Tag Archives: guatemala

Letting go of 2013, one day, one moment at at time…

29 Dec

Its 3 days before 2014.

30 days ago I freaked out when I realized the year was coming to an end.

3 weeks ago I asked my partner, what do you have planned for New Years Eve? And I began to cry.

Grief hits in the most unexpected ways.

3 days ago I took the graduate school entrance exam for the school im applying to. I passed the exam, drove home excited, and then the tears rolled out.

My successes also bring about my grief.

In the past, I am always ready to let go of the year and bring in the new. This year will be hard to let go of.  2013 will be the year when I lost my father. It is the year that I buried him.

To let go of this year, means to continue letting go of him in this physical realm of time and space. The spirit world has different boundaries.

Last night I was listening to “El Condor Pasa”, one of my dad’s favorite songs, from his favorite genre of music, traditional Andean music. We had conversations about one day traveling out to Peru together. And in 2014, we were going to drive from Guate to Oaxaca in his truck. We were going to travel up the mountain and stay in Oaxaca for several days.

It’s not that I miss the trips that will never happen. It’s that I miss the conversations, the arguments, the understanding, and the friendship we were building as adults. I spent my childhood and adolescence with resentment towards the man my father had been towards my mother. I had witnessed and felt things that children are not supposed to see their parents go through. And once I was mature enough to understand the complexity of his victimization and suffering as a young man, I forgave him for eventually becoming a perpetrator.

My father had changed in many ways. Having seen those changes through the years manifested in him when I visited him a year ago. It made me proud of him. And I told him. I was at the airport, returning to L.A., and I called him para despedir me, and I said, “Dad, estoy orgullosa de ti.” Those words meant a different chapter for us in our relationship.

The months leading up to my father’s passing, we were in conversation about me going to grad school and my new job. We were going to meet up in Costa Rica in June, and instead I had to drop off his murder investigation files at the embassy.

2013 was the year I had the courage to finally apply to graduate school. It was the year I lived in Costa Rica. It was the year I turned my career into what I wanted it to look like, a teaching artist with organizations that use art as healing. It was the year that my nephews were old enough to recognize me as their Tia and listen to the lessons I have begun to teach them about patience, compassion, and anger. I have a home. I have food. I have health. I have friends. And I have a lot of love inside of me. It’s been a year I will continue to build and grow from because it taught me lessons of forgiveness, faith, and love.

Im writing this because im letting go… of what specifically, im not sure… but im acknowledging the pain in letting this year go.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxVMNQo4HAM

I just got dropped off here

8 May

“Just because i was born here, doesn’t mean i have to stay here”

That’s what i keep telling myself. There are hardcore loyalists to the city of Los Angeles. And i love my home. But in the larger timeline that exists amongst my family and ancestors… i just got dropped of here. My mom and dad dont even live here anymore. They both retired and are kicking it in Guatemala. The cost of living is more affordable for them over there. And I just happen to be born in Los Angeles, CA.

So since i returned from college in 2006, I’ve been trying to assemble my life, my home, my friends/community, family connections, career, etc. Its been a cool little journey so far. Ive found some really cool friends along the way. And I also found the person im in love with here. But I cant shake off the feeling of flying somewhere else.

A couple full moons ago, Olivia Chumasero of the Farmlab, reminded us during a gathering about how we are just visitors to this land. This was placed in the context of acknowledging the indigenous people of this land, the Tongva,  who were displaced off this land we now inhabit and call L.A.. I thought back to my ancestral land and I fully identified with being a visitor here. And that’s why i dont have to stay here.

A tree has several roots. I have a stubborn root that stretches all the way from Central America, then another one stuck in the Southbay/South Central. I even had a tiny root growing while i lived in Santa Cruz, but I had to yank that one out and take it back to L.A. Now im contending my next growth.

As i consider my future, and the generations to come, I realize that I have an opportunity to give my children a different home where they can grow there own little roots. Then i realized that they are just wanna head out somewhere else too and grow roots in some other corner of the world. Before I knew it, my mind traveled into the future and i saw my child deciding to move to New York for his/her career move. And so before Ive even given birth, im already aware that I have to say good bye.

