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Mexico: The Choir of Acteal Sings for Peace and Justice

The Choir of Acteal is a unique group of indigenous singers in the south of Mexico, from the “tzotzil” region of Chiapas. This is a very extraordinary way of communication, since indigenous voices in Mexico are not heard very often, as most of them live in a reality that has to do with poverty, hunger, and discrimination, which are topics reflected in the songs that they sing.

“The message was the search/quest for peace, for justice and tranquility of our town and in the entire world”. Elena Gomez Santis, one of the indigenous women that sang in the chorus, said in a personal interview. She comes from a little town called Naranjatic Bajo, a place that in the region of “Los Altos” (The Heights), that the blog One Lucky Life [es] describes as “a town surrounded by mountains with different tones of green, where the clouds are so close that you can touch them with your hands.”

The Church of the tzotzil town Naranjatic Bajo taken by Andrea Arzaba

The Church of the tzotzil town Naranjatic Bajo taken by Andrea Arzaba

According to Jorge Sifuentes [es], a journalist for the national newspaper La Jornada, explains that the choir began as a religious way of commemorating that the Bible was translated from Spanish to “tzotzil”, their dialect, back in 1996.

However, the chorus took on another purpose after the Acteal Massacre. In 1997 in Acteal, another town that was part of the same “Los Altos” region, 45 indigenous people where killed inside a church by Mexican paramilitary forces. After that massacre, the choir started singing and asking for justice to the government with their own songs, this was also a way of raising awareness about what was happening in their area. To this day their case has not been resolved.

Blogger Leobardo Alvardo attended a commemoration in San Cristobál de las Casas, which was attended by survivors and relatives of those killed in the massacre. Also, in attendance was the Choir of Acteal at a Mass:

Al terminar la primera oración, el coro de Acteal conformado en su mayoría por mujeres y sólo cinco hombres, suben a la escalinata de la iglesia. Antonio anuncia su participación. Es un canto singular, atractivo. En el claman por los hombres y las mujeres masacrados. La estrofa es rica en ideales, sin metáforas.

After the first prayer ended, the Choir of Acteal, comprised primarily by women and only 5 men, climbed the steps of the church. Antonio announced their participation. In a singular, attractive, song. In it, they cry for the men and women who were massacred. The verse is rich in ideals, without metaphors.

A part of the song:

Yo no puedo callar,
No puedo pasar indiferente,
Ante el dolor de tanta gente,
Yo no puedo callar,
No, no puedo callar,
Me van a perdonar amigos míos,
Pero ahora tengo un compromiso,
Y tengo que cantar la realidad

I cannot be silent,
I cannot be indifferent
With the pain of so many people,
I cannot be silent,
No, I cannot be silent,
You will have to forgive me my friends,
Now I have a commitment
And I have to sing about reality

The choir continues to demand honesty and fairness in order to gain respect for indigenous rights in Mexico. Voices that are willing to cross borders, wanting to be heard and supported by the national and global community.

4 comments

  • Gabriela Amor

    Good article Andrea!
    We have to encourage this kind of articles, about the small groups that peacefully fight for freedom, justice and peace because when this spaces are open to dialogue with them, to be able to know them, we make all them effort be worth.
    This blogs can make that voices not just talk, but be alive.

  • Beautiful.

    Welcome to GV, Andrea!

  • Thank you very much! I am glad you liked my first GV article :)

  • ivonne torres

    hey andrea me gusta mucho lo que haces y mas que hables sobre los coros de acteral, yo tengo unos amigos que tienen los coros originales. un beso estoy orgullosa de ti.

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