Becoming Maya? The Politics and Pragmatics of “Being Indigenous” in Postgenocide Guatemala



This paper contrasts the way “Mayan” identity is conceptualized by NGOs and intellectuals in Guatemala with the everyday practices and material conditions influencing perceptions of identity in the rural town of Guaisná. The “truth” of past genocide and the experience of ongoing harsh socioeconomic inequality take on different meanings from these two perspectives. And yet inhabitants of Guaisná and Mayan intellectuals share an awareness of past and ongoing oppression, and an understanding of flexible identity as crucial to cultural survival. Thus indigenous people can simultaneously claim some features of “Mayan” identity while also distinguishing it from aspects of local everyday practice.