Unmasking the Maya


One million Maya Indians from Mexico and Guatemala are living in the United States. Unlike earlier waves of immigrants to our shores, the Maya are descendants of a New World civilization whose mystery resonates across this continent, and the globe. Few Americans are aware that there was extensive trade between the ancient peoples of North America and Mexico for at least a thousand years. A darker mystery surrounds the modern Maya. After centuries of poverty and injustice, some fight for recognition behind a black Zapatista mask. Those who seek better economic opportunities by migrating north must disguise themselves in Western clothes and customs. Thus the Maya remain hidden, faceless, both at home and in the cities and rural areas of our country.

For the past eighteen years, a Maya cooperative, named Sna Jtz'ibajom, The House of the Writer, has given a new voice to the people of Chiapas, Mexico. Its Teatro Lo'il Maxil, Monkey Business Theatre, has reached the most remote corners of the state. They have traveled north to tour the United States. Wherever they mount their plays -- at the Smithsonian Institution, university campuses, or on ranches that hire illegal migrant workers -- their mission is to entertain and to inform. Sna Jtz'ibajom celebrates ancient Maya traditions while unmasking the bitter realities that besiege the modern Maya world.This is the story of their efforts to project their culture into the future.

The Ancients: Remembering the Past

The ancient Maya created the most advanced civilization in the New World. Between 500 B.C. and the Spanish Conquest of 1519, powerful Maya kingdoms such as Palenque occupied present-day Chiapas, Yucatan, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

The Maya forged strong political and commercial alliances with the civilizations of central Mexico. Through long-distance trade, luxury goods as well as pan-Mesoamerican beliefs eventually reached the Anasazi people of the American Southwest and Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River.

Writers, sculptors, astronomers, and mathematicians, the Maya left behind a great body of art and hieroglyphic literature. Their books and stone inscriptions record the movements of the stars, the deeds of the gods, and the history of divine kings and queens. The eighth century painted murals at Bonampak depict exquisite scenes of music, dance, and theater.

Sna Jtz’ibajom’s epic drama, JAGUAR DYNASTY, portrays the eighth century reign of Shield Jaguar and Lady Shark, divine rulers of the kingdom of Yaxchilan, the centuries of bitter warfare that followed their reign, and the final conquest of the Maya by the Spaniards.

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Chiapas in 1528, they took the Indians’ land, forced them to adopt Christianity, and forbade the Maya to read and write. The friars condemned Maya hieroglyphic writing -- the most complex phonetic script in the world -- as the work of the devil. Hundreds of books on astronomy, religion, and philosophy were destroyed. A long and noble history was obliterated.

Few Maya today are aware of their Precolumbian past. After 500 years of silence, Sna Jtz’ibajom is reviving the literary and cultural legacy of their ancestors, preserving the history of their “Fathers-Mothers” for future generations.


Long before the large-scale migration of Mexican workers to the United States --long before there was a United States -- Native Americans traveled widely, embarked on far-flung commercial ventures, and engaged in extensive cross-cultural exchange. Through well-established trading networks the civilizations of ancient Mexico came to share basic customs and beliefs. In time, Mesoamerican products and ideas spread to the cultures of North America.

For a thousand years, Mesoamerican merchants traded ritual objects like macaw feathers and copper bells for precious turquoise mined by the Anasazi and Hohokam of the American Southwest. Turquoise mosaic mirrors adorned with the Feathered Serpent were crafted by artisans in Mexico and the Southwest. This exquisite example served as a royal emblem for the Maya kings of Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan Peninsula. The turquoise was probably imported from New Mexico. This scraper used for tanning hides, found at Spiro Mound, Oklahoma, (1300-1400 A.D.), was carved of black obsidian from Pachuca, in central Mexico.

Along with commerce, the First Americans shared a tremendous enthusiasm for a ballgame that was played like soccer. Ballcourts were a focal point of ceremonial centers, from the Maya city-stateof Copan, Honduras, to the Hohokam site of Snaketown, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Social and religious ideas from Mesoamerica eventually reached Native American cultures east of the Mississippi River. By 900 A.D., trade relations, and perhaps migrations, contributed to the rise of the Mississippian Culture. Ancestors of the eastern Woodland and Cherokee tribes, they adopted corn agriculture, developed a stratified society, and began building ceremonial centers dominated by huge pyramid-like mounds.

