It’s a watershed moment for Clowns Without Borders USA. Our first undertaking of 2017 is also our 100th project since our organizations’s founding in 1995! Therefore it is fitting that we are returning to Chiapas, Mexico, where it all began for CWB-USA. Founder Moshe Cohen began making trips to this magical part of the world to serve the people of Chiapas in CWB-USA’s nascent days.
The indigenous community residing in Chiapas were oppressed in poverty and brutalized by the government of the time because of the land on which they live. The region where they reside and have for hundreds of years, is rich in minerals, water, and crops such coffee and cacao, but the indigenous people are among poorest and most marginalized in Mexico. Chiapas is a jewel, but the people and region have been taken advantage of by power, politics, and trade agreements. The Zapatista Revolution began in 1994 and was the locals way of saying, ‘we want autonomy.’ They succeeded in becoming autonomous, but at significant cost.
Rudi Galindo, a long-time volunteer, professional clown, and colleague of founder Moshe Cohen, is leading the team returning Chiapas this January for CWB-USA’s 100th project. Rudi has been traveling to share levity and moments joyful play, every year for nearly two decades. He is compelled to return and give the gift of laughter and to keep a promise.
Many years ago, on a trip to Chiapas, Rudi and another volunteer, David Lichtenstein, went to a displacement camp for the indigenous people seeking escape from recent massacres at the hands of the military. It was a wet and cold January. Thick mud coated the land. Rudi and David kept falling in the muck and mire as they performed for the audience in the displacement camp. Afterward, at the show’s end, they took their noses off and collected props preparing to exit. A hyper-emotional woman came up to Rudi and spoke rapidly to him in the indigenous language. She was anxious and animated, and Rudi called for someone to translate. What the woman said impressed upon his soul forever. She exclaimed, “I’m frightened that you’re going to leave. I feel so much safer when you are here! Because everyone is laughing and at peace, so we all forgot to be afraid. Please, do not go!” It was tearful for everyone, Rudi and David included.
Rudi was so moved that he vowed to come back, and return he has, every year since 1995.
The Zapatista Revolution is quiet now, and while it may not be over, the guns are no longer pointed, and the people of Chiapas have found a new normal. In their autonomy, they work hard to administer government and services. They have taken the concept of education and applied it on a larger scale–both for children and adults. Human rights for all is the cornerstone of their governance. They govern by respecting the earth, each other, the woman and the child. This remarkable place is unique, and if you travel there, it seems as if you’ve left Mexico and entered a different world. It’s a place where the people look noticeably different from Mexicans and where their mannerisms, language, and culture distinguish them as indigenous. It is a place where Rudi is forever connected to the people.
We encourage you to ally with the people of Chiapas, too. You can follow our milestone project updates, photos, and videos on our social media pages and explore with the clowns. Visit our page about Mexico to delve into the library of information about our past work in Chiapas.
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