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There are an estimated 7 million Maya living in this area at the start of the 21st century.[1] Ethnic Maya of Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras have managed to maintain substantial remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the majority hispanicized Mestizo cultures of the nations in which they reside, while others continue a more traditional culturally distinct life, often speaking one of the Maya languages as a primary language.

The largest populations of contemporary Maya inhabit Guatemala, Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador, as well as large segments of population within the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas.

Yucatec Maya

The largest group of modern Maya can be found in Mexico's Yucatán state and the neighboring states of Campeche and Quitana Roo. They commonly identify themselves simply as "Maya" with no further ethnic subdivision (unlike in the Highlands of Western Guatemala). They speak the language which anthropologists term "Yucatec Maya", but is identified by speakers and Yucatecos simply as "Maya". Among Maya speakers Spanish is commonly spoken as a second or first language. There is a significant amount of confusion as to the correct terminology to use—Maya or Mayan—and the meaning of these words with reference to contemporary or precolumbian peoples, to Mayan peoples in different parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and to languages or peoples. Linguists refer to Maya (language) as Yucatec or Yucatec Maya to disambiguate any confusion with other Mayan languages. This norm has often been misinterpreted to mean that the people are also called Yucatec Maya, but that term only refers to the language and the correct name for the people is simply Maya (not Mayans). Maya is one language in the Mayan language family. Thus, to refer to Maya as Mayans would be similar to referring to Americans as Germanics because they speak a language belonging to the Germanic language family.[2] Further, confusion of the term Maya/Mayan as ethnic label occurs because Maya women who use traditional dress auto identify by the ethnic term mestiza and not Maya.[3] As well, persons use a strategy of ethnic identitification that Juan Castillo Cocom refers to as "ethnoexodus"—meaning that ethnic self-identification as Maya is quite variable, situational, and articulated not to processes of producing group identity but of escaping from discriminatory processes of sociocultural marginalization.

The Yucatán's indigenous population was first exposed to Europeans after a party of Spanish shipwreck survivors came ashore in 1511. One of the sailors, Gonzalo Guerrero, is reported to have started a family and taken up a position of counsel among a local polity near present-day Chetumal. Later Spanish expeditions to the region were led by Córdoba in 1517, Grijalva in 1518 and Cortés in 1519. From 1528 to 1540, several attempts by Francisco Montejo to conquer the Yucatán failed. His son Francisco de Montejo the Younger fared almost as badly when he first took over: while desperately holding out at Chichen Itza, he lost 150 men in a single day.[6] European diseases, massive recruitment of native warriors from Campeche and Champoton, and internal hatred between the Xiu Maya and the lords of Cocom eventually turned the tide for Montejo the Younger and consequently resulted in the fall of Chichen Itza by 1570.[6] In 1542, the western Yucatán peninsula also surrendered to him.

Historically, the population in the eastern half of the peninsula was less affected by and less integrated with Hispanic culture than that of the western half. Today in the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexican States of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo) between 750,000 and 1,200,000 people speak Mayan. However three times more than that do not speak their native language but are from Maya origins and hold ancient Maya

last names, such as Ak, Can, Chan, Be, Cantun, Canche, Chi, Chuc, Coyoc, Dzib, Dzul, Ehuan, Hoil, Hau, May, Tamay, Ucan, Pool, Zapo, etc.

Matthew Restall, in his book The Maya Conquistador,[7] mentions a series of letters sent to the King of Spain in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The noble Maya families at that time signed documents to the Spanish Royal Family; surnames mentioned in those letters are Pech, Camal, Xiu, Ucan, Canul, Cocom, and Tun, among others.

A large 19th century revolt by the native Maya people of Yucatán (Mexico), known as the Caste War of Yucatán, was one of the most successful modern Native American revolts; results included the temporary existence of the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz, recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire.

Francisco Luna-Kan was elected governor of the state of Yucatán from 1976 to 1982. Luna-Kan was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and he was a Doctor of medicine, then a Professor of Medicine before his political offices, his first being overseer of the state's rural medical system. He was the first Governor of in the modern Yucatán Peninsula, from a full Maya background. Currently there are dozens of politicians including Deputies, Majors and Senators from a full or mixed Maya heritage from the Yucatán Peninsula.

According to the National Institute of Geography and Informatics (Mexico's INEGI) in Yucatán State there were 1.2 million of Mayan speakers in 2009, representing 59.5% of the inhabitants.[9] Due to this, the cultural section of the government of Yucatán began to give on-line classes for grammar and proper pronunciation of Maya.

Maya People from Yucatán Peninsula living in the United States of America have been organizing Maya language lessons and Maya cooking classes since 2003 in California and other states: clubs of Yucatec Maya[11] are registered in Dallas and Irving, Texas; Salt Lake City in Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; and California, with groups in San Francisco, San Rafael, Chino, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, San Fernando Valley and Whittier.

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Last changed: Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 1:31 pm

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