Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Kaqchikel Language, Culture, and Art in New Orleans

October 15th, 2012

This fall 2012 is the second year Maya Language Scholar, Ixnal (Ambrocia Cuma Chavez) has come to Tulane University to teach Kaqchikel Maya language to students. Sponsored in part through a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant to Tulane’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Ixnal is here thanks to her work in the Oxlajuj Aj Summer Kaqchikel Language institute, directed by Dr. Judith Maxwell. The program just celebrated its 25th year this past summer and continues to provide resources to learn about the Maya through language.

Kaqchikel, one of the principal Mayan languages, is spoken by more than half a million people in highland Guatemala. The region’s long traditions of language and literature, including texts from the 16th Century, continue today as new works in modern Kaqchikel are published in ever-growing numbers. Efforts to preserve and protect the language are playing a pivotal role in the Mayan struggle to regain control over their political and cultural destiny.

Ixnal lives in Santa María de Jesús , Sacatepequez, Antigua, Guatemala where she is a sociolinguist and teacher researching and providing workshops on unique elements of Maya culture. She has worked on a national plan to promote social education for children through the United Nations in Antigua. She is a lead consultant on the development of textbooks and teaching of Kaqchikel Maya. She creates guides for schools on how to support Bilingual Education. She has worked with teachers and schools on the development of tools for teaching in Kaqchikel Maya. While in New Orleans, Ixnal is not only teaching Kaqchikel to Tulane students on campus. She is also visiting local K-12 schools and public libraries to introduce New Orleans children and teachers to Kaqchikel Maya through song. She also shares indigenous perspectives on the benefits of natural herbs and the preservation of our environment, an important concern for those of us living in the Gulf South fighting to preserve the wetlands. Ixnal’s sister is also helping to bring lessons of the Maya into the community.

Regina Cuma Chávez is Ixnal’s sister. She is a sociolinguist, spiritual leader, and coordinator at the Center of Maya Culture and Art. She is a specialist on interpreting the symbols found in Maya weavings. Her recently published book entitled Una Luz en el Fluir de la Vida discusses the symbols found in Maya clothing. She organizes women weavers around the country to sell special handmade products representing every region of Guatemala. She is in charge of this large women’s weaving collective selling their products around the world and bringing social equity and justice to indigenous women throughout Guatemala.

This fall, both Regina and Ixnal will be in Central City New Orleans on Saturday, October 13 for the Oretha Castle Haley Latin Art Market and on Sunday, October 14 at the annual ¡Celebración Latina! at the zoo. They will be displaying the work of the collective at both festivals as well as selling specially made products representing their visit from Guatemala last year. Regina and other women in the collective crafted New Orleans’ oriented fleur de lis products to symbolize her experience visiting New Orleans. There will be a weaving demonstration at the Latin Art Market as well.

For more information, please contact the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at 504.862.3143 or