Migration has had an enormous role throughout the history of mankind, and the Maya are no exception.

Different groups of Maya, which were settled throughout the peninsula of Yucatán, part of Chiapas, Tabasco, Guatemala, and Belize, established trade routes during the Post-classic period; there was additional movement due to conflicts between different Maya capitals.

Where do they come from?

Today, there are solid networks of Yucatecan Maya migrants in the Riviera Maya, the United States, and their home communities in the peninsula. The Yucatecan municipalities where the most Maya migrants come from are Mérida, Oxkutzcab, Cenotillo, Mama, Peto, and Muna.

What are they really good at?

Most of the Maya who migrate to North America work in restaurants, mainly in the kitchens preparing food. It is said that the Maya migrant population in the US earns approximately 40% more than other Mexican migrants. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t surprise me that Yucatecan Maya are standouts in the culinary department! After having grown up eating and cooking such delicacies as Papadzules, Queso Relleno, Frijol con Puerco, and more, it certainly seems like one would have an advantage when it comes to cooking abroad.

However, not all things are rosy: according to the INDEMAYA (Institute for the Development of Maya Culture in the State of Yucatán), approximately 90% of Yucatecan migrants in the US are undocumented; it can’t be an easy life. The Yucatecan Maya migrant population in the United States is definitely a vulnerable sector.

But, why do the Maya migrate in the first place?

It shouldn’t surprise us that the first thing that comes to mind is that they do it in search of a better life. Although there is truth in this, we also have to look at the traditional way of life of the Maya and see that a life with strong ties to the community has enormous potential to be one of wealth. A connection to the land, animals, traditions, and family life are vitally important…and so you can see that the problem becomes more complicated.

On one hand, the Mexican government still hasn’t managed to respond effectively to the needs of the indigenous people, which forces them to migrate. On the other hand, society has sold us the idea of consumption-based wealth.

The Challenge

The challenge is finding a balance between access to better opportunities in México and other countries, with the possibility of maintaining a traditional way of life that is in harmony with nature and has accompanied this culture historically.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend reading the book “Caminantes del Mayab” published in 2008 by the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History).


Editorial by Valentina Álvarez
Photography by Valentina Álvarez for use in Yucatán Today


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