Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: For decades, the theme of Maya identity has received a lot of scholarly interest. Beginning in the 1990s, Linda Schele and colleagues (Freidel, Schele, and Parker 1993) initiated the debate by demonstrating through iconographic and structural analyses that many concepts of Classic Maya worldview and belief systems can still be found in contemporary Maya societies. After 2000, growing numbers of anthropologists have expressed concerns about this approach since it feeds the Colonial structure of Euroamerican civilization versus the Maya as essentialized cultural others. New theoretical models acknowledge that cultures are hybrids through their lived realities, and identities are social constructions resulting from the dynamic relations between ethnic groups and outsiders in the past as in the present. Certainly, Maya people themselves are divided by regions, languages, as well as within their own communities; for example, case studies have focused on variations on identity in a number of contexts, including indigenous languages (Litka 2013; Pitarch 2010; 2018), external versus internal identity constructions (Hervik 1999), religion and ritual (Christenson 2001; 2016), shamanism (Molesky-Poz 2006; MacKenzie 2016), tourism (Taylor 2018).
This panel includes case studies from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Maya communities in the United States and Canada and employ a variety of methodologies and theoretical models. The result is a bricolage of approaches that examine how local perceptions and external stereotypes shape our understanding of indigeneity. In the changing climate of engagements between scholars and descendant communities, the increase in collaboration alters the way we do research in the region. There are a number of examples in archaeological projects and certainly many ethnographers include locals as collaborators. These shifts in perception of the role of descendant communities in our research on “The Maya” results in a more nuanced understanding of indigeneity, identity, and the potential for meaningful collaboration. Throughout the Maya area, social and economic inequalities are steep and many indigenous people engage in collaborations with outsiders in hopes of leveling them. The question for us then becomes to what extent are we limiting meaningful collaboration and co-production of knowledge by using our existing conceptions of Maya identity as a starting point? How can we create spaces for co-authorship with our collaborators? Moreover, how do the disciplinary norms in our various fields either encourage or discourage these practices? The papers included in this panel will evaluate these changing human climates between anthropologists and Maya people. The goal is to trace pathways that allow us, as anthropologists across sub-fields, to collaborate towards a sustainable future.