TEDx ZazilHa gets its name from a popular neighborhood in Playa del Carmen that occupies a thin slice of the city running between Federal Highway 307 all the way to the beach. The neighborhood gets its name from a legendary Mayan Princess, Zazil-Há, a seminal figure in the history of Mexico in general and the Yucatan Peninsula in particular, as a symbol of its multicultural heritage.
The story begins back in 1511 (seven years before Hernan Cortés set foot on this continent) when two shipwrecked Spaniards were captured into slavery by the Yucatec Mayans. One went on to wait out his captivity until, many years later, he was reunited with Cortés’ party. The other Spanish captive by the name of Gonzalo Guerrero, who made himself useful to the Mayans with his sophisticated carpentry skills, ended up acculturating to his life with the Maya so well that he was eventually granted freedom (after saving his owner from the jaws of a crocodile) and became part of the community.
Despite his “alien” appearance and status, Gonzalo Guerrero fully adopted the Mayan way of life – the local dress, tattoos, food and local traditions. He fell in love with and married a spirited Mayan princess, Zazil-Há: and, thus, a historical union was formed between two people, neither of whom were typical representatives of their respective nations. Gonzalo Guerrero was now fully loyal to his family and adoptive land, ready to defend them against Spanish invasion to the last drop of his blood. Zazil-Há was not content “staying in her place” as woman with no rights or voice: with Gonzalo Guerrero, she was able to actualize herself not only as a mother to their three children, but as a fierce strategist, warrior and leader of her people.
Together, they founded their own Mayan kingdom on the Caribbean coast of the southern Yucatan, the modern site of Quintana Roo State Capital of Chetumal. Together, they were able to organize some warring Mayan tribes into a unified resistance against the onslaught of La Conquista for nearly 25 years. Each died in battle against the Spanish: Gonzalo Guerrero in Honduras defending the frontier, Zazil-Há in Chetumal, defending family and home.
The story of Zazil-Há and Gonzalo Guerrero – of their love, loyalty and courage – continues to be passed from generation to generation here in the Yucatan, and their spirit of unity and multi-culturalism continues to influence the Mexican culture to this day. Here, they are known as the mother and father of the modern Mexican Mestizo race and are symbols of the nation’s pride and hope.
We at TEDx in Playa del Carmen honor their legacy by bearing the name of the warrior queen that deserves to be known around the world.