Those masters of barbarity tell us:
I’ll give you a millionaire’s bank account,
in exchange for your blue sky,
I’ll build you a nice supermarket
in exchange for your mountains.
One million dollars
for your children’s smiles
as they run in the rain.
We Mokayas laugh at their ignorance,
even the smallest children
know that money turns to manure
when you pass over to Tzuan.
We Mokayas ask you,
the masters of decay.
Is a millionaire’s bank account
enough to bring back
the laughter of our dead?
How much money is enough
to cleanse sadness from the soul?
Notes on this poem
One of the delights of translating Mikeas Sánchez’s poetry is her wry humour. In ‘What Is It Worth?’ she notes that even small children know money has no value in the afterlife, Tzuan. As she explains in a footnote to the Spanish version of her bilingual (Zoque-Spanish) poem, Tzuan is ‘one of the levels of the inner world, according to Zoque cosmology.’
Sánchez plays an integral role in the organization Indigenous Zoque Faith-Based Movement in Defense of Life and Earth (ZODEVITE, for its Spanish initials), which challenges multiple extractive industries threatening traditional Zoque lands in southern Mexico: mining, oil fracking, hydroelectric dams, natural-gas drilling, and geothermal power. ZODEVITE was awarded the 2017 Pax Christi International Prize for its non-violent resistance to mining and fracking.
Through both activism and poetry, Sánchez connects these megaprojects to Zoque survival, to global climate change, and to the survival of human life on earth. Her poetry is activism, her activism is poetry, and both come from her community, she insists, not from her as an individual. In a 2018 interview with ‘Women’s Voices of Mexico,’ she said, ‘Who is Mikeas Sánchez? She is a Zoque woman who has decided to return to Chapultenango, to promote land defense, and to raise awareness in these communities about the importance of defending land, water, life, and the planet where we live. We must defend it all.’ Sánchez is the first woman to have published a book of literature in her language, which is spoken by approximately 70,000 people.
– Wendy Call