I made several trips to Guatemala in the late 1980's. My first solo excursion was to Antigua for a seven week language school. My heart was hooked from the moment I stepped off the dilapidated school bus packed with chickens, mothers and endearing Mayan children. My soul followed suit as I observed Mayan women on the streets, their elaborate cosmos woven into colorful fabrics and finely stitched designs; their solid presence upon the planet; the immaculate simplicity of their swept-clean dirt floors. Several weeks into classes I boarded a bus for the famous market in Chichicastenango when I was stopped short at remote bus stop where rural Mayan women, destined for Guatemala City, held large photos of young boys and men. "Donde esta mi esposo?" the posters read ~~ "Where is my husband?" Where were their sons and mates, kidnapped and disappeared from the face of the earth? The mothers risked their lives to travel days across country and stand silently, holding the remnant of their loved one in public. They journeyed to remind the president and his murderous military that they would not forget. That the holocaust against the indigenous peoples would not go unnoticed.
I continued to Chichi that day as I witnessed sudden stops of buses by the military, including mine. Everyone was ordered off the bus. We few Gringos were not hassled or touched as we were ordered to stand aside while poverty-stricken women, children and men were frisked and intimidated. The following weekend I, too, began to make the weekly sojourns to the City and photograph the courageous women. When I returned to the United States I joined a group called "Women for Guatemala" and began to spread the word through writing and slide show presentations.
I recently read that Otto Perez Molina, the new President of Guatemala, had the support of the United States. An uneasy feeling came over me. Otto was my dad's name; not a name I easily forgot. It stuck in the recesses of my memory.
"If you want to see what's happening to the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, visit the Ixil Triangle," I was told around 1987. And so I did. Call me crazy; Guatemala had a way of bringing out the risk in me. On my second trip to Guatemala I rented a jeep and headed far from the safety of the Gringo trail, into the highlands of Maya-lands where 70-90% of the villages were razed by the military. When I entered the villages the first thing I noticed were men with machine guns in high parapets at the entrance; the second thing I noticed was that there were no Mayan men of military age. They were "disappeared." Perez Molina was the military commander in charge of the Ixil Triangle. He was trained the in the infamous "School of the Americas" in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Also known as the School of Coups; the School of the Assassins.
Over two hundred thousand Guatemalans were slaughtered during the civil war, Mayans as well as anyone who supported human rights: activists, university professors, doctors, religious priests and nuns. According to a recent article by he new President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina denies genocide occurred.
I wrap my fingers around the stunning handwoven bag I purchased from a family of weavers on an unforgettable afternoon in their dark, barren home. I remember the vibrant sharp witty girl children, the stoop in women's walks and the fear in their eyes. I had carried a polaroid camera and spawned joyous scenes of picture taking. The images I handed the giggling youngsters of themselves must have seemed like miracles. Those children would now have children and grandchildren of their own. I pray for miracles in their hands; safety, respect and justice in their villages and homes.
I'm watching you, Otto Perez Molina. Ready to scream bloody murder.