March 2005

All the people in our town were killed during the massacre. My mother was killed. My grandparents had already died. Our original village, Yalamopoch, was burned. Our house was burned. It’s not there, it doesn’t exist. We escaped with my father. It took 3 days for us to get to Mexico. We went with many people through the mountains, there isn’t a path. We went day and night, climbing. We were hiding from the army in the mountains.

When we got to Mexico we weren’t received well, but they allowed us to stay. Before this war, my father would go every so often to work in Mexico. So, he already had friends there. We lived in a refugee camp, far away from the Mexicans. We lived in a house with a lot of people, maybe 10 people. It was very crowded. The houses were very close together. I went to elementary school and one year of secondary school there.

My father, my uncles, all of the people that went to Mexico they told me what happened. I didn’t see what happened but they talked about it. It is very sad. It affected me a lot because I didn’t have a mother. In Mexico we talked a lot about this, but, well, we only talked between the refugees, not with the Mexicans. Sometimes it’s better not to …we prefer not to talk. Because it’s sad, it’s painful.

We came back to Guatemala because my father is a leader, an important person, he’s an organizer of the refugees.

We returned on January 13, 1993.What happened was, the Permanent Commission organized the return of the refugees to Guatemala. The Permanent Commission was organized in Mexico, for those of us who had lived in Tescado.

We gathered in Comitan. They put us in Quintana Roo, Campeche, Merida. Then we gathered on the 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 of January. And on the 20 of January we left Comitan. We arrived at the Mesilla, the same day, and we stayed to sleep in Huehuetenango. So, on the 20th of January, we returned. We crossed the border of Mexico into Guatemala.

And where I live, my village is called Victoria 20 de enero, because we crossed the border of Mexico on the 20 of January in 1993. We were the first group of returnees.

I was 13 years old. I was sad because I didn’t want to come because I wasn’t used to Guatemala and things were going well in Mexico. I was studying typing and how to make shoes and jewelry .

I was crying and my father was crying, too. We were both very sad. We didn’t want to return to Guatemala because it’s very violent. I was reading in the newspaper this past month that Guatemala is the 4th most violent country in the world. It’s worrisome, but that’s the way it is.

My uncles didn’t return to Guatemala, because they were afraid. They are still living in Mexico.

So, I was in secondary school when we arrived here in Guatemala. I studied basico. In IGER, by correspondence because we didn’t have money to be able to study in a college. So, that’s how I studied. I studied two years in IGER. I finished tercero basico and the next year, I studied teaching in a boarding school. I studied there for three years. After three years there, I graduated as a bilingual teacher in two language, Spanish and K’iche.

But now I am very happy living in Guatemala. I am a Guatemalan citizen. I’m expecting to get my diploma and my license. I’m looking forward to that. What matters to us is to rise above our history. To be professionals now. That is our hope.

The students talk together. Yes, we talk about superficial things. Sometimes I talk with people who have a similar situation. But there are many students who have a different situation. Maybe a student who stayed in Guatemala or went to another country, it’s not like my situation because my family went to Mexico and came back.

But to speak of the war is a bit dangerous. Because sometimes, the people that talk a lot about the stories, it can be that they are killed. So, it’s better not to talk to whatever person…how would I say it? We say, we cannot talk about this when a military, or an ex-military is there. We say, maybe the military is going to tell you ahhh… it’s the military that killed the people… So, I don’t talk about the situation. You have to be careful in public. It’s somewhat dangerous.

I like studying. It opens our minds to see things with objectivity and for that reason, I have liked it. And it’s the only way to come out ahead…we cannot live the way we were in the villages; a man who is 15 years old already has a woman. I am 25 years old and I do not have a wife.

But I think that we, the professionals, we are going to be the difference in the future. Yes, this is the hope, and I think that we have to do it. That’s why I’m studying English, I want to be a professor. Now I’m studying law at the University. I enrolled to study in the University of San Carlos with the support of the program (FEPMaya). I studied in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 up until now.

Now I want to prepare myself to be something important. In the future. That’s why I want to learn other languages. I’m going to keep going. I hope to study in another country. In the next year or two I have to write my thesis and then I’ll finish.

I hope to write a book about my history. I hope to write my book.


