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cle, probe, attack and conquer, their unrestrained energy too strong to resist. Solitary men, impotent, unpracticed in speech, they and the others rely on signs. Photographs illustrate the void and horror of life without connections, photographs of fathers and father figures, grandparents and others, more times than not, images of the dead when living, photographs from books for Henry out of “Interstate” and for the killer of “Gypsy Moth” whose words say it all: “I try to kill him but can’t. My tongue thick.” His counterpart, the second killer, makes his own photographs of victims posed, not in any casket lying on a bed of mums, but grotesquely arranged for the Polaroid that is his signature. They rely on these facsimiles to gin up memories of what once was or might have been, arriving at nostalgia, which is every age’s yearning for the timeso believedwhen they had control of their lives. Never mind that they never did; that’s all forgotten now. But not by us. We remember, having read these stories, that Charles in “Sign Language” actually takes control of his life and acts out a strange pantomime of signing in a nonexistent language to the old couple who take him in, feed and bed him when he emerges lost from the woods. But he arrives at this point only after failing to cope with the unaccustomed solitude of a weekend alone, tempted and confused. For once in his life he has broken the shackles of habit. For once he has lived and, living, enlivened the old folks and himself so that we arrive at the end of the book with Charles secure in bed and the book itself banked at both ends by signs of redemption. The result of these collected stories is a poignant, artful rendering of individual pieces, sometimes elevated, sometimes grim, as though in a photo album arranged by a loving hand, for Hannah’s shaping signs make plangent what too often passes unquestioned for happy silent lives. This is fiction for the thoughtful, for those alive enough to feel what it is to be human. There is a generosity of spirit here untrammeled by any dogma, overt or hidden, for Sign Languages has a different sort of goal. It teaches us to read, to imagine, to feel, to care and, in making us care, it testifies to the humanity of the mind that composed it. LAS AMERICAS Roots of Rebellion BY SALLIE HUGHES Mexico City In Venustiano Carranza, a town near the Mexican border with Guatemala, the withdrawal of sugar cane farm subsidies in the mid-1980s led to an indigenous protest movement called the Emiliano Zapata Campesino organization. Known for peaceful demonstrations, the peasant organization’s origins and possible links to the militant Zapatista Army of National Liberation highlights the economic and ethnic roots of the armed rebellion underway in Mexico’s most-southern state. “There was so much tension when we were there,” said June Nash, a New York University professor who has been studying indigenous groups near Venustiano Carranza since the 1960s. “I imagine there are a lot of cane growers involved in the fighting. I can just see them.” Stories of slashed subsidies, stolen land and dried up seasonal work in coastal coffee fields help explain the current tension in Chiapas, but the roots of the poverty and discontent in southern Mexico go much deeper to decades of unresolved land disputes and unkept government promises, as well as centuries of economic exploitation and racism. In the last year, heavy-handed military activity in indigenous communities heated the brewing caldron even further, said Sarah Sallie Hughes is a reporter for El Financiero International, a weekly based in Mexico City. DeCosse of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, lawyers who recently completed two studies of the region. Indians reported mass arrests and being beaten and nearly drowned by soldiers hunting guerrillas and police dispersing protesters. Etched into such a panorama, the claim of the armed band of Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Tzotzil Indians that they are fighting against ethnic genocide rings true with many students of the three cultures. Indians, who have watched their already sparse economic livelihoods eroding and been blocked by racism from entering mainstream Mexico, maintain strong ties to centuries-old Mayan customs, said Duncan Earle, a Texas A&M University anthropologist who began working in Chiapas in 1979. Law changes in 1992 allowing indigenous groups for the first time to disband their communal ejido land holdings and the expected influx of U.S. corn under the North America Free Trade Agreement are additional threats to pillars of indigenous life, he said. “We have been getting into ‘a pre-revolt situation particularly since the economic crisis began in 1981,” Earle said. “This is an ethnocracy. You can kill by genocide, or you can kill by ethnocide.” Poverty alleviation initiatives like President Carlos Salinas’ Solidarity program don’t get at the heart of the problem, Earle said. Salinas opened his Fourth Annual Solidarity Week in the embattled Ocosingo region just three months before the violence flared. He sent his social development cabinet chief back this week on an emergency mission. Earle suggested the solution is in specific policies to aid indigenous groups: corn subsidies for indigenous fanners, constraints on non-indigenous ownership of traditionally Indian land and encouragement of increased political representation. While northern Mexico developed into large agrarian tracts and industrialized cities, indigenous southern Mexico has had much more in common with its Central . American neighbors an economic system based on export crops like coffee and sugar harvested by impoverished workers. The average salary in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Hidalgo and Veracruz where large numbers of indigenous people live does not reach the government-set poverty line, according to the National Statistical and Geographic Institute. A recent National Population Council study ranked these states one through five among Mexico’s 32 political entities in terms of illiteracy, people living in homes with dirt floors, workers earning less than 8.30 American dollars a day and lack of electricity, drainage or water service. Chiapas, however, is the worst of the worst. Though the state is rich in minerals, oil and timber, 80 percent of the population makes less than $8.30 a day, most of those people residing in the countryside. The state’s four hydroelectric dams supply about 50 percent of the nation’s electric 20 JANUARY 14, 1994