Over the course of five days in January 2023, digital activists and their communities, as well as speakers of Mayan languages, gathered in Merida, Mexico for the Summit of Mayan Languages Digital Activism. The main purpose of this event was to create a space to celebrate the accomplishments related to the use of the Internet, digital media, and technology to promote Mayan languages in digital spaces, but also to strengthen peer learning networks to collectively reflect on the challenges at hand for these languages online, and how to collaborate together.
The Summit was a part of the project Mayan Languages Digital Activism (ADLM is its acronym in Spanish) implemented by the Rising Voices initiative of Global Voices, with the support of the W.K.Kellogg Foundation. The Summit provided activities for everyone, including children, the 2022 cohort of ADLM Fellows, emerging digital activists, and community members, all of whom showed interest to become more involved in this movement.
Hosted by the Grand Museum of the Mayan World, the event focused on the role that digital activism plays in promoting and revitalizing Mayan languages across Southern Mexico and beyond. While the event took place in the Yucatán Peninsula region of Mexico where Yucatec Maya can be found, the event sought to include all languages of the Mayan family, including Tsotsil, Tsetsal, Ch’ol, and more that can be heard across Mesoamerica. Participants arrived from the Mexican states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatán, as well as from Guatemala and Belize.
Starting in May 2022, ten candidates from the Mexican state of Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula, were selected to join the inaugural class of Digital Activism Fellows. Over the next nine months, they participated in a peer learning network by attending monthly virtual meetings featuring guest speakers, and taking part in the process of agenda-building, and sharing experiences and skills. They also received a stipend to run a community-based digital activism project with the aim of supporting the needs of their community and involving them throughout the process.
The Summit was the first time the Fellows came together in person to share the ups and the downs of running a project, which was a learning experience in itself. During the two-day gathering, they reflected on the experience of implementing their projects, planned for future activities, and shared what motivated them to apply for the Fellowship in the first place.
Digital activism workshop
For the first time, the workshop “Strengthening your language on the internet through digital activism” was offered in an in-person setting at the Summit. This format provided a more interactive dynamic that allowed participants to better learn from one another, and share their perspectives face-to-face.
Beyond understanding how to use specific tools to create Indigenous-language content, the workshop encouraged participants to take a step back to reflect on motivations, resources, and skills they want to develop, and to plan for digital activism for their language. Incorporating elements of the Indigenous Language Digital Activism Toolkit, a resource being created by Rising Voices in partnership with UNESCO, the two-day workshop presented a series of tactics aimed at helping participants reflect on personal strategies and motivations for their digital activism. Built as a roadmap rather than a recipe, the toolkit provides examples of similar projects or campaigns, allowing participants to better focus on their own path taking into consideration their local context.
Led by co-facilitators Miriam Hernández, a Ch’ol speaker from Chiapas and Cecilia Tuyuc, a Kaqchikel speaker from Guatemala, the workshop also featured Genner Llanes-Ortiz, the lead researcher from the toolkit project. More than 25 participants took part from across the Peninsula, including a group of Maya-speaking students from the Eastern University in the city of Valladolid.
Juana Pinzon, a Maya-speaker from the community of Mesatunich in the Yucatán Peninsula observed, “The workshop […] helped me to imagine and strengthen my abilities and my desire to continue in the struggle to revalue and rescue the Mayan language within my community. [It] allowed me to meet more people who provided me with motivation and gave me the confidence to do something to rescue my language.”
Hip hop workshop
The Summit also offered an opportunity for cross-regional and cross-cultural exchanges. Thanks to a partnership with the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, a workshop called “Linguistic revitalization and representation through hip hop and audiovisuals” brought together the Canada-based group N’we Jinan, which has been working with First Nations youth to create their own music and videos as a means of cultural expression. Facilitators from that group, Butta Beats and Skye Spence collaborated with local hip hop artist Killbeat, as well as Diana Ek and Pedro Dzidz from the collective Fototeca Tuzik’.
Resultado del taller de hip hop donde colaboramos con artistas de Merida y Canada, en el marco de la Cumbre de Activismo Digital en Lenguas Mayenses 2023 llevada a cabo en Merida, Yucatán del 11 al 14 de enero. #ADLM23 #fototecatuzik #granmuseodelmundomayademerida
For many of the students, this was their first time visiting the Gran Museo, which provided a personal tour of the exhibits. Afterwards, the students entered the Mayamax theater to the sound of hip hop music, and were invited to explore their language and culture through the arts. They learned about beatmaking, lyric-writing, and photography, and ended the day by showcasing their own creations in each of these skills.
