There was a rule, once upon a time. I wouldn’t wear a band’s shirt if I didn’t like the band, and while that sounds like a pretty trivial thing I took it seriously. If you didn’t really like the band but wore their shirt because it looked cool you may as well be wearing a Nike swoosh. You’re representing something you believe in when you shell out the bucks and raise the banner, and that responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Over the years I stopped obsessing about the kindergarten politics of my pseudo-punk upbringing. An old co-worker of mine was unloading t-shirts given to him by bands and he handed me one for a group I never cared about. My instincts kicked in and I almost refused, but then my manners wrestled reaction to the ground and I graciously accepted the offering. The shirt was used to clean up some kitchen messes but I cleaned it and began to wear it whenever it came up in the rotation.
One day, standing outside of work, a stranger walked up to me and complimented me on the t-shirt. Immediately I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, but nodded enthusiastically when he told me how his old band had played with them and how great they were back in the day. What was I supposed to say? Oh, I kinda think they suck, so I guess your old band kinda sucked too.
I have another shirt that causes me emotional distress. My friend had returned from Mexico with a silk-screened Zapata shirt, and I buried my concerns about not fully understanding the implications of wearing such a political icon. What do I know about Zapata? I don’t know a damn thing except the Zapatistas revere him, or at least his name. I did a little rooting around, lazily, on the internet just in case someone called me out on my attire. Okay, Emiliano Zapata was a south Mexican revolutionary who fought for agrarian reform and peasants’ rights during the Mexican Civil War– that’s something I can support from the distance of a hundred and fifty years without worrying about pesky details like politically motivated massacres and pillaging.
Walking to work I stopped by the bagel shop of mixed-feelings and was greeted warmly by the guy behind the counter. The woman working started bagging bagels and he reminded her to cut them– I definitely heard “muchacho” and was pretty certain it was in regards to me. The he saw the shirt I was wearing and stopped– awestruck– saying, Zapata! Yes, Emiliano Zapata, I responded, feeling my heart sink and my face begin to glow. Oh, he is a very important man to the people of Mexico, a very important man. Yes, I nodded, as knowingly as I could muster. A deadly silence erupted so I continued, he was from the south, right? Oh yes, a very important man for Mexico. Meanwhile the woman’s trying to get my attention and I’m fumbling with my bag and my wallet and the guy’s talking but I can’t hear him; his voice had faded as though he was speaking from a century and a half away. I just nodded and smiled, uncertain what he was saying, while the woman handed me my bagels in a new bag which I accepted holding my old bag. Damn, foiled again!
Ashamed, my exit was hurried. Everything I feared every time I put on the Zapata shirt just came true and, insult to injury, the woman managed to waste another bag on my order. Continuing on my way I considered my options. I don’t wanna waste the shirt, I don’t wanna dismiss the gift. I suppose I should find a decent book on Zapata and attempt to cram as much of his life into the sieve that functions as my brain. It made me think of drunk honkies on Cinco de Mayo stumbling through the streets full of Corona and tequila with sombreros falling off their heads, and it made me think of green-clad packs of shrill girls sloshed on Guinness and stumbling into the gutter to puke. The way that America absorbs other cultures for the sake of getting trashed and fucking other wasted people makes my skin crawl, but misappropriating a cultural icon by wearing it on a t-shirt isn’t really any better. So if you could recommend a good book on the life and times of Emiliano Zapata, I’m in the market. I’m still never going to like Pezz, tho.
Picture of Zapata was nicked from Wikipedia and bears the description: El general Manuel Asúnsolo entrega la ciudad de Cuernavaca al general Emiliano Zapata, acompañados de sus estados mayores (abril 1911), y del jefe revolucionario Abraham Martínez (derecha de Zapata).