This complex culture flourished in Cahokia, Missouri, the Virginias, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana until the 15th century. According to an early Spanish chronicler, a Wichita Indian of Kansas, in 1544, knew some Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

Current archaeological work suggests that the ancient peoples of Mexico and North America were in contact over great distances for a long period of time.

Maya Today

Although their glorious past now lies in ruins, seven million Maya are still living in Mexico and Central America, and another million in the United States. Women continue to weave elaborate designs into their native clothes and make clay vessels for household use. The men continue to work their fields by hand and trade great distances. Ancient myths and folk tales survive through a rich oral literature. The modern Maya worship Christ, who is also the Sun, the protective patron saints, and the mountain gods of earth, rain, and thunder. They wear masks of the Spanish conquerors while struggling against modern social and economic pressures.

Cultural exchange between Mexico and North America continues, but in a new way: through television, movies, and through the migration of one million Maya workers to what is now the United States.

The first Maya travelers to describe our country -- Antzelmo Péres and Romin (“Ro-meen”) Teratol -- journeyed to the Southwest and Washington, D.C. during the 1960s, to work on The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacantán with Dr. Robert M. Laughlin of the Smithsonian Institution.

“Some kids were playing in the street. When they saw us they ran off screaming. They probably thought we were bad, because our clothes were different. ‘Where could they be from, looking like that?’ they probably said to themselves. People wanted to chat but what could we do? We didn’t understand the language.”
--Antzelmo Péres

“I had brought fifty pesos to buy things. When I saw the change for my money there were only $4.00. We didn’t know the money of the white gents was different, since we are just dumb Indians. I had thought I would use my money to supplement the food for my stomach. But how could I eat since it turned into $4.00? My money was used up on soft drinks. It never reached the place where I was going. It just shrivelled up on the way.”
--Romin Teratol

“We sat down in a restaurant to wait for our meals. The woman handed us a menu to find out what kind of food we wanted. But it was all in English. We simply stood up. ‘Never mind, we won’t eat,’ we said to ourselves, because it was already time for work.”
--Romin Teratol

“The office where we worked was on the third floor. There were steps on each of the floors. We were pulled up, because the steps ran by means of a motor or electricity or something. We were pulled up. And we came down just the same way. We came straight down, standing up.”
--Romin Teratol

“In Washington, machines do everything. Machines scoop up the garbage and the leaves that drop from the trees. As for the buildings, the people don’t work much with their hands. They work with machines. When they tear down old buildings, they just knock them down with a great pear-shaped metal ball. It doesn’t look like work at all. It’s blacks who mostly work by hand. The gringos work in offices. The blacks are their laborers. They build buildings, they build bridges, they build everything. That’s their work, because they don’t let them study much the way they themselves do. The blacks just get to be school teachers, they get roadwork and other low jobs. That’s the only kind of job they get.” --Romin Teratol

“We couldn’t tell where we were. We couldn’t tell where the sun had risen. We didn’t know which direction our home was.”
--Antzelmo Péres

“If I told people at home what I saw, who would believe me?”
--Romin Teratol

Preserving the Culture

The first modern Maya travelers to the United States saw amazing things: pizza, escalators, subway trains, Pueblo Indian dances, inner city ghettoes. They watched the assassination of President Kennedy on TV, participated in the March on the Pentagon. The “other side” was a strange and terrifying place. Antzelmo Péres and Romin Teratol spent the rest of their lives recording the history, language, and customs of their people, so that their children and grandchildren would not forget what it was to be Maya.

In 1983, Antzelmo Péres, Maryan Kalixto, and Romin Teratol’s oldest son, Xun (“Shoon”), co-founded Sna Jtz’ibajom, the House of the Writer. This cooperative is dedicated to giving the Maya a new voice, on the stage, on radio, and on paper.

In Tzotzil and Tzeltal, two of the thirty living Maya languages, they tell the world that ancient traditions are flourishing in the 21st century. Sna Jtz’ibajom’s literacy program has taught 5,500 men, women, and children to read and write in their mother tongue.

