Mayan Pupils Allowed to Wear Traditional Attire
-- 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.
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.
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
The accords ended
36 years of civil war between the Government and
leftist rebels, in which an estimated 200,000 mostly Mayan peasants