Emancipation Through Language: X-ja’il T’aan (House of the Word)

"Lento, pero avanzo" Zapatista mural. Oventic, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Lorie Novak, 2013.
“Lento, pero avanzo” Zapatista mural. Oventic, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Lorie Novak, 2013.

While participating in Arte Nuevo InterActiva_07 in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, I visited a group of Maya adults who were in the process of becoming literate in their own language. According to the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), there are about 1.2 million Maya in Yucatán, representing 59.5 percent of the state’s population; in 2015 there were a total of 859,607 speakers of Maya languages in Mexico (“Lenguas indígenas” 2015). Although this may seem like a high figure, many of them do not write or read in Mayan. Seeing the Maya students’ courage and perseverance while they learned how to read, write, and speak their mother tongue was inspirational and transformative; they spoke about X-ja’il T’aan (x-ja’il = house, t’aan=word): a non-physical place in which language is incorporated, where living words could become actions in order to reach (toward) Maya culture, to get it back. In 2009, I worked with fellow Mexican-American artist and friend Pedro Lasch on our project El Narcochingadazo (The Narcofuckery). During this time, we produced a collectively authored statement in the fashion of an “exquisite corpse.” Back in Mérida, as part of InterActiva_09, the statement became a declaration: it was workshopped, translated, and broadcast in Mayan, initially by participants of the literacy group at the University of Yucatán and later by the local Maya radio station. 

Mérida Declaration. U Ye’esaj t’aanil u noj kaajil Jo’.

U Ye’esaj t’aanil u noj kaajil Jo’ (Yucatecan Maya)

-U kajnáalilo’ob tu’ubsajil… U saatalilo’ob pe’echak’il. U xóot’ lu’um chéen náaybil, u Wáayil… U paalal lu’umkabil tu’ux síijo’on… Tu’ux kéen k-suut. Jóok’sa’ano’ob tumeen k’aak’as jo’olkabo’ob yéetel k’aak’as jets’t’aano’ob. Chuup yéetel narco- jala’acho’ob yéetel narco jala’achil yéetel narco… narco…
-Le caucho’, le cocao’ yéetel le ayahuascao’ le máax ku beetik u láak’ jala’achilo’, tu yóok’ol le… Narco’ob, máak ya’ab lu’um yaan ti’, máak aayik’alo’ob táakpaja’ano’ob ti’ le máax a’aliko’ob ba’ax ku beetbil ichil le jala’achilo’. ¿Kux túun le noj t’aan beeta’ano’obo’, le k’áatchi’obo’, le k’áato’obo’ yéetel le k’aytuukulo’?
-Jump’éel (Le) nu’ukulil tu’ux ku ts’a’abal nikte’…
-K-tukultik le jáalk’abila’ k-kuxkíintik… “Bejla’e’ k-a’alik Ts’o’oki” bey yo’olal ba’ax ts’o’ok u k’uchul u k’iinile’. Ta’ak t’aan, xook, ja’abo’ob, k’iintsilo’ob, kajnáalo’ob, yéeyaj, xuup, a’altuukul, ¡Le Lajunk’aal ja’abo’ob wáa Bicetenario, u k’iinilo’ob k’a’ank’an t’aan! U ch’aajil tuláakal k’i’ik… U p’a’atal tuláakal toopankil ti’ máak… -K-a’alik k-wíinklal, le lu’umo’, le k’áaxo’obo’, mineralo’ob… U xookil k’iin, xooko’ob, bo’obatilo’ob. Péektsilo’ob yéetel novela’ob… toka’ano’ob ti’ le ba’ax kéen u ya’alo’ob le aj-beetaj k’aaso’ yéetel ti’ u a’almaj t’aail le kíinsaj máako’ob. Oh simón, si-mon. Le aj-kalano’obo’, le jo’olpóopo’… u yuumil ka’an (yéetel le ba’atelo’).
Jak’a’an u yóolo’ob tu yo’olal u kili’ich t’aan ki’ichkelem yuum. Farc/narco/maco/peias, tecno-para-janamáakil. Aj-tok wayak’ ti’ wíinik beeta’an bey Yumtsile’. ¿Bix u su’utul NARCOTOOPANKIL?
-1780, 1805, 1973, u láak’ k’iintsilo’ob… Líik’sajil… máasewáal ba’atelo’ob… +/x, ajba’atelo’ob yéetel táanil ba’atelo’obo’. Haití, slum, favela, comuna, barriada, cuarto mundo… chéen ku p’áatal to’on oochel ku beetik k-tuukul.

Tu noj kaajil Jo, Yucatán.

Tu winalil Mayo tu k’iinil 29 tu ja’abil 2009.