I put myself in my mother’s shoes. All her daughters spread out across L.A… and she brought us here. The irony is she cant completely afford to stay with her family. Its a struggle. And its hard for her and for all of us. She’s coming back though, and my nephews and nieces are gonna have a grandmother again for a few months. Then she’s gotta go back. Ill probably go back with her to Guate for a few weeks. This is the root that needs lots of watering.

Nada es imposible!

22 Nov

Often times I’ve dreamed and hoped that one day ill get to travel and paint walls.  Even though walls are by far my favorite way of doing an art piece, they are not always the easiest to find…legally. Needless to say that combining the dream of painting on walls abroad has seemed far fetched…

And then I was in Xela sitting at Cafe R.E.D.. I got to talk to the owner, Willy, and pretty soon i learned a whole history of activism, revolution, spirituality, hopes, and dreams. Cafe R.E.D. is an awesome space with food, music, poetry, and film nights.  The walls are covered with amazing murals and photography. I mentioned to Willy that I was also an artist and he surprised me by inviting me to paint at the cafe. I said YES! and I returned the following week with brushes and a sketch book in my hands. The wall i painted was on a cute little balcony on the 2nd floor overlooking the cafe’s patio. 

my sister Maria helping out her little sister paint!

I learned that paint back at home in LA is really good paint bc what I was working with was kind of a hassle. It took several layers of paint to get the true colors out. Ni modo. It was part of the experience and it was still fun...

Almost done... it's the details that complete the vision ...

It’s a compliment when other’s think an art piece is done and it’s really not. It’s only done when the artist thinks its done. The details complete the vision. The vision lies within.

Soy Libre, ~7' x 5', 2011 (c)

The text reads: “Soy libre como el colibri. Vuelo desde las montanas Inkas hasta los templos Mayas. Al segui mi vuelo visito templos de Teotihuacan. Descanzo en tierras del Huichol y tomo medicina. A un mas lejos llego con amigos Apache, Navajo, Hopi, y Chumash…”

Because CAFE R.E.D.’s birth comes from a story of migration and a fight for liberation I wanted to paint a mural that proclaimed freedom. Birds are a representation of freedom for me and the only bird that is found in both North, Central, and South America are Hummingbirds. The flower has the America’s painted on it because our lands are beautiful, majestic, and fruitful. I painted a Mayan glyph symbol of the moon to honor divine femininity. And that more or less is my piece in Guatemala.

I feel really happy about contributing art in Guatemala. I would love to paint again and again in Guate. There are many huge cinder block walls that need color. Graffiti has been coming up in Guate… maybe next time ill get to spray paint…

Graffiti and Street Paving in Xela

As i continued my own flight across the America’s, my next stop was Panama. I shared some of this experience on my previous blog, aqui. The last two nights in Panama i stayed at a hostel in the historic town of Panama City. Panama City sits on the Pacific Ocean side and it is crazy, it has overgrown immensely, lending itself to tourism. (PIX will be uploaded later) Colon, which is the canal’s city on the Atlantic side is a mess… it seemed to me that it is forgotten and poverty overrides the streets. The Panama Canal expansion is set to open in 2014 and Panama City is very much rapidly changing and preparing itself for its GRAND Opening to the world. The canal is indeed impressive, even more impressive is the amount of cargo that passes through. Most of it going to the States where we consume, consume, and consume… Anyways, I learned alot about the history of Panama and there’s still so much more to understand.

All that to say that I was in the historic, colonial looking side of Panama City sitting in a hostel when i read that they need art in exchange for free a room. So i asked and that same afternoon I began painting… the only colors they had were purple and white… ni modo …

Nade es Imposible!, 5' x 8', 2011

The turtle says: Nada es imposible, tienes toda tu vida para alcanzar tus suenos… Nothing is impossible, you have your whole life to reach all of your dreams.

