Issue 16.3, August 2001

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Essay Excerpt

The Maya are claiming to be both the past and future of Guatemala and in turn ladinos are having to adjust their body image, changing the shape of their phantom limb to better fit the new articulations with this prosthetic. In organ- ized seminars and study groups, as well as informal gatherings and conversa- tions in barrooms, beauty salons, and soccer matches, people are discussing that previously unmarked category: ladino body politics, and the new buzz- word, intercultural identity. In an interview with me, Edeliberto Cifuentes, professor of history at the National University, described the bind this puts the ladino in: "What can the ladinos do? Our own identity is suddenly in crisis. In- dians have their own organizations, their organic cultures, and ladinos want to be a part of this, but they have not developed their own project of what the country should be like. We can no longer teach a history that erases difference or talk of a unity that doesn't exist. We do not have a nation yet." Reacting to this challenge to ladino identity in the largest circulation daily newspaper, the editorialist Mario Roberto Morales wrote, "the mestizo is pathetic, an imitator, full of complexes, a schizoid personality. He hates his Indian mother and lives on fantasies of his Spanish father. His is a divided conscience" (1992:24). So in the jokes about technology, which incorporate the mujer Maya to mark lad- ino modernity, black humor about brown women seems to save white people from turning green with envy.

- From Diane Nelson's "Stumped Identities: Body Image, Bodies Politic, and the Mujer Maya as Prosthetic", p328