Manuel Rafael Mancillas
The land belongs to those who toil it.
Maclovio Rojas was a very special young man of strong convictions and
faith. He died as he walked in the corridor of power. I had a photograph
of him, well, I thought it was, and I wanted to "rescue his image."
I had never heard of an Indian from Oaxaca, other than two of our presidents,
Juárez and Díaz, to have a community named after him/her.
I spoke to the other members of the Border Arts Workshop (BAW) and we
decided to visit the community and talk to the residents about painting
a mural of Maclovio's image in their community center.
Jaime Cota is a labor right's organizer in Tijuana and member of the Frente
Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (FZLN) the civilian support group
of the EZLN. Members and sympathizers of the FZLN were the people who
had built the original structure of the Aguascalientes in the Poblado
Maclovio Rojas. The small structure and makeshift stage built out of garage
doors and recycled wood, stood in the middle of the community. We approached
Jaime Cota about doing the mural of Maclovio and he then took us to the
Poblado and introduced us to Hortensia Hernández and Artemio Osuna.
The relationship began as Hortensia Hernández, leader and president
of the base committee, was looking at the tiny 35 mm slide trying to figure
out the person in the image. She liked the image and agreed with me that
it looked like Maclovio Rojas. She was not sure, but she was sure that
the person standing next to him was his brother. We had a long conversation
about Maclovio Rojas and about the legal problems they were facing in
the community. As she spoke, she pointed behind her at row upon row of
stacked cargo containers, built by Hyundai Precision Co. and explained
that the Korean maquiladora was encroaching on them and threatening to
take the rest of their land. Three years before, Hyundai had relocated
one of their manufacturing plants to Tijuana, as part of a Korean-México
negotiation agreement, that ex-President Salinas de Górtari had
signed to attract Asian investment into the border areas.
In 1993, Hyundai appropriated for free 100 hectares for storage and parking
of their cargo containers establishing the second largest cargo container
manufacturing plant in the world. The real estate surrounding this industrial
park, once located on the outskirts and marginal areas of Tijuana was
transformed through a Baja California State-sponsored development of the
industrial-commercial infrastructure of the adjacent area to the Poblado
Maclovio Rojas, and became highly coveted by land speculators.
An officially stamped invoice dated in 1991, issued by the federal Agrarian
Reform Department is pasted on the wall of the Poblado's assembly hall.
The document is proof that the Unión de Posesionarios del Poblado
Maclovio Rojas Márquez, A.C., paid the government for the disputed
197 hectares. The Poblado has been steadily growing as additional families
move in to the community and parcels are sub-divided into single-family
336 sq. ft. lots. The majority of the houses are built with discarded
garage doors and wood pallets, many houses, however, are now being built
out of cinder block and mortar. The development of the commercial area
next to the Hyundai storage area and the main highway now includes 2 PEMEX
gas stations, mini-market and truck stop, a new furniture assembly maquiladora
plant, and the former municipal slaughterhouse has now been turned into
the Tijuana Police Academy. No joke.
The receipt shows that on 8/3/95 the Pobladores of Maclovio Rojas paid
$1,892.78 dollars, the value the federal agency had appraised at the time.
Currently, the state officials have appraised the real estate at $10.00
a square meter, making the 197 hectares polygon, currently occupied by
the Maclovianos, worth 197 million dollars.
The image on the slide, although great in composition, had a dark shadow
around the eyes caused by the rim of the hat. Unable to clear it electronically,
we needed another photograph to get a better definition of his eyes. We
came across Maclovio's brother, Lucio Rojas, during presidential candidate
Cuahtémoc Cárdenas presentation at Cal State University
at San Marcos. The organizers of the event presented Lucio as one of the
main catalysts of the organization of Mixteco-Zapoteca migrant farmworkers
in San Diego's North County. When we approached him, he told us that his
family was still living in San Quintín, and that he was going to
travel there during the following Fourth of July holiday. We decided to
visit and interview the Rojas family members to get an insight on Maclovio
life and to secure a better photograph.
