Coming to San Cristobal I have done my research but still know very little of what to expect. It will be my first time performing in Spanish, and I hope I am up to the task. San Cristobal is an amazing mix of indigenous cultures descended from the Mayan people, catholicism, tourists and revolutionaries brought by the inspiring story of the Zapatistas.
We are living with many activists who are spending time assisting the Zapatista communities and acting as silent observers to expose the challenges and prejudices the government enforces on the revolutionaries. The activists here are dedicated humanitarians, some of them working over 10 years to “find the root of the problem and solve it.” Talking to them I realize how difficult the task of “bringing aid” is to a community of people who want to be left alone, and how differently these communities and how much distrust they have of outside influences trying to change them.
Our shows have been on reclaimed land. We perform on the playground, our backdrop is the hacienda mansion, the house of the original owner of this land, never touched but left to crumble as a symbol of decadence. Our second week here we find out that a Zapatista uprising in Palenque against the government will mean we will cancel and reschedule 3 days of shows with them.
I ask myself, how can silliness improve this situation? Talking to people here I realize that the American fear of clowns, Clorophobia, is almost non-existent. The reason? 4 out of 25 of the kids we see will graduate. Most of the kids we see will son be out of school to start a long life of labor. Most of them are already farming or out on the streets, peddling handmade crafts. Kids in Mexico have much more to be afraid of that they do not have the luxury of being scared of something that does not directly threaten their well-being.
For many of the children we are performing for Tzotzil is there first language and Spanish their second. Mostly for the show I speak in baby Spanish we can all understand. As the voice of our show, I have a chance to deliver a message. For days I try to find the perfect phrase that can be understand and underscore the revolutionary voice of the clown.
We are invited to a children’s radio show, and I get to practice my interview skills, and many of the over 3,000 children we perform for get to hear us talk about the details of Clowns Without Borders. I manage to keep my brain from imploding and remain coherent, lucid and funny (hopefully).
The art scene in San Cristobal is surprisingly Rich. We see some of the best Butoh (Japanese modern dance) and Kamishibai (Traditional Japanese picture theater) iv’e ever experienced. The owner is surprised when I mention the places we’ve been, that many of these people are extremely hard to reach. They offer us a show and to promote our show and our message to the community. Our very last show I have a chance to speak to adults.
Batz (mash) is the Mayan god of the arts and of clowns, represented by two brothers. One-spider-monkey is silly, and reigns over jokes, juggling, dancing, sexuality. The other is the more serious black and white one-howler-monkey. He reigns over poetry and music. His large voice proclaims the mystery of humanity. Tragedy is an essential counterpoint to the silliness of life.
“Todo el mundo es egual, cuando estan riendo”
“All the world is equal when they can laugh”
Our show at the arts space Wapani in San Cristobal goes incredibly, with people spilling out the door and down the street. we get to let the arts community know what we have been doing and the response and support is huge. The lovely women from Save the Children bring us a special surprise of hundreds of drawings and letters for the children we performed for, showing the impact we had in their lives.
I have fallen in love with this city and yearn to help keep the spirit of the revolutionary clown alive here. It is when we can laugh that we can forgive.