Something we noticed and were really interested in was the contrast between Catholic culture and Mayan culture present throughout the Yucatan.
Every town or village has a church, from the huge Cathedral of San Gervasio in Valladolid to tiny open-air chapels on Holbox.
Other examples are Semana Santa – the holy week leading up to Easter, which is the biggest national holiday of the year, that everyone celebrates – and the street vendors in Valladolid selling Jesus icon sculptures and half-eaten plastic apples (we’re guessing related to sin). We saw children rushing to church services dressed in their Sunday whites. In essence, it feels like a traditional Catholic country.
Even the Spanish language and colonial architecture date back to the same period as the arrival of the Catholic church, and they are all very much part of everyday life.
In contrast, and often more visible, seems to be a deep Mayan identity. Throughout the Yucatan, there are Mayan ruins with examples of ancient culture with symbols and writing, as well as more touristy attractions.
Without wanting to stereotype, there seems to be Mayan physical traits of jetblack hair, noble sloping foreheads and shorter builds.
But deeper than that, culturally, it feels like it’s part of the identity here. Mayan celebrations, such as the Spring equinox at Chitchen Itza, are enjoyed by tens of thousands of people. You can see traditional embroidered dress in towns like Valladolid everywhere.
And below are murals we saw across Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox that constantly pick up on Mayan themes.
To be totally honest, we don’t really know enough to comment in a meaningful way about Mexican culture, although it has inspired us to read up more on the history of the region. If Mayan civilisation collapsed more than 500 years ago, but is still very much part of the Mexican culture of the Yucatan, what does that mean for other countries that talk about national pride or identity without a relationship to their origins? It has also made us reflect on our own countries. The UK is in a major identity crisis, wanting to leave the EU and re-affirm itself on the global map. While it retains its language, it seems to have lost a meaningful relationship to its Anglo-Saxon origins. Why is that and what happens to a country without a traditional identity? Sweden, where we live, has a modern progressive identity but also a very close relationship to the seasons, traditional celebrations and pride in its Viking past. So perhaps Sweden is closer to Mexico than we thought…