Mérida Declaration (English)

-Inhabitants of oblivion… Shipwreck of humiliation. The imaginary continent, the Nahuatl… Children of the land where we arise… to where we return. Expurgated of paramilitary and quasi-courts. Purged from narco-presidents and governments and narco-narco, narco… …
-Rubber, coca, ayahuasca and those who create parallel governments, against… Narcos, landowners, businessmen associated with the global capital (to) control of state institutions. What about the epic statements, questions, demands, and poetry?
-One (the) vase…
-To think this independence is to live it… “Today we say enough” as timely reaction to something. Disinformation, COUNTS, years, dates, people, votes, consumer opinion. The Bi-Centennial-Politics of accents! Drops of blood… all heirs of every yoke…
-We declare our own our bodies, land, forests, minerals… Timelines, numbers, and prophesies. News and soap operas… Redeemed Cartel trial and the law of the gunman. Oh, Simon, Si-mon. The Rangers, the Boss… Lord of the heavens (and war). Shocked in the worship of the word. FARC / drug / maco / peias, techno-cannibalism. Conquerors of the dream of self-image. How do you translate NARCOCHINGADAZO?
-1780, 1805, 1973, other dates… riots… indigenous struggles… + / x, Guerrilla and vanguard. Haiti, slum, favela, communities, neighborhoods, fourth world… we are down to discursive images.

Mérida, Yucatán. May 29, 2009

Declaración de Mérida (Spanish)

-Habitantes de la desmemoria… Náufragos de la humillación. El continente imaginario, el Nahuatl… Hijos de la tierra donde surgimos… a donde regresamos. Expurgados de paramilitares y para-tribunales. Purgados de narco- presidentes y narco-gobiernos y narco… narco…
-El caucho, la coca, y la ayahuasca los que crean Gobiernos Paralelos, en contra de… Narcos, latifundistas, empresarios asociados al capital global (que) controlan las instituciones del estado. ¿Y que de las épicas declaraciones, las preguntas, las demandas y la poesía?
-Un (el) florero…
-Pensar esta independencia es vivirla… “Hoy decimos Basta” como reacción a algo puntual. Desinformación, CONTEOS, años, fechas, poblaciones, votos, consumo, opinión. ¡El Bicen-menterio, política de los acentos! Gotas de todas las sangres… Herederos de todos los yugos…
-Declaramos cuerpo propio, la tierra, los bosques, los minerales… Cronologías, números, profecías. Noticieros y novelas… Redimidos del juicio del Cartel y la ley del sicario. Oh, Simón, Si-mon. Los Vigilantes, el patrón… señor de los cielos (y de la guerra). Estremecidos en la eucaristía de la palabra. Farc/narco/maco/peias, tecno-para-canibalismo. Conquistadores del sueño de la propia imagen. ¿Cómo se traduce NARCOCHINGADAZO?
-1780, 1805, 1973, otras fechas… revueltas… luchas indígenas… +/x , Guerrilla y vanguardia. – Haití, slum, favela, comuna, barriada, cuarto mundo… solo nos quedan imágenes discursivas.

Mérida, Yucatán. Mayo 29 de 2009

This declaration was informed by one issued a couple of decades earlier. On 1 January 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) released a statement from the Lacandon Jungle in southern Mexico responding critically to the North American Free Trade Agreement and its celebration of the age of globalization. 

To the people of Mexico:
Mexican brothers and sisters:
We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children.

But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

With this declaration, the EZLN marked the beginning of a new wave of civil resistance to globalization and insistence on indigenous land rights, food access, and cultural sovereignty. The era of ethnic politics emerged, in which Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples of the world participated in a decolonial platform of thought and action.

DECLARATIONS: Resistance through Language

Declarations and manifestos are like creeds in which an individual and collective will is expressed in a written form. However, this can make their ideas difficult to access for non-literate groups. In this sense, a declaration is “modern” in nature and falls into the realm of the archive. Nonetheless, most of these declarations also have a bodily component: they circulate orally and often emerge out of repression and trauma, and they have the capacity to become a call to action, sometimes supporting armed struggle. As a written genre, declarations and manifestos have an aesthetic dimension; as political documents, they make an ethical demand; overall, they gesture toward a decolonial turn. In decolonial practice, aesthesis—the realm of the senses—replaces the static and more contemplative space of aesthetics (Rojas-Sotelo 2014, 303-304). Also, most declarations are the expression of the “many,” and thus challenge traditional notions of authorship and the individual will.

The Mérida Declaration of 2009 was broadcast on the local Maya station—radio XEPET (la voz de los Mayas, 730AM)—in May and June and was read by Jazmín Novelo Montejo, the official voice of the radio station for years. XEPET translates as “voice of the Maya,” and because of its commitment to Maya peoples, cultures, and traditions, it is also considered a sort of X-ja’il T’aan. Located in the town of Peto, in southeast Mexico, it is a low-power radio station with a coverage radius of 120 km, reaching 32 municipalities and serving an indigenous population of about half a million people in the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. Its signal reaches 1,121 localities, in which 80 percent of residents are Maya speakers.

The Merida Declaration (Yucatecan Maya by Jazmín Novelo Montejo).

Transferability: Economics-Politics-Resistance

Since the Debt Crisis of 1982, the Mexican development strategy has changed from import substitution industrialization to export-oriented industrialization, and the government drastically liberalized its economic policies. During this period, neoliberal economic policy replaced what had formerly been a protective policy (Tajima 2002, 1). Foreign investment policy also changed from regulation to promotion. Mexico’s government expected direct foreign investment to bring a package of economic effects: capital inflow for economic growth, export promotion, job creation, and technical innovation. This new approach was presented in the Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 1983-1988 (National Development Plan 1983-1988) announced by President Miguel de la Madrid, who was in office from 1982-1988. This plan suggested that foreign investment policy did not offer a way to effectively utilize foreign investment toward national development. As a result, multinational companies received benefits and yielded excessive gains at the expense of national consumers. The federal government’s explanation stated that “excessive Mexicanization in import substitution created concentration of industry, which had a negative effect on price policy and resources available for investment” (Poder Ejecutivo Federal 1983).