The eight Indian members of Sna Jtz’ibajom are from the Maya communities of Chamula,Tenejapa, and Zinacantán, in the rugged mountains that surround the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Under the guidance of New York stage director Ralph Lee and later Michael Garcés, the group evolved from puppet theatre to a full-blown acting company. Teatro Lo'il Maxil (The Monkey Business Theatre) writes and performs plays for Maya and Ladino audiences in southern Mexico and Central America, and for migrant workers in places like Florida.

Some dramas are rooted in ancient Maya history. JAGUAR DYNASTY portrays the reign of Shield Jaguar and Lady Shark, divine rulers of the powerful city-state of Yaxchilan, the centuries of bitter warfare that followed their reign, and the final conquest of the Maya by the Spaniards. This epic commemorates the glory and tragedy of Maya civilization.

Many of the plays derive from Maya folk tales. WHO BELIEVES IN SPOOKS? is about a wicked cannibal who haunts the countryside, luring women and children to his cave, murdering workmen at construction sites, then sealing the bloody remains in fresh cement.

Whether based on history, folk tales, or contemporary social issues, all the plays carry strong moral messages. WHEN CORN WAS BORN tells us that long ago, people didn’t have to work to get their food. They just ate soft stones that they picked up off the ground. The gods saw that the stones were disappearing.

“We’ve come to change the world. We see that our children are just lazy, they live without doing anything. We can’t give them everything for free. We’ll give them corn. Now they’ll have to suffer a little to get their food.”

The corn seeds were in a cave that belonged to the Earth Lord. The door was guarded by a toad. Scorpion tried to enter the cave but he was too big. Instead, he stung the Earth Lord’s leg. Only the ants were small enough to crawl inside the cave and steal the seeds of corn -- white, yellow, black, and red corn.

“Corn is the food of the gods. When we eat it, we can laugh, sing, and praise the gods. Corn is sacred. Now we work for Our Lord.”

Not everyone likes to work. Once there was a man who was so lazy he refused to tend his cornfield. Instead of hoeing and weeding he dreamt of flying through the sky like a buzzard. The Buzzard, who spent his days in search of dead animals to eat, longed for a cooked dinner and the comfortable life of a man. And so, the Lord gave them permission to change places.

The Buzzard became an industrious husband. He brought home a good harvest and won the affections of the man’s wife -- even though he stank like a buzzard.
One day, the Buzzard and his wife were out burning brush, in preparation for planting. The lazy man, thinking the clouds of smoke were the fumes of a dead animal, dove into the flames. The loafer burned to ashes. And so, the wife and Buzzard lived happily ever after, with plenty of corn and beans to eat. “When the belly is full, the heart is happy.”

In Maya folk tales and plays, people may turn into birds, and saints walk the earth. THE STORY OF OUR ROOTS is based on a local legend about the Virgin Mary and Christ.
Long ago, in the Maya village of San Andrés, the Virgin appeared with her little baby Jesus. His head was as round as a pumpkin and he grew to be a man overnight.

The cone-headed ancestors despised his round head. “He’s a devil! Let’s kill him and cut off his head!” They tried to hang him with a rope, they tried to strangle him with their bare hands, but they failed. Exasperated, Our Lord suggested that they crucify him. But the ancestors, who had no brains inside their pointed heads, were good for nothing. Our Lord had to chop down the tree, lash the beams, and raise the cross by himself.

After all that work, Our Lord was tired and hungry. “I’d like some beans,” he said, and the bean plants grew immediately. He created corn, changed wood shavings into fishes, and gave names to the days of the week. “My son invents many things,” said the Virgin.

“He’s a devil!” said the ancestors. “Let’s crucify him!”

While Christ was on the cross, he created the blue sky and springs of water. His blood turned into chili peppers. Then Christ dug his tomb and the ancestors buried him. Because they couldn’t count to three, the ancestors opened the tomb on the second day. The Virgin wept. “My son has lost his strength, like a caterpillar before its transformation. If they had waited one more day, he would have been transformed and people would never die. We would all be immortal.”
Rays of light radiated from the tomb. Our Lord was shining like the lights of a city.

Then Christ and his mother rose to heaven. Our Lord became the Sun and the Virgin Mary the Moon. As soon as he arrived in heaven, Our Lord’s infinite patience changed to anger. He asked San Salvador to help him punish the evil men who had crucified him. But San Salvador, the Judge of Souls, was up to his elbows in paperwork.

So, Christ went down to the Underworld to talk to the Earth Lord, who controls the rain and thunder. “Please, send a rainstorm, send a flood,” said Our Lord. “Cover the earth with water.”