During the weeks leading up to the public conference on January 13-14, there was an open call for participants to propose sessions, workshops and panels. The majority of the conference was led by speakers of Mayan languages who had the opportunity to share their work with a wider audience.
Keynote speakers included Llanes-Ortiz, who gave a preview of the toolkit project; Ezer May May, who spoke about Maya representation in the media; Maria Elisa Chavarrea Chim from the Secretariat of Culture, who talked about their work of promoting Mayan languages; and Andrés ta Chikinib, who shared his digital activism for the Tsotsil language.
Panels covered topics that included online platforms for teaching and learning Mayan languages, creating conditions for digital activism to take place, and how issues like mental health and financial literacy are being produced in Mayan languages online. Presenters shared their work with stickers in Maya, the creation of a linguistic corpus of the Maya Language that can be used for machine learning, research into the need for digital security resources in the Maya Kaqchikel language, and Wikipedia projects in Mayan languages. Workshops taught how to make digital maps and simple web apps for creating Indigenous language content.
Two online programs promoting the Maya language, Radio Yúuyum and Chóoltej of the Miatsil Kuxtal Cultural Center, broadcasted live from the Summit, where they interviewed Fellows and other participants about their work. The ADLM Fellows also shared presentations about their projects, to the great delight and encouragement of the audience.
Programa Especial – Cumbre de Activismo Digital de Lenguas Mayenses
Ba’ax meyajil taak a beetik wa a kanik ka’achij 🤔
Posted by Miatsil Kuxtal Centro Cultural on Friday, January 13, 2023
An essential element of the public conference was the availability of Maya/Spanish interpretation provided by Maaya Kaambal. The event ended with the group San Pedro Chimay’s presentation of the traditional Mayan game Pok ta Pok.
Summoning the power of visual arts to raise online awareness of linguistic diversity, the Summit featured an exhibit called “Arte-vismo,” which invited Mayan illustrators across Mexico and Central America to submit pieces for exhibit during the Summit. A group of judges selected three winners, with another 15 receiving honorable mention – all of which were selected to be displayed.
Through a collaboration with respected Maya language teacher Teresa Pool Ix, who organized a dialogue at the Casa de Cultura in the community of Conkal outside of Merida, the Fellows had the opportunity to meet and share their work with community members, many of whom recounted their own experiences of being denied the right to speak their language. As everyone shared tamales and empanadas, food typical of the area, community members encouraged the Fellows to continue their work.
#ADLM2023 Hoy cierre de encuentro de activistas digitales en #Conkal
Felicidades a los becarios y organizadores de @ActLenguas@ajtuukul @AyookMarco @lussasil @lorenzoitza y muchos más pic.twitter.com/YLbb1ov7SJ
— LunaMaya (@fatimatecpool) January 15, 2023
Juana Díaz, a Tsotsil speaker who was representing the organization Nenemi Paxia, said the summit inspired and motivated her: “It encourages us a lot as a project, because you realize that there are many more people working on the same thing, and you get to share similar achievements and difficulties…you identify with their experiences. This Summit allows us to form collaborative networks to strengthen the work [being] done. It has been a cultivated seed that if cared for, will generate great fruits.”
Maya-speaker and cultural promoter Vicente Canché Móo added, “It gave us the opportunity to meet other people and strengthen our soul; many times we think we are alone in our work, but it was gratifying to see that in other places and in other languages or variants, there are people working hard and with more experience who can direct and help us.”
Please visit Rising Voices’ Instagram to see story highlights from the Summit.
Global Voices thanks additional sponsors and allies, such as the Spanish Cultural Center in Mexico and the National Institute of Indigenous Languages of Mexico, for their support. Rising Voices is currently preparing another round of virtual workshops for Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula, which will be followed by an open call for participation in the 2023 round of Fellows, with the aim of hosting another Summit in Chiapas in early 2024. To keep abreast of these developments, please subscribe to our monthly Spanish-language newsletter, “G’ichin” or follow us on Twitter (@ActLenguas).