the Caracol, the Zapatistas have painted signs and murals reminding the community of their values. Click through the slideshow for more.

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One of the most striking art installations was “Vivas en la Memoria” (“Alive in Memory”), which hung flags for girls and women who had been murdered in Mexico in 2017.

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The Zapatista community has said that they might host the meeting again in the future. If you are interested in attending, keep watch of Enlace Zapatista for announcements.

All photographs by Destry Maria Sibley.

Human Journey

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Meet the Author
Destry Maria Sibley is a freelance writer, media producer, and educator. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, she is traveling throughout Mexico collecting the stories of Los Niños de Morelia, a group of child refugees who fled the Spanish Civil War and settled in Mexico in 1937. Destry's grandmother was among this group of children, and it is her personal experience of flight, exile, and assimilation that has motivated Destry to learn more about the lives of child refugees -- historically and in the present.