Memorial Service

Posted on December 12, 2018


Memorial Service
In Mexico Human Rights Advocates Are Assassinated
Robert Joe Stout

1. Decision: simple and not Catholic-Evangelical-Zapoteca. No crosses, no artifacts. Food? Yes, well, Bety would approve. Mescal? Why not? It’s Oaxaca. It’s on all the altars of Day of the Dead. If she were here she’d approve. That’s the way she was. Bursting with life. Bursting with goodness.
Private ceremony? No, but not publicized. Not official. For those of us whose lives she affected—not her family or those with whom she was most intimately involved but admirers, believers, workers towards the same goals. Invite who we want but not advertise.

2. Guidelines: we all know how she died. There were bullet holes in the van. The stranger—the Finn with the difficult name to pronounce—dead beside her. An ambush. They were on a mission of mercy, taking food, blankets to the people in the blockaded village. They were told not to go but they went anyway—the people in the village were desperate, starving, unable to leave. It was on the news, on television, we know how it happened but we don’t want to go there. We want to keep politics out of it. Leave hate out of it, accusations. This is about her, how we feel about her, how much she meant to us.
Memories keep her alive. Photographs. Things she said. Without superlatives, without propaganda. As though she were here among us, laughing, joking, criticizing. Sharing as she always shared with others.

3. Location: the hills beyond Fortín overlooking the city. Pinos. Ahuehuetes. An altar? No, just the trees, the rocky outcroppings, the birds. We need to be close to the earth. If it rains, all the better. We are Oaxacans—People of the Rain. We want it to be a place where Bety would feel comfortable, close to the earth, close to natural things.
A difficult climb? There is a road that winds close to the crest. From there it is not a difficult walk. If some cannot make it, if it is beyond their capabilities, there will be other ceremonies for them. In El Centro. In churches. Remember, this is for us. A way to bind us together, a commitment, a fortifying of resolve.

4. Program: no orden del día. Each one of us can speak, say what he or she wants. We can set a time to share the food we are bringing. There will be guitars, Perhaps an accordion. It would be pleasant to sing together, songs from the Isthmus, Oaxacan songs. Son de la barricada? It is a protest song, not traditional, from only five years before. Yes, I can picture Bety singing it, pumping her fist to the rhythm, but that takes us to a different place. Condemnations. Anger.
Of course we feel anger. Anger because the government is doing nothing. Because Bety and the Finn are dead and the criminals are free. But that is different politial assassinations
from what we feel about Bety. Yes, Bety was outraged by injustice, always in the front at protests, urging those she cared about to follow her, not give in. We’re not giving in. To have a memorial service is not giving in. It’s remembering. Honoring.

5. Restrictions: no restrictions, just agreements. Some of us were in the caravan—nearly twenty cars and trucks, a long drive beginning just at dawn. Warned of danger, yes, but there should have been police. The aggressors had killed and raped, then blocked the roads. Why? What was so important about Copala? A community, indigena, high in the mountains. There was money involved—the aggressors had money, military weapons, but they were indigenas too, people of the same race. The government was involved, but why? Drugs? Minerals? Lumber? Simply because the people there wanted to be autonomous, make their own decisions? We don’t have answers. We just know that Bety and the Finn are dead. And the investigations—if there are investigations—are going nowhere.
So it’s right that we’re angry. It’s not to take away anger that we want to honor Bety. It’s to unite with her. Support what she was doing. By honoring her, as a group, together, we strengthen ourselves.

6. Exclusions: it’s not just about her. The Finn from a country so different, so far away, came here to observe, participate, take something back to his people, we’re not excluding him, it’s just that we didn’t know him well. And yes, the outcasts, the refugees, the people from Copala, losing their home, their lands, afraid to go back, afraid that they like Bety will be killed. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands—millions even—in Mexico who have disappeared, been killed, forced to flee from their homes. We cannot name them all. By honoring Bety we honor them.
Remember this is for us. By sharing we come to grips with what we feel, we open those knotted up places inside us, loosen the hurt, absorb it into something positive.

7. Security: watchfulness would be a better way to express it. We are not militants, we don’t have high community profiles. This is not like a street demonstration, a blockading of thoroughfares, offices. There could be infiltrators but some among us would recognize them. Perhaps someone from the media but there only as a friend, someone who admired her. What could infiltrators or the media report? That we talked, sang, shed tears?

8. Duration: a few hours at the most. We’ll want to leave well before nightfall. Some will have more to say than others, some will want to be busy with the food, the music. Remembering her—honoring her—will bring out sadness but we don’t want to be morbid. Or vengeful. We need to recognize who we are. We are not protagonists, leaders; our participation is not like hers a full commitment. We can demand, condemn but after a while our voices fade. This has happened to every movement, every striving for justice here in Oaxaca. In Mexico. The Betys are little sparks that for a moment shine brightly, show us possibilities, make us aware of realities. Though we cannot do what she did—what she dared to do—we can absorb some of that sparking, hold it inside us, from it give what we can.

9. Termination: a song goodbye perhaps. A realization of our own weakness, our need to evade falling beneath the shadows of forgetfulness, of guilt. Of acceptance that in reality is cowardice, cowardice twined with inability. Cowardice that leads to amputating part of who we are, submerging it into a gray of unused life. Burying the spark. And sidling away weaker for what we did not—could not—do.
Shared weakness. That is what society is all about. That’s what makes populations easy to control.

10. Praxis: to remember Bety. To realize that her essential being—who she was and is—still lives.
And that we are almost dead.

Featured in the 2018 Clockhouse anthology published by the Goddard College Clockhouse Writers’ Conference

Posted in: Life in Mexico