Episode 7: Maya
Director: Felix Atencio-Gonzales
“We want to free ourselves from the influence of the dominant culture. We want to make our own education model, to decolonize ourselves. We want to rediscover and reaffirm what our grandparents have left us.” – Alvaro Coj, principal of Qawinaqel School
The Mayan people and their languages have survived and even thrived despite brutal conquest, book burnings and civil war in Guatemala. Today's Mayans fight for the right to have education and government services in their own language, in one of the few countries where the majority of the population is indigenous to the land.
Guatemala has 22 main Mayan languages spoken around the territory by over 2 million people. But for the past four hundred years a Spanish speaking minority of non-Mayans have been making the decisions that impact the culture, lives and languages of the Mayans. We meet Alvaro Coj, principal of the Qawinaqel alternative school, and visit CODISRA, the Presidential commission against discrimination and racism towards the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, who both want full education for Mayans in their own language.
“We don’t teach them. They are born with our language.” - Matilde Caal, elder
During the civil war Andres Cuz, a pioneer in Mayan language revitalization, planned for the revitalization of his language in private. He wrote an extensive dictionary and preserved whatever written stories and records he could find. When the civil war ended he helped to develop the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages. The Academy plays a key role in the protection of the Mayan identities and culture. Andres guides us through the organization's grassroots beginnings and visits a Mayan family who share how learning the language begins at home.
“We are convinced that language is the heart of our culture and the backbone of our identity.” - Demetrio Rodriguez, Kaqchikel speaker, Choisamaj Foundation
From a youth conference focusing on Mayan identity, language and culture to organizations developing Mayan teaching materials, modern Mayans are working towards elevating their languages by integrating Mayan languages and culture into Guatemala's workplace, schools and media.