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Good Maya Women: Migration and Revitalization of Clothing and Language in Highland Guatemala
by Joyce N. Bennett
University of Alabama Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-8173-2116-1 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-9389-2
Library of Congress Classification F1465.2.C3B46 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.488974220728

Analyzes the forced migration of Maya women from highland Guatemala and their turn toward language and Indigenous clothing in their homeland
Good Maya Women: Migration and Revitalization of Clothing and Language in Highland Guatemala analyzes how Indigenous women’s migration contributes to women’s empowerment in their home communities in Guatemala. This decolonial ethnographic analysis of Kaqchikel Maya women’s linguistic and cultural activism demonstrates that marginalized people can and do experience empowerment and hope for the future of their communities, even while living under oppressive neoliberal regimes. Joyce N. Bennett contests dominant frameworks of affect theory holding that marginalized peoples never truly experience unrestricted hope or empowerment, and she contributes new understandings of the intimate connections between Indigenous women, migration, and language and clothing revitalization.
Based on more than twenty months of fieldwork, the study begins with an ethnographic investigation of how economic policies force Indigenous women into migration for wage work. To survive, many, like the three young women profiled in this ethnography, are forced to leave their schooling, families, and highland homes to work in cities or other countries. They might work, for example, as vendors, selling crafts to tourists, or as housekeepers or waitresses. Their work exposes them to structural violence, including anti-Indigenous slurs, sexual harassment and violence, and robbery.
Furthermore, the women are pressured to wear Western clothing and to speak Spanish, which endangers Indigenous culture and language in Guatemala. Yet the Indigenous migrant women profiled do not abandon their Indigenous clothing and language, in this case Kaqchikel Maya. Instead, they find inspiration and pride in revitalizing Kaqchikel traditions in their hometowns post-migration. As women attempt to revitalize Kaqchikel Maya language and clothing, they seek to earn the title of “good” women in their home communities.
Unpacking women’s daily activisms reveals that women attempt to retain their language and clothing and also collectively seek to make space for Indigenous people in the modern world. Bennett reveals that women find their attempts at revitalization to be personally empowering, even when their communities do not support them.

See other books on: Cakchikel Indians | Clothing | Guatemala | Migration | Return migration
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