When I first came to San Pedro La Laguna in 2008 to learn Spanish, there were 37 Mayan dialects still in use across Guatemala, Southern Mexico, and parts of Belize and Honduras. I remember being told that a few of them were only spoken by one or two people. As I spent more time here, I became aware of other cultural changes. While the local dialect, Tz’utujil, is till spoken by most Pedranos, Spanish is dominant, and many young people, influenced by tourists, television, and the internet, are rejecting the language as well as other parts of the traditional culture. When I came here in late 2005 to refresh my Spanish and to set the groundwork for this project, I learned that there were only 27 Mayan dialects still spoken. Today, just over two years later, there are 22.
I am an artist and a photographer. My orientation is visual. Therefore, my initial desire was to document the elder generation in photographs while wearing their traditional clothing. At the same time, I was looking for a way to give back, to do something with my art to benefit people less fortunate than I. I thought that a book filled with photographs of these handsome and photogenic people would sell well to tourists, and that I could then donate the money back to the community to help the newest generation. In the end, even though the book will likely still be sold to tourists, this project has become less about extranjeros and more about Pedranos. This book is for the people of San Pedro, to document the elder generation and to connect them to the younger.
We interviewed 52 people, all of whom are included in the book. With a very few exceptions, all the interviews were conducted in Tz’utujil by the tireless and hard working Juan González Chavajay, who then transcribed them into Spanish. René Lopez Isidro then edited that transcript for length and content, always attempting to stay true to the words and sentiments of the person being interviewed. After grammatical revision and more editing by María Teresa González Mendez, I translated the result into English, and Juan into Tz’utujil. While the words may not always be precisely those spoken by the interviewee, we feel they accurately represent what was said, and hope that, collectively, these interviews and photographs paint a picture of San Pedro’s elder generation and convey their stories and wishes to its youth.
It has been an honor and a privilege to do this work. Thank you for welcoming me into your community and into your homes.