Maya Nationalisms and Postcolonial Challenges in Guatemala: Coloniality, Modernity, and Identity Politics

Emilio del Valle Escalante

Maya Nationalisms and Postcolonial Challenges in GuatemalaMaya Nationalisms and Postcolonial Challenges in GuatemalaMaya Nationalisms and Postcolonial Challenges in Guatemala

In January 2000, the Ecuadorian indigenous movement overthrew President Jamil Mahuad. Three years later, in October 2003, Bolivia’s Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada suffered the same fate at the hands of the peasant movement, which has a high incidence of indigenous participation. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation’s campaign against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico was a key factor in the PRI’s defeat during the 2000 elections, after a little more than seventy years in power. And in Guatemala, a month before the last round of elections in 2003, the two presidential candidates were surprised by a mass mobilization by seventeen Maya organizations.

In the past few decades, indigenous movements throughout the Americas have become the cornerstone of popular mobilizations. These movements have made their mark in diverse institutional and political landscapes. Although this prominence has been considered a recent phenomenon, it is but the latest example of the ongoing creativity of indigenous peoples in their efforts to achieve civil rights and legal recognition as differentiated cultural entities. Their struggle has changed the makeup of Latin American nation-states to the point that these can no longer be conceived in conventional terms, that is, as culturally and linguistically homogenous.

This book, which one reviewer claimed "will become a foundational text on indigenous matters throughout the hemisphere," focuses on the emergence and political-cultural implications of Guatemala’s Maya movement. It explores how, since the 1970s, indigenous peoples have been challenging established, hegemonic narratives of modernity, history, nation, and cultural identity as these relate to the indigenous world. For the most part, these narratives have been fabricated by non-indigenous writers who have had the power not only to produce and spread knowledge but also to speak for and about the Maya world. Contemporary Maya narratives promote nationalisms based on the reaffirmation of Maya ethnicity and languages that constitute what it means to be Maya in present-day society, as well as political-cultural projects oriented toward the future.

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