Culture

Mexican Students Build A 100 Year Deathiversary Ofrenda For Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata

For most of us, Día de los Muertos is a day spent with family, remembering our abuelos and sitting by an intimate altar with plates of flan, orange marigolds, and a few chupitos for good measure. This year, a Mexican high school has dedicated their campus to a stunning, giant ofrenda for revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, on the 100 year anniversary of his death.

The assembly of the ofrenda took ten hours and over one thousand students, 90 teachers, and 15 staff. Since its completion late Monday, the school has opened its doors to the public and given over one hundred visitors student-led tours of the altar. 

In keeping with tradition, the ofrenda is divided into seven levels.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

Those levels represent the gap between the underworld and our world and help the souls travel back to earth. The bright orange, sweet-scented marigolds are meant to be a sensory guide to the deceased. The Emiliano Zapata Preparatory School will celebrate its 50th year anniversary next year. On the 100 year anniversary of their namesake’s death, the school ensured Zapata would be honored.

“May our traditions never die,” the school posted to Facebook in Spanish. “A thank you to all the students, administration, tutors and teachers at the Language Academy for this splendid work.” With one post, their ofrenda went viral, with thousands of shares and likes. 

The ofrenda is 40 feet long, and uses over 200 candles.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

Dozens of sugar skulls, fruit, tortillas, and traditional Mexican dishes are placed on the altar. “The classic figure of the leader on the right side and we placed a more contemporary version with the representation of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) on the left side,” Ricardo Valderrama Valdez, the school’s director, told El PaísTo help with the portraits of Zapata and the Zapatista soldier, poblano plastic artist Alejandro Teutli donated large sketches to the ofrenda. 

Then, the students colored them in with dyed sawdust.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

Considering that this is sawdust, we have to acknowledge the excellent shading methods used on Zapata’s cheekbones. Parents are flooding the Facebook comments with Spanish praise from moms, “Congratulations!!! to both shifts how beautiful they got, very good work chic@s, my princess is lucky to be part of that institution. 😋” The dads are coming through with comments like, “Excellent!!!!! Never forget our ancestors. Remembering is living……”

It took the school well over ten hours to create the ofrenda.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

We started Monday at seven in the morning with the students of both shifts and it ended at five in the afternoon. The students were very excited to participate, each in their own way,” Valderrama Valdez told El País. Taking a day off school to commemorate an indigenous hero? Yes, please.

Zapata was a major figure in the Mexican Revolution, specifically leading the cause of campesinos, or farmers.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

He led the revolt in Morelos, and garnered enough supporters to form the Liberation Army of the South. Their joint mission was to protect “Land and Liberty.” Zapata was the Robin Hood of land. He and his army took land from the wealthy and redistributed it to the poor. He was assassinated on April 10, 1919 by the Mexican government. 

Zapatismo remains an ongoing movement in Mexico to advocate for indigenous rights to land. 

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

In 1994, a guerrilla group in Chiapas started calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in honor of the ideology that Zapata passed down. The group refuses to align itself with any political classification, though many observe the Robin Hood nature of their mission as libertarian socialist. 

Today, the EZLN is focused on civil resistance. Like the Zapatistas of the early 1900’s, the group is indigenous-led, seeking indigenous control of natural resources. Instead of engaging in militant activity with the Mexican government, it’s peaceful protest strategy is attracting more international and local support. Their flag is black with a red star in the center.

Today is the last day the ofrenda will be open to the public.

Credit: Preparatoria Emiliano Zapata / Facebook

“Offerings are something that must happen from generation to generation, it is something we want to convey to our students beyond academics,” Valderrama Valdez told El PaísIf you live nearby, you’re welcome to receive a tour from the students anytime from 9am to 6pm today. Felicidades, students! This is one for the books.

Throwback: Remember When Disney Tried To Trademark Día de los Muertos?

