In school, the history that we study is about Christopher Columbus, or other histories that happened in nearby countries, but a real history of our community or of our country we never learned in school…Even though I didn’t know anything about the history, in my work I learned what really happened.There are many versions, because some say:‘It’s because of the army,’ others say,‘It’s because of the guerrillas.’What that helps me to understand is that, despite the fact that the people lived the conflict directly, they don’t know the root of the conflict. So many parents don’t know how to tell the history because if there is no root, then you don’t know how to begin to tell it.Then there are many young people who don’t know the history.”
What is the consequence for a community, for a nation, when people do not know their history? No one taught Porfirio, Elías or Laura the true history of their country.There was no national narrative, no agreed-upon and accepted version of historical events. Rather they pieced together the past from various sources:“A guy in a bar told me…”; “I heard a rumor that…”;“You never knew who you were talking to…”They had to gather information themselves to try to create a coherent story of what had happened. Today they are committed to making sure that the younger generation learns the truth—an accurate version of the past—which has everything to do with the present and the future of Guatemala.
One story that is always with me is a woman who told me, ‘It’s Rios Montt’s fault that I killed my son. I am a murderer!’ Because she was pregnant when they had to escape to the mountains. The baby was born in the mountains…it’s normal for a baby to cry a lot. But the group she was with told her, ‘Quiet that baby! They are going to hear us.You have to quiet him!’ So she covered his mouth and nose.The baby got sick. He didn’t die right away, he died five days later. She remembers this all the time. She says,‘I am a murderer. I killed my son. If I hadn’t killed him, he would be twenty years old.’
Hearing these stories, trying to tell her she is not a murderer, that it’s not her fault, is very difficult. Because when the people have suffered a lot, they see everything in black and white.They can only see the black and not the strengths that they have. It’s like that for this mother who survived, and was able to take care of her smaller children after she became a widow. She was left with four little children, and the fact that she managed to take care of them means that she is a strong woman. But she isn’t able to see that light in her life.