Expressions of Maya identity and culture in Los Angeles : coloniality of power, resistance, and cultural memory

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Batz, Giovanni

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The migration of thousands of Guatemalan-Maya due to political violence and poverty since the 1970s led to the establishment of various diasporic communities throughout the United States. A frequent destination for the Maya is Los Angeles, California, where they are confronted with pressure to adapt within an environment that is predominately Latino/Hispanic. Maya identity expressed through the use of traje (Maya clothing), language, literature and spirituality is challenged by Euro-American culture such as western style of dress and the practice of English which discriminates against these customs. These conditions are more severe for Maya children who face the difficulties in preserving their heritage as a result of institutions such as public education which socializes them into US culture and history. Despite the presence of many indigenous communities in Los Angeles, such as the Maya, Mixtecos and Zapotecs, indigenous identity is almost non-existent in many public spaces and institutions. Discrimination against the Maya by their compatriots and other Latinos coupled with high rates of undocumented immigration statuses have contributed to this invisibility. Some Maya parents view the lack of a strong indigenous identity among their children as problematic and the source of negative cultural qualities such as disrespect towards elders, violence, individualism and misbehavior.
In this study, I seek to examine Maya identity and culture in Los Angeles. What does it mean to identify as Maya in Los Angeles? What are the consequences of doing so? How do Maya immigrants respond to discrimination and what implications does discrimination have for the ethnic identity formation of their children? Why has Maya identity survived in some children of Maya and not in others? I found that while some Maya immigrants have assimilated into the Latino community in response to racism and fear of deportation, others have adopted strategies such as the use of marimba to preserve Maya identity which also serve to deal with a life of displacement and exile. Maya identity among children is highly influenced by factors such as the educational system, class and their parent’s willingness and ability to transmit Maya culture. Thus, while some children of Maya have been able to preserve and express their identity through various channels such as music and language, others may be unaware of, ashamed by or apathetic toward their indigenous roots and history.



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