Entertainment

Throwback: Remember When Disney Tried To Trademark Día de los Muertos?

shot_by_prum_ty / Instagram

Since Disney Plus launched on November 12, people have been swept up in all the family-friendly chaos, indulging in a long list of classic Disney favorites. While the streaming service also plans to offer new original content, the company is definitely taking advantage of our generation’s lust for nostalgia, providing exclusive access to the Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic franchises (and reminding us how much Disney dominated our youth with films like The Lion King, The Cheetah Girls, and Gotta Kick It Up). Honestly, the list of iconic feel-good films is outrageously long, and it’s easy to understand why everyone’s so excited.

But it’s no secret that Disney’s wholesome image has been blemished by a long, varied history of controversy and criticism. While Disney has been accused of sexism and plagiarism numerous times, one of the most notable topics of discussion in recent years has been the company’s tendency to racially stereotype its characters, a propensity that is  especially notable in early Disney films (though many scholars and film critics argue that this has carried into the 21st century, despite Disney’s attempts to be more culturally sensitive).

On many occasions, Disney has acknowledged the racist nature of its older animated films, like Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats. In the descriptions for several programs on Disney Plus, there is a brief warning about the “outdated cultural stereotypes” contained within each film, and while several people view this disclaimer as a sign of progress, Disney has been criticized for making a bare minimum effort toward addressing the problematic elements of its past.

And speaking of the company’s past, how could we forget the time that Disney tried to trademark the term “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead”?

Credit: Pinterest / The Walt Disney Company

Back in 2013, Disney approached the US Patent and Trademark Office with a request to secure “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead” across many different platforms. At the time, an upcoming Pixar movie with a Día de los Muertos theme (read: the early stirrings of Coco) was in the works, and Disney wanted to print the phrase on a wide range of products, from fruit snacks to toys to cosmetics. Por supuesto, Disney received major backlash for trying to trademark the name of a holiday—what is more culturally appropriative than claiming ownership over an entire celebration? Especially one with indigenous roots?

“The trademark intended to protect any potential title of the movie or related activity,” a spokeswoman for Disney told CNNMexico at the time. “Since then, it has been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our application for trademark registration.”

But prior to withdrawing their application, Disney received extensive backlash from the Latnix community. Latinos all over social media expressed their disdain for Disney’s bold and offensive attempt to take ownership of the holiday’s name, even starting a petition on Change.org to halt the whole process. Within just a few days, the petition had garnered 21,000 signatures.

Although Disney didn’t acknowledge whether the online uproar had influenced them to retract their trademark request, they were clearly paying attention. Lalo Alcaraz, a Mexican-American editorial cartoonist, had expressed open disdain at what he called Disney’s “blunder,” creating “Muerto Mouse”—a cartoon criticizing said blunder—in response.

Credit: Lalo Alcaraz / Pocho.com

This wasn’t the first time Alcaraz had criticized Disney with his cartoons. After the trademark fiasco, Disney definitely caught wind of Alcaraz’s position, and in an effort to approach the upcoming Día de los Muertos movie with sensitivity, the company hired him to work as a cultural consultant on the film.

Although several folks celebrated this development, Alcaraz was widely denounced for collaborating with Disney—many people called him a “vendido,” accusing him of hypocritically selling out to the gringo-run monolith against which he had previously spoken out. But Alcaraz stood his ground, confident that his perspective would lend valuable influence to the movie and ultimately prevent Pixar from doing the Latinx community a disservice.

“Instead of suing me, I got Pixar to give me money to help them and do this project right,” Alcaraz said. “I was let down because I was hoping people would give me a little bit of credit for the stuff I’ve done; to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

And, sin duda, Coco emerged as one of the most culturally accurate films that Disney has ever produced. Employing an almost exclusively Latino cast and crew, Coco seamlessly captured the beauty, magic, and wonder of Día de los Muertos, depicting the holiday with reverence and respect. And after becoming the top-grossing film of all time in Mexico, it’s safe to say that Coco helped Disney bounce back from its trademark mishap, even if more controversy is bound to emerge in the future.

