Fulbright grant to help Tracy record Mayan oral history Ramsey Tracy, Ph.D., Local 2278 (WOUFT) member and Assistant Professor of Spanish at Western Oregon University is fulfilling her dream of researching and sharing the oral traditions of the contemporary Maya in Mexico, after being awarded a second Fulbright research grant. Tracy began the “Caste War Cultural Archive” project in 2007, and has interviewed some 30 individuals. She is currently working on a book which details the events and effects of the Caste War in Mexico (1847-1901), as told from the Mayan perspective. In September, Tracy will use the grant to travel to the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, where descendants of the rebel forces still reside, to continue her interviews with Mayan elders and to record Caste War-related stories passed down through the generations. According to Tracy, time is of essence to preserve the oral traditions of the Maya. “I feel strongly that we must record this oral history now,” said Tracy. “Mayan elders are dying off, and with the amount of development the younger generation is leaving the area to find jobs in the coastal towns. Mayan language is in danger, and so is the story telling tradition. It’s the plight of all indigenous people.” Tracy began her research on the Caste War while studying for her Master’s in Spanish at Colorado State University. She utilizes video as another medium to preserve oral history. “Although this conflict has been studied in the past, linguistic limitations and the
Ramsey Tracy, Ph.D., during a 2009 visit to Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Tracy)
interests of past researchers have allowed the Mayan side of the story, still vibrant and very much alive, to be excluded from or limited in the current historical record,” said Tracy. “This study seeks to open up new avenues for these voices from the past to be heard in hopes of creating a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes and experiences which shaped this formative conflict while these stories are still able to be told,” she said.
According to Tracy, the Maya waged “the longest and most successful indigenous insurrection in all of post-colonial Latin America.” In 1847, after centuries of oppression by those of Spanish descent, or European born, including forced privatization of the land and indentured servitude, the indigenous Maya population in the Yucatan peninsula began a quest for freedom. The Caste War officially ended in 1901, and forever changed
the Maya and the region they call home. “The Maya are still alive and have so much to share,” said Tracy. “The ancient Maya are interesting, but the contemporary Maya have a lot to offer, she said. “I fear of what will happen if we lose the connection of what the Maya know—such as how to work the land. And, they must teach the young generations what they know, or all will be lost.” Tracy’s passion for the Mayan language and culture began at age 17, when she read a 16th century book of Mayan poetry, Popol Vuj, translated by Dennis Tedlock. “I knew then that I wanted to translate indigenous languages, so others could see their multilevel meanings. I’ve never grown bored, or changed my mind,” she said. “Mayan language is a multi-level of communications completely different from western language,” said Tracy. “The Maya are more intuitive than our culture, and in tune with their environment. The current messages we hear in the media of renewing our commitment and responsibility of restoring balance between material things and the environment, embodies the Mayan way of life.” Tracy holds a BA from Eastern Michigan University, in Latin American History and Spanish with departmental honors in history. She has studied the Mayan language since 2004, and was recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research Grant. She obtained her Ph.D. in 2009 from Tulane University, in New Orleans, LA.