Some Spanish students received a first-hand experience with the indigenous Mayan culture and its literature over fall break.
Donald Frischmann, a professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies, took a small group of students in his Contemporary Mexican Indigenous Literature class, to the Yucatán Peninsula in Southeast Mexico.
The group met with Mayan authors they have been studying in class, such as Sol Ceh Moo, author of “Día Sin Mancha”.
Along with Sol Ceh Moo, students also met with renowned Mayan poets, Wildernain Villegas Carrillo and Martiniano Pérez Angulo.
Meg Mathews, a senior child development and Spanish major, said meeting with Mayan writers not only provided great insight into their books, but also into a fascinating culture.
“The writers bring in an indigenous mentality of their culture,” she said. “A lot of people think that all Mayans are dead, but they still exist and live in their little towns.”
The experience was surreal, Mathews said, because it allowed for follow-up questions on the authors’ motives of their books.
Caleigh Prewitt, a junior Spanish major, said she was surprised to see how different the Mayan culture was compared to the overall Mexican culture.
“It was incredible to be able to personally experience Mayan ceremonies and learn about a sizable part of the Mexican population that is usually not distinguished or set apart,” Prewitt said.
A big reason why Mathews was interested in going to the Yucatán Peninsula was because of her passion for travel, she said.
“I was missing being around Spanish speakers all the time because I studied abroad in Spain last semester,” she said. “I am interested in the cultural side of the mix of the Mayan and Mexican cultures.”
The trip allowed for Mathews to experience the Mayan culture, and it also fed Prewitt’s desire to live in Mexico later on in her life, she said.
Frischmann is no stranger to the Yucatán Peninsula as he has built long-standing relationships with many Mayan writers and cultural promoters for more than 30 years there, he said.
While working on a research project on contemporary Mayan writers last spring at the Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo, Frischmann said he decided he needed to share his experience in the Yucatán Peninsula with his students.
“It was one of the most natural things in world for me to take a group of students,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The goal of the trip was to make a personal connection with the writers and go beyond what is taught in class, he said.
“An important part to what we did during the four days we were there, was meeting the writers of the course I put together,” Frischmann said. “Meeting the authors in person really made everything real.”
When the group was not meeting with renowned writers, their schedule did allow for trips to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Mayan museum), chocolate tasting at the Cacao Plantation in Uxmal, and relaxing on the white sand beaches of Tulum.
Mathews said her favorite part of the trip was the intercultural student exchange farewell dinner, which was at the local hangout, Pizzería Maná.
At the farewell dinner, students were able to talk about their culture with other students of the school, Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo, and got to play traditional Mayan instruments, she said.
“Classes are great, but the experience of living in the Mayan culture only for a few days was invaluable,” Mathews said.