Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Estas Son Mis Armas": Lorna Dee Cervantes's Poetics of Feminist Solidarity in the Era of Neoliberal Militarism

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Estas Son Mis Armas": Lorna Dee Cervantes's Poetics of Feminist Solidarity in the Era of Neoliberal Militarism

Article excerpt

In January 2014, the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN), commonly referred to as the Zapatistas, marked the twentieth anniversary of their assault on military posts in several towns in Chiapas, Mexico. The group of indigenous insurgents turned the world's attention to the political, economic, and ethnic crisis in Chiapas by launching their assault on the day Mexico was to implement neoliberal reform vis-à-vis the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While much of the commentary about the twentieth anniversary of the Zapatista uprising has focused on the failure of NAFTA, the anniversary also serves as a reason to revisit the Zapatistas' solidarity politics. The Zapatistas inaugurated novel coalition-building practices that made their movement distinct from previous revolutions. For example, they capitalized on worldwide publicity via the Internet by hosting the first encuentro, or gathering, in 1996 that brought together thousands of allies to Chiapas to build activist networks and engage in conversations about human rights, neoliberalism, and globalization. Yet from the beginning, the Zapatistas identified paternalistic tendencies among some members of the international community. Describing what he called the "Cinderella syndrome," Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatistas' spokesperson, recounted the kind of humanitarian aid sent by "good people who, sincerely, send us a pink stiletto heel, size 6 1/2, imported, without its mate . . . thinking that poor as we are, we'll accept anything, charity and alms" (Marcos 2003). Unusable donated shoes were piled next to "useless computers, expired medicines, extravagant (for us) clothes" as the Zapatistas also faced the "sophisticated charity" of NGOs that imposed impractical or unnecessary aid projects. Dissatisfied with imperial forms of charity-as-solidarity, the Zapatistas ceased holding encuentros in 2003 and instead took more direct control over the form and manner of national and international aid projects. In 2006, they also launched the Other Campaign (La otra campaña) in an effort to create a movement of what Thomas Olesen calls "global solidarity" in which the Zapatistas encourage activists and international organizations to focus their attention on resisting neoliberalism in their own contexts rather than presuming that the center of struggle is in Chiapas (2004, 260). This shift in solidarity practice is in part a response to the Cinderella syndrome, but more important, it also reflects the Zapatistas' theorization that neoliberalism extends beyond national borders and thus must be challenged by diffuse yet allied movements.

As one of the earliest poets to be inspired by the Zapatista movement, Chicana/Chumash feminist poet Lorna Dee Cervantes turned to poetry to commemorate the Zapatista struggle for indigenous rights. Originally published in 1998, her poem "Coffee" employs a multilayered poetics of solidarity that aligned with the Zapatista critique of neoliberalism. The same year that the Zapatistas began the Other Campaign, Cervantes republished "Coffee" in her widely acclaimed collection of poetry titled Drive: The First Quartet (2006). While the collection includes poems from 1980-2005, the republication of "Coffee" is particularly felicitous in that it actually anticipates and reflects the ways in which Zapatista solidarity practices have changed over the years. Through its direct address to Western, English-speaking readers and its focus on commodification and consumer privilege, the poem implicates a broad group of Zapatista allies and their role in the persistence of exploitative neoliberal practices. This direct address attempts to urge the formation of a solidarity based on critical self-reflection and personal accountability rather than empty altruism and paternalistic charity giving. The poem also engages a long tradition of Chicana transfronterista solidarity narratives-a genre concerned with transnational and often panethnic affiliations, sympathies, and ideological alliances. …

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