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Culture

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Jorge Rivera-Pineda / Mexico Broadcasters

It is no secret that Mexican society is often affected by displays of homophobia. Even though there have been great advances such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, the largely Catholic country is home of opinion leaders who are conservative and whose masculinity seems to be constantly threatened by anything that doesn’t spell out “straight.”

Added to this, Mexican political discourse is anchored in a solemn approach to institutions and the myths of the wars of Independence and Revolution, the two historical moments that have defined Mexican political life and foundational narratives for the past 200 years. So a recent painting hosted at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, perhaps the most iconic building dedicated to the arts in the Latin American country, made conservatives poner el grito en el cielo, as it dares to reimagine one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders as a queer character.

For many, Zapata is akin to a deity and the image of heroic masculinity. The painting is, however, incendiary for exactly that reason, because it challenges notions of sex and gender in a day and age were some parts of Mexico are progressive while others remain under the dark clouds of discrimination and segregation of LGBTQ communities.

So this is the 2014 painting “The Revolution” by Fabian Chairez. 

The painting depicts a male figure who resembles the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, a cornerstone of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. Zapata was beloved by indigenous populations and gente de campo who believed that other revolutionaries were forgetting the most marginalised sectors of society.

But there is a twist: here, Zapata is naked, wearing heels and being totally gender-non-conforming as he rides a voluptuous horse. Chairez told Reuters: “I use these elements like the sombrero and horse and create a proposal that shows other realities, other ways of representing masculinity.”

Definitely not your usual depiction of the times, but surely a piece that is confronting in the best possible way. The painting was chosen as part of an exhibition on the revolutionary hero, but things got nasty. 

Zapata’s grandchildren have spoken out against the painting in the most homophic way, and things got bloody.

Zapata’s family demanded that the painting be taken off the exhibition because it allegedly “tainted” the public image of their grandfather. Let’s take a minute here and think about this: it is actually the worst possible kind of homophobia, as it implies that being queer is wrong and that it would be a blemish on Zapata’s legacy.

There were protests inside Bellas Artes and university students defending the work and freedom of expression actually got into a fistfight with farmers who stormed Bellas Artes chanting homophobic slurs and threatening to burn the painting in a gross display of toxic masculinity and an Inquisitorial outlook on life and art.

As reported by CE Noticias Financieras, Federico Ovalle, leader of the Independent Central Of Agricultural and Peasant Workers, said: “The picture denigrates the personality and trajectory of the general and it seems to us that presenting this figure is grotesque, of contempt and contempt of the peasants of the country.”

Luis Vargas Santiago, curator of the exhibit ‘Emiliano Zapata after Zapata’, told Reuters: “Of course it’s fine if they don’t like the painting, they can criticize the exhibition, but to seek to censor freedom of expression, that’s different.” 

The painting can stay, but it is being censored anyway.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the authorities decided that the painting can stay, but with a caveat: “But the Mexican Revolutionary hero’s family will be allowed to place a text beside it stating their strong objections to the work, which shows Zapata draped suggestively over a white horse with a giant erection.”

And the image will also be sort of hidden from public view (which, to be honest, might only increase the influx of visitors to the exhibition).

As AFP continues: “Under the deal, brokered by the Mexican culture ministry, the painting by artist Fabian Chairez will also be removed from promotional materials for the exhibition, “Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata,” which opened last month at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.”

Even Mexican president AMLO, who has declared his admiration for the revolutionary hero, got involved, ordering his culture minister to get involved. 

So was Emiliano Zapata a queer revolutionary hero? Perhaps, but that is not the point!

For years, historians have tried to get a glimpse into the man who was Emiliano Zapata. Some claim that his overt displays of macho masculinity were perhaps a way to silence any rumors regarding his sexuality. But the point is that it does not matter, or it should not matter, for any other reason that historical accuracy. And it isn’t anyone’s business, is it?