This economic policy, as articulated in the Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 1983-1988, was meant “to use technological, management, and financial resources to expand, diversify, and modernize Mexican productive facilitates; in this sense, to orient foreign direct investment toward a developmental strategy” (Poder Ejecutivo 1983, 192). The purpose was to abandon protective policies and for the foreign investment policy to be positive, systematic, and selective (Moran 1998, 55-56). Three decades later, the results are palpable: 8 percent of Mexico’s GDP is owned by only one person, Carlos Slim. 10 percent of Mexicans represent 25 percent of the Mexican GDP; a smaller group, 3.5 percent, represents 12.5 percent. Mexicans in absolute poverty represent 46 percent of the total population—52 million people (OECD 2016).

The neoliberal model has had a large impact on small communities reliant on subsistence agriculture, such as the ones in southern Mexico. As a result, in December 1983, as part of the Development Plan, Miguel de la Madrid signed seven new entries on indigenous issues to be added to the plan, among them: the preservation of culture and traditions; the maintenance of current territories; fight against intermediarismo (mediation of Catholic and other Christian churches doing social justice work in indigenous territories, some connected to liberation theology, which had a large impact in Mexico and Central America at the time); and the implementation of individual guaranties and civil rights (ostensibly proposed to treat members of indigenous groups as Mexican citizens, this often involved policies of acculturation and homogenization). Most of these measures were paternalistic and colonial at heart, and ultimately, due to corruption in the public sector, poor oversight, political oversight, and underfunding, they did not produce their stated objectives.

At that time, due to recommendations by both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as neoliberal policies that called for less social expenditure, the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples (INI), created in 1948, suffered defunding, and the National Council for Indigenous Peoples (CNPI), created during the presidency of Luis Echeverría (1970-1976), was increasingly decentralized (Sarmiento Silva 1985). Some 800 local councils were created with the participation of indigenous leaders across the nation (Sámano Rentería 2004). The fact that President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) decided to rewrite Article 27 of the Constitution, which ensured the right of peasants to the land, became a precipitating factor in the 1994 Zapatista rebellion. Article 27 had emerged from the revolutionary period (1910-1917), and contained an agreement between the state and peasants that resulted in the cessation of rebellions during the 1930s. Under Salinas’s reform of Article 27, communal land could be sold, bought, rented, or held under contract with national or foreign investors. The CNPI and its network of community-based councils became part of the organizational structure for the Zapatista movement some years later. 

The voices and perspectives of indigenous peoples had become increasingly public some time before. In 1979, the INI formed a small core of radio stations broadcasting initially in Spanish and later in indigenous languages throughout the nation.

Broadcasting in Languages: A Vehicle for Change

XEPET began broadcasting on 29 November 1982. Like many other radio stations, it was created in order to support the castellanization (Spanish-language acquisition) policies, and the programs developed with the goal of integrating indigenous peoples, as part of the national development efforts of the Mexican government (Castells-Talens 1994; Castells-Talens and Ramos Rodríguez 2013). According to Aleida Calleja and Beatriz Solís in their book Con Permiso: La Radio Comunitaria en Mexico (2005), during the 1980s and 1990s the only references to community radio in Mexico were the indigenous radio stations operated by the National Commission for Indigenous Development, formerly the INI; the rest were considered clandestine radio operations (Calleja and Solís 2005, 61-62). 

These stations created a sense of community and encouraged the participation of indigenous nations that at the time were being subjected to official indigenous policy. According to Castells-Talens and Ramos Rodríguez: 

If, in the United States, indigenism has been associated with the use of local knowledge to fight for indigenous rights and self-determination, indigenism in Mexico has typically been used in the antithetical sense. Since the 1920s, the country’s indigenous peoples have often been studied in order to facilitate de-Indianization—or assimilation into “mainstream” Mexican society—a key aspiration of the post-revolutionary project (2013, 180).

It is important to recognize the importance of community radio work in an environment of limited means. The network of community radios faced irregular support across the indigenous territories: many stations created during the 1980s were, at times, broadcasting without federal permission. That legal ambiguity put them in a vulnerable situation, but also allowed them some independence and, in cases, autonomy.

Due to community resistance, by 1988 many of these radio stations began to encourage more active participation of local listeners and became integral to cultural cohesion, offering workshops and training and hiring community correspondents, who transformed the stations into venues for sharing indigenous concerns. This is how XEPET began broadcasting in Mayan, as well as in Spanish, on community issues, a change that generated active community participation and ownership of the radio station.

XEPET Radio Station.