I wrote as a reminder for myself and a womyn named Maria, she works at the hostel cleaning rooms and she came to peek at my painting. We ended up talking for a good hour and she shared with me the story of her children. Her oldest daughter is 21 and she birthed her when she was only 17. Her daughter recently graduated from college and she told me that her daughter’s success was also her own success and dreams reached. We talked alot but i mentioned to her what I learned about turtle wisdom, which is that they know they have their whole life time to do everything they want to do. I remind myself to take it easy, i will reach my dreams, we all do… and so far I got to paint on walls in Guatemala and in Panama…I hope there’s a wall for me in Colombia…

Witness to a feminist movement in Guatemala

25 Oct

I made it! To Guatemala. The plane ride sucked. I left LAX at 2am and woke up from time to time on the plane. When the sunrise showed thru the window, it was absolutely beautiful. A thin orange and red glow outlined the top of mountains and the navy darkness covered the rest of the open sky. 

On Monday I went to check out my friend Kimberly Bautista’s film, Justice For My Sister. This film is about a womyn and her relentless efforts to fight impunity and convict the murderer of her sister. Even though her family is threatened, she continues to fight head on for her sister. In the struggle for her sister, she opens a fight larger than herself. It is a fight where a whole nation of womyn are seeking justice and an end to impunity. It was shown at a gathering of organizers preparing themselves to take on a nation wide campaign to help womyn against violence. My cousin, my mom and sister went with me. I’m so glad that they went. 

I had not seen the film in LA. But I am glad I saw it in Guatemala. The discussion after the film was so raw and truthful.   Every womyn that spoke yesterday has a personal story to share about how patriarchy and machismo has hurt them in their lives. One womyn shared how she hid her pregnancy until the day after she graduated from school. She was afraid her father would not let her finish her education. There is an ever growing urgency by womyn to demand an end to a culture that has allowed womyn to be mistreated, under-educated, raped, and killed. 

Violence against womyn happens at so many levels in Guatemala and around the world. But i sense a movement that is only growing bolder, stronger, and louder. This movement is telling boys and men to help womyn take care of the home. It is pleading with men to stop hitting their partners and instead learn to communicate and create harmony at home. It is telling men to take responsibility within their fatherhood. It’s telling society to respect single mothers. That a womyn’s body belongs her and not to a man or the state. This movement has recognized that their is war on womyn’s bodies and it needs to end. 

Silence is ending. Today i went to a womyn’s art festival, El Festival Ixchel. It is a 2 week long series of events organized by womyn. They have created spaces for womyn to showcase their art, sculpture, photography, graffiti, film, poetry, and music. Tonight i saw a series of short films made by Guatemalan womyn. Each film is dynamic, taking on multiple issues that affect womyn. One of my favorite short films was done by a collective of Indigenous womyn from Solola named Asociación Centro de mujeres comunicadora mayas “Nutzij”. You can check here and here to learn about them.

I am witnessing a feminist movement in my mother’s homeland. It is not a new movement, but it is colorful. It makes sense, Guatemala is very colorful! 

Me Voy

21 Oct

Im leaving again. This time its not for youth work or to escape. Im going to Guatemala to spend time with my family. Then I am hopping over to Panama. Ive never been to Panama and im so happy that I get to see this part of Central America. One of my goals in life is to visit every Latin American country. So far I’ve been to Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, & Guatemala. During this trip im checking off Panama and Colombia on my list!

While in Colombia I will be attending the 12th Latin American Feminist Conference, aka: El Encuentro Feminista. I attended the conference in Mexico City in 2009 and I was in full bliss to sit among 1,600 self-proclaimed feminist. Since then i have reclaimed my identity as a proud feminist womyn. I’ve chosen to define my feminism. One that encompasses compassion, healing, & self-care. One that talks back when disrespected. One that builds with womyn. And also

one that builds with men bc they are our fathers, brothers, cousins, friends, and sometimes our partners.  I do art, work with youth, walk my spiritual path, and it all fits within my feminist identity.

I will return in December. My birthday month! So i”ll see you then and trust! we are gonna celebrate the Sagitarius reign when i get back! 

Below are two videos inviting womyn from all walks of life to the feminist gathering. Even if you think you’re not a feminist, most likely you are… check it out! 

 

 

more videos herehttp://www.12encuentrofeminista.org/pagina.php?p_a=26&d=videos-encuentros-feministas-latinoamericanos-y-del-caribe

Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama

4 Oct

CENTRAL AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL

October 19-21 | 2011

12PM – 8PM

@ the Charles E. Young Research Library,

 Main Conference Room | UCLA

art by Ana Ruth Castillo

 

Central America’s recent films emerge out of the ashes of political turmoil, war, immigration, and uneven development. To bring a ention to the region and its issues as well as its vibrant culture and artistic creativity, this festival presents films by both emerging and established artists. 

