April 3, 2014

The Story Of Colors By Subcomandante Marcos


In a 1994 memo to the Mexican people, Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos told the story of the Mayan gods bringing colors to the grey world, colors which are contained in the tail feathers of the macaw. Until Ted Cruz read Green Eggs & Ham on the Senate floor, I would have thought this was unusual.

In 1996, Marcos' text was turned into La Historia de los Colores, an illustrated storybook by the Mexican Indian artist Domitilia Domínguez. In 1998 El Paso-based Cinco Punto Press received an NEA grant to publish two bilingual children's books, including La Historia de los Colores, in the US. [Marcos had rejected any copyright claim or financial interest in either the text or any books.]

Then, just as the book was coming out, and the NEA was about to cut Cinco Puntos a check, the head of the NEA freaked out and abruptly canceled the grant. He feared that funding kids' books written by masked Mexican guerrilla leaders would not play well with the Republican-controlled Congress seeking to defund and dismantle the NEA.

Anyway, it all ended well; the publicity was a boon for the book; the Lannan Foundation stepped in and replaced the grant. They blew through a couple of printings, and the book won a bunch of awards. As for the Zapatistas, they're still plugging away, trying to get their autonomous Mayan Marxist state carved out of Mexico.

Buy The Story of Colors / La Historia de los Colores: A Bilingual Folktale from the Jungles of Chiapas starting at around $11 [amazon]
The Story Behind The Story of Colors [cincopuntos]
N.E.A. Couldn't Tell a Mexican Rebel's Book by Its Cover [nyt, Mar 1999]

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