So I finally made it back to Cancun after many years. As a child, I always loved having a variety of stories with which to regale my white-bread Ohio friends, as my dad's family is from Central/South America and I had ample opportunity to experience many things not usually available to a typical Midwesterner. My aunt has lived in Cancun my entire life, and I consider my many trips to visit her some of the best experiences of my life. However, as I grew older and the rigors of my father's profession made travel more difficult to coordinate, I went on a 10 year long hiatus from visiting my family in Mexico.
Sadly, the primary reason for my recent journey is that both of my grandparents are about to die. It was wonderful to get a chance to visit with them one last time, and throughout the trip I could not help but ponder many of life's biggest questions, as the vibrant vivacity of the Zona Hotelera intermingled with the hard, cold truth of the end of life in my head. On one hand, I was immersed in a commercial ecstasy of tourist delight, surrounded by gorgeous, interesting women and men with excellent stories to tell from all over the world. But on the other, I felt more apart of my father's rather intense family than ever before. More generally, I began to feel a sense of belonging with hispanic culture, as I identified similarities between the odd juxtaposition of feelings I was feeling within and the trademark emotionality of Mexican expression. But at this point, my journey was incomplete, as I had not visited my favorite place in the world yet, and I knew that more was to come.
As a child, my times spent at Chichen Itza, or "at the mouth of the well of the Itza", played a critical role in how I came about my desire for a spiritual existence. The stories of decorated warriors fighting battles on the ball court only for the losers to lose their heads still fascinate me to this day, as I still seek to learn more about one of the first cultures to adopt a calendar, a numerical system, and a writing schema. Something I was previously unaware of is that Chichen represents an interesting crossroads in Mayan culture, as one half of the ruins are pure Mayan, whereas the central pyramid and spiritual complex is a result of the Mayan alliance with the Toltecs, a warrior people from further inland.
Here is the best photo I took all trip, as a gathering storm served as the perfect backdrop. After I took this, I promptly sprinted to the bus, and was the only one unscathed by the storm
The Mayans were rather pacifistic, as they dedicated the majority of their time and resources towards agriculture, astronomy, and mathematics. However, at some point in history, they became afraid. Afraid of what we still do not know. What we do know is that there began a sudden influx of Toltec trade and intermingling. The idea that the Sun is a blood god who can only be appeased with the blood of a brave warrior is a Toltec belief, one adopted by the Mayans as a means of solidifying their bond with their new allies. Architecturally, one can see the cultural evolution as it took place, as flowery hieroglyphics and highly detailed edging give way to severe and intimidating motifs of vengeful eagle gods. The smaller and more artistic designs of the Mayans turned into large, deliberate structures meant to inspire order and awe, and the mystery that is the Mayan culture only becomes more opaque as it becomes clear that their culture, much like ours, existed in constant flux.
In the end, I could not help but take one lesson from my most recent trip to Chichen Itza, that being the importance of recognizing identity as a fluid structure, one which may take the strangest components of a variety of sources and mix them all up until the result is something entirely new. Where does one establish a hierarchy? Just how Mexican am I? Such questions are hollow by virtue of their point of reference I've decided, and instead I hope to simply embrace all that I am and act accordingly. Thanks for reading!