Mayan Voices in Chiapas, Mexico

by Wayne Grinstead 

While the US government focuses on slowing or stopping immigration from Central and South America, Mexico is experiencing its own interstate immigration crisis driven by poverty and lack of employment opportunities.

In Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, these forces are also pushing members of the country’s indigenous groups northward. 

These indigenous immigrants, many of whom live in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains, speak 12 Mayan dialects and often come from communities where schools are open only three days a week and textbooks for students are not available.

As a result, when they leave their communities and compete for jobs with other Mexicans, they find themselves severely disadvantaged. They stand out because of culture and dress, but also because of communication issues. “We are discriminated against because Spanish is our second language,” says Aurelia Jiménez, who left home at 14 to work on a communal farm before attending the Mayan Intercultural Seminary (SIM), an Active Hope Partner with the Alliance of Baptists.

As in the United States and many other countries, indigenous peoples in Mexico have been subjugated, pushed aside, relocated, hidden, and made politically irrelevant. But today, more than 50 pastors and church leaders who are graduates of SIM are working with and for them.

Seven years ago, the seminary, located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, formed a cooperative to help artists and weavers purchase supplies at a lower cost and market their products. Now the seminary has another initiative: a new cooperative that will allow indigenous groups to purchase, raise, and sell farm animals. The goal, says seminary
coordinator Dalia Juárez, is to allow indigenous Mayans to make a living while remaining with their families and in their communities.

For more on this story, see the short documentary film entitled “Mayan Voices” found below.

Wayne Grinstead is a retired businessman and a documentary filmmaker who lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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