chapter  2
36 Pages

Social Categories in Yucatán

The social categorization of the Mayas of Yucatan in general is a complex affair. Scholars who study the Mayas often contribute to this complexity. Many have studied the Maya culture, but few have tried to answer the above mentioned question on self-identification. Many local, national, and foreign anthropologists unreflectively misrep­ resent the self-categorization of the Maya and non-Maya population of Yucatan (see for instance Kintz 1990, Daltabuit et al. 1 9 8 8 ).1 They seem to share habitual and accepted ways of thinking, writing and speaking about the Mayas and of separating Maya culture from the rest of society. One group of researchers refuse to use the terms “M aya,” “ indigenous,” and “ ethnic.” Instead, they choose the term “peasants” (campesinos) or ‘rural proletarians.’ Accordingly they stress the importance of the economic organization and the political rela­ tions of the Yucatecan communities (Anda Vela 1984, Banos Ramirez 1989, Warman 1985), thus expressing an explicit opinion on the living conditions of the social groups and their self-categorization. Without addressing the problem itself, another group of scholars increase confusion in the already complex social categorization of the Mayas. In order to classify non-Indians they adopt the word ladino which is used in Chiapas and Guatemala, but unknown in Yucatan. This is the solution chosen by Robert D. Stearns (1983 ; 1986), Victoria Reifler Bricker (1981) and Nelson Reed (1964). Obviously, we do need ana­ lytic concepts to distinguish social stratification, but I contend that the choice of ladino is unlucky, since it is also used by Guatemalans to

denote a social category which does not refer to a group of people equivalent to any non-Maya in Yucatan. A third group of anthro­ pologists uses the term “Maya Indians” irrespective of the fact that it is an obsolete colonial invention not used today (Elmendorf 1976 and Press 1975 ; see Bonfil Batalla 1972 for a historical discussion of the term). A fourth group accepts “mestizo” as the self-categorization of the Maya ethnic population in the area consisting of the state of Yucatan, but in the search for the “ O ther” ethnic group, they oppose it to catrin-the descendants of Hispanic forebears and ex-mestizos (Holmes 1978 , Thompson 1974: 13). To avoid further textual con­ fusion I shall use quotation marks to distinguish the Yucatecan “mestizo” (used since the 1850s) from the mestizo in the conventional M exican and Latin American use of the term.