“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.” (Freire)
As mentioned in my last entry, any hesitation, apprehension, and uncertainty about my return dissipated when I stepped off the launcha in San Juan la Laguna. A sense of calm overcame me I walked from the dock, up the steep hill, to the top of the village. I was looking forward to seeing everyone as just a day before I left the US, they were writing asking me when I was going to return. They were anxious to get back to work and who would not be inspired to return to youth eager to learn…
I was heartened by the fact that they continued to work in my absence. In these three short days I spent back in the amazing village, however, I was challenged by the conversations around that work. There are two stories here in particular that I’d like to share. Each cause me to pause and inform the next steps of this work of uncovering patterns of learning and knowledge in this small indigenous community. The two deserve separate entries.
Today, I want to write about my interactions and time with Jose – who from this point forward will be referred to as Chema. Chema is his Tz’utujil name and just these past few days, Carlos (aka Tín) and Pedro (aka Quíc) started referring to their friend as Chema. With the desire to emphasize their primary identity and at their request, I will now call each of them by their Tz’utujil names.
Chema is always an interesting enigma. He is wonderfully generous, polite, and thoughtful. He attends every session and often offers to organize everyone when we schedule events. He has taken many films. I would venture to say he has taken the most films in the group. Contrasting his enthusiasm to work on this project, he often seems hesitant to be first to talk or to take risks with his thoughts and ideas. These last three days have given me a small window into what might partially attribute to these actions.
Chema originally defined his topic as “resources that come from the mountains”. He had decided, or so I thought, to talk about the natural resources in San Juan and their significance to the artisan community. Because of this, I was somewhat confused by the disparate videos that had been capturing. While he has several videos that reflect his topic, he also has many that relate to religious ceremonies.
For example, the first day I returned, Chema wrote to me telling me he needed my help. His memory card was full and he wanted to video a procession that was taking place early in the morning. I had already planned to meet Tín at 1:30 and was not prepared to make is across the lake that early. Instead of my rushing to the launcha and hoping it leaves soon (because it never leaves quickly), I suggested that he borrow Tín’s camera.
I didn’t broach the nature of my confusion on my first day back with him because Chema was in a hurry to get to a Maya ceremony that was taking place in San Pedro (the next town – 20 minutes away). Instead, we talked about our time over the past month – mine while I was in the States and his while in San Juan. The conversation took place for about 30 minutes while we waited for the videos to download. After seeing him the first day and reviewing his films, I talked with Erin (my colleague from Maya Traditions). “I’m not really clear where he is going,” I say to her. She says, “I am not sure either”. I wasn’t worried quite yet.
Chema and I had additional encounters over the last few days. The next was on Saturday – our typical meeting time. It was then that I decided to raise the question about his direction. During our conversation, I leaned toward persuading him to choose one focus. With this approach, I ask him what is most interesting to him and what he feels is important for the world to know about what San Juan is in his eyes. He looks at me somewhat blankly but also with these bright eyes that just sparkle with authentic indecision. Everything, all of it, is important he says. It is, I can see in his stare that everything is important to him and he genuinely is having a hard time deciding. I often have the sense when working with you that learning decisions are difficult because they are typically made for them.
A different thought entered my mind as we continue to tackle this welcomed problem. Maybe, just maybe, I’m trying to simplify the process rather than allow the complexities of the connection to emerge. We explored the possibility of expressing the San Juan of the past and the San Juan of the present and what story there is in this. He likes this idea and decides to go off to video a tour that represents an historical Maya practice within his community.
We will uncover this “past and present” idea more clearly together as we move forward. I am confident about that and at the same time, I realize it is going to be a difficult feat.
I say this as a result of our third interaction on Sunday. Chema and I were sitting together watching the Juego de Pelota Maya (Maya Ball Game) together. He was explaining as much as he could about the game. I loved watching the game, but I was not able to decipher the rules by myself. Chema knew just a little about this and explained as much as he could. You are going to ask those who play, he said. I’m not really sure. But this is a game that is important for you yes? I asked. I thought that I heard you say that you play this in school. He replied, yes, but I don’t like to play it so I don’t understand it fully. This is often the answer that Chema gives. While he attaches himself to his Maya history, he has a surface understanding about the significance of many of the practices. I am curious about how he reconciles the past and present and become enthusiastic about our immanent conversations.
We began discussing the history of the game. Now, my Spanish is still coming along, so I’m not sure that I have this exactly correct, but it goes something like this. There is a female god that is the owner of this game. She loans the balls to the men to allow them to play this game. And in an authentic game play, the women will dance at the game’s conclusion. I do not exactly recall how, but our conversation turned to the hair of one ball player. He was the only one in the group with long hair. Chema said that it was thier custom to have long hair. Curious about his interpretation of this I ask, why don’t you have it anymore? He replies, because the religion does not allow it. I hesitate and consider how I can phrase my adverse reaction to this. Finally I say, do you ever question why they don’t allow it and what that means for your culture? No he says with a nervous laugh and a smile.
No. The brisk and simple answer reverberated in my mind. This response of accepting realities is a one that is common in my interactions with youth – not only here but also in many settings. Accept and absorb and continue to live without challenging or questioning… This, for me, does not sit well and is the opposite of the aim to foster critical consciousness in this learning environment. Chema’s movie – and his learning path – will ostensibly juxtapose past ceremonies and present processions. With this, he will question the historical events that have contributed to this change and what this means for his community. I take this moment to encourage him to think about coming up with questions related to the differences between past and present and the reasons for them. I encourage him to consider what gets lost and what is gained. I begin to conceptualize what the next Saturday session might look like for Chema and for the rest of the group.
We now have several items to center our focus on with Chema. One is the “issues” of his seemingly dissimilar themes, another relates to unpacking how to represent or connect this past present contrast, and finally the third is to generate a curiosity to question what has so far been uncharted questioning of why and so what. It is going to be an exciting journey for the two of us in the coming weeks. We are going to have fun Chema. I’m looking forward to what you uncover about yourself and your identity in this process.