Now some people survived by climbing trees and eating fruits and nuts. They were terribly upset because they had no food, and when they saw Our Lord they shouted and complained. Our Lord turned them into monkeys.

Only one man and woman were left on earth. Our Lord built a house for them and gave them plenty of corn and beans to eat. But Our Lord forbid them to sleep close together. “Don’t do anything bad!” he warned.

At that moment the Devil passed by. “Let's go have a drink of rum,” he said to Our Lord.They drank and drank, and Our Lord got very drunk.

While they were drinking, the man and woman slept together. “Since then, our people have multiplied. And we have enough rum to drink at fiestas, to help us forget our problems.”

Before Our Lord went back to heaven, he left three cases of paper and a pen. He said, “Learn to read and write in your language. Wake up! Our culture is a seed.”

The Indians of Chiapas, Yucatan, and Guatemala speak over thirty distinct Maya languages. Few Maya women are able to speak Spanish. In Chiapas alone, half the native population is illiterate. TORCHES FOR A NEW DAWN dramatizes the long history of intellectual debasement inflicted on the Maya people.

When the Spaniards arrived 500 years ago, they took the Indians’ land, forced them to adopt Christianity, and forbid the Indians to read and write. The friars condemned Maya hieroglyphic writing -- the most complex phonetic script in the world -- as the work of the devil. Hundreds of books on astronomy, religion, and philosophy were destroyed. The Maya lost their written literature, “their torch and mirror, source of power and wisdom.”

As the play shows, the major reasons for illiteracy today are antiquated teaching methods, based on the belief that schools can “civilize” students by forbidding them to speak their native languages. How can children learn when they don’t understand Spanish? In response to the total failure of the public education system, Sna Jtz’ibajom teaches Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya speakers to read and write their native tongues. In their own homes, on weekends, men and women teach their neighbors. This is a school system where all teachers want to teach and all students want to learn.

Good education is a crucial need. Inadequate land is another critical problem, which demands more radical solutions.

In DEADLY INHERITANCE, two desperate brothers, jealous of their educated sister and her superior ways, brutally murder her in the vain hope of inheriting her land.

In DE TODOS PARA TODOS (FROM ALL FOR ALL) a young married couple, Petul and Maruch, lose their land to a cruel cattle rancher, don Pomposo. Because they cannot read or write and lack the proper papers, the couple has little recourse to justice.

In the play, as in real life, the government agent sides with the corrupt land owner.

“Dumb Indians! When will they ever change? They’ve been living like this for 500 years. The church, the schools created programs to end their marginalization, but they’re tied to their customs. The Indians exist by selling firewood and charcoal, drinking corn gruel and eating corn. They don’t speak Spanish, they walk barefoot. I don’t understand what they want. When I talk to one of them I feel they’re happier the way they are.”

Petul and Maruch are forced to move to the hot and inhospitable Lacandon Rainforest.

Petul: “In the jungle the rich people are cutting down trees and drilling oil wells. Didn’t this land belong to our ancestors? Isn’t all of Chiapas a part of Mexico? Or do they think that all of Chiapas is for Mexico?”

The animals of the forest are also threatened. “Men are destroying our land,” growls Jaguar.

“All the animals of the jungle should get together,” Howler Monkey suggests. We can’t go on living like this. We’re dying of hunger.”

“They burn the trees. Soon it will be a desert,” Coyote wails.

“But where can we go? The ranchers ran us off our land and now we’ve lost our old customs. The government never takes our side. The paramilitary and the federal soldiers kill us. It’s better to die fighting than to die of hunger!”

The rebel Juan López encourages the campesinos to take up arms. “It’s time your deceivers stopped tormenting, robbing, and killing you. It’s time to unite and organize, to stop once and for all the trials that have befallen you for the last 500 years. Join the struggle! The solution is, from all for all.”

In the midst of a pitched battle between campesinos and the military, the Earth Lord appears.

“Stop this killing! You are brothers. If you want to live happily on the earth you have to respect your brothers and the animals and plants on the earth. Then the great spirit of the sun will illumine the true peace.”

“But a peace with justice and democracy. Without dignity there will never be peace. We’ll never return to being slaves!”

