Award-winning Mayan poet shares culture with TCU faculty and staff

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    The Department of Spanish and Hispanic studies hosted award-winning Mayan poet Wildernain Villegas Carrillo for a trilingual poetry reading. 

    He read each of his poems in Mayan and Spanish, and then Spanish professor Donald Frischmann translated them into English. The event took place in Scharbauer Hall, where students and faculty sat in chairs and window sills and filled the aisles of the large classroom for the reading.

    Carrillo, an awarded speaker, was a magnetic storyteller. He read each poem as though he was feeling the emotions for the first time. His words seemed to be suspended in the air and the audience clung onto every word, even the Mayan ones.

    Carrillo is from the Yucatan Peninsula, where a strong community of writers exists, although they are rarely published.

    Carrillo and his family lived with his grandfather, who gifted them with the appreciation of native and verbal art. Today he uses his grandfather’s legacy to push literature beyond the borders of his home in an effort to inform and preserve Mayan culture.

    “Looking at you all sitting on the floor reminds me of how my brothers and sisters and I used to sit on the floor and listen to my granddad tell stories,” Carillo told the audience in Spanish.

    His poetry illustrated modernity with roots in Mayan history, comparing city life and technology to wonders in nature.

    Carrillo explained to the audience that Mayan people are tragically marginalized and treated like an extinct species by the majority of Mexico. although they glorify the ancient Mayans. Meanwhile, the current Mayan culture, which is very much alive, is ignored or looked down on.

    He told the audience about going with his grandmother to sell candy in a city near his village and the scarring discrimination he experienced because of the language he spoke.

    “Speaking the Mayan language carries a connotation of being less than others,” Carrillo said. “Still, it was the Mayans who developed advanced concepts in astrology, math and science.”

    With a big smile, Carrillo thanked TCU for hosting him and began the reading with one word: relive.

    “We are trying to recuperate past qualities of Mayan culture through literature,” he said.