In 1991, an advisory council composed of Maya peoples convened at XEPET to determine the content of the radio station’s programming. In 1995, continuing the process of community participation and access to media, XEPET created an experimental radio station in an indigenous boarding school in Chemax, Yucatán, where school-age children (working as fellows at the station) were responsible for its operation. Other centers were also formed in 1996 in locations including Samahil shelters in Yaxcopoil and San Antonio Sodzil with the intent of encouraging new generations of indigenous radio producers (CDI 2016). In 1997, the advisory council at XEPET implemented its standing advisory system, which consisted of workshops for the analysis of community problems and programming aimed at generating opinions and proposals.

Radio youth workshops in Chemax, Yucatan. Credit: XHCHX 90.5 FM, CDI.
Chíikul utia’al yuchul t’aan (audio). Hach ki’imak óol k-k’amike’ex ti’ u Alberguei’ Chemax, tu’ux yan hump’eel Chíikul T’aan u k’abae’ XHCHX ku meyah ti’ 90.5 FM yeetel Lahun Watts u muuk’ u meyah, hets’ekbal ti’ le Albergue Escolar Dr. Alfonso Caso.

Against all odds, there are now 25 indigenous radio stations located in different regions of the country. As a network, they argue that indigenous participation is a right in Mexico and that the stations must function in a continuous and systematized manner. They have created advisory councils, radio production facilities, and community correspondents. Many stations still face opposition by local authorities who know how radio stations help foster an indigenous sense of community: XEPET’s broadcasting and training of youth leaders poses a threat to private interests on indigenous lands. XEPET stakeholders clearly understand the enormous political potential of local radio to address the needs of communities and foster their indigenous identity.

The right to communication has had a great impact on the indigenous movement in southern Mexico. Broadcasting in indigenous languages is a way to resist assimilation, marginalization, and exclusion. The use of the communities’ own languages, narratives, and local contexts encourages the development of resources and creativity, ensuring that western linear history will not erase Maya culture (Cornejo 2002, 27-28). Keeping language as the root of their cultural practices permits the indigenous peoples to struggle to move beyond resistance and survival, toward the construction of stronger economic and political arrangements. By not working in translation, indigenous communities have created an expedited way to disseminate ideas about liberation, autonomy, and sovereignty. Amalia Córdova and Juan Salazar suggest that making visible narratives and realities that have long and systematically been made invisible is at the crux of the “cultural logic of indigenous media” (Cusi Wortham 2013, 6). Appropriated technologies foster new political strategies by working in collaboration with other communities suffering similar fates. The transferability of knowledge through the radio is horizontal and direct: it is based on ancestral modes of communication (the oral tradition) and new technologies (radio, video, and multimedia platforms) that defeat vertical arrangements of power. “Thus, the use of an indigenous language can be read as a political statement of ethnic and linguistic diversity in response to the rhetoric of a monolingual nation-state” (Fachin 2012, 22). 

Recently, the Cumbre Continental de Comunicación Indígena en Abya Ayala (the Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication of Abya Yala) has brought together audio, audio-visual, text based, and multimedia platforms of communication in indigenous territories. All of the members share the same objectives: autonomy and buen vivir (good life).  They derive their mandate from the multiple moments of visibility of the indigenous struggles in Abya Yala (the American continent) past and present. 

In 2000, XEPET built a digital platform for its broadcasting. This includes recording and transmission equipment as well as Internet technologies that allow the members to enrich and further disseminate the content of their programming. The project has now moved onto social media. Digital Indigenous Information Centers train people in the use of information and communication technologies to inform the content of the new platform of communication.

As a member of the Indigenous Culture Radio Broadcasting System (SRCI), the XEPET operation is based on a horizontal communication model that establishes an ongoing dialogue among listeners, communities, authorities, institutions, organizations, and all sectors of society in their areas of coverage. In this way, the station and its programs help to spread knowledge and cultural events in a way that contributes to the cultural and political enrichment of the Maya people in Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and beyond. Nonetheless, the station continues under federal control via the CDI. In 2016, a 20 percent budget cut came, eliminating five positions at XEPET; some 22 workers lost their jobs on programs related to indigenous development across the state of Yucatán (Reporteros 2015).

In the Mexican context, indigenous radio is significantly different from community radio (also known as citizens’ radio). Radio has been relevant to the organization of communities in southern Mexico since the late 1960s. However, Mexican Law controls the use of radio signals and has clear regulations on their usage. The Radio and Television Law of 1960 pointed out that only by fulfilling the goals and services expressed in the law, cultural broadcasting—as well as the one produced as part of radio labs and experimental radio—would be able to exist. The goals expressed in the law are related to the maintenance and reinforcement of a unified Mexican identity (based on language), morality (Catholic), and culture (Western). Radio stations with a cultural and educational focus functioning across the nation, make up 12% of the total of broadcasters by 2005, and today it is not so different (Calleja and Solís 2005. 66). 

Article 5, of the General Principles of the Law (1960) states that:

Artículo 5.- La radio y la televisión, tienen la función social de contribuir al fortalecimiento de la integración nacional y el mejoramiento de las formas de convivencia humana. Al efecto, a través de sus transmisiones, procurarán:
I.- Afirmar el respeto a los principios de la moral social, la dignidad humana y los vínculos familiares;
II.- Evitar influencias nocivas o perturbadoras al desarrollo armónico de la niñez y la juventud;
III.- Contribuir a elevar el nivel cultural del pueblo y a conservar las   características nacionales, las costumbres del país y sus tradiciones, la propiedad del idioma y a exaltar los valores de la nacionalidad  mexicana.
IV.- Fortalecer las convicciones democráticas, la unidad nacional y la amistad y cooperación internacionales.

