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Patricia McAnany looks at a document

Maya from the Margins builds on longtime cultural heritage work by Kenan Professor of Anthropology Patricia McAnany. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Fourteen high school students listened attentively as UNC anthropologist Gabrielle Vail invited them to examine letters, drawings, photos, diaries, codices, newspapers and other Maya materials from the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library.

“Start thinking about these materials in terms of ‘how can I tell the story of Maya migration?’” Vail said. “Explore them from a historical perspective, but also bring it into the present and think of a personal connection.”

Students receive research instructions at Wilson Library from Gabrielle Vail
Students receive research instructions at Wilson Library from Maya from the Margins project coordinator Gabrielle Vail. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Maya from the Margins is a program that fosters cultural understanding among Maya youth on both sides of the border — Morganton, N.C., and Yucatán, Mexico. Together, the students are exploring their indigenous identity through workshops, online discussions, archival research and visits to their respective countries, where they will meet face-to-face. At the capstone event this spring, both sets of students will develop research projects in English and Spanish that will be on public display.

Gabrielle Vail, Bryan Giemza and Patricia McAnany at the State Archives of Yucatan
From left, Gabrielle Vail, Bryan Giemza and Patricia McAnany at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

On April 13 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., visitors to UNC’s Wilson Library Pleasants Family Assembly Room can enjoy the exchange exhibition “Revitalizing Maya History and Heritage: My View from the Archives,” curated by students from Morganton and Mexico.

The program is funded by a Museums Connect grant, an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the American Alliance of Museums. Partners include the Southern Historical Collection, the UNC department of anthropology and Research Laboratories of Archaeology, and the State Archives of Yucatán. Vail is project coordinator of Maya from the Margins, which builds on longtime cultural heritage work by Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology Patricia McAnany.

“If you look at the changing texture of the South demographically … these students are grappling with all kinds of things, including ‘how can I embrace my past and where I find myself today?’” said Bryan Giemza, director of the SHC, which houses the papers and materials of George E. Stuart (Ph.D. anthropology ’75), a scholar of the ancient Maya whose archaeological career with the National Geographic Society spanned nearly four decades. “They are very insightful; their interpretations are really sophisticated.”

Museums Connect mentor Raina Enrique (senior at UNC-Chapel Hill) with students from the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan at the opening of their exhibit at the State Archives of Yucatan.
Museums Connect mentor Raina Enrique (senior at UNC-Chapel Hill) with students from the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan at the opening of their exhibit at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

Patton High School senior Eduardo Mendoza’s parents traveled from Guatemala to Morganton, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in 1998 looking for better job opportunities. (2010 U.S. Census data indicates a Latino population of 16.4 percent in Morganton, about double the state average.)

Mendoza said he does a lot of online research in school, so he appreciates the exposure to these rare documents.

“You can tell the professors are very passionate about what they do, and I like that I have the opportunity to ask them questions,” he said.

Students outside Robert L. Patton High School
Maya from the Margins students at Patton High School in Morganton, N.C.

It’s also been a great experience for two UNC undergraduate students who serve as mentors. Jacqueline López is a senior pursuing a double major in Latin American studies and public policy. She spent six weeks in Yucatán in 2015 and has been working with the students on learning Yucatec Maya. She will accompany them on their study abroad trip.

“I didn’t start developing the tools to explore my own culture until I arrived at UNC,” said López, a first-generation college student. “To help them do that earlier in their careers has been so rewarding.”

The program has spawned other collaborations that extend beyond the core partners and the campus, McAnany said. Other UNC faculty members have conducted workshops with t

Adonis Tello-Chavez looks at old records in Wilson Library
Adonis Tello-Chavez (above) of Morganton’s Patton High School pores over records in Wilson Library. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

he students at their high school in Morganton, such as associate professor of romance studies Emilio del Valle Escalante, who speaks K’iche’ Maya. The city of Asheville is interested because Valladolid, where the Yucatán students live, is a sister city. Connections have been made with a Maya archaeologist who teaches at UNC-Asheville. High school teachers, church groups and others have pledged their support.

Students at an exhibit in Morganton
The two groups of students (from Patton High School and the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan) had their first opportunity to share their research with each other and the community at an exhibit in Morganton. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

“We are very happy to be working on a project that is building bridges with our neighbors to the south rather than walls,” McAnany said.

By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88

Read more stories about interdisciplinary mashups:

Flight of fancy

“Spork Lab” tackles password security

Creating a buzz about health humanities

High-tech fluids lab attracts waves of research partners

Enjoy more photos from the culmination of the project and the connection between the student groups in Yucatan and Morganton!

 

 


Published in the Spring 2017 issue | Features

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