The Mayans vs. the International Mayan Festival

an opinion by Fer de la Cruz


The idea of a Mayan festival in Yucatan would be in itself a reason for great rejoicing. The state government organized one in October. It was huge. A great amount of money must have been spent to bring Yanni, Filippa Giordano, Joan Manuel Serrat, Joaquín Sabina, and Deepak Chopra for such festival, yet there was nothing Maya about it except for its name. Once more the name of the living Maya was utilized for the sole benefit of non-Mayan, latino-Western politicians and business men.

Consequently, a large group of Mayan intellectuals and artists, all promoters of Mayan language and literature, organized their own Independent Mayan Festival Cha´anil Kaj (, which started on October 12, and carried on for two weeks, with more than 150 activities (theatre, conferences, debates, workshops, concerts, multilingual readings, presentations of books and documentaries, story tellers, traditional games…), on different urban and rural locations of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The state government tried to silence them: The local media were ordered not to attend their press conference, as some reporters informed them off the record. Only some gave them access, whereas the official festival was everywhere to be seen via billboards, huge displays on the newspapers, commercials on radio and TV, posters on the bus stops and on the buses, etc. The government even tried to buy off some of the members of Colectivo Cha´anil Kaj, and it is known to them that the mayors of some towns of the ruling political party were instructed not to facilitate locations for their activities.

Catchy though the title of this article may be, I admit it is misleading in one regard: The Cha´anil Kaj Independent Mayan Festival was not a confrontational event. Instead, it focused on being proactive. Only a small part of their effort was endeavored to denouncing their conscious and systematic exclusion from the official festival via letters to the editors of different newspapers—one made it national, as it was published in Proceso.

To legitimize their official festival, the state government did have one special Mayan guest: Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemalan K’iche’ Nobel Peace recipient, 1992) was granted a Doctorate Honoris Causa by a public university whose graduate program doesn´t even have a Master graduate yet. It might have been believed by someone that she would reject it to protest the government´s exclusion and sabotage of the Mayan artists and intellectuals, just as Ray Charles is known to have cancelled a concert in segregated Georgia. As was suspected by most organizers of Cha´anil Kaj, Ms. Menchú played along with the Yucatecan government, although it is hard to judge her.

The good news is that, as a community event, Cha´anil Kaj (the people´s fiesta) prevails in the lives of many who were part of it in two states, whereas the official, international “Mayan” festival was a great spectacle, certainly, which was already forgotten by the great masses seeking only to be entertained. What I make of all this is that Yucatan´s multicultural identity is still threatened by a government who believes in the fallacy of Western (Latino-white) supremacy, but that the average citizen can defy that in a peaceful, constructive, and effective way as was done by the members of Cha´anil Kaj.


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Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008):

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Artist Samuel Barrera


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