School principal May and students in traditional attire. School principal May and students in traditional attire.

Huipiles in dress code for Yucatán school

On Mondays, students exchange uniforms for clothes that promote cultural identity

In an effort to preserve Mayan heritage, a primary school principal in Yucatán has instituted a unique dress code for students to instill pride in their traditions.

María Candelaria May Novelo instructed the 150 students at the Ignacio Allende primary school in Dzitnup, Valladolid, to wear a traditional huipil instead of a uniform every Monday.

Once a week, the formal skirts, pants and dress shirts give way to white guayabera shirts and pants for boys, and the colorful and skillfully embroidered huipiles for the girls.

“This is about maintaining and strengthening the indigenous identity in new generations, and having them wear the clothes that identify Yucatán and Maya culture is a way to do it,” said the principal, affectionately called Candy by her students.

This is a small move against education policies that make indigenous people invisible, she said. The state is not interested in empowering native peoples, said May in an interview with the newspaper El Universal.

May’s love for her culture has been an important part of her career as an educator. In 2012 she proposed huipiles instead of the usual red uniforms for an all-female color guard that was to participate in a local contest.

Her proposal was adopted through “a process of raising awareness among the parents. I spoke to them about the importance of strengthening the children’s cultural identity.”

The move made both the students and their parents happy, she remembered, and was important because Mayan language speakers face discrimination in Yucatán.

Not so happy were other teachers and education authorities, who referred to May as an Indian and criticized her choice to don a huipil.

May says she was removed from an administrative position because a professor did not agree with her actions.

But instead of being discouraged and silenced, May continues to proudly wear the traditional clothes of her people, and has been successful in promoting awareness of the ethnic origins of her students.

Her interest in doing so has gone beyond the realm of clothes. May has taken on the task of finding Maya-speaking science, research and literature professionals and bringing them to her school to share their experiences with her students.

Raising awareness about the Mayan culture goes beyond those born to it. May has required that the nine teachers at her school take a Mayan language course, allowing them to better teach their students.


However, the principal believes there’s still a long way to go before the native peoples are fully accepted within Mexican life. As an example she gave an education system implemented from the top down by the federal Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) in all indigenous communities.

That program “is the first exercise of discrimination, as they are setting up education centers that have no cultural or linguistic pertinence with regard to the children of any given place.”

Source: El Universal (sp)

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