It was not until 1996, when an agreement was reached between the government and the EZLN during the Dialogues of San Andrés, that indigenous peoples officially had a right to own media. Some of the points incorporated into the Constitutional Reform and made public in August, 2001, addressed the necessity to: 

VI. Extender la red de comunicaciones que permita la integración de las comunidades, mediante la construcción y ampliación de vías de comunicación y telecomunicación. 
VII. Establecer condiciones para que los pueblos y las comunidades indígenas puedan adquirir, operar y administrar medios de comunicación, en los términos que las leyes de la materia determinen. 

For the first time in history, indigenous communities have the legally recognized right to access frequencies for electronic media. The demand was incorporated through Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution in 2001. The obstacle, however, was written into the phrase: “in the terms … the laws of matter determine.” The Federal Radio and Television Law has not been amended, and this law will remain without limitation, a right on paper. On the other hand, the right was/is recognized only to indigenous peoples and not to the general public. In 2000, 12 community radios were legalized and recognized by the federal government. They are still inescapably regulated by the 1960 law and subject to losing their broadcasting rights at any moment if do not comply with the general principles of the law.

There is no doubt that the Zapatista movement, the emergence of the EZLN, and the six Zapatista declarations have been impacted by the dissemination of indigenous radio broadcasting—and all of this previous to the Dialogues of San Andrés, which subversively used indigenous language to codify their message. Much has been said about Zapatismo and networking, but radio as an old technology has not been taken into account in its full potential when analyzing the Zapatista uprising and its continuous presence in the Western (independent) media. As the debt crisis of the 1980s and 1990s—with its vicious state policies of austerity and repression—deepened, local and sectoral efforts reached out to each other and developed networks of communication and mutual aid. This networking spread not only within Chiapas but linked to wider national and international efforts, especially those of campesinos and the indigenous, for whom radio is fundamental. The Zapatistas must therefore be seen as one visible moment of a more general struggle which was already deeply involved in networking before the uprising in January 1994.

By 1994, indigenous radio was part of governmental policies for indigenous development and castellanization; broadcasting in language was strategic for the Zapatistas—a way of bringing the oral into action and channeling the uprising in a direct form (the use of Mayan language was key during the Casta Wars of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Yucatán). The power of orality and aurality via radio-waves harnessed ancestral ways of transmission with modern means of communication—reaching a state of X-ja’il t’aan (a house of the word). 

XEVFS La Voz de la Frontera Sur in Margaritas, Chiapas—one of the rebelled communities—has been broadcasting since 1987, starting as a small operation that used Tojolabal, Tzeltal, and later Tzotzil, to reach out to 800 communities in six municipalities. Today, the station broadcasts from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with a power of 10,000 watts, reaching 3,000 localities in predominantly indigenous areas located in the border regions, the Lacandon jungle, the Altos, and the Sierra Frailesca in Chiapas, and a significant portion of the border with the Republic of Guatemala. The use of Mayan language was banned temporarily by the state following the uprising in 1994 in response to EZLN activity—Las Margaritas was one of the municipalities taken by the Zapatistas—and as part of the counter-subversive tactics well developed and applied in Mexico since the mid 1960s. XEVFS broadcasts in Tojolabal languages, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Mame, and Popti (all linguistically related to Mayan) in addition to Spanish, thanks to its multicultural staffing (Ramos-Rodríguez 2005, 157). For over 25 years, XEVFS Tojolabal known also as Xuxepil (the mother of the word) has been the most efficient means of information and communication for indigenous and peasant communities in the region.

Staff of WEVFS La voz de la frontera sur. Photo: XEVFS, CDI, 2011.
Staff of WEVFS La voz de la frontera sur. Photo: XEVFS, CDI, 2011.

The six EZLN declarations have been widely disseminated, not only via community/indigenous spaces and indigenous and community-based radio, but also globally through video and the Internet. The (neo) Zapatistas have established a network of collaborations among themselves locally, nationally, and internationally. Since 1998, the Chiapas Media Project (CMP) has worked in close collaboration with autonomous Zapatista communities. Many of the video makers of the collective came to production via radio, Juan José García of the Ojo de Agua collective part of the CMP is a good example of this (Cusi Wortham 2013, 7). Indigenous youth with little formal education, often working without reliable electricity, have produced videos on agricultural collectives, fair trade coffee, women’s collectives, autonomous education, traditional healing, and the history of their struggle for land in intercultural collaboration. Arguably, the EZLN is the most well-documented indigenous movement in history, with hundreds of videos, films, books, and websites created by people working within, from, and about the struggle. Historically, outsiders had controlled the medium and the message in regards to audio and audio-visual narratives; due to the changing technologies of communication (low-power radio and video) and the legal-framework allowed the creation of the foundational radios and video programs (assisted initially by the state as part of developmental and social policy) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, today, indigenous communities had reached self-representation, audio and audio-visual autonomy (Castells-Talens and Ramos Rodríguez 2013, 180-182).