Travelling on the transpeninsular highway the 200 miles from the border
south to San Quintín valley along the scenic Baja California coast,
is both beautiful and treacherous. The valley began developing high yielding
agro-industrial farming for export in 1980. As the Southern California
suburban land rush was displacing farmland to the south, the fertile San
Quintín valley became the yearlong supplier of vegetables to the
north. This agricultural expansion required cheap farm labor. Mixteca
Indians being expelled by poverty from their homelands in the state of
Oaxaca, quickly met this demand. In 1985 almost 80,000 farmworkers were
working in these tomato maquiladoras, while living in labor camps inside
the grower's property. Maclovio's family had immigrated here in 1980,
he joined them in 1984. By 1986, he had become a leader and president
of the CIOAC, a national organization that was organizing a campaign to
unionize the farmworkers. As many leaders before him, he was faced with
an enormous task, there has never been an independent union of farmworkers
in México, Maclovio gave his life for this cause. He was ran over
by a truck as he crossed the highway, the murder was ordered by a grower,
a rival Mixteca leader carried out the killing. He was killed on the 4th
of July 1987.
We arrived two days after the 9th anniversary of his death and interviewed
the family. They invited us to the unveiling of the community's museum
and celebration. As I was presenting the enlarged and framed photograph
to his older brother Jose, he paused for what seemed an hour. Trying to
find words, he politely thanked me for my good intentions and said that,
unfortunately, it was not a picture of his brother Maclovio, but it was
instead his uncle Fausto. And indeed, the other person in the photograph
was his brother Lucio. The embarrassment was eased when they kindly provided
us with the only photograph they had of Maclovio, a photo taken on the
day of his marriage.
Hyundai and the struggle for independent unions
We decided to extend our original idea of painting the mural of Maclovio's
image, that we needed to explore the idea of a long-term project with
both the San Quintín communities as well as in Tijuana.
We travelled to the Hyundai plant near the Poblado Maclovio Rojas to witness
the initiation ceremony of an independent union of the workers. Months
before, there had been a workers' initiative to organize in plants
that were subcontracting to Hyundai. The movement had been squashed and
the leaders fired. The meeting was held in a half-built structure adjacent
to the main Hyundai plant, about 20 workers pledged and signed the union
cards. Unbeknown to all of us present at this meeting, Hortensia, Artemio
and Juan Regalado were arrested by Baja California State Judicial police
on their way to the meeting. The police laid-in-wait, and were actually
waiting for Hortensia to leave the community to apprehend her on trumped
up charges of illegal possession of property and damages to private property.
The next day the radio newscasts were reporting their arrest as we began
another chapter in our collaborative process.
We immediately travelled to Tijuana's state government offices to document
the protest by the residents of Maclovio and supporters from other communities,
and several of Tijuana's labor and human rights activists. The protesters
were hoping that the issue of the arrests of the community's leaders would
be resolved in Tijuana, thus avoiding the need to travel to the State's
capital in Mexicali 120 miles away to deal with their freedom. The local
representatives of the governor of Baja California failed to resolve the
issue, the leadership then resolved to march to Mexicali on September
4, 1996 to demand the freedom of the three compa - eros.
La Marcha por la Libertad
Wednesday morning, September 4, 1996. The main plaza of the Poblado Maclovio
Rojas was full of people. Women and children milling around, painting
banners and signs, preparing their bodies and souls for the road ahead,
packing food, water, and hydrolyzed serum donated by supporters. Their
resolve was strong: they would march to meet face to face with the governor
of Baja California. Highway 2 will take the marchers through the 5,500
feet Sierra Juárez pass, down the Rumorosa grade to the Laguna
Salada 110 feet below sea level, where temperatures can climb to 115 degrees
Over 300 people began the march, the corridor of power waited for no one,
not even freedom marchers. The madness grew intense, impatient horns blasted
through the morning sun; a massive traffic jam backed up for miles. Dirt
and smoke filtered the colors flying in the sky.
One marcher, Rubén Hernández died while crossing the desert.
The Maclovianos pledged to return a year later to the place where he died,
and erected a monument in his honor and for Freedom.
These events - the arrests of the leadership and the protest march,
transformed the collaborative process from the networking phase of exchanging
information, to a coordinating phase in which our inter-activities were
considerably altered. BAW participated in the march, providing direct
support to the marchers and by video documenting the event. BAW contacted
support groups and several NGOs in San Diego, primarily the American Friends
Service Committee (AFSC) and their local US-México Border Program,
who then contacted others in the network of transborder social justice
and solidarity groups in the region.
A marcher died of dehydration in the sweltering heat of the Mexicali desert;
Hortensia Hernández spent 3 months in the infamous La Mesa State
Penitentiary as a political prisoner; these events transformed the new
symbols for BAW's aesthetic quest.
