I’m now writing from San Cristóbal, Chiapas, Mexico. This is a colonial town – a base for the Spanish colonists. This is a town surrounded by communities of indigenous peoples. The context of social activism here – indigenous peoples standing up for autonomy and dignity – immediately has thrown me into new perspectives. I’m being presented with the opportunity to push myself to examine the Gandhi dictum “Be the Change” and social activism more generally from different angles. I’ve only been here four days, but my mind is whirling. Where do I begin? A key topic emerging for me is the relationship between the individual and the collective. I’m in a place where the collective has primacy. But I’m not going to write about that now – I’m too muddled on that front. Instead, I’d like to take a look at the subject of wounds, healing and love.
At the airport in Mexico City, I met an American who has retired in San Cristóbal. He said San Cristóbal is magical. He predicted that I’d feel it immediately. Indeed, the city is beautiful – surrounded by lush tree covered mountains and streets overflowing with vibrant colors and sounds. I feel very at ease here. And, of course, there is much spirit here – revolutionary spirit. I am in the land of the Zapatista movement, no? Revolutionary spirit is animating, enlivening. It is the spirit of people wanting change, ready to stand up for basic human rights. It is the spirit of people coming together to create the change (in contrast to merely demanding it).
Tourists are everywhere, ready to take a picture of an indigenous person dressed in the textiles of their community selling crafts. Social changemakers from outside Mexico are everywhere, ready to stand alongside indigenous peoples in the name of human rights. I’m sure the vast majority of both changemakers and tourists alike are enchanted by the tribal. I know I have succumbed to such romanticism in the past – and if I’m honest a part of me still does – a romantic perception of peoples tied to ancient traditions, having a mystical connection to the land.
Yet the backdrop to our romanticism – to our labeling San Cristóbal a magical place – is a long history of violence and abuse (and the social activists here will be very aware of this). This is a land of colonization, of bloody battles over land, of human displacement and of human degradation. Mexico, of course, is not unique in this. Twenty first century north, south and central America is comprised of colonized lands – countries with roots in genocide and slavery. Last night I watched the film Dakota 38. This is beautiful, extremely moving film about a journey of healing and reconciliation led by members of the Dakota tribe (indigenous peoples) in Midwestern United States. Thirty eight men in the Dakota tribe were hanged after the community waged war against the White settlers who had taken their land, put them on reservations and had begun to starve them.
Dakota 38 has a number of currents running through it. I noticed for one that Jim, the man who had the dream that led to the journey documented by this film, was constantly saying to people “I love you.” This might seem hokey and hippy to some. But I know from my own personal experience how significant it is – what it means to be able to tell both strangers and people close to you “I love you” and mean it. Because we can do this only when we can look in the mirror, say the same and also mean it.
Expressing love, the Dakota 38 shows us, is inextricably tied to compassion and forgiveness. Tied to this current of love in the film is another current – the message that we all – whatever our background – carry wounds. These wounds require healing. This healing requires love. It also requires honesty and self-reflection. In what ways have we been victims of violence (emotional and physical) and in what ways have we been perpetrators of it? How do we forgive others? How do we forgive ourselves? How do we release ourselves from the violence?
Social change is a collective creative process. A key question for me is: are we creating from the heavy stomp of our wounds or are we creating from the light flow of our health? What are you creating from in the different areas of your life, in the different communities you inhabit, in your relationship with your self?
I asked these questions knowing full well the answers are not straight forward. And that I’m not really talking about a clear split of coming from wounds versus coming from healing. The journey is messy, full of contradictions and tensions within and without. I’m already getting a strong sense of the messiness here in San Cristóbal – the messiness that goes hand in hand with the magic.