Highlights include La Yuma, the first Nicaraguan film in forty years and Amor y Frijoles, a gem of Honduras’ nascent film industry, among many
others. The festival kicks off with the documentary Paradise for Sale, which will be preceded by a short introduction by filmmakers Anayansi Prado and Carolina Rivera.

The complete schedule is available at http://www.library.ucla.edu/news/14124.cfm.
Admission is free, and no reservations are required; seating is on a first-come basis.

Co-sponsored with the UCLA César Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and the Latin American Institute

 

 

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

Reparando

5 May

What is the saddest thing you could ever learn about?

My answer is: Guatemala

Yes, my parents land, my ancestral land. Guatemala is a beautiful place. Undeniably so. Beautiful mountains, tall volcanos, magical lakes, lush jungles with rivers birds, flowers… the culture and the colors shake your senses… and then there’s our temples and pyramids.

So why is it sad? Our history is sad. The longest civil war in Latin America took place in Guatemala for 36 years. Genocide swept our little country under the guise of killing “communists”. Femicide began during the Genocide and continues presently. Young men join the Maras and kill and threaten everyday struggling people. Police and politicians are corrupt and have created a culture of impunity. But when you learn that all the present tragedy is the result of U.S. Military funding, CIA operations, and dictator installations taught at the School of the Americas in the U.S., its devastating and frustrating. And when you learn about what the genocide looked like, how it massacred hundreds of indigenous villages, raped and murdered womyn, and left thousands of children orphaned, your heart breaks.

With all of this in mind, I still took myself to watch a film about Central America’s largest slum dwelling, La Limonada, in the capitol city of Guatemala. (Thank fully i wasn’t on my moon or headed there, the last time I watched a film about Guatemala before my moon, i was in mourning for over a week) Unlike Killer’s Paradise or Discovering Dominga, the film “Reparando”, offered a sense of hope. This film offered a beautiful story of two hard working community organizers in La Limonada that endured difficult challenges in their lives such as domestic violence, immigration, child abuse, and drug abuse.

Tita, is a womyn that began a little school in La Limonada to offer some hope, love, and a safe space for children growing up next to the biggest land fill in Guatemala. The children in La Limonada have scavenged through the trash for many years but through Tita and the school they are educating themselves and creating positive futures in their lives. Shorty, is another protagonist in the film. His father was disappeared during the war, his mother fell victim to drug abuse after her partner’s death, he found himself being raised by the streets. When he was ready to change his life, he came to La Limonada and opened a church and drug rehabilitation center. Their stories are powerful and heart breaking, but their resilience and empowerment lifts you back up. It was an amazing journey to sit in the movie theater and learn their stories and the stories from La Limonada.

Reparando means to repair. This film was created with a positive intention of telling the story of people trying to heal themselves and their communities. The film itself came about from a husband and wife that adopted their children in Guatemala. After learning about Guatemala’s history, genocide, and potential future that their children could have faced, they decided to find a way to help. The film Reparando is one way.

After the film screening I bought a DVD copy. In the past I have seen these films about my home country and have felt alone. There’s a strong need inside of me to share the film with others so that they could understand where I come from. In the past I have done film screenings for Killer’s Paradise and Discovering Dominga because I needed more people to know about Guatemala. I hope that one day I can do more than film screenings and travel to Guatemala with friends and show them the beautiful. Unless you go there, there’s no way of fully comprehending how beautiful Guatemala is. Anyways, if you guys can, please support this film. Any donations to this film production will do the following 3 things: (1) Fund the construction of a bakery for the Drug Rehab Center in La Limonada, (2) Give resources to the schools in La Limonada, (3) Fund the production of an upcoming film about street children in Guatemala.

http://www.reparandomovie.com/

Watch the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/athentikos/trailer01

Film Screening of Killer’s Paradise

8 Apr

As promised, I wanted to bring this film screening to a larger audience than the one I had been a part of a couple months ago when I first saw Killer’s Paradise. Please come and support this film and add yourself to the awareness efforts of the tragic reality that is being lived by womyn in Guatemala. The first step in change is learning about the issue. This film speaks to many issues that are affecting womyn around the globe. 