Since the 19th century, thousands of Maya men have been forced to labor as indentured servants on the large German- and American-owned coffee plantations of Chiapas.
Out of stories of hard labor and physical abuse endured by their fathers and grandfathers, Sna Jtz’ibajom created a tragicomedy.

LET’S GO TO PARADISE describes an inferno of suffering: sickness, rotten food, filthy-vermin-ridden living quarters, robberies, and beatings. The men are treated like mules. The owner of the company store charges them triple the price for basic necessities. Often the men go into debt. If they survive tropical diseases, scorpions, and snakes, the workers will return home with nothing.

“Stupid pigs!” shouts the foreman. “I’ll use your bodies as fertilizer!”LET’S GO TO PARADISE is set in 1938. By the end of the play the wicked foreman receives his just deserts and the workers, calling for an end to exploitation, form a union. But, as the hero, Nicholas, explains before the final curtain: “Little by little the people forgot all that had been done to help the Indians. The union leaders sold out to the plantation owners and everything returned to a masquerade, with the Indians worse off than before. This is what is happening with the Maya of today in the lands of our ancestors, who were the most civilized people of this continent.”

The harsh life on the plantations foreshadowed conditions facing present-day migrants to the United States. A few months after the Zapatista Uprising of 1994, Sna Jtz’ibajom was invited to perform for their Mexican brothers who were picking tomatoes in Florida. WORKERS IN THE OTHER WORLD grew out of that experience.

Presumido, a Chamula Indian, returns to his town fat from eating greasy food and dressed as a gringo. During his long absence, his wife has run off with another man. “But in America there are plenty of girls in mini skirts. You can earn a hundred dollars a day!” he brags. “Just say, Ay luv yu!”

Tumin’s grandfather tries to convince him that with a small piece of land Tumin and his wife Xunka' can survive. But Tumin tells the old man that the world has changed. Tumin and Xunka sell their television set, house, and land and make the arduous trek to the U.S. border.

Exhausted, the couple and their baby cross the perilous Rio Grande into Arizona.

After riding in the back of a truck for ten hours, they reach Florida.

Don Tomate, the owner of the tomato ranch, believes in working the Indians to death and then using them as food to feed the crocodiles. The victims of his abuse go off to talk to a lawyer. “The law does not protect undocumented workers,” the lawyer informs them. “You should leave before the immigration officers find you and take you back forcibly to your country.”

After Tumin steals a wad of bills from don Tomate, he and Xunka' are caught by an immigration officer and thrown out of the country.

Dressed as gringos, the couple returns to Chamula. Their new clothes cannot hide their shame and failure. Tumin dies of AIDS.

“It’s better to stay home and do something for our people,” concludes WORKERS IN THE OTHER WORLD.

Whether they remain at home or journey to the United States, Maya men and women must confront a world of constant change without adequate education, skills, or material resources. Increasingly, Sna Jtz’ibajom’s plays reflect the grim realities of modern Maya life. They present that reality to communities at home and abroad.

Since 1984, Sna Jtz’ibajom has toured the United States as cultural ambassadors, performing their theatrical works for audiences in New York, Washington, D.C., and other major cities throughout New England, the Midwest, and South.

“Although we didn’t always get enough to eat, and some of us got sick, people treated us well. It was an exchange of experiences. They appreciated our work, our native costumes, our traditions, and our language.”--Leticia Ton Sian

“When I traveled to these different cities, it was like a dream. Their streets, their parks are very clean. No one walks; they only travel by car. Because we travel on foot, we look like ants! Wherever we traveled people said, your work is good because you let us know about the life of the Indians in Chiapas.”--Maruch Rosenta te la Krus Vaskes

“In order for us to be successful in cultural work, it is important that no one makes demands on us: we are our own bosses. We can achieve the dreams of an actor through excellence in the presentation of our plays. Our standard is the public. By working for the good of the Mexican community and providing knowledge of Mexican culture to the world we strengthen our own people.”--Tziak Tsa’pat Ts’it

Speaking Out

“Parts of Mexico have industry, technology, and other signs of progress, but Chiapas remains a poor agricultural state, the poorest in the country, and one of the poorest regions in the world. People are destitute. There are few opportunities for finding work and, since the North American Free Trade Agreement, our native corn is being displaced by hybrid corn imported from the United States. Industrial corn is only good for feeding pigs. It has no soul, like our corn that was a gift from the gods. Their corn is cheaper, and now we can’t count on a local market where we can sell our harvest. Because of this, many of our countrymen have to emigrate to the U.S. in search of jobs. They think that migrant work will be better than starving or suffering under the military oppression that has followed the Zapatista Rebellion.” --Xun Teratol

A few months after the Zapatista Uprising of 1994, Florida Rural Legal Services invited Sna Jtz’ibajom to perform in Immokalee, Florida, a small agricultural town in the Everglades. There, 30,000 undocumented workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti pick tomatoes, chili peppers, and oranges.

