Tag Archives: genocide

An Open Letter to Ms. Yates on Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

3 Oct

Dear Ms. Pamela Yates,

I went to the opening of Granito in Los Angeles.  I am thankful and I appreciate the work, time, and energy you have given to the people of Guatemala. When I went to see the film, I did not imagine that the story would be told in such a personal manner. Most journalists or film makers seem to take the back seat because they are so set on telling the story of others, but your personal accounts weave this story together beautifully.  I really appreciate the humanness you have shown through your film making.

There is something you said in your film describing your commitment and connection to Guatemala:

“Guatemala wrapped its arms around my soul and wouldn’t let it go…”

I get it. Through your film, you shared with us what you had witnessed and there’s no way your soul, your being, could not have been impacted so greatly during your time in Guatemala…

I have seen a number films about Guatemala, including Searching for Dominga, Killer’s Paradise, and La Limonada. The level of violence, suffering, and injustice is so extreme and heavy, that it never stops feeling like you can detach yourself from Guatemala. I want to share with you my connection with Guatemala…

I was born in 1982 in Los Angeles. The first in my family to not have been born in Guatemala. When i was a girl I would turn to the index pages of history books, hoping to find something on Guatemala. But hardly anything was ever accessible to me in that way. Before I turned 15, instead of having a quinceanera, I asked my mom to take me to Tikal, Peten. I haven’t stopped drawing pyramids since…

I was not witness to Guatemala in the 1980’s, the height of the repression, the massacres, the disappearances, the reflection of the devil upon earth. However, since I was a little girl, I knew something was wrong in my mother’s country. During my first visits to Guate as a 5, 7, & 9 yr old,  poverty became a concept i began to understand, i would question why my mom’s country was so poor, children my age were begging for food, why are people living so different??? I tried to comprehend the poverty, the alcoholism, and the oppression. I did not have the vocabulary, but i saw something that made me uncomfortable deep inside. When I went to college at UC Santa Cruz, I naturally fell into Latin American and Latino Studies. I had an intense need to learn about Guatemala and Latin America.  My mind has acquired a historical, economical, and political understanding of what went wrong in my ancestral land, but my spirit still mourns.

It saddens me, to know that so much potential for a more righteous and just Latin America was on the brink of existence during the 20th Century. Cuba was the kickoff, but the dreams of Chile, Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc.,  were over-taken by the CIA, military coups, and U.S. installed dictatorships. Through U.S. tax dollars, war has been funded countless times. And in the 1980’s, dollars manifested into Genocide and Femicide in Guatemala.

Where are we now? Where is Guatemala… how are people living and surviving? One look at the cover of La Prensa Libra will tell you the violence never stopped. And the trauma has not healed. My cousin, a 20 years old, was murdered in Huehuetenango during March of this year. He left behind his wife, a baby girl, and a grieving mother. His baby girl will grow up and find the story of his father in the newspaper, but the newspaper captured a lie. The town will tell her the truth, and she will be filled with fury to learn that men dressed in uniforms, murdered her father. I will tell her about the donuts his father and I use to eat when we were kids. But that is all I can offer…

Where are we now? I couldn’t answer it completely. It makes my stomach turn upside down. My entire family is in Guatemala. I hear lots of stories; good, bad, evil, miraculous… I will be in Guatemala in a few weeks. I will be spending time with my family. We will catch up, I will find my little cousins that are 5-10 inches taller than last year, the kids are becoming teenagers, and the family keeps growing. I look forward to the story telling, it’s always the best! I will share with my family for a moments worth, then i will fly away from that reality… but Guatemala also holds my heart and my spirit in its hands…

I’ve added a little granito here and there for Guatemala. There was a time when I produced a radio program for womyn that aired in Guatemala. I organized film screenings for two Guatemalan documentaries. I created a collective of womyn called Chapinas Unidas to raise awareness about the femicide in Guate. We participated in the women’s march in Los Angeles in 2008 and also held a conference with an all womyn panel of speakers who were survivors of violence in Guatemala. I still write about Guatemala and inform my friends about what I’ve learned and experienced. In the past couple of years, my granito turned inwards, and i began my own healing, including the healing of inherited traumas. I want to add more granitos de arena, if I can contribute to the next steps of the film, I am open to learning more. In the meantime, Ill encourage my friends to go watch the film!

Take care. Know that you are meant to be safe and protected on your journey. The helicopter falling captures that miracle, the access you were granted is of no coincidence. Everyone has a purpose to follow and I thank you for being a messenger of our people, sharing our stories through film,  and having the courage to act on a purpose bigger than yourself. 

