Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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The Mexican Mayan people are scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula region in the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Tabasco and Campeche. However the majority of the Mayans are located in the state of Quintana Roo.

The state of Quintana Roo (pop. 1,135,300) is located in the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula at the southeastern tip of Mexico. It has a surface of 50,212square kilometers and is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the east, bordering Belize to the south and

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Guatemala to the west with the state of Campeche and with the state of Yucatan. The capital of Quintana Roo is the city of Chetumal (pop. 238,000).

Quintana Roo contains the resort city of Cancun (pop. 1,000,000 est.), the islands of Cozumel and Isia Mujeres, the towns of Bacalar, Felipe Carrillo Puerto (pop. 20,000), Playa del Carmen, Puerto Juarez, Akumal, and Puerto Morelos, as well as many significant ancient Mayan ruins. The statewide population is currently expanding at a rapid rate due to the construction of hotels and the demand for workers. Many immigrants to the state come from Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco, and Veracruz.

Each Mexican state is divided into free municipalities, and there are eight municipalities in Quintana Roo. In the municipalities, people know the authorities or members of the town council well. The Town Council consists of the Municipal President, magistrates and a trustee. All of these people are elected by popular vote. Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the municipal seat for the municipality of the same name in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

Climate of the Mayan region is generally warm to hot and dry with a rainy season from late spring to early fall.

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Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the center of Mayan culture and also the current Mexican capital of the Zona Maya, a region located entirely within the state of Quintana Roo predominantly populated by the Mayan people. The Zona Maya has a semiautonomous government with a president and cabinet of ministers under the authority of the Mexican government. The principle function of the Zona Maya administrative group is to oversee the well being of the Mayan people within the Zona Maya region.

Socially the Mayans are outcasts and discriminated against and not as favored politically and, therefore, are not granted many of the opportunities or project funds granted other Mexican people. The lack of employment and discouragement among the Mayans has contributed to increases in substance abuse, spousal abuse, child molestation, prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Special facilities and education programs are being developed by the government to address these issues.

Medical care is socialized and offered by the government to all the people in the country. In addition, special assistance is provided to the Mayan people in the Zona Maya administered by the Zona Maya Administrative Group to ensure all Mayans and, especially those in the distant villages, receive the proper medical care. Mexican doctors and medical assistants are provided by the government. However, because of the remoteness and very small size of many villages, some Mayans are mostly unattended.

In addition to medical care, general health, welfare and well being concerns are abundant. Many children are sick or malnourished. And it is common for older siblings to take on maternal roles to care for their younger siblings. When the men are working in the fields, the women are not allowed “out” and must depend on the children to run errands and shop for food. Nutrition and other normally accepted health practices are generally neglected.

In the towns, individuals can own land through contract and deed. However, in the country side and villages, the land is owned by the local “ejidal” – community - and a claim is made by an individual for the amount of land desired. When registered, it is available for the construction of a home and farm. Should the individual desert the property for more than five years, it can be claimed by anyone or revert back to the “ejidal” - community.

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Felipe Carrillo Puerto, with a population of approximately 20,000 people, mostly of Maya decent, is probably the most cosmopolitan Mayan city in the Peninsula. Felipe Carrillo Puerto is a vibrant little town with a rich heritage, a love of the arts, and a wide variety of Mayan and other people. The town successfully blends traditional Mayan life with the advancements of modern technologies... ATM banking, cell phones and internet. The local conservatory/museum teaches art and dance classes. And there is a large, open air market near the center of town where one could buy anything from machetes to meat for dinner. Small, single purposed stores line the streets. Some are run down and some are fairly well kept. There aren't any “superstores” but there is a single, mid-sized grocery store and two gas stations. A small university/trade school is also located near the center of town. And the town has a reasonably well equipped hospital.

The industry and employment base is virtually non-existent. It is very limited due to the geographical area, materials and supplies and quality of the workforce. The largest employers are the towns and local shops and services. There are some small factories and rural saw mills. Those who want to work in the developing tourist areas to the north are bussed to the locations. The unemployment rate is substantial and people tend to stay home. New employment opportunities locally are minimal. However in the past few years a “hydroponics” gardening industry has emerged in the central Quintana Roo area, south of Carrillo Puerto, which ultimately will employ more than 2,000 local people.

Education is valued and provided by the government, however the young people become frustrated easily as they see little opportunity for employment and leave school when they have reached the mandatory attendance age of sixteen. Some complete their schooling and others attend local “technical” schools but very few continue on to university. In the smaller villages they leave school to work in the fields.

For many adults and children, Spanish may not be their first language. While they are taught to speak Spanish in school, in their home life virtually all of their communication may be in Mayan. This is more prevalent in some of the remote and disconnected villages than in others.

