Another Indian village not far from San Cristobal is Zinacantan. Here, the villagers have more contact with outsiders than the residents of Chamula do, but they aren’t necessarily happy with having too many visitors, and they definitely don’t like some of the meddling the Mexican government is doing.
For example, the government wants to build hospitals and schools here, but they’re demanding that the Indians here stop practicing cultural traditions like having an oligarchical government and having polygamous marriages in which one husband might have as many as four wives. The Mexican government considers those practices unethical, but for the Indians, they’re part of a culture that’s existed for thousands of years, and they don’t want to give up any piece of that culture.
Compounding the problem, the Indians here sympathize with the Zapatistas, who at least try to find solutions that will allow the Indians to hold onto their ancient practices while still gaining modern benefits. The government obviously doesn’t want the Zinacantan residents to help the rebels in any way.
Zinacantan includes a number of Spanish-style buildings, but according to Senor Lopez, the structures are mostly less than 20 years old. Before they were built, the village consisted entirely of huts, and the huts are still the predominant structures here. The village, to me, appears less impoverished than some parts of Merida, but Senor Lopez tells me this area has some of the worst poverty in the entire country.
Most people have seen pictures in National Geographic of impoverished residents in less developed countries. I always assumed those residents were among the poorest, but here in Zinacantan, I find out differently. Some of the women here have appeared in National Geographic--and they’re considered the stars of the village because they have connections with the tour guides who bring the photographers and journalists here. It’s all about who you know.
The church here is beautiful, and I sneak a few pictures even though Zinacantan residents don’t respond any better to having their photos taken than the people in Chamula. There’s an odd blend of Catholicism, Indian traditions, and modern times here, as inside the church we find Mayan idols beside the trappings of the Catholic religion, while songs from the US, like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, play through a tinny speaker.
Zinacantan, like Chamula, gives me a good glimpse into the real life of some of the residents of Chiapas. Unfortunately, Senor Lopez says it’s likely that three decades from now, some of this culture won’t even exist, as the Mexican government continues its efforts to assimilate the people here.
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