“When we mounted DE TODOS PARA TODOS (FROM ALL FOR ALL) in 1994, we dedicated it to the memory of our countrymen who fell in ancient and recent wars in Chiapas, struggling against the same social,economic, political, and cultural conditions that we have endured for over 508 years. The play reflects our beliefs and convictions about the causes of the Zapatista movement, which surprised the entire world with its armed uprising.” --Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“After we presented DE TODOS PARA TODOS, the audience asked us why the Zapatistas took up arms. ‘Because there is so much corruption, and that’s no lie,’ we told them. The EZLN represents the best values and the hope for justice with dignity for native people, not only in Chiapas but in all of Mexico. They have no other way to be heard with respect than to follow the armed path.” --Cristóbal Ts’it Nujkul

“As soon as we arrived in Immokalee, the workers surrounded us, and we asked them about the problems facing them. Many were poor Mayas who either had no work or were paid starvation wages in their own countries. They told us of their suffering, which was almost as bad as the abuses they have experienced here.” --Xun Teratol

“We suffer a lot to get here, because we came as wetbacks. We have to cross deserts, hide in sewer drains, because if the immigration officers see us, they send us back where we came from. They look for us on horseback, on motorcycles, with airplanes, with dogs. When a plane passes over, we cut down a tree and hide under it or we use the tree as an umbrella.”

--Undocumented Worker

“They learn to be invisible, but many return in a coffin. Others lose their lives without anyone knowing their names or who they are.

“The coyotes, or smugglers, entice men and women to cross into the United States on the pretext that a more beautiful life exists in this country and they can earn a lot of money. They say that the gringos wipe their behinds with dollar bills. They say that all you have to do is enter the bathrooms, take the bills from the waste baskets, wash them off, and you can return with a pile of green dollars.

“After they cross the border they endure mistreatment by the bosses, bad pay, sickness, sleeping with cockroaches and rats. Many sleep in the streets because they can’t afford to rent a room for $100 a week.” --Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“In Immokalee they live in trailers. Each trailer has a kitchenette, a bathroom, and three or four small rooms. Three or four people live in one room. Each one pays $500 a month for a little place to sleep.“Those with the good fortune to reach Immokalee have no guarantee of work. Every morning at 6 A.M. thousands line up in the town plaza to wait for the trucks that will carry them to the fields. When the trucks are filled, many men are left by the side of the road. Some get work only two or three days a week.

“Some save a lot of money. Even though they only work three days a week they can live and send money home to their families. Those who have been here a few years can buy a small used car. Those who don’t know how to save their money spend it on beer. They go to the cantinas, to night spots where there are prostitutes, of which there are many in this small town. They spend all the money they’ve earned.

“The ranchers own the beer stores, grocery stores, and clothing stores. The stores sell used clothes that are infested with fleas.” -- Xun Teratol

“On their days off they can’t leave to go into town, like in our country, because if they go out, the migras, or immigration officers, grab them. They have to go out secretly, because the migras will see they’re illegals. The immigration officers know immediately because the illegals can’t speak English.” -- Maruch Rosenta te la Krus Vaskes

“The contractors are all Chicanos who know how to speak English. They are the ones who deal with the ranch owners. The workers have no idea who the owner is. The workers are badly treated by the contractors. The contractors are vicious. They only paid the workers $4.00 an hour.” -- Xun Teratol

“When we go to cut tomatoes, they give us each a bucket. For every bucket they give us a chip. If the bucket’s not full, they scold us, they hit us, and won’t give us the chip. They treat us like dogs. When we go to work, they growl at us if we don’t work fast enough. When we’re thirsty, they say, ‘Drink the water from the ditch!’ Then they kick us.” -- Undocumented Worker

“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers adopted the slogan, ‘From the People, for the People.’ They teach the undocumented workers about their human rights. We lived with them and slept in their trailers. Only in this way could we understand their story. We thought we were on the coffee plantations in Chiapas, but much worse.” --Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“Our theatre group immediately mounted a play depicting the life of the workers. DON TOMATE Y SUS COYOTES told of the suffering that led the workers to leave their homes, many with the dangers of losing their lives, the abuses of the coyotes, contractors and foremen, the fears of undocumented workers, the temptations to spend their hard-earned money, the vices that led to grave illnesses like AIDS, the perils they faced to gain a little pay.