Yoochel Kaaj is another media collective that has been working within Maya communities in Yucatan since the late 1990s. It is an independent group that, through experimentation and collaboration, is dedicated to finding new ways for using image, sound, performance, and new-media. One of their projects is called Turix, or dragonfly in Mayan, which is emblematic of the collective’s philosophy: its free and nomadic flights as well as its many manifestations and mutations within the rich traditions of the communities bring ancient and contemporary practices to the fore. The collective works with sounds, video, text, new media, audio, and also with paper and clay without following linear processes of preproduction, production, and postproduction in their projects. Their aim is to create, distribute, and connect different Maya communities, individuals, disciplines, geographies, and theories by using digital and analog technologies. With the introduction of video cameras and training, the communities now tell their own stories from their own perspectives in their own language.

Much’tal jedz [Agreements], mutli-channel video projection, 5.1 sound, and archival materials (Yucatán, México 2009). Bogotá, Colombia August 21-30, 2009. As part of the VII Encuentro del Instituto Hemisférico de Performance y Política, “Ciudadanías en escena, entradas y salidas de los derechos culturales”. By Byrt Wammack Weber in collaboration with Ana Rosa Duarte, Jaime Magaña, Rodolfo Nahaut and the community of K’anxoc. Production: Yoochel Kaaj collective.
Much’tal jedz [Agreements], mutli-channel video projection, 5.1 sound, and archival materials (Yucatán, México 2009). Bogotá, Colombia August 21-30, 2009. As part of the VII Encuentro del Instituto Hemisférico de Performance y Política, “Ciudadanías en escena, entradas y salidas de los derechos culturales”. By Byrt Wammack Weber in collaboration with Ana Rosa Duarte, Jaime Magaña, Rodolfo Nahaut and the community of K’anxoc. Production: Yoochel Kaaj collective.

Today a complex network of radio stations, Internet-based broadcasting operations, and local and international collaborations are part of the many manifestations of the indigenous struggle in southern Mexico (see appendix). The CMP and Yoochel are among the multinational partnerships and collaborations that provide audio and video equipment, computers, and training to enable marginalized indigenous communities in Southern Mexico to create their own media.

The jump to social media and multimedia approaches is evident among the different collectives resisting various instances of violence, repression, sabotage, and attack. A short video of three Maya adults, members of the literacy class, reading the Mérida Declaration on 29 May 2009 was posted by participants of El Narcochingadazo (The Narcofuckery/Narcotoopankil). The Declaration became one of the cornerstones of the project. Its aim is to develop venues for the self-expression by silenced voices from both the indigenous and Afro-descendants under the theoretical framework of decolonial aesthetics. The Mérida Declaration has become central to discussions about alternative artistic and artivist practices within the collective and its interactions. Its message—in written, oral, and visual forms—resonates throughout the materials shared by communities in the south. The struggle of (neo) Zapatistas raised the bar of other ethnic struggles, and they led the way for an era of a different kind of globalization—one based on situated knowledges, localized struggles, and contextual solutions.

Indigenous media enables the transmission of alternative logics. The Maya have used declarations to usher in a decolonial processes. Maya communities in southern Mexico and Guatemala initiated a unique moment of ethnic politics with an aesthetic decolonial platform. These processes of resistance and delinking from the colonial matrix of power inform another declaration, the Decolonial Aesthetics Argument (2011)—a collective manifesto that asserts that,

Decolonial aesthetics, in particular, and decoloniality in general have joined the liberation of sensing and sensibilities trapped by modernity and its darker side: coloniality. Decoloniality endorses interculturality, (which has been conceptualized by organized communities) and delinks from multiculturalism (which has been conceptualized and implemented by the State). Multiculturalism promotes identity politics, while interculturality promotes transnational identities-in-politics. Multiculturalism is managed by the State and some affiliated NGO’s, whereas interculturality is enacted by the communities in the process of delinking from the imaginary of the State and of multiculturalism. 

X-ja’il T’aan is reached by word and action, by ancestral ways, appropriated technologies, bodily arrangements, incorporated and situated knowledge in addition to intercultural and multimedia engagements. Under similar circumstances other voices are now emerging in territories that share common histories in Abya Yala.

The genealogy of decolonial thinking is pluri-versal (not universal), and as such is conducive to transmission through various media platforms. Each point in the web is a site of de-linking and opening that re-introduces languages, memories, economies, and social organizations. As postulated by thinkers of decoloniality, the oppressive logic of coloniality produces the energy of discontent that reacts against coloniality. According to Walter Mignolo, “our present situation asks, demands a de-colonial thinking [and acting] that articulates genealogies scattered throughout the planet and offers ‘other’ economic, political, social, subjective modalities” (2011, 63).

