From America to Europe on a rickety sailing ship: 7 Mexican natives navigate the reverse of Christopher Columbus’s route to America

They crossed the entire ocean on a patched together sailing ship to commemorate the fall of Tenochtitlan

20 May 2021 | by elora
The sailing vessel, “Montagna” on which the Zapatista natives are travelling

The “Montagna” departed on 3 May from the port of Isla de Las Mujeres, on the eastern coast of Mexico. The bow pointed east towards Europe. The objective of this patched up sailing ship, calling it that is a compliment, is to cross the Atlantic Ocean and disembark in Hamburg. On board are four women, two men and a transgender person who have never been on the ocean before.

They are natives speaking Tzotzil who, most certainly, have never stepped out of the tangle of vegetation which is Lacandona, the wild lands covering the plateaus in the Mexican state of the Chiapas. They are part of the “421 squadron” of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Eznl). “Our aim – they explained – is to navigate the reversed route sailed by Christopher Columbus over 500 years ago. This same route which brought the Spanish invaders to conquer our world. But, contrary to the invaders, we are not bringing death, but life.” 

13 August 2021 will be an important day for all the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Five hundred years ago, the conquistadores (or as they are called in that part of the world, “the invaders”), led by Hernán Cortés, invaded Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, ending the Aztec Empire.  In order to remind Europe that this date, which is still described in our schoolbooks as the “great enterprise of the conquistadores”, can be seen under a different light, the natives of Mexico decided to take to the seas and face the Atlantic.

Let’s briefly remember that Ezln, known in Italy mostly due to Sub-Commander Marcos, who lead the movement, first began in 1994 with the objective of obtaining, from the Mexican government, respect for indigenous culture, access to schools and services in Tzotzil, still the most used language in the Chiapas, and the assignment of land property of the poor, independent from the large landowners.

In Europe, the 421 Squadron is eagerly awaited by human and environmental rights movements, like the young people belonging to Fridays for Future, from over 20 countries: ranging from Germany and the Nordic countries to the Mediterranean, including France, Spain and Italy. The calendar has yet to be confirmed but, without a doubt the Zapatistas will come through Genova, the birth city of the Descubridor de las Americas. A title which for them has no positivity whatsoever, as they are convinced that their ancestors had no need of Columbus to be “discovered” and to exist!

The “gira” – the voyage – will be unforgettable, not only for these adventurous natives but also for those who will meet them after they disembark. “You live in large cities – they said upon departing – we live in villages. You live on the coast and we live in the middle of the forest. We speak different languages, eat different things and have different habits, but we are all ‘indigenous’ to this planet and we are all children of Mother Earth, who needs to be defended by those who would exploit her for profit in the name of an economy based on fossil fuels, the cause of climate change, and the effects of which are currently mostly affecting the poorer countries, but will soon overwhelm all of humanity.

 

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