Endless Resistance as Chronicled by a Former Boston-based Organizer
"No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy" by writer and formerly Boston-based organizer Wendy Call covers a range of topics better known of than they areunderstood: indigenous struggles to preserve livelihoods, environments, language and identity; resistance to corporate globalization; popular education, bi-lingualism and interculturalism; and, in an older frame, development and underdevelopment. Through a nuanced and textured recounting of conversations and their contexts, Wendy remaps the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico’s Deep South while surfacing each of these topics.
Soon she takes us to a leafy Mexico City neighborhood, to meet the MIT-educated Felipe Ochoa whose Robert Moses-like plans for a super highway connecting the Caribbean to the Pacific across the isthmus (nearly 500 miles away) provide a narrative arc for No Word… However, the journey begins and ends with the community-based resistances to those plans. We meet grassroots leaders and community activists who are engaged in recurring conversations to define the challenges, debate their options, leading to action across a dizzying range resistance sites: from a future shrimp farm to a rural classroom to the local Walmart and ultimately, to the hard concrete of thesupercarretera. So Ochoa’s networks of business and governing elites face the stubborn but strategic resistance of pro-indigenous organizer Carlos Bea Torres and school teacher Maritza Ochoa Jarauta.
Between other covers, pages covering these topics are burdened with terms like “othering,” “sub altern,” “positionality,” “hegemony,” “chronoschisms,” ”counter-narrative,” and so on. These are refreshingly absent. Instead we meet human beings making choices and mobilizing relationships to manage everyday life under globalization. The reason for this accessible style lies, I suspect, in a larger set of somewhat understated questions she poses and that she answers with a set of modestly framed conclusions.
All organizers, she recognizes, have to “cajole action from concern.” The hardest part, she goes on, is to inspire “people to overcome the lure of short-term, short-sighted decisions.” Her experience with US organizing framed a related set of questions: was our organizing “so effective at doing nothing” or “were we not doing anything well?” Wendy’s work on isthmus allowed her to seek answers in a different context.
In that different context, the mol (foreign) organizer and writer witnesses a community deliberate and debate strategy, “Are we saying ‘No,’ or are we saying ‘Yes, but with conditions?’ The first thing we must do [is] make sure that everyone in the isthmus knows about the Megaproject…” Or from a different perspective, “We don’t have to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.” We have to decide what kind of development we want.”
Wendy’s telling of the story of strategy takes us to a conclusion while enriching our vocabulary with words from the indigenous languages and Spanish. We can now borrow zipizape to refer to a type of disturbance or commotion, or think of el chachuixtle—a disease affecting corn plants—as a synonym for corporate globalization, or wonder at chilaquiles a culinary offering that Wendy calls the perfect meal (with a fair measure of irony). But this level detail is offered en route to the endlessness of the struggle.
Against the megaproject, the community deliberation and resistance in this account produces mixed results: most of the superhighway is not privatized, but it was built; the shrimp farm was halted; but the Walmart came; however the green deserts of eucalyptus did not materialize; and a steel mill was canceled. Against these mixed results, starkly presented here in balance-sheet style, Wendy offers a subtler, longer view. “The world stopped paying attention once the peak of the rebellion passed [but] the people’s resistance went on and on… they resisted what didn’t work for them but adapted to what they could not change. The adaptation made the resistance possible… the isthmeños’ victories are invisible, nonevents… yet those victories are crucial: evidence of the success of grassroots organizing, of the village economy’s ability to persist in spite of globalization…” Even if reluctantly, we arrive with Wendy at these conclusions, we have to concede that her book helps us move from knowing about the subjects toward understanding them. Perhaps she has cajoled us to action.
Wendy Call speaks to her book this Thursday, at 7:00 at encuentro 5, 33 Harrison Ave, 5th floor, Boston, MA 02111.
Suren Moodliar is a coordinator of Mass. Global Action and a member of the encuentro 5 collective hosting Wendy Call's event. He can be contacted at suren [ at ] fairjobs [ dot ] org