San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico has a long history of political graffiti. In 1994 the Zapatista Army of National Liberation used San Cristobal as a starting city for their revolution. From the jungle they released their six “Declarations of the Lacandon Jungle” calling Mexicans to take up arms against the government, then peaceful civic protests, and eventually to do anything by any means (The Third Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle). 10 years later all that is left is a large military presence (much smaller than a few years ago), political graffiti on every wall, and Zapatista dolls, shirts, and trinkets for sale to tourists. The Zapatistas, as some have recollected, used their graffiti to spread their message of dissent. Since then San Cristobal has never seen a clean wall.
After lunch at a friends house in town whose outside walls are covered in grafitti and peeling, he told me “I should paint my walls, I haven’t in years, but what is the point they will just get graffitied as soon as I’m done.”
An account of a Free Trade protest during San Cristobal’s celebrations of Mexican Independence in 2006 said “As the demonstration passes down the street, a few of the youths lag behind, ski masks covering their faces, and spray paint a trail of political graffiti. Once they are done it reads, “No to the Free Trade Agreement,” on every wall.”
Today, I am told, poor Mexicans living in outlying villages come into San Cristobal to protest their poverty and lack of government assistance by spray painting walls. The two major types of graffiti in town are stenciled graffiti and political slogans or symbols done in free hand. The stenciled graffiti seems to be less political and more art. As you can see from my photos of stenciled graffiti most are pop culture icons, animals, or Japanese cartoons. Those that are political are about Bush or the Iraq War. At least on the surface I fail to see how these stenciled images are more than art, teenage rebellion, or pop hatred against American politics. Yet there seems to be something deeper. Something this Spanishless gringo will never find out.