“In its first presentation, completely improvised, the play was applauded and we received many questions and comments about the situation in Chiapas. The workers’ consciousness was raised. They called a strike and agreed to stop working for one day.

“Our play would reinforce their demand for a raise in pay, from $4.00 to $5.25 an hour, the basic minimum wage. That was the idea and that is what happened. The workers told us that after one day of not working the ranch owners lost thousands of dollars. The following day the contractors offered $5.25 an hour. We changed the title of the play to $5.25.” -- Xun Teratol

“ ‘March in the streets to attract the public!’ the members of the Coalition told us. It was a great surprise for people to see Indians from Tenejapa, Chamula, and Zinacantán marching in their native costumes through the streets. The onlookers shouted, Viva los Zapatistas!”
-- Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“At our second meeting a man appeared who had been beaten. His shirt was covered with blood. He had asked for a drink of water and they beat him savagely. Then they told him to drink the water from the ditch, which was contaminated with pesticides used to fumigate tomatoes.

"We went to the authorities, along with reporters from the local newspaper and television channel. They presented the bloody shirt as evidence of maltreatment by the bosses. But the result was negative. As undocumented workers, they have no right to ask for justice.”

-- Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“One member of our group was caught and interrogated: ‘Where are you from and what are you doing here?’ But since he had the proper papers, nothing bad happened. The directors of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers went to talk to the migra and freed him, and later the story appeared in the local newspaper.” -- Xun Teratol

“We presented DE TODOS PARA TODOS in the patio of a church where many people gathered. Some of the ranchers came to watch. They said that the play was about Zapatismo. They turned around, put on their dark glasses, and told the workers to appear for work at 4:00 A.M the next morning.

“Because of the impact caused by our play, the workers were changed in attitude, and this bothered the bosses. ‘Let’s capture the Zapatistas before they cause more problems and the workers rebel against us!’ they said. Immediately the workers ran to advise us, and we left at 2:00 in the morning so they wouldn’t grab us and throw us as food to the crocodiles, which are abundant in the lakes and swamps of Florida.”-- Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

“The plays were a kind of catharsis. The migrants said they wanted to prepare themselves in the same way, to do the same thing, so that their problems would be seen, would be recognized. We returned the following year, and again in 1998, to give classes in body movement, voice projection, improvisation, playwriting, and theatre production.”-- Xun Teratol

“They formed their own theatre group so that they could mount their own plays and show through theatre their disagreements with the ranch owners. Together we mounted the play, $5.25. Later we modified the play and presented it to communities in Chiapas with the title, WORKERS IN THE OTHER WORLD.” --Cristóbal Ts’it Nujkul

“Our hope is that the seed we planted there will grow. That the group and its art will reproduce and be robust.” --Mariano López de la Cruz

“Our relationship with Sna Jtz’ibajom was instrumental in organizing our community of farm workers here in Immokalee, because their plays helped us to see our reality. They gave us the chance to examine the lives we are living and in that way seek solutions to our problems. Their theatre is a theatre of analysis and a major part of our program of popular education, which is designed to create in our members what we call Conscience + Compromise = Change, a change from the grassroots up.” -- Lucas Benítez, Director, Coalition of Immokalee Workers

“For my part, it was an historical experience but a drastic one, to know that places exist in the world where there is still racism, intolerance, and no recognition of human rights. The rich only think of money and not of the wellbeing of humanity. For many a life with justice and dignity is still a utopia.”--Tsiak Tsa’pat Ts’it

  Let them not fall below the road  
  Or above the road.  
  Let nothing afflict  
  Or assail them  
  Or before.  
  Put them on the green path,  
  The green road.  
  --Popol Vuh  
  Weaving Border  



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  Weaving Border