Hands to the Sky

Rigoberta Menchu Tum towers at the top of The Women’s Building’s MaestraPeace Mural.  Her hands face upward, holding two figures of the Mestizo spiritual identity.  In one hand, Coyolxauhqui the representation of the moon, breaks from the traditional dismembered image to stand whole. On the other, Yemaya splashes as the embodiment of the ocean and fertility.  Over the last three years of working at the Women’s Building, I’ve stopped to gaze at this image of Rigoberta Menchu Tum located on the east side of the building. Not only to admire her beauty and strong spiritual presence, but to remember her commitment to the Mayan community in Guatemala.  She actively led indigenous resistance against military repression, even after the violent murder of her father, brother, and mother.

Recently, while I was traveling to Chichen-Itza on a tour bus, a proud Mayan mestizo guide, Jorge, informed us of current discrimination practices in the hotel companies in Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Jorge explained how many traditional Mayan women participate in a full moon ceremony. In this ceremony, they gather under the moon, place their hands upward to the sky—similar to Rigoberta Menchu Tum on the Maestrapeace Mural, and cut the insides of their palms. The women drop a total of 28 drops of blood in the earth, and later continue their ceremony with their palms up, hoping to receive the energy of the moon. Jorge continued to explain how in the hotel companies’ hiring process, it is a requirement for women to show the palms of their hands. Those with scabs, cuts, and marks on their hands are not hired.  This discrimination toward Mayan women interferes with the livelihood of the women and their families and strips these women of their culture and their power. This is a cultural genocide.

Returning from my trip, I find the scaffolding is up for the restoration process of the MaestraPeace Mural. The original muralists inspected the mural and find additional damage that is hard to view from the ground, including a large crack through Rigoberta Menchu Tum’s neck. Although a crack slashes through Menchu Tum’s neck, she continues to hold her palms out to greet the rise of the full moon with other Mayan women. She asks for the energy of the moon and the ocean to fill her with the strength needed to endure and resist current discrimination. In the MaestraPeace, we find Menchu Tum practicing the traditional ceremony that ties all women to the moon and our bodies. Her presence on the MaestraPeace is a reminder of the importance of maintaining our power as women within our culture. Put your hands up!

–Daisy Isarraras

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