Zack de La Rocha
Interview by Jesus Ramirez Cuevas


Itıs not often we get to hear 28-year-old Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine speak. The young musician is notoriously media-shy, and usually prefers to let the bandıs guitarist, Tom Morello, do most of the talking. But one subject did get Zack talking recently: the Zapatista struggle in Chiapas. And why not? He already expends enormous amounts of energy raising awareness about the struggle through his music. Zack is a guerrilla poet who writes songs about issues that matter. His vocalized rage is so powerful, itıs almost tangible. Youıd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to feel it. Zack and crew deliver the truth with all the force of a mack truck. And itıs Zack de la Rocha, son of Chicano painter Beto de la Rocha, who makes it happen. On July 7, 1998, Zack spoke with Jesus Ramirez Cuevas of Enlace of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. He talked about his involvement in the struggle, his anger at the injustice he has seen and his hopes for a better world. Tempting though it may be to interpret them, his words speak for themselves.

"We are part of the process."

"It is important for me, as a popular artist, to make clear to the governments of the United States and Mexico that despite the strategy of fear and intimidation to foreigners, despite their weapons, despite their immigration laws and military reserves, they will never be able to isolate the Zapatista communities from the people in the United States.

"The rock band Rage Against the Machine has become an alternative medium of communication for young people. We have created a great level of cooperation between groups and people to spread the ideas of the Zapatista movement in its relationship to the poor, the young, the excluded and the dispossessed in the United States. Through concerts, videos, interviews, broadcasting of information at concerts and our songıs lyrics, we have placed the experience of the Zapatistas within reach of young people, our audience.

"We act as facilitators so that they can participate, and we put them in contact with the organizations and Zapatista support committees in the United States.

"And the interest and involvement of the young people of the United States in the struggle of the Chiapan indigenous people is greater each day because of these things. Because of that we feel a part of this process and for this reason our music has become a bridge."

"My grandfather was a revolutionary fighter."

"My interest in this struggle has to do with my personal experiences, with my roots, my family. My father is a Chicano muralist. He belonged to the group "Los Four," the only Mexican group that had an exhibition at the Los Angeles Art Museum. His attempts at trying to build bridges between the artists in Los Angeles, the workers, and Chicanos against Vietnam, led me politically towards the National Liberation movements. Also, my Sinaloan grandfather was a revolutionary fighter who fought in the Mexican Revolution. My grandfather went to the United States as an economic migrant. He was an agricultural laborer in Silicon Valley, California.

"His working days lasted from 15 to 16 hours daily, sweating and subjected to poverty... I see his experience reflected in the testimonies of the Zapatistas, the indigenous peasant rebels who struggle every day to make a living." I experienced the terror

"This is the fourth time I have come to Chiapas. I have had a different experience each time. I was in San Andres during the second round of peace negotiations. It was in May 1995, just after the military offensive in February. "This was when the San Andresıs sessions were starting. In the history of the negotiations there has always been, in one way or another, a failure... And this ended up being the same thing because the government has not complied with the signed accords.

"At that time, the Zapatista delegates were protected by more than 5,000 indigenous people from all over Mexico who had come to the Tzotzil town bearing posters from the EZLN and sheets and colors; they formed a peace cordon around the site of the dialogue in order to defend the Zapatistas and give them political support.

"I got a lot from that experience. It was impressive for me to be able to live that emotion and then being able to communicate to the people in the United States the resistance of the people and the testimonies of the peasants.

"In February 1996, I visited civil camps for peace, in La Garrucha. There, I experienced the terror the people felt: the intimidation by the soldiers, the isolation in which the communities had to subsist, the military camps located between the houses and the fields.

"I understood then that one of the great missions of a low intensity war is to wear out the people through hunger and to create lack of goods. That starvation practice against the people has the same effect as throwing bombs on the population, but is more comfortable for the rulers because it maintains Mexico as a stable place and as a suitable place for financial investments, and it doesnıt place the Free Trade Agreement at risk.

"We were witnesses to that. We saw how the soldiers burned and razed the fields, threw the children out of schools, and turned the schools into barracks... And each time we became more familiar with the Zapatistası form of organization, communal work and cooperation. And I realized that the motives behind the militarization were to break down the community, to keep the people from organizing in an autonomous manner in order to overcome poverty and isolation."

"We saw the intimidation."

"Later, at the beginning of 1996, I organized a group of young people: students, artists, activists from East Los Angeles, to go to Chiapas. "It was just before the first San Andres Accords were to be signed. We saw how militarization had increased, we saw how the militarization of more than 70,000 soldiers obligated the 70,000 families to face death through hunger. We also saw the threat and daily intimidation suffered by the communities. We became conscious of the importance of civil society creating a defense line because one of the obstacles that we could create against the low intensity war was to be in the communities, to be with the children while the men went to work in the fields - just to be there. "My experience in Chiapas inspired me to write back in the United States - the songs "The Wind Below" and "Without a Face" from our second album, Evil Empire."

"We identified with them."

"Later I was at La Realidad for the Continental Encounter for Humanity Against Neoliberalism. We realized the importance of dialogue between civil society and the Zapatistas, and we identified with them as a generation. We are a people without a party. We are for a different world where money is not the only exchange value. We are against racist politics in the United States.

"Given the crisis and the Free Trade Agreement, the people of the United States also feel like people 'without a face,ı that is, with no alternatives, without possibilities. Dialogue and the importance of the place given to us by the Zapatistas made us feel that we were a part of the Zapatista struggle, because we are students, workers, artists... and many of us are Mexican."