University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Indigenous Literacies in Multilingual Times – Aldo Anzures Tapia


By: Anne Tiballi

July 26, 2016

Maya is an Indigenous language with relatively high vitality in Mexico. Yet, recent language studies have noted that many native Maya speakers are shifting rapidly to Spanish. The University of Pennsylvania Cultural Heritage Center has established a partnership with the Caste War Museum in Tihosuco (a Maya community in Quintana Roo, Mexico) in order to explore this shift. This partnership, through the Tihosuco Heritage and Preservation Community Project, uses archaeology as a catalyst to foster conversations around tangible and intangible heritage, with language revitalization and maintenance at its core.

During the summer of 2015, in collaboration with the Caste War Museum, we created the first bilingual Maya and Spanish comic book. The aim of the comic book was to show that Yucatec Maya could do more than transmit traditional riddles and ancient tales (important though they are), but that it could also be used in novels, soap operas, rap, and comic books with our own and unique heroes. The book, written and drawn in collaboration between five authors, explored the life of Jacinto Pat, one of the main leaders in the Caste War.

Comic book cover- “Tihosuco and Jacinto Pat: The Amazing Life of the Caste War Leader” Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia
“Tihosuco and Jacinto Pat: The Amazing Life of the Caste War Leader”
Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia

In 2015, we invited the Tihorappers, a local rap band, to talk with the cultural promoters and children in the museum about the uses of Yucatec Maya in the creation of bilingual songs. Their impact was huge and allowed us to push the project forward during the summer of 2015 and strengthen it for the summer of 2016.

MC Chama singing ki ́imak in wóol /I’m happy/Estoy content Video/Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia
MC Chama singing ki ́imak in wóol /I’m happy/Estoy content
Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia

This summer, we decided to explore the life of Cecilio Chí, another important leader in the Caste War. Since May, we have written six versions of the comic book, working with the different meanings of words in Maya and Spanish, and trying to respect both languages, as well as the language ideologies behind the choice of words each author stands for. We find that we frequently rely on dictionaries to make decisions about which words make it into the final text, but we also realize that people create dictionaries with their own preferences and ideologies for grammar and spelling.

Norma (sitting besides me) and Bety in the main driving seat (literally) proofreading the second to last version of the comic book.
I’m on the left. Norma (sitting beside me) and Bety (to the right) in the main driving seat (literally) proofreading the second-to-last version of the comic book. Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia

As in 2015, we also invited community members to help us reflect on our comic book and to ensure that it is not just an educational and linguistic tool, but is also academically sound. Mario Collí, a local historian and professor that studies the Caste War, came to the museum to answer some of the questions and concerns we had as we wrote the comic book.

Mario Collí and Bety talking about Cecilio Chí’s life. Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia
Mario Collí and Bety talking about Cecilio Chí’s life.
Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia

The experience of collaboratively writing a bilingual comic book has been challenging. Finding the time to write and draw it, negotiating the meanings of words, as well as trying to respond to some of the literature about the history of the Caste War are just some of the aspects we discussed everyday. Of course, the blazing temperatures and extreme humidity are the cherries on the top of the project. Fortunately, the product is already in print and we can now share with you a preview of the second comic book, “A Hero to be known: Cecilio Chí, the Castes War Great Leader”. ENJOY!

A preview of the final version of Cecilio Chi’s comic book. Maya version is on the left side and Spanish on the right side. Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia
A preview of the final version of Cecilio Chi’s comic book.
Maya version is on the left side and Spanish on the right side.
Photo Credit: Aldo Anzures Tapia

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