The Mérida Declaration, its sharing via Mayan languages, its broadcasts in indigenous radio, and its posting on social media joins the many collective voices, bodies, and expressions which, as a chain of event-actions, bring local realities to the table of the global. X-ja’il T’aan presupposes the sacred dimension of the word in space, as it involves a magical and transcendent power, its energy produces sound and hearing, it comprises the abstract, and is a bond between heaven and earth. Like the gods, the word has the quality of breaking time and space and is prescribed for immortality. This meaning is shared, not only in the Mayan civilization past and present, but by many indigenous of the land. This is what gives meaning to oral transmission of knowledge via narration, the generational character of the word also pertains to the symbolic, now through radio and new media their calls re-phrase the neo-colonial moment. As one Maya era draws to an end, many emerged from the corners of Abya Yala:    

Narco—paramilitary—counting (the votes and the dead)—while enjoying popular culture—and others extract your resources—because land reform did not happen—only institutional celebrations (democracy)—what is left is ancient knowledge, indigenous and subaltern resistance, mediation and spectacle.
(unused fragments of the Merida Declaration)


It is the sound of your world collapsing.
It is that of ours rising anew.
The day that was the day, used to be night.
And night will be the day, that will be the day.
From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
On behalf of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee — General Command of the EZLN
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, December 2012

“Them and Us,” a new day will come…

Works Cited

Calleja, Aleida, and Beatriz Solís. 2005. Con Permiso: La Radio Comunitaria en México. México D.F.: Fundación Friedrich Ebert-México.

Castells-Talens, Antoni. 1994. “Indigenous Radio in Mexico: Xepet, One Voice of the Maya of the Yucatan.” Master’s thesis, University of Florida. 

Castells-Talens, Antoni and José Manuel Ramos Rodríguez. 2013. “Technology for Cultural Survival: Indigenous-language Radio at the End of the Twentieth Century.” In Technology and Culture in Twentieth Century Mexico, edited by A. Tinajero and J. B. Freeman, 178-93. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama.

Cornejo Portugal, Inés. 2002. La radio indigenista en México: Las voces del Mayab. México D.F: Fundación Manuel Buendía. 

Cusi Wortham, Erica. 2013. Indigenous Media in Mexico: Culture, Community, and the State. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 

Fachin, Dina. 2012. “Searching for Well-Being. A Zapotec Community Reflects upon Itself on the Screen.” Latin American Perspectives 184.39: 10-26.

“Lenguas indígenas en México y hablantes (de 3 años y más) al 2015.” INEGI Enceusta Intercensal 2015. Accessed 20 June 2016. http://cuentame.inegi.org.mx/hipertexto/todas_lenguas.htm

Mignolo, Walter. 2011. “Epistemic Disobedience and the De-Colonial Option: A Manifesto.” Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World 1.2: 44-66.

Moran, Theodore H. 1998. Foreign Direct Investment and Development. The New Policy Agenda for Developing Countries and Economies in Transition. Washington: Institute for International Economics. 

Ramos Rodríguez, José Manuel. 2005. “Indigenous Radio Stations in Mexico: A Catalyst for Social Cohesion and Cultural Strength.” Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 3.3: 155–70.

Reporteros Hoy RG. 2015. Anticipan despidos en Xepet, la voz de los mayas.” ReporterosHoy.mx, December 20. Accessed 6 June 2016.

Rojas-Sotelo, Miguel. 2014. “Decolonizing Aesthetics.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, second edition, edited by Michael Kelly, 301-304. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Sámano Rentería, Miguel Ángel. 2004. “El indigenismo institucionalizado en México (1936-2000): un análisis.” In La construcción del Estado nacional: democracia, justicia, paz y Estado de Derecho, edited by Rolando Ordóñez and José Emilio, 141-58. Mexico, DF: UNAM. 

Sarmiento Silva, Sergio. 1985. “El Consejo Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas y la política indigenista.” Revista Mexicana de Sociología 47.3: 197-215. 

Tajima, Yoichi. 2002. “Mexican Development Strategy and U.S. Multinational Company” Paper presented at the Managing Development and Transition in a Globalizing World Forum. Tokyo, September, 2001.

Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham and London: Duke University Press.


In addition to the collectives named in the text here a list of other peoples, radio, video, and cultural organizations working in the region.

Name: Centro Comunitario U kúuchil k Ch’i’ibalo’on -Raxalaj Mayab’
Web: m.me/artemaya.raxalajmayab | @artemaya.raxalajmayab (Facebook)
Raxalaj Mayab’ in an organization that works for the protection, conservation, and recovery of the cultural patrimony of the Maya nation. In particular, on health, cosmo-vision, arts and crafts of the first peoples of the Maya peninsula.
Contact: 52 1 983 106 9998
Location: 47, Mario Villanueva Madrid, 77249 Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Q.R., MexicoFelipe Carrrillo Puerto, Quinana Roo. Mexico.
Email: raxalajmayab@gmail.com

Name: Canal Universitario TVUMQROO. Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo
Web: https://www.facebook.com/tvuimqroo
Contact: Edwin Noh
Location: Jesus Garcia Morelos. Quintana Roo. MX
Email: edwin.noh93@hotmail.com
Since 2013 a number of media workshops have been held at this intercultural university. The work of Mauricio Andrada-Bilche and Miguel Rojas-Sotelo have been important in the creation of a new generaion of audiovisual producers that work in a contextual manner, documenting the daily life of the Maya communities in the JosE MarIa Morelos area in the South of the state of Quintana Roo. Mexico.

