St. Lawrence University



On the first of the year, 1994, the Zapatista movement declared war on the Mexican government, as their namesake Emiliano Zapata had done over eighty years before. These new Zapatistas however, found that the previous revolutionary strategy of replacing the government would not work. Instead they would have to solve the problems causing the government to mistreat them.

All of those problems were rooted in neoliberalism. Hoping to claim autonomy for the indigenous, agrarian state of Chiapas, as Zapata and his followers had for Morelos, the Zapatistas set out to change the global economic model. They were not large and powerful in the face of their enemies. One small Mexican state could never change the entire world by sheer muscle. The snail and the beetle became their symbol because, like the movement, though small, these animals always continue onward.

Zapata himself, and the Zapatista movement have fashioned the image of Zapata in different ways, to different ends, but at the heart of both is the assertion that collectivity, indigenous culture, and support for agrarian living are inherent rights.

The image of Zapata is still changing today. He is the subject of murals, music, films, and academic studies. His image also lives in the Zapatista movement, which is still currently unfolding. The Zapatista website ( is updated almost weekly, and often includes options for posts to be translated into Italian, English, and German. While Marcos the hologram is dead, Marcos the person may live on as Subcommander Galeano, or maybe not.

While I continue to try to understand Zapatismo and the Zapatista movement, I would like to leave a final piece of advice from Subcommander Marcos’s death speech.

“If you will allow me one piece of advice: you should cultivate a bit of a sense of humor, not only for your own mental and physical health, but because without a sense of humor you’re not going to understand Zapatismo. And those who don’t understand judge; and those who judge, condemn.”[1]

[1] Subcommander Marcos at the Announcement of his death