The New York Times
April 8, 1999

Mayan Pupils Allowed to Wear Traditional Attire

          By REUTERS

          GUATEMALA CITY -- In a victory for Guatemala's Mayan
          Indians, education officials said Wednesday that two students
          could wear traditional dress after a school threatened to expel them for
          refusing to wear its uniform.

          "This is a very important precedent that will encourage other Mayan
          students to exercise their rights to express their ethnic identity," said
          Rosalina Tuyuc, a Mayan congresswoman for the opposition Democratic
          Front for the New Guatemala.

          Claudia Tux Tum, 17, and Virginia Guadalupe Toj, 22, two Quiche
          Mayan women, had been warned by school officials in the mountainous
          western city of Quetzaltenango, about 65 miles west of Guatemala City,
          to wear the school's uniform or face expulsion. The students refused and
          some teachers barred them from classes.

          But Education Minister Arabella Castro, under pressure from Mayan
          groups, ordered faculty members from the Western National School of
          Commercial Sciences on Monday to allow the students to attend all
          classes in their traditional dress, saying the measure discriminated against
          the women's ethnic identity.

          Ms. Tuyuc, who wears her traditional Kaqchikel dress in Congress, said
          that many Mayan students across Guatemala face similar bans against
          wearing traditional clothes in the schoolroom, but that most abide by the
          rules for fear of retaliation or falling behind academically.

          Senior education officials said they regretted the incident and that it never
          should have happened.

          Since long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the
          Americas in the 15th century, Mayan women have worn the colorful
          embroidered blouses called huipiles as a badge of identity.

          But for centuries Mayans have suffered from poverty and discrimination
          at the hands of Guatemala's minority European-descended population in
          this country of 11 million.

          Under the 1996 peace accords, Guatemalans will vote on May 16 in a
          referendum on a package of 50 constitutional reforms. These include
          recognition of the rights of Indians to speak Mayan dialects and wear
          traditional dress.

          The accords ended 36 years of civil war between the Government and
          leftist rebels, in which an estimated 200,000 mostly Mayan peasants
          were killed.