There’s so much to say on the subject. So come and be a part of this event. There will be photography shared by a friend of mine, Sandra Luna. She is from Guatemala and has captured amazing stories through her lens. Timoi, an amazing L.A. based artist, Guatemalan native, will be sharing an art piece of Rogelia Cruz. Also, Claudia Serrato, will be leading an opening ceremony for the screening. All and all, we are coming together to send positive energy and thoughts to all womyn. Please add your presence. 

Finally, tonight I will be on Feminist Magazine airing on KPFK 90.7 FM at 7PM to talk about the film and the issue at hand. Listen in or find us on KPFK’s archives 🙂 

 

killersparadise

Explaining the Guatemalan Femicide

15 Feb

I have contemplated and dwelled all day. I’ve been feeling as though im in mourning, but I don’t have a grave to cry upon. A part of me feels very alone.

On January 28, 2009, I went to a free film screening of Killer’s Paradise, directed and produced by Giselle Portenier, a film maker from Canada, producing for the BBC. She made this film after learning about the femicide in Guatemala in 2005. Her film captured 3 months worth of murders, tortures, rapes, grief, and trauma. Needless to point out the tremendous impact this had on my spirit. I have not yet recovered. But it is from this point that I wish to write.

Femicide and violence in Guatemala is not a recent inexplicable phenomenon. In fact, I take it back to 500+ years of mental, spiritual, physical, and territorial conquest. That’s where I begin this story. When my ancestors, Mayas, were brutally tortured, enslaved, diseased, and murdered in the name of the Spanish crown. Spring forward to the 20th century and Mayan’s were still being enslaved as indentured servants. A mother would be given “loans”, thrown coins in exchange for her sons. If she wanted her children back, she would have to repay the landowners.

When Jacobo Arbenz became president of Guatemala in 1951, there was already a Latin American re-socialization of land, class, workers and citizen’s rights. He was democratically elected with 60% of the vote after an overthrowing by dictator Jorge Ubico. Thanks to the influence of his wife, Maria Cristina Villanova, he continued the Agrarian Land Reform where only unused acres of land were expropriated and given to the peasant class, the Mayas, the original owners of the land. He also created 8 hour work days, and 5 day work weeks.

The United Fruit Company (one of the original owners of this company used to be slave trader), also known as Chiquita Banana, cried RED when they were made to give up land they did not use. They stepped inside the offices of Nixon and Kissinger and made themselves out to be victims. The CIA orchestrated a coup de tat and soon enough, in 1954, they made Arbenz step down from office. By the 1960’s a civil war had broken out between the military and human right defenders / guerilla fighters. The civil war in Guatemala lasted 36 years, when the Peace Accords were signed in1996. This was longest civil war in Latin American history.

The United States trained and funded generals and soldiers in what became a genocide. It has been documented that the Guatemalan Armed Forces used tactics of war and torture similar to those used in Vietnam. Over 626 massacres occurred during the armed conflict. Over 200,000 people were murdered/disappeared, and over 1.5 million people were displaced.

close-up-of-mass-grave-skeltons

The Commission on Historical Truth recognizes that genocide did occur in Guatemala. Genocide is defined as: the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group by way of:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In Guatemala, the Mayan race was/is considered sub-human.  And within this genocide began the femicide. Military officials and presidents in Guatemala such as Efrain Rios Montt, trained and armed men to systematically wipe off villages from the map. In the 1980’s the number of men being murdered actually dropped, and the number of women murdered began to rise steadily and gravely. It is said that women would birth “insurgents”, and so this became the justification for the mass murders of womyn. The rate of murder by the military during the 1980’s now measures similarly to the rate of murder in present time Guatemala. And it is true that a country shamed and threatened into silence, has been unable to heal and recover.

