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“La tierra es de quien la trabaja”

In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to Seattle’s Latinx community.

La tierra es de quien la trabaja

by Eileen Jimenez

My mother is Maria Cruz, my grandmother is Eloisa and my great-grandmother is Isidora, matriarchs of the Ñätho (Otomí peoples Indigenous to the Michoacan/Guanajuato area in Mexico). My name is Eileen Jimenez. 

One of my favorite quotes is by the brilliant bell hooks: “I came to theory because I was hurting—the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend—to grasp what was happening around and within me. Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away. I saw in theory then a location for healing.”

I have loved learning to understand my pain and, in understanding, I’ve found healing. I have found that it is possible to make room for the selves that white discourse and settler colonialism tried to silence.

Growing up, I always struggled with “Hispanic” or Latinx Heritage month, because I never knew how or what to call myself. What was I, anyway? In my home, we talked a lot about life in Mexico, the dreams we had for life here, and our family’s Indigenous ways of knowing. I didn’t understand then that the part of me that felt disconnected to the mainstream Mexican discourse wasn’t because I didn’t know what to call myself, but that the disconnection I felt in my body was grief. It was my body’s way of processing the illusion of severance to the Land and to my ancestors. At home I learned about these beautiful stories from my family and my community. They weren’t differentiated or labeled as Mexican, “Hispanic,” or Indigenous –  they just were.

These days I don’t think about what people call me. I think about the ways I am defining who I am and who I want to be. I have specifically been reflecting about who I am as a “leader” in my community, and it reminded me of the first time I heard and saw the Zapatistas at six years old. I remember asking my mom why they were wearing masks, asking who they were and why they were doing what they did. In my home there were many conversations about the bravery that the Zapatistas were exhibiting, a deep sense of pride because they were Indigenous and standing up for their community. I always wondered if they were scared, especially in a place that felt so lawless like Mexico. Along with the imagery of the Zapatistas and their actions which were discussed often in my home, I also remember my family frequently repeating Emiliano Zapata’s words, “La tierra es de quien la trabaja,” which translates to “the land belongs to those that steward it.” In fact, on a recent trip home, my aunt made me tacos dorados de papa for breakfast and she began to tell me family stories and she brought up this quote again. 

Hearing her repeat these words has made me reflect on how they guide my leadership and my vision for myself as a leader. I am enthralled by the idea that a group of Indigenous people collectively decided that since the government, governmental leaders, and existing systems did not meet their needs, they created their own. The Zapatistas have their own schools, their own doctors, their own food systems and their own ways of implementing their ways of knowing into their ways of being. Even at six years old, I recognized how incredible this kind of love was. They were fed up with the corrupt systems in place, so they just created their own. Their love for their community fueled them to push past fear and to practice community care.

Recently I’ve been sitting with these memories, especially in the context of the recent protests and shifts in the political narrative. For me, the feelings of abolition and the Zapatista leadership modality feels at the surface. It is clear to me that art is how I process my feelings, my thoughts, and my emotions. Recently, I have been able to process more of my feelings through verbal expressions and words, and in combination with my art, that feels transformational. I created a linocut with the image of Zapatistas to help me metabolize and reflect on the resurfacing of childhood memories and my profound admiration for the Zapatistas. 

Creating art and connecting with a deeper part of myself and my family’s history feels important as I am creating my modality. Unfortunately, my coping mechanism for surviving trauma has been dissociation, and often my memories feel foggy and fragmented. Creating linocuts and physically carving linoleum cuts through the fog.  It centers me, and I am able to write from a deep place in my core. 

These thoughts and reflections all seem to converge at the point I feel emotions in my body. That shows up as a manifestation of my feelings, of my passion, my anger, and my joy. It reminds me that the settler colonial system wants our collective community to forget our stories and to sever our emotions and our connection to place. I keep coming back to the idea that with my leadership I can restore some of that in the systems, students, and communities I work with.

colorful linocut with the image of Zapatistas
Art by Eileen Jimenez

portrait of Eileen Jimenez
Eileen Jimenez is a body of water. She is an Indigenous queer artist currently living in occupied Duwamish Territory (Seattle, WA). Her soul speaks through her art. In her art, she sees herself and the stories and the strength from her ancestors. In her art, you will see her Mexican and Otomi stories – you see the visual representation of her soul, and the colors, the culture, the visions, and the dreams that live there. As an Indigenous leader, community member, and artist, everything she does and creates is influenced by her many intersecting identities and lived experiences. She creates the art, structures, programming, and educational experiences she wishes she and her community would have seen and had access to when she was a girl from the ‘hood.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.