FROM THE EDITORS: What is democracy when you go beyond what we were taught in school, as a “system of government” or an ideology? That is what the editors of Tzam: Las Trece Semillas Zapatistas try to answer this month by presenting a series of essays that explore democracy from an indigenous viewpoint: “For a long time, the countries of the world have used democratic equality as an instrument to fight against other possibilities of organizing communal life. These other possibilities live particularly within many of sociopolitical organizations of indigenous peoples that, on many occasions, have been contemptuously called “traditions and customs (usos y costumbres).” Below a simple answer from the Nahua people: democracy is what you have done to keep the “essential unity”–Tonseyot–of your community.
Tosenyot, that’s how our ancestors called it. It means “our essential unity.” Our unwavering bond as Maseual people. Together with our contradictions, or strains, our joys, and our love. We are a community that survives time, nature, and its oppressors, as a San Miguelean poet used to say.
Democracy, essentially, is the communal service we offer to the community in order to invigorate it. It is a service that is reflected in the beauty of a flower, in making tortillas, in shooting up fireworks, that we experience in reciprocity (mano vuelta), in our daily labor, in the assemblies, as well as by the wood stove, when sowing and by a natural spring. It is a communal service where the elders are essential for their experience, children are essential for their energy, animals for sharing their lives with us, and plants for giving us sustenance.
Our democracy is not based on academic titles, economic gain, nor prestige in the news media. Our democracy demands a deep commitment to our culture. In our democracy, we do not make empty promises of “I will do and be” but “I have already been, gratuitously, the head of a congregation, a dancer, a committee president, an alderman, a musician, or a lieutenant.”
Text based on the dialogues and knowledge of Elíseo Zamora and Francisco Sánchez.