Out of Line and Beyond Borders
The Support Committee of Maquiladora Workers (SCMW) a non-profit NGO based
in San Diego began seeking support from the national network via alerts
and developed a letter writing campaign to demand from the Baja California
and México City governments the freedom of the compa - eros.
The SCMW has, for many years solicited resources to maintain full time
organizers in Tijuana, financial resources were provided to the compa - eros
in Maclovio Rojas to support their legal defense fund. The SCMW kept providing
direct support by organizing fundraising NAFTA tours in the Poblado. Busloads
of activists from the Southern California region visited Maclovio for
lunch and fact finding activities to discover the effects of NAFTA in
the border region. Currently, the SCMW continues to have close ties with
the AFL-CIO and other US labor organizations that have opposed NAFTA.
An article by Julio Laboy published in the front page of the Wall Street
Journal (California section) in 2/2/97, detailed the "friends within
the belly of the monster," that have supported the struggle in Maclovio
Rojas. The image of Hortensia Hernández also appeared on the front
page, with a caption referring to her as Sub-Comandante Hortensia. The
reference to the EZLN made Hyundai corporate officers and Susan Golding
San Diego's Republican mayor quite nervous. The local representative of
Hyundai expressed concern about doing business in a hostile environment
and the possibility of relocating the plant that produces $50 million
dollars a year. The article, although important for getting the attention
of the corporate investors by pointing out the strong support from within
the US, misleads the reader by making a reference to Hernández
as being part of the political arm of the EZLN. The week after the article
was published both Hortensia Hernández, the Poblado's committee
and Hyundai's officers corrected the article in the local newspapers.
In a press conference conducted in the Poblado, Hernández made
it clear - the residents of Maclovio Rojas support and identify with
the struggle being waged by the EZLN and the indigenous communities in
Chiapas. The Poblado's organization, however, does not represent the political
arm of the Zapatistas, in fact there is no official "political arm"
of the EZLN.
Hyundai also conducted a press conference to deny any attempts by the
corporation to take over any of the land belonging to Maclovio. After
the Wall Street Journal article, the cargo containers that were stored,
stacked three-high next to the Poblado, were removed and only a couple
of hundred of them still remain in the lot.
The SCMW turned its attention to supporting the efforts of the Han Young
(a subsidiary of Hyundai) workers working to organize an independent union.
Several of the original leaders of the Han Young workers who began the
organizing effort were residents of the Poblado Maclovio Rojas. There
is ample documentation of the Han Young worker's struggle, it has reached
worldwide renown through many publications, specifically Z Magazine and
articles by free-lance writer David Bacon.
Engagement and Cooperation
During this time, BAW was constructing its annual "Border Realities
XI" installation at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, in San Diego.
This depicted the resistance and struggle of Maclovio Rojas. Members of
the base committee of the Poblado were invited to the opening and spoke
at the event, the following week we were invited by Artemio Osuna to meet
and begin discussions concerning our community engagement project in Maclovio.
BAW was invited to participate in inSite '97 a triennial transborder
public art festival. By securing funding, first from a grant from Installation
Gallery, we were able to transform the collaborative relationship into
a cooperation phase and commit to a long-term project. The inSite triennial
festivals are funded by several institutional governmental sources that
are funnelled through Installation Gallery. The festivals are organized
with the participation of many of the regional IGOs and NGOs including
corporate, social and political, also the regional galleries and museums.
BAW then obtained a grant from the US/México Fund for Culture that
enabled us to extend the terms of our project and to move beyond the initial
phase that was funded for the inSite '97 Festival.
BAW began negotiations with the community's leadership as to the nature
and context of our participation in the community, which asked for more
frequent visits. We requested an area in the community to build a storage
space in order to keep materials and equipment. A decision was made to
provide a space in the area of the Aguascalientes. Artemio Osuna explained
that the Aguascalientes' area of the community was intended to house regional
organizations so they could establish their outreach offices. BAW presented
a design of a two-story building made out of discarded wooden garage doors.
The base committee decided to build with cinder block, to insure longevity
and security. The wooden garage doors originally acquired to build the
center were used to line the perimeter of the area and were painted with
murals depicting the community's struggle and history. Included in the
murals was our original intent to paint the image of Maclovio Rojas at
the top of the stage area. It took the Workshop exactly one year from
the time of the initial negotiations with the base committee to finish
the construction of the center. The Aguascalientes was inaugurated on
July 4, 1998, to commemorate the 11th anniversary of Maclovio Rojas' death.
