Viewpoint by Cynthia M. Herrera
My heritage was mostly unknown to me until my fourth grade summer in 2004.
My grandparents decided all of their children and grandchildren should visit their hometown in Cepeda, Halacho, in the Mexican state of Yucatan.
We came from the land of the Mayans.
For 2 1/2 weeks, my five uncles, their wives, children, my parents and grandparents visited distant relatives. We experienced their way of life.
My grandparents still speak the Mayan language at home.
We slept in a hotel for one night, the day before we returned to the U.S.
After our flight arrived in Merida, Yucatan, we traveled four hours to my grandmother’s town.
The town was curious about us, and many residents passed by where we stayed because visitors weren’t common.
Not all residents are fortunate enough to live in houses.
My great grandma’s house was made of concrete walls and a roof made from palm tree leaves.
They don’t own a phone.
They travel to the nearest convenience store and pay by the minute to use it.
There were turkeys and iguanas walking in the streets like dogs and cats roam our neighborhoods.
They didn’t have plumbing until we visited and installed a toilet because we weren’t used to not having one.
They were grateful enough to own a stove to heat water for showers. They rarely used the stove for food and instead cooked over a fire in a small hole underground.
The men were the first to eat, sitting on the ground by a small table next to their wives while they handmade corn tortillas.
All the meat — chicken and pork — was fresh from the market.
They cooked us fresh iguana like we prepare beef in Texas. It really does taste like beef.
I wouldn’t have known we ate it until I saw the carcass in the kitchen.
We lost about 10 pounds while there. We drank all the water we could find because it was extremely hot.
My U.S. cousins and I constantly opened the refrigerator for the cool air.
The water they drink comes from wells, and we weren’t used to that lifestyle so we bought all the water bottles and water jugs the convenience store sold.
We slept in hammocks with no A/C. It rained every other day, and the high humidity didn’t help.
Our entertainment one night consisted of a fight between a giant roach and tarantula. The tarantula won.
While my northern cousins and I were bored out of our minds during the day, the local children gathered to play with a bicycle tire and a stick.
They gathered in a line and someone rolled the tire and all the kids jumped over it until someone wasn’t able to.
They used a regular tire, sat inside and rolled down the street until they felt nauseated and fell out.
We watched as they made the most of what little they had, and we finally joined in.
There was no language barrier because fun has no language.
As I became closer to my distant cousins, I felt more at home.
I went to school with my cousin. The children go to school to learn, and I’m glad we aren’t disciplined the way they are. If students were not behaving properly or was being disruptive, they were taken to the front of the class and whipped with a ruler.
Instead of spiral notebooks, they used small booklets of graphing paper.
When my parents gave me pesos, the Mexican currency, we went to the convenience store.
Of course, they knew how to use their money wisely while we knew nothing and would come out with fewer snacks and no money left over.
My uncle had recently remarried, and my family decided to have a party for the newlyweds. They bought a pig and killed it to make enough food for what seemed like the whole town.
What we ate was normal for us, but for them, it was luxury.
When we visited Chichén Itzá, we were among the last visitors to climb up the giant pyramid, “El Castillo.” The steps were steep and narrow. Even the room within the pyramid is extremely small.
The hallway up the stairs to the jaguar throne is narrow with barely enough room for two people to pass. It’s humid and will make you sweat through your shirt.
The view from the top of the pyramid is incredible.
The architecture is beautiful with all the chiseled artwork along the walls of the temples, courts and observatory.
Just like the small town of my great grandmother is overlooked, so are the Mayans.
They didn’t just disappear. Many just advanced themselves to create a better life.
They found jobs in big cities where thousands of tourists visit yearly.
Like my grandparents, who migrated to the U.S., they tried to make a better living for their families. If it weren’t for my grandparents deciding to live in the U.S., my mother wouldn’t have met my dad and I wouldn’t be who or where I am today.
A Mayan in a new land.