Pre/Post Hispanic Heritage

September 19, 2022

Today I’m writing to you from a city in Guatemala called Xela. Actually, it’s officially named Quetzaltenango in the department (Guatemalan version of a state in America) with the same name. Xela pronounced cheh-lah is what everyone calls it, and the name is rooted in a Mayan language which is interesting to me because Quetzaltenango is a name from the Nahuatl language from the North (Mexico.) Google the history of the name, it’s pretty interesting.

 

We made it up here on the Guatemalan Independence Day and if you’re familiar with some of Latin-American history, there are many countries with independence days around the same time. Mexican Independence Day is the day after (September 16) essentially the beginning of Hispanic heritage month or more accurately Latinx heritage month. If you’re not familiar, there is a movement not to label the people from countries in Latin America as Hispanic, since the word focuses on the Spanish language which is of course European and the Spanish experience is nothing like that of people from this side of the world which is more a mix of Indigenous, African, and Spanish.

 

But it’s interesting to find myself in a city that is officially named in an indigenous language, and its unofficial name a different indigenous word on a day that represents the freedom from a Spanish colonial rule. Speaking of Spanish, the school that I had been taking Spanish classes online is actually located in here in Xela, so I got to visit and meet my Spanish teacher in person. She of course seemed a little disappointed since I put a pause on taking classes about two months ago and my Spanish has already declined a bit. I’m definitely still much better than before moving to Guatemala but certainly have room to go and it’s something I’ve always struggled with a little bit psychological given that my parents are both fluent in Spanish and all of my grandparents pretty much only speak Spanish.

 

In my past discussions with my Spanish teacher, I learned that her parents are fluent in a Mayan Language called Quiche and she speaks it a bit, but her daughter doesn’t at all. Historically the indigenous people have been discriminated against in Latin-America (Mexico included) so, one of the ways to discriminate against them is if they speak the indigenous languages or if they speak Spanish with an accent and this is why some people decide not to teach the language. This is a simplification, but you get the idea. I think some people are convinced that it would just confuse kids to learn two languages which is the reason I didn’t really learn Spanish at a young age. But since this Spanish school I attended also teaches Quiche, I asked my teacher if her daughter would like to eventually learn, she said probably not, that it would probably be more useful to learn English or German or something as far as careers go. I wonder if that’s what happened to my indigenous ancestors. I’ve been trying to track it down and as far back as I can go with verbal history (~4 generations on my dad’s side and only a couple on my mom's), my family is mostly mestizo except for a great great grandfather that we were able to identify as Huichol and another great great grandmother who is supposedly in a very old picture wearing indigenous garb.

 

On the last day of our trip, my girlfriend, two of our friends and myself got to hike up a volcano to a sacred Laguna called Laguna Chicabal. Its name also from the Mayan Languages. It was a pretty grueling hike for someone like me who sits (sometimes stands) at my desk and draws most of the day, but I made it up and down. The way the laguna formed on top of the volcano requires you to hike up to the peak and then down to the Laguna. Let me tell you, both directions are tough (especially on the knees on the way down.) But it was worth the effort and discomfort. The lake is sacred, and you are not allowed to swim in it, so it’s untouched. Calm, still, and quiet with just the sound of the breeze rustling the trees and the hum of Mayan worshipers paying their respects in the distance (Many Mayans practice a combination of Christianity and the Mayan Cosmovision which is pretty interesting.) We got to walk around the lake and take it all in and as we do so, a cloud of fog rolls over the mountain slowly engulfing the whole crater so that we could barely see 20 feet away from yourself. Just as quickly as it came, the fog had gone and by that time we finished the lap around the lake. We had some snacks and eventually made our way up and out. It all felt very sacred. I am not religious in the traditional sense, but I do feel like a spiritual person and visiting a sacred place like this will hold a special place for me. Not only did the location feel sacred but the act of getting there, pushing my doughy body up that ridge to a place that has been worshiped for more 1000 years felt cleansing.

View of lake from the ridge
View from the lake (better view on my instagram reel)
A Nahual is like a Zodiac Sign in the Mayan culture and I found a sign with mine at the Lake!

That is all to say, that it’s such an interesting thing to see the variety of experiences of the people we at this point would call “Latino/a/x/e.”  So even though when you zoom out, the culture is a mix of European, Indigenous and African, when you zoom in to specific areas and regions and people, it’s much more complex than that.  Anyway, I think I’ve been on a journey for a long time to get more in touch with my roots and what it means to be Latinx and the more time I spend doing so the more I realize that the labels are not so important and it’s what we each make of it. I will still use the term “Latinx” since it seems to be the one that represents that mixture I mentioned best as well as my personal experience but if it becomes more accepted to use a different word, I’ll use that one. Maybe it will be an indigenous word.

 

Anyway, my brain can do a lot of bouncing around and that’s where it is after a weekend like this. Hope you have a great rest of September. Mine has been pretty good so far. I’ll have more art updates in the next couple weeks.

 

Appreciate you.

 

PS.(I wrote most of this before the trip to chicabal and edited again after getting back to the city because I forgot my laptop charger and my battery died so again, sorry for being kinda scatter brained lol)

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