Xíiktech Uutsil! (Bon Voyage!)

Hello! ¡Hola! Ba’ax ka wa’alik!

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. I will be using this page to provide a day-to-day account of my trip to the Yucatán over the next month with posts, pictures, video, and more. Hope you enjoy it!

As many of you know, my main academic passion is the study of the Classical languages, history, literature, and culture. However, ever since I was a child, I have also been fascinated by the lesser-studied, yet still significant, Maya civilization. Now shrouded in dense tropical jungle, the Maya city-states such as Chichen-Itza, Tikal, Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal once controlled a region encompassing the entire Yucatan peninsula and Guatemalan highlands. Interacting with the other Mesoamerican societies, they accomplished spectacular feats, including but not limited to: advanced knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, the only documented writing system in Pre-Columbian America, and a complex religious, mythological, and cosmological tradition. When the Spaniards arrived in the Yucatan in 1517, they were indeed amazed by the splendor and sophistication of the culture they discovered.

However, these explorers from the East, originally prophesized by the Maya to be gods arriving from a distant land, were to spell certain doom for this civilization. Conquistadores from Spain arrived in many waves, forcing their Catholic religion on the locals, whom they perceived as non-Christian “infidels,” and toppling each of the Maya city-states with the support of thousands of resentful native allies. Even more crippling to the Maya was the arrival of Old World diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which they had no resistance; over 90% of the indigenous Maya population was eliminated through those means.  However, the Maya resisted fiercely and refused to capitulate to Spanish rule; only in 1697, after nearly two centuries of fighting, were the last remaining Maya strongholds in the Petén basin defeated.

Nevertheless, unbeknownst to much of the world, the Maya people still endure to this very day. Millions of Maya still live in the regions once controlled by their ancestors and speak their traditional languages. Preserving many of their cultural institutions, they form a very distinct element of Mexican and Central American culture.

Tomorrow morning, I will be setting off at 7:59 AM from New York’s LaGuardia Airport via Atlanta and Cancún to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a small town in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula inhabited mostly by Maya. Carrying with me only a limited knowledge of Spanish and even less of Yucatec, the local Mayan language, I will be living with a Maya family who will not speak English, and I will be one of very few Americans in the town. My goals there are twofold: first, to learn and explore the linguistic structures of the Yucatec language (which, by the way, is wildly different from any traditionally studied language) through daily classes at the Na’atik Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas, and, second, to evaluate the current standing of the Mayan language in the region and determine if it is in danger. I plan to write a research paper after my return home to present my findings. Throughout the last few weeks, I have been preparing for this trip by learning as much Spanish as my brain could process and reading through many books about the Maya, their history, and their language. I know I’ll end up learning much more when I’m actually there.

I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in an indigenous culture extremely foreign to and, sadly, largely unappreciated in the United States. The opportunity to dive into a new community and forge new transnational relationships and cultural understandings is truly remarkable. I hope to represent Exeter, New York City, and America well through these new relationships, and, in addition to learning about Maya culture, to expand my new friends’ knowledge of American culture and tradition.

Deep stuff. Don’t worry, my next updates are sure to be more lighthearted and fun. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. Thanks for reading!

Until later, hasta luego, and taak ulak k’iin!

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Xíiktech Uutsil! (Bon Voyage!)

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