by Leanne C. Harper
New York to Guatemala, rather a long, strange trip, even in the Wild Cards universe. When we started talking about taking Wild Cards global, intertwining the ancient and new intrigued me. I wanted to go somewhere jokers might be recognized as something other than misshapen denizens of Jokertown.
What it brought to mind was other people suffering oppression and finding a way to fight back using new talents through the wild cards virus. I considered how the indigenous people of Central America might be affected, and how it might bring them more power than they have been accustomed to having in the past five centuries.
I was enthralled by the Maya civilization from the age of 8. But I was focused on the ancient history when a thousand years ago, 5-10 million Maya lived in city-states, creating monumental art and architecture. As an inveterate reader of everything, the fact the Maya had a written language and created thousands of books that were destroyed during the European conquest was perhaps the most fascinating aspect to me. The language survived in exquisite ceramics and sculptures.
What I didn’t learn until later was that, while the cities were eventually deserted, the people survived. There are 6 million Maya living in Central America today. They resisted conquest into the 19thcentury during the Caste Wars. In the late 20thcentury, the Zapatistas rebelling in Chiapas, Mexico, were primarily indigenous people from the Maya region.
It was logical to me that the Wild Cards virus, yet another disease that came to them from outside, could spur the Maya people to use those powers to create an independent homeland, taking back their land and power. Drawing on the confederation of Tecumseh and the potential that existed at that time for a united resistance that was lost in the early 1800s led me to imagine an alternative universe.
In that universe, the Maya might have been able to resist the Guatemalan death squads that killed 200,000 people, primarily Maya, in the nearly 40-year war from 1960 to 1996. If they had been able to successfully resist, if they had equivalent power to the government armies, what could that have changed?
That’s the background to my ACES ABROAD story “Blood Rights,” which set the stage for the Wild Cards’ version of a Maya rebellion led by the Hero Twins. Xbalanque and Hunapu come from a fundamental Maya myth. The Popol Vuh, written shortly after the Conquest, records the K’iche’ (Quiché) Maya’s version of this ancient myth. Hero Twins are a notable recurring Native American motif in many cultures in addition to the Maya. ACES ABROAD was a perfect opportunity for me to look at a native revolution that finally had a chance to succeed. The Hero Twins are the embodiment of that, with capabilities gained through the wild card virus.
Jokers could be respected figures, connected to the gods, just as dwarves were in the time of the Maya city-states. They could assist the aces in fomenting and attempting to bring this revolution to fruition. Desmond’s points are understandable in his personal disappointment at the indigenous homeland being for native peoples, including jokers. But rather blind in not recognizing that being stripped of one’s land and culture for centuries is a reason for that restriction.
MARKED CARDS’ “Paths of Silence and of Night” brings Suzanne Menotti, Bagabond herself, to the Guatemalan jungle. It has been a healing experience for her, living with the Maya, having left the streets of New York. She has become less psychotic over that time, sharing her empathic powers among the animals of the forests and jungles. We learn that the Hero Twins’ revolution was stopped with the help of many nations, an echo of the actual assistance provided to Guatemala from the United States through the Guatemalan civil war. Ultimately, she uses those connections to defend the people and the land to help the remaining rebels escape to fight again. The Hero Twins live to fight again, as does Suzanne.
It’s not over yet. The struggle goes on in the Wild Cards universe, as it does in reality. While new technology has revealed amazing discoveries expanding our knowledge of the breadth of earlier Maya civilization, the prejudice against Maya traditions remains. It is made clear with the murder of a traditional healer who educated scholars at the University College London and other universities on Maya spirituality and herbal knowledge that has been maintained and passed on through generations. Suspects have been arrested, which is progress at least.
What I hoped to communicate with these Wild Cards stories was to remind people that the Maya, as many other cultures we may view as historical curiosities, are alive and vibrant in their millions. Not dead and buried in silent cities reclaimed by the jungle.