Name: Chan Santa Roots | Musical and video collective
Web: https://www.facebook.com/chan.s.roots
Contact: Ernesto (Neto) Chable (vocalist and leader
Location: This collective works in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Name: Laboratorio CartoDigital.
Web: http://labcartodigital.org/
Contact: Raul Ferrera Balanquet
Location: Calle 4B x 87 y 89, No. 348B
Colonia Nueva Kukulkan
Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico. 97195
Tel: 1-52-9999-658305
Email: cartodigital@cartodigital.org

Name: La Jornada Maya
This radio and TV station serves a number of communities near the city of Merida, Yucatan. Mexico
Web: https://www.lajornadamaya.mx
Contact: 52 999 290 0633
Location: Calle 43 #299D por 30 y 32A, San Ramón Norte
Mérida, Yucatan
Email: contacto@lajornadamaya.mx

Name: La Voz del Corazón de la Selva. XEXPUJ. CDI
Web: www.cdi.gob.mx/ecosgobmx/xexpuj.php
Contact: 01 (983) 871 62 50 Ext. 2087 y/o 2088.
Location: Calle Nadzcan s/n,
Colonia Fundadores, X’pujil, Calakmul, Campeche. C.P. 24641

Name: Na’atik Language and Culture Institute
Web: https://www.naatikmexico.org/about/
Contact: +521-983-267-1410 | say@naatikmexico.org
Location: Calle 57 entre 78 y 80 Colonia Francisco May Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo Mexico 77240
Email: communications@naatikmexico.org

Name: PAT PAT. ADN & MAYA PRODUCCIONES (Music, video and cultural events)
Web: http://facebook.com/patboy.rapmaya
Contact: Cristobal Xi’ipal Pat Pat (PatBoy)
Location: Felipe Carrrillo Puerto, Quinana Roo. Mexico.
Email: patboy_rap_maya@hotmail.com

Name: Radio Yúuyum.
Yúuyum, is a radio station (with commercial and social content) streaming in Maya from the city of Merida, Yucatan. Mexico.
Web: http://www.yuuyum.org
Contact: Luis Peniche
Location: Merida, Yucatan. Mexico
Email: tsiibtoon@yuuyum.org

Name: Retoño de Ceiba, A.C. Visual art, video, and cultural revival.
Web: www.joseluisrumbo.com www.elcaimito.org
Contact: José Luis García Pérez
Location: 2874417 / 9991506266
Email: garcia_digital@hotmail.com

Name: Rasa Candela (six radio stations – some programing in Maya)
Candela Listen Live – XHUM, 92.7 MHz FM, Valladolid, Mexico
Web: www.rasacandela.com/candela-valladolid/ | www.inali.gob.mx/pdf/radio_AHL.pdf
Contact: 52 985 856-2101
Location: Km 1 Carretera Valladolid–Carrillo Puerto S/N. Valladolid, Yucatán. C.P. 97780.
Email: candelavalladolid@cadenarasa.com

Name: XEPET La Voz de los Mayas. CDI.
Broadcasting from Peto, Yucatan. This is one of the most traditional radio outputs in the region. It is part of the network of indigenous radios supported by the CDI. XEPET- has broadcasting in AM/XHPET and FM.
Web: www.mayas.uady.mx/institutos/ins_05.html
Contact: ecos_xepet@cdi.gob.mx
Location: Km. 2 Carretera Peto-Tzucacab, Ex Hacienda Aranjuez
Peto Municipality 97930
52 997 976 0140
Email: ecos_xepet@cdi.gob.mx
Note: XEPET also broadcast from 90.50, XHCHX La Voz de los Niños Maya, Chemax.

Name: XHNKA La Voz del Gran Pueblo. CDI
Web: www.cdi.gob.mx/ecosgobmx/xenka.php
Contact: 52 983 8341101
Location: Av. Altamirano Núm. 83
Col. Emiliano Zapata, C.P. 77200,
Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo.
01 (983) 834 11 01
Email: ecos_xenka@cdi.gob.mx

Name: XHRTO-FM. La Estrella Maya Que Habla
XHRTO-FM is a noncommercial radio station on 100.5 FM in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo. It is known as La Estrella Maya Que Habla and owned by Sebastián Uc Yam, the ex-mayor of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. It is co-owned, but currently not commonly operated, with XHECPQ-FM 102.1. It is relayed on XHYAM-FM 88.1, licensed to José María Morelos. Note: These stations were attacked in 2013 in a grandee incident (later rebuild). Not broadcasting at the moment.

Name: “Yóol iik” XEMQ, (Esencia del Viento)
La radiodifusora XEMQ, Yóol iik’ (Esencia del viento se encuentra ubicada en al ciudad de Mérida, Yucatán y transmite en la frecuencia 810 AM (amplitud modulada), con 2,000 watts de potencia, para público hablante de lengua Maya. Su señal llega a 396 localidades de la Península de Yucatán.
Web: www.rasa.com.mx
Contact: Tel. (999) 24 96 80
Location: Calle 62 nº 508 altos por 63 y 65.
Merida, Yucatan

Name: Yoochel Kaaj (Turix)
Web: https://yoochel.org
Contact: Ana Rosa Duarte and Byrt Wammack
Location: Merida, Yucatan
Contact: via website


    Works Cited