- We Are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements by Lynn Stephen
Twelve years after the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Oaxaqueños of all walks of life came together as el pueblo de Oaxaca (the people of Oaxaca) to demand social justice in their home state. In June 2006, Oaxacans from various organizations came together to form the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), an umbrella organization that aimed to overthrow the governor of Oaxaca, Ulíses Ruíz Ortíz. For six months, APPO disrupted the everyday functions of the state government. In We Are the Face of Oaxaca, Stephen seeks to “share the untold story of the 2006 social movement as experienced by those who participated in it and were strongly affected by it, whether or not they were directly involved” (7). Stephen argues that “to take testimony seriously is to acknowledge that it is a form of knowledge production and part of the epistemologies that engage a mixture of forms of archiving including oral, visual, and textual information” (12). While Oaxacan journalists and scholars have published articles and anthologies about the 2006 movement, We Are the Face of Oaxaca is the most important English-language study on the movement to date. The pages of this book are seeped with the insights of a distinguished scholar with years of fieldwork and personal ties to Oaxacan transnational communities.
At the center of the 2006 movement were the teachers of Oaxaca. According to Stephen, the Oaxacan teachers’ union, Sección 22 (Local 22) of the National Council of Education Workers (CNTE) is the “only organization capable of generating simultaneous coordinated action in all of the municipalities in the state of Oaxaca” (37). In addition to drawing a large number of their membership from the Sección 22, APPO developed an organizing model that was “strongly influenced by the structure of CNTE” (63). Although the organizing experiences that teachers brought to the 2006 movement were crucial for the development of APPO, their dominance within APPO would eventually lead to the formation of alternative organizational spaces and political actors that considered APPO’s organizing model to be undemocratic.
As the book’s title suggests, testimonios are at the center of this study, providing firsthand narratives of the ways in which people’s lives were impacted [End Page 830] by the 2006 social movement and how active participants in the movement saw their role in the transformation of Oaxacan political culture. Testimonio as a narrative production has been an important tool utilized by activists in Latin America, and it became one of the most important organizing tools for APPO activists. Unlike printed testimonies, however, the testimonies produced in Oaxaca during 2006 were not mediated by journalists or editors, and were disseminated via television, radio, nightly conversations at barricades, and through independently-produced videos. According to Stephen, “Testifying significantly repositioned many previously excluded speakers as active citizens who can speak, be heard, claim rights, and develop as new political subjects” (286). One of the key moments of the movement came on August 1 and was led by women. On this day, between 2,500 and 5,000 women, from different backgrounds, banged pots and pans as they marched toward Oaxaca City’s town square (zócalo). They marched in solidarity with APPO and the teachers, and wanted to share their views on the state television and radio stations. When they were denied airtime, the women decided to occupy the stations. According to Stephen, “For many women who were part of the takeover decision, being denied the chance to share their perspectives and speak on a public television station was pivotal in how they came to view their right to hold the station and open up the airwaves” (148). In addition to the testimonio excerpts and images in the book, We Are the Face of Oaxaca includes links to the original testimonies, bringing the reader closer to the people who were the driving force behind the movement. By providing these links...