Mayan Language Institute: Salem Sanfilippo Solindas Student Profile

Interview by Emma Kainz 

Salem Sanfilippo Solindas is going into his second year as a Masters student in Indigenous studies at University of Kansas. He is originally from Missouri and is passionate linguistics. Salem speaks English, Spanish and German and has been studying Kaqchikel since 2020, he also attended the Mayan Language Institute in the summer of 2021. Salem is interested in poetry (both writing and reading), comics, film history and art. 


Why did you decide to participate in the Mayan Language Institute? 
I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from native speakers, and to be able to immerse myself in the language and culture here in Guatemala.

What have you learned from this experience that was unexpected? 
The food is amazing! I’ve loved everything I have eaten here so far. 

Do you think the Mayan Language Institute will have an impact on your future? How? 
Oh, yes, definitely. I’ve fallen in love with Guatemala. This is my first time here but definitely won’t be my last. My Kaqchikel has improved so much which will affect what I do with it in the future. I would really love to do translations of poems and literature in Kaqchikel. I want to help to make Kaqchikel art more accessible and Kaqchikel language information more accessible to the community. 

Share with us an anecdote from these past weeks/days. It can be something that condensed the learning experience, or a memorable experience you had with your peers, professors or the community. 
On a trip to Panajachel, my teacher Ixnal and I walked through a market together. Entirely in Kaqchikel, we discussed the earrings for sale in different stalls, sharing our personal tastes and telling stories. It was an incredible feeling, being able to express myself entirely in my target language even in very specific subjects. 



The Mayan Language Institute is a 6-week program to train students in either Kaqchikel or K’iche’ Maya, two of the most widely-spoken Mayan languages in Iximulew (Guatemala) today. The program is sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies at Vanderbilt University. Thanks to the collaboration between U.S. American faculty and Maya teachers, participants can study at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced levels of either language. The program’s highly individualized classes combine language immersion activities, lectures, one-on-one conversations, guest speakers and cultural excursions. If you are interested in learning more about the Mayan Language Institute or other Summer Programs click here