post on Guatemalan history from my blog at:
Guatemala reveals itself slowly. I have been somewhat disturbed by reading The Long Night of White Chickens…..which paints such a dark and negative picture of Guatemala, of course during the long time of violence, here. But he paints, also, a negative feeling about Guatemalans, themselves; almost as though something in their nature could have brought about this time of silence, betrayal, and viciousness. My Guatemalan writer friend comes by my house to talk about his emerging book and says, without my mentioning this book or my thoughts about it, that he wants to get out of Guatemala again; away from this place where there has been such ugliness. He tells me friends of his were tortured and murdered during that period.
This story from him makes the history I know even more personal and apparently more wide-spread, since he and his friends lived in the Capital. Somehow I had thought the massacres and torture and uprootings that existed in the highlands – evidently unknown to Antigua-dwellers, according to my Spanish teacher and my expatriate friend, (although she said, “We didn’t know; we didn’t WANT to know”) – was the only period or place of horror since the conquest.
In the long history of Guatemala there were of course earlier times of terror……..the conquest, certainly, the herding of indigenous people into pueblos like the one I live in now, the civil war in the 60s - started by soldiers angered at the placement of troops here by the US, to train to fight in Cuba, as I understand it from him, and then the massacres in the 80s. And there were natural disasters, notably in the early colonial period…..devastating earthquakes, Volcan Agua’s deluge….and later earthquakes, and the hurricane that destroyed lives in October of 2005, just before my first visit here. Layers and layers.
Perhaps some of the joy I sense here in people is just the joy of being alive in a time in which these things are NOT going on. I think of the way the earth recovers after a natural disaster, and even a war. Sometimes it takes years but the spirit of life recovers, plants grow up from the overturned soil, flowers blossom, and seeds drop to sprout again.