The Artist as a Vehicle for Community Action
The Aguascalientes in the Poblado Maclovio Rojas was built in the spirit
of the EZLN's Aguascalientes. Currently, there are five Aguascalientes
in Chiapas. The insurgent army built the Aguascalientes with the mission
to serve as a place to develop a culture of resistance, and to serve as
the actual links to the outside civil society. La sociedad civil: Indigenous
peoples, students, workers, community associations, gays and lesbians,
barzonistas (bankrupt native mid-range commerce and industrial entrepreneurs
that got hit by the Peso financial crisis), old school leftists and new
age rock stars, housewives, scholars, linking a global consciousness to
a local and national democratic movement.
The Aguascalientes in Oventic, one of the Zapatista's autonomous municipalities
in Chiapas, is being built through a collaborative project between the
Oventic community and San Diegans for Peace with Dignity in México.
Peter Brown, one of the organizers of this group, a long time border activist
and school teacher was deported last year by Mexican immigration officials
for violating sovereignty laws. He continues to organize caravans of delegations
from San Diego to Chiapas.
The EZLN conducted a National Consultation campaign during March 1999,
5000 indigenous militants mobilized and travelled from their Chiapas communities
throughout the entire scope of the Mexican country seeking feedback from
the civil society. The EZLN militants surveyed the population on questions
of indigenous rights and their opinion concerning the implementation of
the San Andrés Larrainzar Accords. The militants also asked for
support to end the war of extermination being waged by the government
against their people. The government has refused to comply to their agreement
with the EZLN. Such Accords called for the Regional Autonomy and the Self-Governance
of the Indigenous peoples throughout México. During the campaign
a delegation of EZLN militants met with the Maclovio Rojas community in
the Aguascalientes and established mutual concerns in their particular
A delegation of 19 members visited the Tijuana-Tecate Border region and
a highly significant event and piece of border art happened during the
visit to the region. The EZLN organized the campaign by sending an equal
number of women and men, in Tijuana 9 couples and one child, visited and
met with a wide array of groups. Events were organized by a transborder
coordinating committee that brought together organizations and constituencies
that usually don't work together. The delegation listened to speakers
dealing with regional issues and received solidarity declarations from
organizations throughout Southern California.
For obvious security reasons, the delegation could not obtain visas or
otherwise to cross the border, so a demonstration event was organized
along the 12 foot fence, in an area where the transborder NAFTA train
has a crossing gate. Scaffolding was set up to install a platform high
enough so that supporters on the other side of the fence could see and
hear the EZLN speakers.
The role of the artist
BAWs role in this community, as artists and cultural workers, is continuously
redefined. The initial role was to link the community's struggle to the
outside by documenting and producing work to create a public consciousness
and to prevent a violent removal of the pobladores by government forces.
The last government attempt to forcefully evict them happened on February
Through BAW's network in Southern California we are able to create alerts
and mobilize support. The leadership of the Poblado wants to develop formal
transborder alliances, that would include community activists from the
Orange County Friends of Maclovio Rojas, the Green Party, CISPES in Los
Angeles, and other activists and grassroots organizations, and BAW acting
in the role of transborder inside/outside facilitators.
BAW facilitates solidarity and working delegations to the Poblado. The
Orange County Friends of Maclovio Rojas through fundraising purchased
a towing trailer to transport garage doors and building materials. The
American Friends Service Committee sends annual delegations from their
youth program for a week-long stay for community work projects. Global
Exchange also brings a youth program. Recently, two French scholars spent
a 6 week long residency in the center producing a documentary for French
TV. An Australian graduate student is working on a performance-based research
project; and a Brazilian artist is developing a summer-long residency
and community event planned for this year, for the inSite 2000 Festival.
Long Term Commitment
Through the 12 years the Maclovio Rojas have kept alive their movement
and struggle for the land and the development of their community, they
have increased their potential and capacity for self-governing having
taken up their own plans for their families and neighbors.
In spite of it all - jails, attacks, threats and divisive actions taken
by the government against their organization - the Maclovianos realize
that it's up to them to develop the infrastructure of the Poblado.
A longer version of this article together with a web project documenting
the BAW project can be found at: