Papa Chava, my maternal grandfather, was born in 1928 in Tepames, Mexico. I remember him telling me about his “good old days” as the village milkman and of his adventures as a taxi man and of his journey to the U.S. though the Bracero Program in the 1940’s. He would describe to me in great detail what Tepames looked like when he was my age, using imagery and similes so that my young mind could understand. As he got older and closer to his death, I asked him if he had a diary or if he had ever written any of his stories down on paper. He told me that he never had the opportunity to read or write so he kept every thing “here and here,” pointing to his head and then his heart. After his death, I began to realize that there were many stories that were told to me that were never written down. From recipes, to home remedies, to childhood lessons, to every-day Mexican sayings, these were all oral histories that were passed down from generation to generation. Similarly, due to poverty but most importantly due to government suppression of their culture, the Zapatistas used oral histories to pass down their histories. In order to not lose their culture and tradition, indigenous communities began to conduct their own research and “interview the oldest members to properly understand and have a clear idea of how words were used before, and leave a written record of their grandparent about what happened before.” In an attempt to “modernize” Mexico, President Salinas implemented NAFTA and other neoliberal reforms that failed to acknowledge and respect indigenous cultures and histories. As a result of this erasure, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) rose to power and started a movement to turn education back into the hands of the indigenous communities to create their own autonomous Zapatista schools that seeks to liberate and defend their communities. “Modernization” under Presidente Salinas de Gortari In his inaugural address in Mexico City on December 1, 1988, President Salinas outlined his main goal which was to modernize Mexico. In his opening line, Salinas states that “the modernization of Mexico is essential if we are to meet the demands of the 85 million Mexicans of today.” From the beginning of his presidency, President Salinas wanted to show the Mexican people that Mexico needed “to modernize politics, the economy, and society” because “this is the only way we will be able to affirm our sovereignty in a world undergoing profound transformation.” Salinas continued with the neoliberal economic policy of his predecessor Miguel de la Madrid and converted Mexico into a regulatory state. Everything Salinas attempted to implement was done with a neo-liberal slant to further prioritize international interests over the rights of the Mexican people.One of the examples of his “modernization” effort was when Salinas and Education Secretary, Ernesto Zedillo, rewrote the elementary school textbooks. Through the gaze of neoliberalism and modernization, President Salinas in collaboration with Zedillo, the future President of Mexico, edited the textbooks used in the public schools throughout Mexico. These new edits featured “an interpretation that downplayed the negative aspects of the Díaz dictatorship.” Similarly, it “highlighted Porfirian modernization as necessary precursors to Salina’s efforts to bring Mexico into the area of globalization.” The original copy of the textbooks “depicted the revolution as a culmination of the struggle of the Mexican people for democracy and social justice” but the latest edition of the textbooks drew “more ambiguous portraits of revolutionary leaders than their predecessors with their desire to reform.” Early on, the Mexican government was very wary of Zapata’s legacy and ” thus sought to appropriate his image.” They transformed Zapata’s legacy into a “state-sanctioned hero.” As a result, these textbooks also omitted important Mexican heroes of the Mexican revolution. As Tanalis Padilla argues, “those in power appropriate, water-down, and make their messages and legacies palatable.” These were not minor changes, on the contrary, they affected every Mexican, even those who normally did not not attend public schools. For poorer families, whose children dropped out of school in order to support their families financially, “these books were the only available source of historical instructions.” Zapatista UprisingMexican governments over-involvement to pursue political motives and lack of collaboration with the community led to more corruption in Carlos Salinas de Gortari sextenio. Opposition parties claim that American diplomats influenced the Mexican government to downplay past U.S. military intervention to make the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) more attractive. As a result of President Salinas’ neoliberal policies and long history of neo-colonialism and suppression of indigenous rights and autonomy, the neo-zapatista movement known as the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) began to take shape. After the Porfirian dictatorship, indigenous communities had “absolutamente nada, ni un techo digno, ni tierra, ni trabajo, ni salud, ni alimentación, ni educación.” When NAFTA was signed, on January 1, 1994, it triggered the EZLN to issue their first declaration from the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The rebellion began on the same day of the signing of NAFTA, which they believe would create further polarization between the rich and the poor. Additionally, NAFTA “served to further divert attention from the problems of the agricultural economy in the heavily indigenous South.” As a result, the Zapatistas created 11 demands that included fighting “por trabajo, tierra, techo, alimentación, salud, educación, independencia, libertad, democracia, justicia y paz.” In addition to the variety of different demands that the Zapatistas had, one of them brought to light the efforts for more intentional education for their communities. Zapatista Educational CurriculumMany indigenous individuals decided to take their children out of the official Mexican education system because they did not see their identities represented. The traditional public education system in Mexico “did not respect their culture and their history, and did not teach the children their rights as indigenous peoples, forcing children to forget their indigenous languages and speak only Spanish. Likewise, “the lack of involvement of indigenous peoples in the planning and management of educational centers is one of the many problems plaguing national policy with regard to indigenous education.” According to the coordinator of the Francisco Villa autonomous municipio’s education sector, “we are reviving the culture; we are reconstructing that which was lost. It had been lost before because the government didn’t want these cultures and traditions, but thanks to autonomous education we are rescuing them.” This kind of erasure of indigenous culture and tradition is not new but rather undergoing a new form though the gaze of modernization and reform. Through his neoliberal policies, President Salinas is beginning to institutionally erase the indigenous existence in the minds of young Mexicans. As a result of Salinas’ neoliberal economic policy, and years of oppression of their culture and history, the Zapatista education began to form autonomous education centers. These schools included “teachers were democratically elected by their communities. ” Additionally, “their curricula and pedagogical approaches are supervised by an education committee elected by the local assembly.” This kind of education is one that is proactive rather than reactive. It teach many things about “the beginning of the struggle, because the struggle is not something new: it goes back 500 years and we are looking into the reasons for this suffering, since we don’t want it to happen again.” Additionally, the curriculum of the autonomous schools include a more holistic approach to history. In their textbooks, “national and international heroes share space with indigenous leaders, the history of the Spanish colonizers is taught side-by-side with the history of the Tseltal.” Instead of an unequal and false interpretation of historical events that are induced in the current textbooks used in public schools, these Zapatista schools incorporate all of the voices of Mexico. As a whole, this kind of education teaches students that “the values of individualism, competition, consumerism and private property are seriously questioned and replaced with values like the community and solidarity.” These autonomous schools in itself are forms for resistance against the government. In their own way, these autonomous teachers are “unilaterally implementing the 1996 San Andrés Agreements on Indigenous Rights and Culture, which have also gone unfulfilled by the government with regard to education.” On February 16, 1996, the EZLN and the Mexican government “signed the first substantive agreements on the road to peace,” that “stipulated special rights and autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous people.” In the San Andrés Accords, “the federal government responded to part of the Zapatistas’ demands, those related to indigenous rights and culture.” In addition to all of the demands, one included the “promotion of their education and mining, respecting and building on traditional knowledge.” The negotiations were discussed and approved by representatives of all the indigenous communities of Mexico and presented President Zedillo and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). President Zedillo however, ignored the agreements and “chose confrontation over negotiations” and instead, increased military presence with the political support of the other important political parties.Importance of the Zapatista EducationThe autonomous education curriculum teaches students to think critically about large social issues affecting their communities. The Zapatista indigenous resistance is based on a “decolonial vision,” it teaches students to critique the normalisation of coloniality and the justification of modernity, progress and education. One teacher of the Zapatista education states, “we believe that education is not only about teaching literacy and numeracy, but also about solving problems between our peoples, how to defend ourselves, about our history and how to keep on fighting.” Just like the sciences and the technology are important, this education teaches children “their own history, the history of their land, and their world.” This education is part of a larger indigenous education, that incorporates studies of the population, the everyday life, the territory, the climate all in relation to Mother Earth. Throughout their studies in the Zapatista schools, students learn four principles. The first lesson is that it is possible to defeat the social policies that have disadvantaged their communities. Students are taught that their own people “defeated social counterinsurgency policies, which are the way found by those above for dividing, coopting and submitting peoples that rebel.” The second lesson is autonomy, which “means that they are going to construct our own education” and stray away from capitalistic tendencies. The third lesson is embasing a sense of collective work. Instead of thinking individualistically, students are taught that “not much that has been constructed would be possible without the collective work, of men, women, boys, girls and the elderly.” The fourth lesson is the cultivation of a new political culture which is rooted in family relations and permeates all of Zapatista “society.” Men collaborate in the domestic work that continues falling on the women; they take care of their children when the women leave the community for their work as authorities. Autonomous Zapatista education supplements a lot of knowledge that tradition public education leaves out. The teaching and learning methods in these schools help children to develop a different way of seeing themselves in relation to their immediate reality. There were many outcomes that this educational model had which “inspired a sense of relevance and identity” for the members of the community. The autonomous school is a place of reflection where children say what they feel and think while constructing their own autonomous identity. Unlike other official educational systems, these schools teach children to “think of education as inherently political; they are taught how to fight, to take care of their environment and to take pride in defending their indigenous culture and land.” A Zapatista educator states that “our education is about having a dignified struggle and one heart, so that we can walk together in the same direction.” As President Salinas moved Mexico toward modernization with the implementation of NAFTA and other neoliberal reforms, the outcomes dramatically affected the indigenous populations in Mexico by failing to acknowledge and respect their cultures and histories. As a result of this legal and political violence, EZLN started to gain more power in the indigenous communities and decided to start a movement that made education a source of knowledge to educate, liberate and defend their communities by creating their own autonomous Zapatista schools. These autonomous schools serve various purposes like decolonizing the minds of the youth, centering their cultures and traditions in relation to Mother nature, and develop a sense of identity and community. Slowly but surely, they will begin to educate the youth that will move Mexico forward and begin a intentional conversation about the fate of indigenous communities in the political sphere.