Esteva Will Speak At Commencement

This year’s commencement speaker is a man who has lead many lives. Gustavo Esteva fondly refers to himself as a “Mexican grassroots activist and ‘de-professionalized” intellectual.’

He currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico on a beautiful farm deep in the valley outside of Oaxaca City. He grows all sorts of food, has his own water system, and even has a composting toilet.

Gustavo has come a long way from his early days. His Grandmother was indigenous to Mexico, however his mother felt that the best thing she could do for her family was to eradicate them from their indigenous roots.

In 1949, during Truman’s inaugural speech Mexico was dubbed an underdeveloped nation.

Gustavo learned then that in politics, one cannot trust their own analysis, only that of those in charge. In the 1940’s, Americas quality of life was one of the highest in the world, and Truman stated ‘we will share what we have with you Mexico, and make you like the U.S..

Truman’s words made Gustavo want to help develop Mexico and so he became a manager at IBM and Procter and Gamble. But then had a change of heart.

Gustavo became an underground guerilla during the time of Che Guevara. This movement in Mexico was soaked in codes, darkness and secrets, all of which seemed very romantic to Gustavo, until March 5, 1965 when one of the leaders killed another leader over a woman, at which point Gustavo decided to continue his involvement with the revolution but only by non-violent means.

In 1965 he entered the Government of Mexico, he was in charged of organizing development programs all over the country; his stance once in this position was extremely progressive for the time.

When there was the change in Presidency Gustavo was offered the position of Minister, but instead of taking the position, Gustavo quit. He realized that throughout his involvement with the government the logic of government never coincides with the logic of the people.

Gustavo knew that the development programs had become damaging for the people and decided that he wanted to accomplish something but be autonomous and decentralized. The government only saw development as a way to become more like the U.S..

In the 1980’s Gustavo started to recall memories of his grandmother and therefore began connecting with the indigenous people of Mexico. This was the time when Ivan Illich came into Gustavo’s life.

Illich was saying the same things that he heard in the villages; and therefore Gustavo started to learn a new way with Illich.

Through this combination, Gustavo’s idea of post-development transformed into the idea of hospitality, and respecting the other was now the most important aspect of his life. He saw only ruins left by development, caused by the ideas of the “good” life in each of the politician’s minds.

This is when Gustavo started believing in the Zapatista Army for National Liberalism’s manifesto and started supporting them.

He felt that even though they were using violent means, it was only because they needed to become strong enough to be recognized through diplomacy. “The role of an armed movement is to bring awareness to the problem and then step aside,” says Gustavo about the Zapatistas.

Gustavo feels that globalization is now the same as development was in the 1940s. Communities are slowly dying and Gustavo feels that people need to come together in friendship and create more communities of like-minded people.

He wants to create a new social power, where people who are struggling for the same things can come together.

This is why Gustavo has helped create The Center for Intercultural Connections and Dialogue (CEDI). A place where people can come together in a community and learn, share and create.

Gustavo currently works with many indigenous groups, NGOs, as well as the Zapatista Army for National Liberation. He has published numerous essays as well as two books, Grassroots Post-modernism and Remaking the Soil of Culture.

“Choose your enemy because you will dance the same as them,” Gustavo Esteva 2005.