Social Organization. The elementary family in its own household is the basic unit of social, economic, and religious life. Although cross-household alliances are weak, San Joseños identify with their community, which in this case coincides with Itza' ethnic identity. Rather than joining impersonal, formal groups, San Joseños build personal networks based on kinship, ritual kinship ( compadrazgo ), privileged friendship, and patronage. These networks cut across community lines and serve practical purposes. San Joseños have a reputation for honoring ritual-kinship obligations more faithfully than other Peteneros. San Joseños use formal courtesy to get along with others without becoming embroiled in their affairs. Adults who treat others with courtesy, defend community interests, and manage their own households without interfering with others are esteemed.
Political Organization. The town of San José is the center of an administrative-territorial unit, the township. The township is governed by an elected council headed by a mayor. The council is responsible for the welfare of the township, and although it has a good deal of autonomy, its actions are supervised by the central government. The council is responsible to a provincial governor, who is appointed by the national president. Almost all the new settlers reside in villages that are administratively subordinate to the township center. In 1990, for the first time in San José's history, an immigrant was elected mayor.
Within the town, politics is organized around faction leaders—usually older men esteemed for their managerial skills and concern for community welfare.
The Itza' revitalization movement is not fully integrated with the Maya revitalization movement in Guatemala. The Itza' are developing a separate ethnic identity as lowland Petén Indians and do not identify with the highland Maya. Both movements have political overtones.
Social Control. San Joseños are reluctant to interfere with one another and tolerant of deviance from norms of behavior, so long as it does not directly affect their own households. When it does, they resort to gossip and avoidance. They may also ask the mayor to intervene informally to correct someone's behavior. Serious misdemeanors and crimes are referred to the formal court system.
Conflict. Until 1944, a system of debt peonage prevailed in Guatemala, and outstanding debts were frequently a source of conflict between chicle collectors from San José and other towns in Peten and their patrons. Thereafter, aside from interpersonal antagonisms, the most serious conflicts among San Joseños centered on factions fighting for control of the town council, especially for the post of mayor. The town has also had and still has conflicts with neighboring townships over tax payments for timber and nontimber (e.g., those from which chicle is extracted) forests within the township jurisdiction. Settlers are beginning to compete with San Joseños for control of the township council. The presence of outsiders promoting competing development and conservation strategies has intensified factional and personal disputes within the town and will have an impact on the ability of the Itza' of San José to maintain their traditions and language.