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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Globally Connected: Mayan Women During Zapatista Uprising

Imagine yourself removed from everything you know, leaving behind all the amenities that you so often take for granted growing up in the United States. Most importantly, delete peace from your life and replace it with a combat zone.

This is what Alyx Kellington did, and she took her camera along for the journey. On September 30, Kellington and her camera gave a presentation in the Harbor Art Gallery titled “Women and War,” sponsored by the Veteran’s Center and the Women’s Center. She brought with her a collection of photos and stories from the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista people in Chiapas, Mexico. Kellington was born and raised in Austin, Texas, with an older brother and father who served in the military. As a child, she says, she was a not very aware of the Vietnam War and how badly soldiers were treated after returning stateside. In 1980, when she was a teenager working at a mall, she realized that her tax money was spent for the war in El Salvador, which she did not support. With the desire to make change, she moved to Dominican Republic in 1985 to learn Spanish and to survive without modern conveniences such as electricity and running water. Later, she moved to El Salvador with her camera in hand. With these foreign experiences to motivate her, she came back to the United States traveling to Boston, to attend the New England School of Photography as a major in Photojournalism. After earning her degree she began her freelance career by returning to El Salvador and experiencing their civil war. Currently, she has retired from her photojournalism career and devoted her time to the care for her mother. During her career she has contributed photos to Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. The conflict began in 1994, with the dawning of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), supported by Canada, the United States and Mexico. Mexican ruling class favored this agreement, looking for a more profitable and economically stable Mexico. However, NAFTA overlooked the poor indigenous people, in particular the present day Mayan tribe, located in the southern Mexican town of Chiapas. The tribe’s livelihood was centered on the community marketplace where they sold their agricultural and hand-made textiles. With NAFTA in place the Mayan economy and way of life was all together devastated. Immediately following, a Mayan guerrilla group named Zapatista, started fighting against Mexican government. Kellington spent the first six months of the uprising with guerrilla Zapatistas and suffering Mayans.

Kellington chose to focus her series on women and children, whom she closely identified with because of her relationship with her brother during her own childhood. Her brother was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive toward her, until the age of 17 when she left home. She felt a bond with the women and children of the Mayan tribe, through the fear and anger she felt toward her brother and likening those feelings to the Mayan struggles with the Mexican government. When she photographed the women and children, she felt connected with these victims, through the desolate feelings of isolation and confusion during the war filled time. Kellington remarks, “War situation is suppressive, oppressive and isolated for women and children, [and] they can not escape from it”. Kellington’s sensitive connection with the women helped to illuminate and capture the beauty and heartbreak of the women and children during the Zapatista uprising.

The series featured many moods and cultural activities in which the women were engaged. In Mayan culture, according to Kellington, men do physical labor work and women are left to provide income through the traditional selling colorful cloth. One photo featured the women’s process of making the cloth, entirely by hand. This labor-intensive task in which they make the dye, as well as the thread, and weave it into cloth takes thirty or forty hours. Another photo reflected on the joys of the tribal women, in which a Mayan girl appears very excited in anticipation of a party taking place that night. She knows boys from the next village will be there, and she looks forward to seeing the boy she likes, Kellington explained. Some of the more compelling photographs in the series featured a dramatically dark change of Mayan women who had become part of the Zapatista army, and dressed exactly like Zapatista men, except for their hair, which was too long to hide under the facemask. During her stay in Central America, Kellington also spent some time with the Mexican army. In a compelling display, she showed Mexican Army photos along with the photos of Zapatista army. “As a photojournalist I’m proud of spending equal time for both sides”. These photos gave viewers a better idea of the real inequalities felt by the different classes existing in Mexico. One photo showed a member of Mexican army with a hard helmet and a new gun, while comparatively another photo presented Zapatista guerilla with a cap and holding an outdated gun.

After spending six months taking photos of the uprising and the people, Kellington concluded with the remark “I believe at the bottom line, people are good…If I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t have kept taking pictures”. Then, she recalled one scene she claimed as the best moment in her life- one night when she sat was among Mayan women, combing one another’s hair, as others were nurturing their babies and children ran happily around their mothers. Growing up with abusive male dominance, this radiation of womanly presence filled her with great amounts of joy and sense of place that she had never experienced. Through Kellington’s photographs of the Mayan women, the world got a chance to understand this ancient, beautiful culture and how it suffered through an unfair civil war. The Mayan women gave her a sense of place among women, and she gave them a sense of place in the world.