Here in Miami, we’ve become accustomed to the standard “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish and 3 for Creole.” But could we be on the verge of getting a fourth choice, “Press 4 for Mayan?”
Talk about confusing. Remember, there’s already this healthy argument among those of us who fill out questionnaires and applications in the United States about what to call ourselves. Many Hispanics/Latinos don’t like being bunched in with the rest and argue that we’re much more different than we are similar, which is to say a Puerto Rican from New York or a Venezuelan from Miami may not have much in common with a Mexican from Los Angeles or a Honduran from Albuquerque. (Heck, we can’t even decide on what we want to be called.) Some prefer Latino, others Hispanic. But what if you’re neither and yet, you still have a more well-rooted geographic claim on who you really are?
In the 1980s a great deal of people in the Mayan Highlands in Guatemala were forced to flee due to civil wars, now they are fleeing in record numbers from the threat of violent drug cartels.
That is a claim that belongs to the newest group of South Floridians who go by the ancient racial and ethnic classification of Mayan.
Mayans are now the fastest growing minority group in the population of South Florida. Yes, you read that right, Mayan. You see, in the 1980s a great deal of people in the Mayan Highlands in Guatemala were forced to flee due to civil wars, now they are fleeing in record numbers from the threat of violent drug cartels.
"Although exact figures aren’t available, experts estimate Florida’s Maya population could be more than 50,000. That’s perhaps a five-fold increase from a decade ago, when the narcotráfico began turning northern Central America into what the U.S. military calls the most dangerous zone in the world outside of Iraq and Afghanistan," according to a recent article from Miami's PBS radio affiliate WLRN.
So what does that mean? Culturally, it provides to the rich cornucopia that is South Florida. Economically, it remains to be seen. It appears that their work ethic and enthusiasm may be unbridled; their language skills? Bridled.
At the outset of this writing, I made a joke about “Press 4 for Mayan,” which technically would be the word “Mam” (pronounced mawm). However, that’s assuming that they speak that particular dialect. You see, Mayans aren’t necessarily Latinos, or South Americans, or even Hispanic.
They are Mayans, they built pyramids, wrote in hieroglyphs, perfected the calendar, and made a prophecy or two. How do we help them? Are we to build schools, are we to erect community centers and signs just to speak to them? What if another portion of these indigenous people emigrate here, but speak a completely different dialect or even a different language? What’s the next step? And let’s not even start on the issue of whether they are here legally or not.
Turn on the TV or a movie and you will see that the “fish out of water” tale is one of Hollywood’s “go to” story lines. Here’s the rub on that — there’s a great deal of fish in this country, and they all communicate in different ways, from regionalisms to slang and so on. They also all eventually find a way to survive, even if it means swimming against the current until they can find their way.
The results, much to any screenwriter’s chagrin, are not necessarily cute, or the requisite happy ending. That’s not to say they are worse off here than they would have been in their narcotráfico-torn homeland.
A people with a vast amount of history may just find themselves at the bottom of this American pyramid for a while. And then? To be continued...