I can tell if someone is Maya or Ladino, because I can just sense it. Sometimes Maya people try to act more like Ladinos. Some professional Maya women do not dress the traditional way. It’s cheaper to wear ‘normal’ clothes than to wear Mayan, because we have to make them, and if we cannot, we have to buy, but it costs thousands of quetzales. It’s very expensive, and we don’t have enough money to buy even food.That’s why some people try to use cheap clothes for their children. But the children grow up with these clothes, and then their mentality is not Maya anymore. Because if they wear pants or jeans, then they see in the shops and they want to buy that, they are more automatically, they are…being like Ladinos.They are Ladinos. But sometimes they don’t think about it, they just do it. They don’t think it’s good, or not good, they just do it.
At the university 99% of the students are Ladino. I can tell who the Maya students are, but not everyone can tell. But the thing is, we don’t talk about our culture.We know, we feel Maya, but we are, in Spanish we say, bloqueado (shut down).
But we act like Ladinos, because we are afraid, and we grow up with this mentality from our parents.They are thinking to teach us Spanish when we are small, because they don’t want us to suffer.They want us to survive, to be happy.
But if I have children I will teach them my language. But I am one in a thousand Maya, because I think like this, because I recognize the value of culture and I have investigated our origins, what we did in the past.We are totally different than what we would have been, without the Spanish, the army and being forced to become slaves. We didn’t have time in 500 years, to growourscience,ourknowledge,ourspirituality,becauseitwas cut, cut, cut!
We invented the zero, and the Europeans didn’t have the zero at that time. So we have an exact calendar.We have mathematics and science. Even now I don’t know a lot about my culture. I live here, and I still don’t understand many things.
Ever since I was a little kid I didn’t play games or anything. I started working when I was five years old. I was a little farmer. And after that I was with my grandmother in the little shop she had in the market.We were traveling, buying things from one place to another one, and we were surviving like this. Later I had a stepfather, and he didn’t like us, and he put me and my sister on the farm. She was a farmer, working like a man when she was little. He would separate us, I was about a kilometer from my sister at another place in the mountain.And I have trauma because I saw snakes or something, and I was scared, because I was only five years old.
We could plant our food, but we had to work for these Ladinos who give us a piece of land to live, but we had to work from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening, without lunch. I only have my breakfast and my dinner.That is why I am so small! This is still happening in Guatemala, with millions of Maya people.
I first went to school when I was nine. I didn’t speak Spanish.The teachers were Ladino, they prohibited us from speaking our language in school.We started laughing with each other, but we were not permitted to speak Poqomchi’.We had to speak Spanish without knowing any words.We have classes in Spanish, and we didn’t understand, and if we don’t understand they hit you on the head with a ruler.
I went to school only because my grandmother did everything she possibly could to send me to school. But my sister and brother didn’t go because they didn’t have any money to send them.When I was little my grandmother said that she could not pay any more for my studies. She asked me to find a job. So I went to ask in different private schools and public schools if I can continue going to school and how much money it cost every month. But at the end of the last year of grammar school, the principal of my school, he asked me—it was like an accident or a miracle—and he asked me, ‘Where do you live? What is your name?’ Because he didn’t know me because we were 1,500 students in that school. So in that moment he asked me where I live, who were my parents.And I say,‘I don’t have parents’ and then he offered me a job working with a dentist.
I needed to eat, I needed to study, I needed to pay for school.The principal was also looking for a scholarship for me, because my grades were high. I got a half-scholarship, but they only gave me the school fees, I had to pay my uniform, my books, everything else.
Later I got a job in a laboratory, and also in a photography studio, and I ask them not to pay me, just to give me food, and I will see where I can find some money, just ‘give me food and I will work for free’. And they accepted. But they did not want me to become a professional. So they fire me. After one month, they say, ‘Now we cannot give you food, so you have to leave. You don’t have a job anymore.’ So then I cannot pay for my studies, I did not have any food, and then I had to live on the streets again.
I have lived by myself since I was eleven years old. I had a teacher who asked me to go to live with his family, that they could help me and give me food,‘Because you are a good student, you should finish your career.’ But I felt so—how do you say?—without dignity, like they were insulting me too much. They weren’t! But I took it like that. I didn’t accept, I said, ‘Thank you, thank you very much, but I have hands, I am smart, and I can work to find a job. I love to learn and to be a student, and thank you for offering to help me. But I think I’m going to change my life, right now.’
So I took my stuff and I left school. I left Cobán and came to Antigua. I cried for four hours from Cobán to Antigua.Then I got work here. I thought maybe I could find a job with some organization because I speak two Mayan languages, and Spanish and also at that time I learned a little bit of French and English. I finished high school by correspondence. I started at the university in 2002; I’m studying International Relations. I like it because it’s very complete, because you know a little bit of everything of the world, economics, countries, everything.
I have had a lot of friends from Europe, but I didn’t have Maya friends. I used to when I was small in Cobán, but when I came here everything changed. I wanted to know Europeans, the white people, how they think, how they see the world, what they think about the Maya, and you discover that they see things totally different than we do. Maybe it’s normal. I cannot tell the white person about their own culture, and it’s the same thing with me.They just can think something about us, but they don’t know us. Tourists come here for vacation, not to learn. They take pictures and that’s all, like it’s an exotic thing. How do the tourists think they can understand it in a few months?
Some white people grew up with this anger, this racism. They hate the Maya.They think we are ugly, they think we are nothing and they want to live in a country without us.They were taught to be angry, taught to hate. And then they were shown,‘You can do this.They are nothing, they are Indians, they are the enemy to hate.’This is how they were brainwashed.Then they get crazy.This to me is not normal.
These attitudes still exist.When we go to the modern part of the City, they say,‘Ewww, this city, this part is not good anymore. Because there are Indians here.’ And that tells you they hate us. One time I went to a modern discotheque with one of my friends, and they didn’t let us in.They say,‘No, you cannot come in, you have to come with formal dresses.’ But my friend, she had on formal and expensive Mayan clothes. Because we have different clothes from what you use every day and from what you wear to a party, they are higher quality and expensive. She was dressed very elegant, and they didn’t let her in, just because she was Maya. A woman can be a doctor, lawyer, anything, and she can be treated like that, just because she is Maya.
During the violence the army tortured the women, they cut their breasts, and if a woman was pregnant they just took the baby, and then they killed them. They did things you don’t imagine that anyone could do.The Maya soldiers who were in thearmywereforcedtodothesethings.Youknow,someyoung people, they committed suicide after they did this. Afterwards they just couldn’t keep living.
Finally we are starting to write the history now.The people who did these things are still there, the army is still there, the government is still there, and the victims are here, but they are afraid to talk. The real truth is here, but there are only a few books where they talk about what really happened.