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What the Maya gave me

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At long last the widely-anticipated Mayan doomsday is finally upon us, and lo and behold, the world is still in one piece. No earthquakes. No asteroid. No volcanic eruptions. (And, here in Chicago, not even the 3 to 6 inches of snow we were expecting overnight.) Just another Friday in December.

The nonevent comes as no surprise to anyone with half a brain who’s read half a newspaper or half a science magazine in the last half year. Scientists have been explaining that the Maya never predicted the end of the world; they’ve been restating it on constant loop for the past decade at least. But, as Maya expert David Stuart told NPR, “humans like to come up with excuses … just to freak out.”

The solstice came and went. Now it’s time to rejoin sanity, people.

Still, that the Maya marked today as the start of a new b’ak’tun — a period of approximately 394 years — is nothing to shrug off lightly. The Maya revered astronomy and time, and their faithful study of both led to the development of the most elegant systems for mapping the heavens and marking time in the New World, if not the entire world — for while the Maya were experiencing the peak of their enlightenment during the first millennium CE, the Western World was descending into the black ignorance of the Dark Ages.

That’s why December 21, 2012, deserves at least some attention from us today. It marked a special day for the Maya, the end of the 13th b’ak’tun and the start of the 14th b’ak’tun. Sure, a b’ak’tun means nothing to us today, but it meant something to the Maya, who are ancestors to many Latinos, specifically of Central American origin — like myself.

As I traveled across Honduras in the summer of 2011, I tried to imagine what the scenes must’ve looked like when my mother was a little girl and when my grandmother was a little girl. I figured much had changed but much had also stayed the same — the verdancy of the mountains, the shimmer of the Lago de Yojoa, the warmth of the sea air along La Costa. And then I thought of my ancestors, the Maya, and how they must’ve thought they were the keepers of paradise.

Yet, for all their predictions and non-predictions, I doubt the Maya could’ve foreseen me — their descendant, their legacy.

Whenever I read about how they studied night sky, contemplated the passage of time and filled pages with all they knew, I indulge in the belief that my own affinity for such things may be in my blood, the same blood those ancient people bequeathed to me so long ago. I consider it a deep honor and privilege to say that I have anything in connection with them at all.

So, while the world will carry on as it did before December 21, I still consider today an important date. It’s a day on which I think about and acknowledge what I owe the past and those who came before me. Being the product of a Eurocentric education, as nearly every Latino American is, we only pay homage to the Greeks and the Romans for their sciences and philosophies, which have served as the foundation of modern America. But while I thank the Greeks and the Romans for being a major part of who I am today — a philosopher and a republican — I cannot forget my Mayan ancestors, without whom I wouldn’t exist at all.

So tonight, I’ll raise a glass of champagne — because balché is hard to come by these days — and salute the Maya.

Happy New B’ak’tun!

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007,, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Salute !

  2. Paola Del Valle says:

    Thanks for the article Luis, I trully enjoyed reading it.

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