Mayan Drifter

Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America

Juan Felipe Herrera
Book Cover

PB: $37.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-482-6
Publication: Jan 97

HC: $80.50
EAN: 978-1-56639-481-9
Publication: Jan 97

330 pages
6 x 9
18 halftones

The internal struggle of a Chicano poet returning to the Mexican homeland only to find his Indian realities distorted and exploited

Read the Introduction (pdf).


In Mayan Drifter Juan Felipe Herrera journeys to the Maya Lowlands of Chiapas on a quest for his Indio heritage and a vision of the multicultured identity emerging in America. He attempts to shed the trappings and privileges of his life in California in order to reduce his distance from the dispersed and shrinking Mayan population. In Mexico, Herrera seeks a deeper understanding of his homeland's history, its exploitation, and looks to realize his own place in relation to the struggle of his people.

Like the Mayan drifter, the text crosses and extends boundaries. In a variety of narrative voices, poems, and a play, across time, Herrera recounts how the Maya have been invaded by the Spanish, the government, the multinational corporations of the petrochemical industry, and anthropologists. The Maya survive and resist as their numbers dwindle and the forces that mount against them become more powerful.

Inspired by the Maya's resilience, Herrera envisions the disappearance of borders and evokes a fluid American self that needs no fixed identity or location.


"In this account of his return to his homeland of Chiapas, Mexico, Herrera has created something more than a memoir. It is, by his own account, a combination of literary project, spiritual quest and cultural investigation.... Herrera's work is wistful, but it also has depth. This conflicted and rewarding read will undoubtedly become a classic of Chicano literature." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Inspired by Maya's resilience, Herrera envisions the disappearance of borders and evokes a fluid American self that needs no fixed identity or location. Mayan Drifter is a literary tour de force, a kind of safari into the soul and fate of a remarkable people, a monument to what has gone, and a template for what might yet come to pass." The Midwest Book Review

"This is a book written from the heart. Through powerful prose, Mayan Drifter lays bare the skeletal essence of a hemispheric history in which the Lacandon Maya and jungle become metaphor for the onslaught confronting the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Cast in the moving travelogue of personal memory and the ethnographic, the people of Tijuana's shanties, California's migrant paths and cities, Mexico City sidewalks, and colonial Mexican centers all form part of the mosaic. Juan Felipe's journey is a true transmigration into the essence of a conceptual and geopolitical borderland and its current dilemmas. This is a passionate and complex tale set in modern times. Full of imagery and color, at times joyful and hilarious, and at others tearfully sad, Mayan Drifter speaks to us all. Juan Felipe Herrera offers us a book to read, and reread, to think with and ponder; in Mayan Drifter we hear the voices of humanity that speak out powerfully in eloquent prose." Roberto Alvarez, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University

Table of Contents

American Prelude(s)
To América with Love • The Third Conversation

Part I: Gathering a Mayan Repertoire
1. Tuxtla Oil Float
2. Juárez Gypsies
3. K’ayum on the Door
4. Rain Forest Donation Box
5. Eating Tortillas 160 Kilometers North of Guatemala
6. Gathering a Mayan Repertoire
7. Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas: Landscape with Graffiti
8. Tourist Stop by the Christopher Columbus Depot
9. Zen House Facing Tzontevitz (Sacred Mountain of the Chamula)
10. From the Mountain Face
11. Na Bolom: Histories and Fragmentos
12. Admire the Maid into Revolution
13. The Native Position
14. Indian Corridos for Justice
15. Red Rebozos for Rigoberta Menchú
16. Late Shadow at the Monastery

Part II: Welcome to El Prospero
17. The Desolations of Ocosingo
18. La Ruta Maya
19. Tumbo (Meditations en Route)
20. The Man with a Machete
21. Visitations
22. Nothing Is Taken That Is Not Given: Ode to the Traveling Men
23. In a Field of Arrows
24. Half Concrete, Half Caoba
25. Dream Prowl
26. Last Song of the White Turtle
27. Kassandra and the Descrambler
28. El Emperador
29. Nuk of la Tiendita
30. Lake Waters of the White Jaguar
31. Young Husbands
32. Culos in la Piedra
33. El Hombre de la Selva
34. The Coming of the Black Ocean Liner
35. PEMEX Boulevard
36. Bor with Hand Signs
37. Antonio, Seventy Years Old
38. Malaria, Pneumonia, Tuberculosis
39. Mojarrita
40. La Ultima Visita (Farewell to the T’o’ohil)
41. Jungle Bolero

Part III: Jaguar Hotel
42. Jaguar Hotel

Part IV: Anahuak Vortex
43. Anahuak Vortex (Mexico City, 1995)

Part V: Mayan Drifter
44. Letter to K’ayum Ma’ax (via Palenque)

Selected Readings

About the Author(s)

Juan Felipe Herrera is associate professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies at California State University, Fresno. He has taught creative writing from third grade to university level and is the author of numerous poetry collections including Akrílica, Facegames, Night Train to Tuxlta, a collection of poems and stories, and a children's book entitled Calling the Doves.