After a film a discussion follows. And questions of confusion arose, despite the clear picture the film had presented. Maybe reality is too much to accept. But people did not seem to understand what the word impunity means. Do you know what impunity looks like? If you can imagine hundreds of thousands of men who were trained to kill but no longer in war, what jobs would be available to them. Many of the military officials now fill the ranks of Guatemala’s National Civil Police and/or appoint themselves to political offices. There is nothing civil about Guatemalan officials, policemen, military, or politicians. They are corrupt, dirty, and greedy. They sell their country, pocket the money, and lie to the public. If only lying was the extent of their crimes, but they also murder. Hence, if the very people in political and governmental offices are criminals, can you expect its citizens to follow the law?

There is also such a thing as extra- judicial killings which are an everyday occurrence in Guatemala. Police murder young men and women on suspicion that they are “marreros”, gang members. The assumptions are plenty, and the killings follow. Policemen also steal from citizens, check points can mean your cell phone, wallet, and personal belonging can be stolen by the police, or maybe you’re lucky and really you can just buy them off with a “mordida”.

Combine this corruption with poverty, trauma, and patriarchy, and you have only begun to realize what women in Guatemala live and die by. When women are murdered, it is believed that somehow, they deserved it, they asked for it, they provoked their own death. And if a woman wants to be educated, or not get married, or speak out, she’s a bitch, breaking tradition, and also deserving of violence to correct her manners.

There is also the issue of domestic violence coupled with alcoholism that reigns many households. Many children are traumatized and continue the cycle of violence. Many children are also abandoned and left alone on the streets to fend for themselves. They are recruited or forced into the gangs and many times if they do not join they will surely die. Many young children growing up on the streets clearly know the face and soul of violence. They become violent. And women become their victims.violencia-contra-las-mujeres-en-guatemala

61008femicidio

If I travel to my country, I am a potential victim. My body could be snatched from my family; I could be tortured, strangled, burned, and/or punctured with a knife countless times. I could be raped or gang raped; killed, decapitated, limbs cut off and my naked body dumped in the trash, or a river. It doesn’t end here. My family could search for me and never find me. Or maybe they will but it won’t matter that my nails carry the skin I tore from my murderer, or that in my vagina I still carry his semen. It will not matter that the pattern in which they killed me happened to 20 other womyn before me, and 20 more to come because of impunity, patriarchy, and incompetence by investigators and police officials, including the president. This happens, daily. There are no human rights. And Guatemala is only one country, out of the many other countries were womyn are attacked.

There was a young man from Guatemala who was speaking to the filmmaker before me.
He said, “but men are also being murdered, what about them?”
Giselle responded, “This is true. Men are being murdered. But women are not killing men. Men are killing women.”

This is about gender. This is about women not having the kinds of freedoms men are inherited upon birth. This is about women being depicted on television as sexual objects, satisfying the needs of men. This is about the men on the streets that stare women down and whistle at them, or invade their space. It is about rape. It is about men not being consciousness of sharing space with womyn, whether its in politics, companies, the arts, whatever. You name it, and women are not included in the conversation. Women have to make spaces for themselves. They have to tell men to step back. Respect is not mutual or a given. Patriarchy is violent towards both men and women. Excuse me for just speaking to these two genders, it is not my intention to dismiss non-gender conforming individuals. (I don’t like the word conforming, btw.)

If you didn’t know, know you do. If you did know, I can remind myself that I am not alone in my own grief and understanding of this reality. It is unfair. And it feels like my heart is being grasped by a tight fist and even after they let go, my heart will still feel bruised and pained. This is what I carry. And yet it is nothing. I have not lost a sister or my mother yet. They are alive. I am alive. And I don’t ask, “what should I do, omg”. In my everyday work and manifestations, my spirit and energy moves through the shades of darkness as I follow the warmth and the light we know as justice and peace.

http://www.sobrevivientes.org
http://www.geocities.com/lacuerda_gt/
http://www.myspace.com/chapinasunidas
http://www.mimundo.org
http://www.miamericas.info
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98593139
http://www.prensalibre.com/pl/2009/enero/10/285753.html
http://www.myspace.com/juarezawareness
http://www.myspace.com/RadioMujeresAbriendoCaminos
http://www.MujeresAbriendoCaminos.com
http://www.gems-girls.org
http://www.mysistahs.org

GUATEMALA/

juarez

4

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.