- Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories ed. by Sean S. Sell and Nicolás Huet Bautista
Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories (2017) edited by Sean S. Sell and Nicolás Huet Bautista is a rare collection presenting remarkable examples of contemporary Maya writing that contest the perception of the Maya as silenced and submissive peoples.
This unique multilingual edition gives readers the opportunity to read the works in the Mayan languages of Tsotsil and Tseltal as well as in Spanish and English. The choice to publish the original version alongside their translations (and have them always come first) is a significant acknowledgment of the importance of the thriving Mayan languages that have survived countless efforts of the colonial authorities to eradicate them and to silence their speakers who nevertheless resisted and [End Page 235] kept their languages alive. Moreover, the book's multilingualism allows for the works to transcend borders and spread their messages beyond Chiapas.
That the book can be treated as an example of literature of resistance is apparent from its original title Ma'yuk sti'ilal xch'inch'unel k'inal: Silencio sin frontera ("silence without border") and an affirmation on its back cover that the book's themes "break their cultural and linguistic borders" and challenge "the apparent calm and submission of indigenous peoples" (Hernández-Ávila 3). In addition, the writers counter the dominant discourse and combine features from their own cultures with those typical for Western literatures in order to "write back" about discrimination in "the language of empire to rebut its dominant ideologies" (Yang), complying with John Yang's definition of resistance literature. Miguel Ruiz Gómez, the author of one of the three short stories published in this collection, is a fitting example of this writing strategy as he "intentionally uses what he has learned from Western literature in his own work" (Hernández-Ávila 10) while maintaining a distinctive voice. Dealing with forced emigration, Gómez's short story is arguably the most politically-charged one in this collection and employing Western narrative strategies thus seems especially suitable.
The present multilingual edition's title reflects the current flourishing of Maya literature and art in Chiapas that has been supported by several organizations, most notably CELALI (State Center for Indigenous Languages, Art, and Literature), which also played a major role in the formation of this collection. The volume is a valuable recognition of contemporary Maya agency and voice that is represented here by twelve outstanding writers, some whose work is also complemented by subtle artwork either drawn by the authors themselves or, in most cases, by other Maya artists, for example Roberto Antonio López de la Cruz whose painting "Quietude" also appears on the collection's front cover.
The book is divided into two major parts—poems and stories respectively. Oral tradition and collective voice characterize the collection as well as an emphasis on the natural world and the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Ancestral knowledge and tradition are other recurring themes and the resplendent quetzal, sacred bird of the Maya, is evoked by multiple writers. Its importance for the Maya people is reinforced by choosing María Concepción Bautista Vázquez's imagery poem "Quetzal" as the opening piece of the whole collection. In just a few words, [End Page 236] the poet paints a vivid image of the divine bird who "sings the story of my ancestors" and completes her work with a beautiful representation of Quetzal, "in the arms of a young Ceiba tree" (Vázquez 31), drawn by the author herself. Other notable symbols recalled by various writers include serpents, hummingbirds, trees, mountains, orchids, pox, time, memories, silence, night, and death, to name just a few.
While not all works in this collection are political and all of them are primarily exquisite examples of fine writing whose artistic value should not (and cannot) be overlooked, the ongoing colonization and oppression of Indigenous peoples is naturally reflected in...