Yucatán is very small. Here it’s easy to meet your friend’s boyfriend’s grandmother or even Donia Way, everyone’s favorite neighbor in Mérida’s Centro who opened her home for people to visit. Even though she’s short, you will immediately notice Donia Way with her colorful flowered Huipiles and distinctive Yucatecan accent. She likes to sit on the bench outside her house on balmy evenings, greets everyone she comes across, and has an adorable beagle named Camote.
She’s also a very versatile woman, she likes to give informed opinions, uses all sorts of available digital media, and has proven to be committed to social causes. Does this sound like anyone you know? Undoubtedly, she is a role model for us all.
This wonderful character came into being almost a decade ago, when Colombian architect Javier Covo created Donia Way – among other reasons – to better understand Ileana Reyes, his wife. “She’s very Yucatecan, and this character embodies what it means to be Yucatecan, the very heart and soul of it,” Javier shares with great emotion.
However, the character fully came to life with the help of those who interacted with Donia Way on Facebook. Javier shares that they were the ones who helped to decide her final look through their comments by telling him “here” and “more petite.” With this guidance, Javier made Donia Way smaller and added sweeter features.
The Challenges of Ileana, Javier, and Donia Way
Today, Donia Way is more than just an illustrated character or a business that involves the whole family. It’s an educational project that shows the value of Yucatán’s culture, with an emphasis on uplifting it through the Mestizo woman; a figure that transfers and will continue to transfer our identity.
This work is very empathic and close to people, to the point of receiving expressions of gratitude for spreading the culture and praising Yucatecan women. You just need to approach Donia Way – in any format – to find content with high doses of “Yucateco” in an entertaining and fun way that is easy to understand and/or identify with.
Donia Way quickly reached more and more people in Yucatán…but she is also known beyond our borders. However, reaching this far is also synonymous with breaking paradigms. In this case, changing people’s minds about a subject surrounded by prejudice.
First, they needed to work on the perception of Donia Way, who is personified by Ileana, a woman who is physically very different to the character. Ileana says that this led to a fundamental learning moment: one does not necessarily have to “look Yucatecan” to have the right to spread the state’s culture.
They’ve also worked with the perception of Yucatecan language. They started an educational network that ended with the creation of a section for schools in ¡Way! magazine called “Dímelo en Wiro.” This was an effort to reduce the discriminatory concept of Wiro (in the sense of how Yucatecans speak by mixing words in Spanish and Maya). As Ileana explains, “all you’re doing is expressing yourself in the most original way available in our culture.”
They also launched a section on their Facebook page called “Habla a la Maya,” where they posted Maya words with their meaning. The result? An increased appreciation for the language in a specific public and even post replies in Maya.
Both cases are examples of efforts focused on the Yucatecan way of speaking, which is very different to how the rest of the country speaks. In Yucatán, language has a certain musicality and many words in Maya are naturally integrated into an everyday vocabulary beyond social distinctions. As one might say, it’s the norm around here. No matter where they go, Yucatecans will be recognized by these linguistic traits.
Sense of Belonging and Yucatecan Identity
Ileana and Javier have a different way of saying things. It’s teamwork. She develops the personality and he gives it content, shapes, and colors. This collaboration allows Donia Way to spread not only Yucatecan lifestyle, but everything they do in a different and original way. They work with a magazine, books, and games, but they’re also launching new formats, such as podcasts and talks.
This work is essential to reach new generations so that they can build a sense of belonging and identity. Donia Way gave us a character full of Yucatecan Maya identity that breaks prejudices and celebrates local culture.
Undoubtedly, Donia Way is a model Yucatecan and she’s committed to education. She holds up an important set of values, and her home (La Casa de Donia Way, her physical residence in Centro) is at the very heart of these themes; more than a business, it’s a place for visitors to feel comfortable, surrounded by family and Yucatecan culture.
Editorial by Olivia Camarena Cervera
Photography by Olivia Camarena and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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