Meet Dignidad and Resistencia, a band compromised of young women born into a revolution that predates their births.
Four young women don red and white huipiles and black ski masks as they command the attention of over 7000 attendees at the inaugural International Artistic, Political, Sporting, and Cultural Gathering of Women who Struggle earlier this Spring in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Armed with a trio of instruments and powered mics, Dignidad y Resistencia launches into corridos about revolt, independence, and oppression in the style of musica norteña. The audience is by far their largest yet since forming two years ago and is entirely comprised of women from over 30 countries.
“May the center of the earth tremble,” shouts the 22-year-old vocalist between songs. “For without the women of Mexico and the world, there isn’t revolution or life.”
Their original lyrics are proudly anti-capitalistic, pro-Zapatista, and spurred from their mutual desire to make music by their own accord. They’re deeply serious about the fight for liberation of indigenous peoples and women, yet as their path to music was paved by playing toy accordions and keyboards as young kids, their music oozes with equal parts joy and rebellious spirit. The guitarist, 13, bassist, 14, and accordionist, 15, have all learned to play their instruments on their own and by teaching each other.
Following their impressive March 2018 performance, the band’s vocalist told feminist collective and digital platform, Luchadoras, in a brief interview, “If we can’t dance, it’s not our revolution.”
The members of Dignidad y Resistencia came into the world directly into autonomous regions operating along the southernmost edge of Mexico since the 1994 uprising of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and were simultaneously born into a revolution that predates their births. Although the masked musicians have remained anonymous, parts of their story are widely known throughout the world as the EZLN has retained jurisdiction of nearly one-third of the state of Chiapas for over two decades now.
Before they controlled their own mass of land, the EZLN began as a response to centuries of persecution against indigenous peoples and injustices at the hand of the Mexican government. Chiapas, with one of the largest indigenous populations and highest poverty rates in the country , had remained socially and politically isolated from the rest of Mexico since becoming a state in 1824. The decade-long Mexican Revolution fought against wealthy Spanish rule and sought a land redistribution plan and system which valued those who worked the land, but farmworker-led revolts had yet to reach Chiapas before the 1919 assassination of Emiliano Zapata.
The next half century marked massive displacement of indigenous peoples across the country and stagnation. The Mexican government continued revoking any remaining protections against indigenous land rights. By 1983, the EZLN was formed by guerilla soldiers in the dense Lacandon jungle where many of Chiapas’ indigenous peoples lived after being forced off their farmable land. The name is a direct homage to the late Emiliano Zapata and the campesinxs’ struggles for land.
The 1992 decision by President Salinas to permit the privatization of ejidos, or community landholdings, and the impending introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, pushed the group over the edge. On January 1, 1994, after many failed attempts at peaceful, nonviolent actions for wide-reaching indigenous rights, armed EZLN forces seized control of San Cristobal de las Casas. Over two decades later, they’ve endured military attacks, the fall of the PRI, and economic strains in the name of 38 self-autonomous municipalities, access to health care, education for all, and the lived reality of an alternative society. Although no one knows quite how many Zapatistas exist today, their numbers exceed an estimated 40,000.
At the inaugural International Artistic, Political, Sporting, and Cultural Gathering of Women who Struggle, the few Zapatista men invited by Zapatista women support the event by cooking meals and cleaning so those who attended are free to enjoy themselves and participate in the more than 200 workshops and showcases spanning poetry, film screenings, sports, dance, and ecology. Feminism and women’s rights have long remained inherent in the EZLN, especially with the Women’s Revolutionary Law introduced in 1993. Although communications and recent news reports don’t mention other genders, the EZLN has repeatedly included LBGTQ people as protected oppressed groups amongst indigenous people and peasants in their proclamations.
Art and the EZLN have long thrived side by side. When members of Dignidad y Resistencia met in 2016, it was during the CompARTE Festival—a name fusing “comparte,” which means to share” and “arte,” or art. The EZLN had helped organized the event but when they announced they were suspending their participation, they reminded the world of the importance and ties between the arts in their work:
“For us Zapatistas, the arts are the hope of humanity, not a militant cell. We think that indeed, in the most difficult moments, when disillusionment and impotence are at a peak, the Arts are the only thing capable of celebrating humanity.”
Following the festival, members of Dignidad y Resistencia continued to practice once a semester because although they all live amongst Caracol Oventic, they are not quite close enough to one another to practice regularly. At their Spring performance, each member traveled southeast to the event in Caracol Morelia without their families. Sometimes they slip up when they play live partly because of infrequent practices, but mostly from the overwhelming excitement and emotion they feel when on stage.
“We see how this society is and we take [that] into account [when] composing songs,” Dignidad y Resistencia’s vocalist tells Luchadora. Beyond their own lyrics, the band remains committed to upholding the EZLN’s ethos by example. The young women don’t share their names, sell CDs, or maintain any social media presence, likely out of concerns for egoism and capitalism. Other songs they play include “Las mañanitas,” or “Happy Birthday,” and Tex-Mex classic, “La del moño colorado.”
Mexican and indigenous peoples have long played songs of protest and although not all songs performed by Dignidad y Resistencia are about revolt, their sheer existence and performances are the epitome of resistance. They may not have borne witness to the uprising in 1994, but they represent a generation of Mexicans born into neo-zapatismo and hope for a future not ruled by capitalism, greed, and Eurocentric supremacy.