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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Zapatistas in the City

28th September 2006, 14:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University

A presentation for appointment to the Chair in Latin American Studies entitled "Zapatistas in the City" is to be given by Dr Andrea Noble, Dept of Spanish, Durham University.

In March 1999, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation or EZLN) carried out the 'Consulta Nacional por los Derechos de los Pueblos Indios y por el Fin de la Guerra de Exterminio' (National Consultation for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the End of the War of Extermination). The Consulta, or referendum, asked Mexican citizens to cast their vote on four basic questions related to the rights and place of indigenous peoples in the space of the modern nation. Part of the promotional activities associated with the Consulta, members of the EZLN travelled the length of the republic, including a delegation who journeyed to the nation’s capital. The presence of the Zapatistas in Mexico City was documented in a series of photographs, perhaps more accurately described as photo opportunities, captured during the week-long activities to promote the Consulta and published in the pro-Zapatista daily La Jornada. In these images, Mexico City is not simply a scenic backdrop to the Zapatista incursion into the ‘urban leviathan’. Rather, it represents a densely layered historical space in which to stage what María Josefina Saldaña Portillo has called 'performances of democratic participation' in state-sanctified spaces of civic ritual.

Focusing on a selection of images made during the Consulta, this paper traces the Zapatistas’ itinerary through the city in order to explore the photographs’ strategic performative force within the wider context of the struggles for what anthropologists have termed ‘ethnic citizenship’ in Mexico. Photographed occupying symbolically-charged spaces in the capital, the Zapatistas engage in performative acts of national identity that are predicated on their ethnic distinctiveness, on their right to look out-of-place. At the same time, however, my concerns in the paper are not simply centred on the spatial logic of the Zapatista itinerary. I argue that as photographic performances, the series also brings a temporal dynamic into play: a temporal dynamic that cuts to the quick of the Zapatistas demand for what June Nash has termed ‘coeval participatory democracy’.

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