UADY student barred from pursuing degree in native tongue

James Sarao Cauich / Facebook
James Sarao Cauich / Facebook

After completing his research protocols, then-student James Sarao Cauich intended to pursue his degree work in Mayan, his native language, but professors from the Autonomous University of Yucatán (UADY) said no.

The professors argued that it makes no sense to write something that “nobody is going to read,” according to the newspaper La Jornada Maya.

That, Sarao said, is evidence of a discriminatory academic system. In Yucatán, no degree work or exam has been presented in the Mayan language, despite the fact that a considerable number of students of Maya heritage are enrolled.

On the Peninsula, Yucatec Maya was spoken for thousands of years before Spanish was imposed on its inhabitants. The original language was banned for centuries and codices were famously burned by colonizers.

But the language survives. One in three Yucatecans — about 575,700 people — speak Mayan and it is mandated to be taught in public schools.

Sarao maintains that the instance is an example of Eurocentrism that prevails in academia.

“I think that for reasons of practicality they create these guidelines, but they are not considering that we exist,” he stated. “Students who want to build other types of theories from our own disciplines, from our own identity.”

Now working as a Mayan language teacher and lives in Mococha, Sarao sees evidence that there are more efforts to reverse that notion and while bureaucratic rigidity is softening, although discrimination continues to exist.

“At this point, students should have the right to present their degree work in their own language, and there should be training in the Mayan language for teachers. It is understood that not all of them have Mayan as their mother tongue, but they should have the obligation to learn it,” said Sarao.

Universities that allow degree programs to exist in native languages, he explained, are intercultural.

“There is a potential for Mayan speakers to make themselves understood, to explain their own concerns, to do so from their own terms and to explore the communities’ own knowledge systems, in their native language in order to reinforce their identity,” he said.

Source: La Jornada Maya

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