In Filipe Carrillo Puerto, the public utility service infrastructure is adequate. Electric power and telephone are dependable. The water system seems to meet the needs adequately but is very substandard by many measures. The water system is fed by a large cistern whose levels are apparently not monitored very closely. The cistern sometimes “leaks” and would drain to below usable levels. The sewer system in the town of Felipe is an antiquated system of cesspools - large holes in the limestone. Every home has its own system.

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There are approximately 60,000 people in the Zona Maya scattered among 100 villages and small towns connected by primary roads and a network of secondary and dirt roads. Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the largest of eleven towns and villages with at least 1,000 people and the most advantaged. The extended Mayan region of the Yucatan Peninsula has over 1,500 villages. Large villages, those of 1,000 people or more, typically consist of several stores, possibly a gas station, more than one church, a school, recreation area or soccer field and many small dwellings. The church and public buildings generally surround a public square.

Public utility services are more advanced in the larger villages/towns but become minimal in the smaller and more remote villages. Telephones are sometimes available to a few homes but in the smaller villages everyone shares a common telephone at a communications tower near the center of town. Many of the dwellings have at least some electricity, usually a single outlet and light. In the larger villages, water from a central well location is connected to the homes. Some people who live outside of the village area may have to gather water from a common point or well, as is the case for the people located in the smaller villages who have to go to a common well for water. As in the towns, there is no sewer system. Separate outbuildings, suspended over a large cesspool which is “dug” into the limestone.

A typical dwelling in the smaller villages consists of stick or stone walls (most are stick only) resting on a small stone foundation. The roofs are all “palapas,” palm branches bound together, and the floors are all dirt. There are hammocks for sleeping and there might be a few mattresses. Food is generally obtained daily, especially meat, and prepared and cooked that day. There are very few people who can afford refrigerators and employ other ways to preserve food for future use.

There is little or no regular employment even in the larger villages. There are a few cattle ranches and farms. Beekeeping and honey production are also undertaken to complement their meager incomes. People seeking employment that live in villages in close proximity to the tourist areas in the north are bussed two or three hours to the tourist areas for work. Many, however, stay in the villages and work in local shops or the community gardens. Small lumber mills, which harvest tropical cedar and mahogany, employ a few people. New employment opportunities locally are minimal. However in the past few years a “hydroponics” gardening industry has emerged in the central Quintana Roo area south of Carrillo Puerto, which ultimately will employ more than 2,000 local people. Some may be attracted to this opportunity.

The larger villages have more communal gardens and farms than the smaller villages which share a single garden. The boys are expected to hike the trail into the gardens or farms to help after school. Livestock runs free but some of the smaller animals are fenced. In the Mayan villages, personal wealth is often still measured in terms of how many turkeys are owned or how much the family pigs weigh.

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The churches in F. Carrillo Puerto and in the larger towns of the Zona Maya are generally made of limestone block with holes for windows, a basic structure at best. They were well kept. They are located in the town plaza or in local communities throughout the town, and there might be 10 to 15 depending in the size of the town. In the villages, there are fewer churches and they might have only one. They too are located in the plaza or along one of the main roads through town. A few of the larger village churches are all limestone but many of the smaller community churches are “palapas” with dirt floors.

The property for churches is obtained similar to acquisition of property for individuals, however upon completion, the building and property become the property of the state. Each building is registered with the denomination number which is consistent with the registration number of the pastors. The church can be expanded or modified without requesting permission from the state. Churches of the same denomination can be planted and new buildings constructed in a nearby village without much difficulty after an application from the denomination is approved by the state. It nearly impossible to start a new church not affiliated with a denomination.

The church services are exciting and spirit filled, and the message is delivered with passion. However the majority of the local pastors are bi-vocational with very little Biblical or theological training. They hunger to learn more about the Scriptures in order to better “feed” and minister to their congregations. All of the Christian pastors welcome and are open to the opportunity for basic and advanced training and equipping, nurturing and encouragement from mature and seasoned people of God. The pastors come under great stress from their ministry and need encouragement as they are vulnerable to the weakness of self.

The pastors are all registered with the state through a denomination after they have been approved, certified and ordained.

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The dominate religion of the region and the Mayans is “Catholic”. The Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Baptists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals are all represented in the area. Those who have never heard of Jesus are generally of those with pagan beliefs and are of “animist” Mayan tradition.

The local Mayan people themselves are very kind and receptive to the Gospel. However, protestant religious groups are often compared in their minds, especially the Maya/Roman Catholic Mayans, with groups like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. There are Mayan homes where the Gospel is not welcome.

Gospel presentations often evoke varied responses from the people. The children listen intently to the program and message, often participating. And because the parents bring the children to the plaza to see and hear, they also hear the Word. Characteristically in each village, the teenage boys line up sparsely around the perimeter of the plaza, usually on bikes or motorbikes, and just observe. There generally is not much interaction between the boys, but they certainly were listening intently to the program. The girls of the same age were generally in the plaza, but outside of the group of children, also listening, but also interacting with one another. There is a receptiveness observed, but they are reluctant to participate for fear of what their peers will think.

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