ISU Student Journeys to United Nations
Spring 2011 Issue | By Giacobazzi Yañez
In February of 2010, I discovered Guatemalan President of the Mayan National Council of Elders, Don Alejandro Cirilo Oxlaj in a documentary project created by Stephen Michael Copeland called "Shift of the Ages." Due for release in 2011, the film tells an inspiring story about Don Alejandro's mission in sharing his message as he travels across the world representing the Mayan nation. His messages of social uplift and Indigenous wisdom had such an intrinsic effect on me that I wanted to fight for the same causes he and other Indigenous cultures face. Little did I know at that time that I would soon be in his presence and at the center of the events that were to take place in New York City.
On Oct. 8, 2010, Don Alejandro addressed the United Nations. I had the privilege of taking part in this historic event, which included two additional Mayan elders, Hunbatz Men and Don Pedro Pablo Chuc Pech, who represent the Yucatan Mexico region of Mayan elders. Also making an appearance was the aboriginal Grand Elder, Bob Randall from Australia.
President of the Mayan Council of the Elders Don Alejandro Cirilo Oxlaj, between his wife Elizabeth Araujo and aboriginal Grand Elder Bob Randall.
Don Alejandro, driven by the Mayan prophecies foretold by his ancestors and their ancient calendars, has been heading up a global movement to unify tribes, spiritual, and Indigenous leaders.
"We the Maya are very much present," said Don Alejandro. At 82, he has been traveling the world for more than 30 years, spreading his message of hope, peace, love for Mother Nature, and, most importantly love for ourselves.
This has not been an easy road for the 13th generation Q'uiche Maya High Priest and for many years now, one of his greatest obstacles is removing the ignorance that the ending of the Mayan long count calendar near December 21, 2012 is not the end of the world. The ancient Mayan calendar is currently in its fifth period of the sun. This is equal to one full cycle of the long count calendar, which is approximately 5,200 years. We are completing this great cycle and beginning of what the Mayans call "the year zero." Don Alejandro made it clear to the audience that they have documentation of the four previous periods of the sun left behind from his ancestors.
With so many people fixed on the idea of death and destruction, it takes personal effort from the elders to explain that their prophecies are not meant to frighten the world. The fear from this general perception has permeated the globe evoking a range of reactions. Hollywood and non-Mayan scholars have much to blame for this negative depiction. The elders voiced out that the end of their calendar signifies a renewal and awakening for humanity.
I was unaware of the elders' visit at the UN until two weeks prior to the date. By chance I heard of this event on a radio program. Instantly I knew I had to attend to see and hear what the Elders had to say to understand their beliefs better. I wanted to conduct my own research and spread their knowledge based on the observations I made. I intended to capture the significance of this invitation for the Elders and what the public response would be. In my pursuit of establishing contacts, I solidified access to the UN with permission to document on video. My next big task was to approach ISU and ask if they would be willing to sponsor my trip. Through my concerted efforts, I gathered support from multiple departments in sponsorship to fund my travel expenses, making this trip possible.
When I arrived I was instantly accepted with open arms from the organizers of the events and liaisons of the Mayan Elders. The days that followed were entwined with serendipitous moments from witnessing these elders speak at the podium to meeting them personally, and exchanging dialogue. Thanks to my parents, who insisted I speak Spanish and understand my Mexican culture, I was able to communicate with the elders sharing a common language without the need of interpreters.
I learned valuable skills and lessons through this experience that broadened my horizons beyond what a textbook or a classroom setting could provide. As an undergraduate major in anthropology with minors in Spanish and mass communications, this experience gave me a new sense of purpose with my education.
Besides gaining much from this professional experience, on a personal level the elders reminded me how easily we forget our role as humans on Earth.
"We must treat this world as caretakers, not owners of the land," Randall said.