Foreigners will learn Maya, make tortillas and work the milpa in Xocén, Yucatan


More than 500 foreign students have spent summers in native communities to complete projects on this culture, as part of the ‘Yucatan Summer Mayan Program’.

This Sunday will start the stay in Xocén, Yucatán of foreign graduate students to learn the Mayan language. 2019 marks the 27th anniversary of the “Summer Yucatec Mayan Program” of the Consortium of Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

“Foreigners do realize that the language is a heritage, that we must protect it, everything it represents and here we do not value it in the same way,” said the program’s academic coordinator, the anthropologist Fidencio Briceño Chel.

For four weeks, the students will live in a hotel that hired only Mayan-speaking workers and will spend 12 to 14 hours a day in Xocén, a town in the municipality of Valladolid, without speaking any other language. On Sunday they will meet in Valladolid, as the members of Level One will arrive, those of Level Two, who are already in Yucatan, and those of Level Three will also go to this city.

Every year they have between ten and 15 students, and more than 500 people have already completed these courses, “many of them are now the reference in Mayan studies,” said the academic coordinator.

The program is in the United States, but for 19 years the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has an agreement with them, to give them a complete vision of the Mayan culture.

According to Briceño Chel, in these universities, if someone wants to carry out a project on the Mayan culture, they have the obligation to learn the language. “It is an unwritten rule, it is something that is ethically done by them If any student wants to do thesis research and that has to do with Mayan subjects, such as history, anthropology, linguistics, art history, they must necessarily to take and certify a language course, because otherwise, how to understand culture without language? “

On June 24 the program started in the United States and the first two weeks are of preparation, with introductory and grammatical topics. Students in Level One are currently at the University of North Carolina campus of Chapen Hill in the last days prior to the stay in a Mayan community.

“There are six superintensive weeks, in total there are between 120 and 140 hours of informal class that we have, more practices”, explained the academic coordinator. The practices depend on the level of the student and his project, but they are totally immersive.

Throughout these almost 30 years, these courses have also taken place in Ticul and Santa Elena. Briceño Chel mentioned that they work with between 14 and 18 families in Xocén, who become the teachers of the students in the immersive practices where they teach them daily activities. During these four weeks, the students have breakfast and then have class from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the teachers of the program. Afterwards, they have an hour of food, then two hours of talks with people from the community and between them, from 4 pm to 8 pm they have classes again, and then they have another hour of free conversation.

According to the coordinator of the program in the state, they have teachers from different areas because of the pronunciation of the Mayan language changes depending on the region. They have 20 basic teachers, ten men, and ten women, from the south, east, and center of Yucatan, as well as from Quintana Roo. He added that previously they also had a professor from Campeche.

The objective of this stay in Mayan communities, as well as the integration of teachers from different areas with their respective pronunciations, is to show that this language is still alive.

“What has interested me a lot is that they see the Mayan language as a living language, it is permanently in innovation as well and that they see it in the communities, so they spend two weeks in community and it is the totally immersive part. They have breakfast in the community, eat in the community, they themselves learn to make tortillas, learn to embroider, take them to the milpa. In other words, they live as if they were from there and everything is absolutely in Mayan “, commented Fidencio Briceño Chel.

In addition to this, he explained that they have achieved a dynamic in which, after forming students, these become the professors of the program later, or teachers in their countries of origin.

Also, the young people of the Mayan communities have benefited, since some work as assistants for ten dollars an hour and others are trained in teaching and are integrated as teachers of the program for $ 15 an hour. The organizers of the program train them and some decide to remain as teachers with them or are hired by other institutions.

“But the base is all Mayans, they are all young Mayans who will eventually also teach in the United States. But for, now the program has become a bit difficult since sometimes they do not get the visas to the US. “

Source: el financiero

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