Asked and Answered with Mark Finney

To the Students: What is your favorite film and why?

Essence Smith, senior | Sociology and Geography – My favorite film is Belly because it was directed by Hype Williams because he directs music videos so it looks more like a music video than a movie.

Luke Patneau, sophomore | Creative Writing – A Beautiful Mind because I’ve always appreciated that movie and that person. I think it’s so well done and it really put me in his shoes.

Katie Maharis, first-year | Biology Dirty Dancing because of the soundtrack

Nick Abel, first-year |Psychology –  Easy Rider because it’s cool. Great soundtrack, actors, and story. I love the motorcycles too.

Cat Hill, first-year | History – Forrest Gump because there’s so much significance in it, and it’s beautiful.


To Finney: What’s your best Spring Break memory? 

Ah, Spring Break. That annual festival of hedonism and liver damage. What a wonderful way to unwind in the middle of a semester. I understand that y’all need a break (heck, I need a break too!). I remember when I was in college, I certainly did.

And while I certainly had my share of hedonistic Spring Breaks, I have to say that my best Spring Break was spent during my senior year, when I went to Chiapas, Mexico visiting with and learning about the Zapatista.

Organized in the 1990’s to protect the indigenous Mayan and poor people of Chiapas and other southern Mexican regions, the Zapatistas are a civic and military organization. In addition to armed struggle, they engage in community-building and economic activities. The Zapatistas are explicitly and strongly feminist; the Women’s Revolutionary Law, which declares the centrality of women in their revolutionary struggle, was a part of their first declaration to the people of Mexico. They are named Zapatistas as an homage to Emiliano Zapata, a leader in the Mexican revolution who fought for the rights of workers and peasants.

As part of our trip, we traveled eight hours into the jungle in broken down Chevy Suburbans (one of which caught on fire during our trip) to spend a night in a Zapatista camp. I’ll admit that I was afraid to do this – in no small part due to the two intimidating military checkpoints we passed through on our way – but when we arrived, I was surprised to find a small and tightly connected community of people who hosted us with dancing and drinking late into the night. We didn’t talk about politics or armed struggle, instead we shared stories across cultural and linguistic boundaries, we did our best to listen to each other.

Why did I go to Chiapas? This is a question I had to ask myself today, as I looked at the Wikipedia entry on the Zapatistas, which identifies them as “revolutionary leftist political and militant group.” In part, my answer has to do with the fact that to me and the others I was with, Zapatista did not mean paramilitary (maybe we were naive); instead, it meant protecting people from what appeared to be a violent, corrupt and oppressive Mexican regime, bent on undermining people’s rights oppressing them.

But I also went to Chiapas to see a part of the world that is seldom seen by tourists. Chiapas was a poor region of Mexico, services were inadequate, roads were mostly dirt, buildings were vibrantly painted but crumbling adobe. But the region was beautiful! Imagine lush jungles, barely touched by human hands and tightly curving dirt roads, crawling along the steep sides of tall mountains. I also remember being impressed with the creativity ingenuity of the people; for many that we saw, their clothes were colorfully hand-dyed, their shoes homemade, their hats woven with straw.

Hanging in my office is a painting on leather that I purchased from a market in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas’ central city. At home I have a hand-carved wooden doll of a female Zapatista, dressed in black with a hood over her head to shield her identity. I purchased these items 20 years ago, but the Zapatistas struggle still today to ensure the rights of Mayan people in southern Mexico.

When we left the U.S., I knew only one other person on the trip. The others were people just like me, who were interested in different peoples and cultures, and interested in deepening our understandings of international conflict. The trip was coordinated by an organization called Peace Action. Peace Action, formerly SANE/FREEZE, calls itself “the country’s largest grassroots peace and justice network.” Begun as part of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s, Peace Action today is a lobbying and educational organization.

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