Discourse and identity in Guatemala: imaginaries of indigeneity and Luis de Lión’s decolonial grito/llanto




Olen, Amy Therese

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This dissertation examines Guatemalan discourses of identity and indigeneity from the colonial period to the mid-1980s. Through the theoretical lens of the coloniality of power and by means of a genealogical approach to discourse, I argue that Maya Guatemalan writer Luis de Lión’s (1939-1984) literary project decolonizes Guatemalan discursivities regarding Mayas in the nation. His work does so by problematizing the violence of the social myths and discursive “truths” about indigeneity circulating in Guatemalan society and literature, such as the “glorious Indian of the past” and the “miserable Indian of the present” binary. Additionally, Luis de Lión’s literary work articulates a discursive, emancipatory decolonial project for Mayas in the nation that moves beyond “clasista” and “culturalista” approaches to Guatemalan revolution during the armed conflict period by underlining both the coloniality of spirituality and gender racializing Indigenous subjectivities. I begin with an analysis of the political conceptualizations and policy debates regarding national identity and Mayas’ place within it from Criollo, Ladino (mixed Spanish-Indigenous), and Maya perspectives to evidence the construction and contestation of the notion of Mayas in the nation as a “problem”. Next, I trace how the social myths of indigeneity developed in the political sphere are articulated in literature from the colonial period to the mid-20th century in order to understand how literary discourses normalize social myths into imaginaries asserting discursive “truths” about Mayas. Finally, I consider a sample of Luis de Lión’s narrative production to argue that his work commences a veritable decolonial turn in Guatemalan discourses of Indigenous identity through the creation of a counter-discourse complicating the racial and gendered framing of Mayas in the nation, what I call his decolonial “grito/llanto”. I further evidence the different, “other” versions of Maya identity de Lión offers in his “rewriting” of a Maya cosmovision and his intertextual plays with the Popol Wuj, the Maya classical book. For his contestation of “truths” of indigeneity, de Lión’s work emerges as a complex, multifaceted, discursive emancipatory project for Mayas in Guatemalan textualities.


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