Con Amor, Respeto, y Agradecimiento,

Ana Ruth Castillo

For friends who are reading this open letter, please add Granito thru your facebook: http://www.facebook.com/granitofilm and go catch the film at the Laemmle

Granito de Arena = a film and a humble expression of a collective process for change

Interview with Luis Enrique Guzman

15 Feb

To listen to the original Spanish interview with  audio interview with Luis Enrique Guzman, please click here.

Luis Enrique Guzman at an Immigrant Rights Rally along with members of Homies Unidos

Luis Enrique Guzman at an Immigrant Rights Rally along with members of Homies Unidos

Luis Enrique was born in Guatemala, near the University of San Carlos. As a child growing up in Guatemala’s period of armed conflict, he was a witness to many of the student protests. At a young age he turned his attention towards issues of human rights and social justice. In 1981, at the age of 12 he was at home when he began to notice smoke coming from the University. The student movement was protesting the rise in transportation costs. But this peaceful protest turned unexpectedly violent. Luis Enrique, being young and curious, ran to see what the commotion was about, only to become witness of military police men firing their rifles at students. He saw the bodies of university students fall to the floor and die on the streets. It was this memory that changed who he would become.

Luis Enrique became an activist and joined the student movement. In the midst of his activism he came across a Mexican journalist who had photographed the massacre of Panzos, a community located in Alta Verapaz. Through these photographs, his consciousness was again impacted. He saw the limbs of men, women, elders, and children tortured and cut off, including women who were pregnant. The pictures of the scenes were graphic and violent. According to the Commission on Historical Clarification, the massacre at Panzos was only one out of 626 massacres that the Guatemalan Armed Forces was responsible for. The height of this violence occurred between the period of 1979 to 1986, under the governance of general Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia (1978 – 1982), general Efrain Rios Montt (1982 – 1983), and general Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores (1983 – 1986). A genocide took place in Guatemala where over 200,000 people died, many of them of Mayan ancestry. By 1982, the army adopted a different tactic and started executing more women than men in a brutally systematic manner.

Luis Enrique was profoundly affected by the state of his country and decided to take part in the guerilla movement. But before he could join, his mother talked to his father who lived in Chicago, Illinois and planned to send Luis Enrique to the United States. When Luis Enrique was 19 years old he emigrated to the U.S. Life changed for Luis Enrique after he moved to Illinois. After some time he decided to move to California. Unfortunately he was caught up in the criminal justice system and after violating his parole for crossing state lines, he was arrested in Nevada and imprisoned in a California state prison for three years. On June 12, 2006, the day he was to walk out as free man, the Department of Homeland Security waited at the prison doors to take him into their custody and transport him to an immigration detention facility.

While at the immigration detention center, Luis Enrique continued his activism. Once again he witnessed human rights violations inside the detention facility, including the death of Victorilla Arellano, a woman who was HIV positive and who was denied her medication. In August of 2007, he organized a peaceful demonstration with other detainees. Over 10 security guards beat Luis Enrique but the organizers were able to have their demands met.

Luis Enrique also began to spend time in the library inside the detention center. He began to research his case and realized that if he were deported, he would surely face death upon arrival in Guatemala. This is because he had been part of a student movement while he lived in Guatemala and he now carried tattoos on his body. Although his tattoos were not gang related, Guatemala’s “social cleansing” would label him as a gang member, making him susceptible to torture and murder either by other gang members or by the police. Luis Enrique was not going to take this chance and asked the judge to allow him to defend his case. He continued to do research and began to reach out for legal assistance.

Thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, a national organization advocating for individual rights, and Homies Unidos, a Los Angeles based gang prevention organization, he received books to continue his research and was able to recruit three key experts who would aid him in convincing the Judge of the potential torture, or death that Luis Enrique could face if deported to Guatemala. Thanks to the Geneva Convention Laws against Torture, which was adopted by the United States, Luis Enrique successfully proved his case and won his freedom in December 2008.

Luis Enrique now continues to be a human rights activist and organizer. He is also a volunteer at Homies Unidos and gives legal assistance to detainees and conducts research for immigration cases. He is not a lawyer, but in fighting in court for his freedom for over two years, he has been able to use his experience for the benefit of the immigrant community. In a time of uncertainty for immigrants and their families, the story of Luis Enrique Guzman serves as an example for every individual to learn how to defend themselves, and stand up for justice.