I am ending my first, very long day in Guatemala, which began at 4:45 this morning, when I caught a chicken bus to Cajolá, a Mayan town in the mountains on the outskirts of Xela. Yesterday I was in Providence, this morning I left a Mayan Mam ceremony with blood on my pants from a chicken sacrifice and a stomach content with tamales. The adventure has begun! At this link I will be posting stories about my encounters this summer, but first here's an overview and background of my project:
There are over 200 community radio stations in Guatemala that broadcast in 23 languages for the country's indigenous people, which constitute half of Guatemala's population. Guatemala's 36-year civil war saw the deaths of 200,000 Mayans, ending in 1996 with Peace Accords that called for the allocation of radio channels for the repressed indigenous communities. But the Telecommunications law approved after the Peace Accords negated such a guarantee, and legal bandwidth frequencies were auctioned off at unaffordable prices, making their purchase impossible for many of the recovering Mayan communities.
Despite this, Mayan groups are using local technology to usurp unused bandwidth, using the radio as a developmental tool to unite and strengthen their communities and cultures. Although technically illegal, these radio stations are well-known as central means of communication within their towns. But their unauthorized, "pirate" status put them at constant risk of being raided and shut down, especially if they interfere with the frequencies of other commercial stations.
Currently, efforts toward legalization of community radio are being taken by the National Community Media Movement of Guatemala, comprised of around 80 community radio stations, and the Maya Organization Council of Guatemala, as they strive to implement the "non-discrimination principle in the usage of media” that the Peace Accords called for. However Bill #4087, which proposes to change the discriminatory telecommunications law, remains in congress without significant attention or advancement for the past 3 years.
Through the funding of the Brown International Scholars Program I am performing ethnographic research on community radio, recording my experience with a film documentary. I am working with "La X Musical" in Cajolá, Xela, a low-budget station run by Mayan priests that broadcast programs in their native language of Mam. I am also involved with "La Doble Via," a station in San Mateo, Xela comprised of youth indigenous rights advocates whose programs strive to open dialogue about a variety of topics like politics, gender equality, environmental awareness, indigenous culture, and history. Additionally, I will be attending community radio workshops hosted by Muj'b ab'l yol, a nonprofit organization for the democratization of mass media and the legalization of community radio in Guatemala.
My project examines the impact of community radio as a means of revitalizing Mayan spirituality, language, and culture, while simultaneously promoting development, education, and equality. I will examine how listeners and programmers integrate discourses of indigenous rights activism and cultural revitalization into current notions of Mayan identity.