If you want to study Yucatec Maya- Spanish bilingualism in Mexico, you simply cannot overlook the colonial city of Valladolid. This city continues to be one of the centers of Maya cultural and linguistic presence in Mexico, and has been an important part of my summer research trip to the Yucatan. Located 150 km west of Cancun, Valladolid is the third largest city in the state of Yucatan and is a stunningly beautiful colonial style city that has a wonderfully well maintained and preserved historic center.
I made my recent visit with the primary goal of studying the large bilingual population there, but I must admit that the city’s reputation for outstanding cuisine was also a draw.
During my visit to Valladolid I was fortunate enough not only enjoy the local foods, but I also attended a traditional “Vaqueria” which includes a display of Jarana (the traditional folkloric dance of the Yucatan). From a linguistics perspectives, this event was unexpectedly fascinating as the entire narration of the dramatic re-enactment of a traditional festival was in Maya, rather than Spanish. Only knowing a handful of words and expressions in Maya, I was unable comprehend what was being said, but I noticed the vast majority of the audience understood the narration perfectly. Ultimately, I was able to grasp the general idea, thanks to a group of young adults nearby where I was sitting, who translated the spoken narration into Spanish for their one friend who was from out of town. It was a lovely evening and a fantastic display of culture, dance, language and song.
The rest of my time in Valladolid was spent gathering interviews with local residents, many of whom are Maya-Spanish bilinguals. I had been given a helpful bit of advice that simply making my rounds of the square I the middle of the city would prove fruitful. And it most certainly was! I was able to talk to 10 people in just one afternoon. Not only did these individuals talk to me at length about their use of Spanish and Maya but they also happily completed a 2 part questionnaire.
The square in the center of the city, known as “el parque” or “la plaza grande,” was a bustle of activity at different moments throughout the day and afforded me with many opportunities for the observation of language use, language choice and language attitudes. One instance, serves as a great example. I had interviewed a woman who was a vendor in the park. She had a large newsstand from which she sold various snacks, beverages, newspapers and other various items. Our interview had concluded and I was sitting nearby enjoying an ice-cold soda and we were enjoying light conversation when an en elderly mestiza woman approached the stand. The women acknowledged the vender and simply pointed to the cooler of ice containing the sodas. The vendor stepped out from behind her stand to go over to the cooler and began to speak to the elderly woman in Maya and completed the transaction completely in Maya. Later, the vendor explained that as a vendor she needs to be able to communicate with the older population in Maya as they tend to be the individuals who exclusively communicate in Maya. She also made a comment about what she considered to the beauty of the Maya language and how it was nice that still has a place there in the city.
My conversations with this vendor were, of course, very interesting and also encouraging as a researcher of Spanish-Maya bilingualism. I am eager to learn more about bilingualism in this region of Mexico and the attitudes held by the local populations with respect to the use of Maya and Spanish. Considering the very generous, hospital and open reception that I was given by all of the individuals I spoke with, I am confident that my continued efforts will be quite fruitful!
Ian Michalski is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at IU.