Going back San Cristobal de las Casas after a 30-plus year gap, made me feel very old, on the one hand, but it also was as if my Anthropology self of my early twenties, got together with my Poetry self, my Translation self, and Journalist self of today. Yes, I’m a Gemini with multiple personalities, in case you were wondering. But at certain times, and in certain projects, all those strands come together to form a magical whole. Magical to me, at least, proof that there’s method in the madness of my various interests.
I was privileged to attend a gathering of indigenous women poets now in its third year, NUESTROS HUIPILES HABLAN (our huipil blouses tell their stories), April 18-21, 2013. For three days, we gathered at the Taller Leñateros, where Ambar Past and her team of Maya artisans make hand-made paper and books. We talked about Ekphrastic poetry (a workshop I taught in Spanish on the first day), translation from Tzotzil, Maya, Tojolabal, Zoque, Nuu s’avi (Mixtec), Zapotec, and English into Spanish, and the nurturing of new generations of original language speakers and poets. Chatting around the table, listening respectfully to each other, and laughing at funny examples from our different languages, I marveled at the wealth of knowledge and experience, and whole worldviews these brave women embody. They are walking Smithsonians of their cultures, the many cultures of Mexico.
We had cafecito, passed around some cookies, some small yams Enriqueta had cooked for us, ripe little mangoes and finger bananas, and talked into the early afternoon.
This project started three years ago initiated by the Macondo Foundation, and funded by a Cultural Remittances grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC). The original proposal was written by Wendy Call, Roland Mazuca, and myself. We received half of the funding we expected. Our proposal included fostering communication and an exchange of ideas between writers from the Macondo Writers Workshop and writers in Mexico. Since Wendy Call already had a working relationship with Zapotec poet Irma Pineda, it seemed only natural to focus on indigenous women writers in Mexico.
The first year in 2011 I was unable to attend, due to a family illness, but I heard wonderful things about that initial encuentro, which led to furter projects. The second year, Sandra Cisneros and Dr. Sonia Saldívar-Hull invited two of the women poets, Celerina Sánchez (nuu sa’vi or Mixtec) Roselia Jiménez (Tojolabal) to give a talk at the University of Texas at San Antonio as part of their International Women Day’s month-long program. It was my honor to serve as interpreter, and to meet these two strong and committed women. Wendy Call also invited Irma Pineda to the Seattle area.
And this year the gathering happened in San Cristobal de las Casas, with the help of a grant from Mary's Pence that Clare Sullivan was able to secure to cover some of the travel. Irma Pineda obtained the lodging and breakfasts through an exchange with Tierra Adentro, an internet TV show run by Zapatistas.
Some of the poets read on two afternoons before students from the Universidad Intercultural on the outskirts of town, on the foothills of San Cristobal. This is a university that’s meant for the various indigenous groups and languages of this region. Here, they are front and center. It was wonderful to see the young eager students, who are just getting to know the work of some of these poets writing in their various languages. This university is one of the victories of the Zapatista uprising. I can’t imagine it happening without.
Also, the fact that we could gather at the Tierra Adentro restaurant downtown, some of our colleagues in their traditional dress, all of us at one large table. I can’t imagine that being possible 30 plus years ago in the fewer restaurants San Cristobal had then. There have been deep racial and class divisions in this area for centuries, and it took blood, sweat, and tears to start chiseling away at it.
This was a brief impression of just a few days, but after a long absence, it was plain to see. We were talking poetry during our days, no time to inquire about the narcos or the new Mexican president, but what I did see, made me hopeful.
Lo que les puedo decir de Chiapas, es que es uno de mis estados favoritos, y regresar a San Cristóbal de las Casas fue algo que yo anhelaba desde hace mucho tiempo. Me parece un pueblo mágico, del México profundo, difícil de descifrar pero con mucho encanto. Algún día me gustaría volver por un par de semanas o meses a hacer papel a mano o un libro a mano con mi amiga y colega Wendy Call, pasar los días en el Taller Leñateros ayudando, aprendiendo, rodeadas de tanta belleza y creatividad.
También tengo ganas de volver a ver a mis colegas poetas que trabajan en las lenguas originarias de México el año entrante, quizá en Oaxaca, ya el destino dirá. Fue tan importante conocerlas y aprender de ellas, escuchar otras cosmovisiones, otra poesía tan original y fresca que fue como echarse un baño en un manantial rodeado de estas hermosas montañas. Su visión poética me estremeció y me puso a soñar. Reafirmó mi vocación de poeta y traductora, de intérprete de realidades que coexisten.
Intercambiamos libros, impresiones, correos electrónicos. Ellas ya están en Facebook, cargan teléfonos celulares y chatean, tienen licenciaturas, maestrías y doctorados, viajan a Rusia y a Holanda, a Estados Unidos y al D.F. Son mujeres plenas y dueñas de su destino. Y también inspiran a cientos en sus comunidades. Son mujeres de fuerza. Feroces, si la ocasión lo requiere. Son las mujeres que México y el mundo necesitan.
Agradecemos el apoyo de la Fundación Mary's Pence por hacer este encuentro posible, así como Tierra Adentro, Taller Leñateros, Irma Pineda, Clare Sullivan, Wendy Call, Ambar Past, Petra Hernández y todos los que hicieron posible nuestra feliz estancia en San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Quedó mucho por explorar y espero volver pronto. También me animó mucho a seguir explorando estilos poéticos y seguir adentrando en mi poesía. Y de leerlas a ellas todas.