Editors Edward F. Fischer and R. McKenna Brown have brought together essays by virtually all the leading U.S. experts on contemporary Maya communities and the top Maya scholars working in Guatemala today. Supplementing scholarly analysis of Mayan cultural activism is a position statement originating within the movement and more wide-ranging and personal reflections by anthropologists and linguists who have worked with the Maya over the years. Among the broader issues that come in for examination are the complex relations between U.S. Mayanists and the Mayan cultural movement, efforts to promote literacy in Mayan languages, the significance of woven textiles and native dress, the relations between language and national identity, and the cultural meanings that the present-day Maya have encountered in ancient Mayan texts and hieroglyphic writing.
Drawing on recent theories from cognitive studies, interpretive ethnography, and political economy, Edward F. Fischer looks at individual Maya activists and local cultures, as well as changing national and international power relations, to understand how ethnic identities are constructed and expressed in the modern world. At the global level, he shows how structural shifts in international relations have opened new venues of ethnic expression for Guatemala's majority Maya population. At the local level, he examines the processes of identity construction in two Kaqchikel Maya towns, Tecpán and Patzún, and shows how divergent local norms result in different conceptions and expressions of Maya-ness, which nonetheless share certain fundamental similarities with the larger pan-Maya project. Tying these levels of analysis together, Fischer argues that open-ended Maya "cultural logics" condition the ways in which Maya individuals (national leaders and rural masses alike) creatively express their identity in a rapidly changing world.