Subcomandante Marcos, the military strategist commonly known as “El Sup” and the preeminent spokesman for the indigenous guerrilla movement, has produced a bilingual children’s book, The Story of Colors/La historia de los colores. Like its author, a storyteller who has redefined guerrilla warfare in the technological age, the book comes surrounded by controversy. The project was awarded a grant of seventy-five hundred dollars by the National Endowment for the Arts, but when the Endowment’s chairman learned who the author was, the grant was rescinded.
Brightly illustrated with pastel paints by Domitila Domínguez, an Oaxacan artist, the book is a reworking of a Mayan creation myth told to El Sup by “Antonio,” an Indian wise man, about how the macaw and the world came to have so many colors. It first appeared in El Sup’s oeuvre in a communiqué to the Mexican people dated 24 October 1994.
One day Antonio was walking in the mountainous jungle of Chiapas when he saw a macaw, with plumage as radiant and varied as the rainbow. It reminded him of the legend of how the gods had found all the colors in the world, for the indigenous people say that there was a time before time when the world was only black and white, with gray in between. Then the gods decided to make the world “more joyous for men and women—who were blind as bats—to take a walk or to make love.” They found colors in every place imaginable: brown at the heart of the earth, yellow in a child’s laughter, blue high up in the sky. Once the colors were assembled, the gods shaded things from atop a ceiba tree, flinging colors so wildly that “some colors splattered on the men and women, and that is why there are peoples of different colors and different ways of thinking.” The story ends with the striking image of the macaw “strutting about just in case men and women forget how many colors there are and how many ways of thinking and that the world will be happy if all the colors and ways of thinking have their place.”
El Sup’s poetic telling reads more lyrically in the original Spanish than in the English translation. Its unique authenticity reinforces the need for diversity and tolerance, a message the National Endowment of the Arts needs to be reminded of.