My name is K’in. In regards to what happened to my family during the war in Guatemala, what I remember, or better said, what my mother tells me, is that I was just a few weeks old when my whole family had to leave Santa Cruz del Quiche for the capital because my father was a health provider in the town where they lived and he was very involved with religious activities, which had them in the “black list” that the army had. My father and my 3 older siblings were on the list. My mother wasn’t, but they decided that we all went to the capital for security reasons.

Then, from that time, around 1980, 1981, we were in the capital. My father had to start working selling fruits, vegetables, and things like that. He had to do business and my older brothers also helped him, while my mother stayed home with us, the younger ones, and took care of house chores. We hadn’t been in the capital very long, when my grandparents, on my father’s side, and a cousin, were massacred in Santa Cruz. A few months later, they kidnapped my father, he disappeared, and, to this date, we don’t know anything about him, whether or not he died.

After this, my older siblings had no other option but to join the guerrilla. Three of them joined it, and one of them had to go to Mexico for exile. The 4 younger ones stayed with my mother. One of my sisters that had join the guerrilla got pregnant and had to come back to the capital with us. She was doing my father’s job. From one place to the other, we were never very long at one place, one week in one place, a few days in another one, etc., until we decided to reside permanently in the capital, for the same security reasons because my mother heard constant news that the army wanted to killed the whole family.

So, she decided to leave my 2 young brothers in a boarding school. They were there for about 10, 12 years. Also, my young sister and I were left at another boarding school. We were there for 3 1/2, almost 4 years. My mother worked with an organization for the displaced from the war. For several years she was an activist there. Then, she decided she had to get the 4 younger siblings together again, and she came back and got my sister and me from the boarding school, but my other 2 young brothers were left at the boarding school where they were.

After many years, when the peace was signed, I met my older siblings. I only got to know them recently. They came back to a “normal” life, so to say, and I think that that may be the reason that we don’t have a close family relationship. Each one  is doing their own thing.

However, we all know we have to continue fighting for justice for the family and the community since it was the job my father started in Santa Cruz del Quiche. That’s all I have to say.



Kaqla discussing Cual Guerra?

After reading the book, my first impression or my first feeling is the importance of keeping the memory and to rescue the memory. Because with the civil war, we lost, we lost our process, we lost our life. But basically, we lost our opportunity to talk and to say what is going on in our life, what we were feeling because of  the civil war, because  of oppression, because of repression. And I think we didn’t have the time to reflect and to think where are we going, you know.

Because people were so busy trying to survive?

Exactly. So with this opportunity to talk and to remember, because this is the importance of  memory, to remember that we were living… I mean, we were living in this time, you know, and we have to remember what we felt, you know, we cannot continue in the life forgetting or losing this part of our memory. So, I say it is important to keep the memory. Not just for the next generation, but for all the world, for us, for our dignity, for our existence. We have to remember where we were, what we were feeling. So it is important for us, and then, in my opinion, we can do something with the memory of the people who died during the civil war. But we need to recognize ourselves first.

What about the people who say that the memories and remembering the history are too painful?

I agree, and I think that it is so painful, but I think it’s better to live seeing and touching this pain, because after you can talk, you feel better about yourself, I mean, it’s part of your life and you need to talk about this .The first time or the first times can be very painful, but then I think it can get easier. And the pain is part of our life and it’s the most hard part of our life and sometimes we cannot see it, you know, we don’t want to see it, we don’t want to recognize it in our life; we just want to go on, walking straight, and not turn around to see ourselves with our pain, with our bad feelings. But there are good things, too. So, I think it’s necessary.

The reality is that even if you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean that you don’t feel pain.

Exactly. Well, my Mom talks sometimes, you know. This morning she was remembering some parts of our suffering in our life then. And she talks about things, but just for a little bit. I mean, some nights she wakes up and starts to talk about my sister who “disappeared” or sometimes about my father who was murdered. And then she stops and sleeps. I mean, you just have to listen to her, you know. And it’s just s little bit. But I can see that it’s different now from five years ago, or ten years ago.

She’s talking more now. Maybe just five minutes, or one minute, and maybe just to remember something, like “Oh, this food was your sister’s favorite food” and “I remember one time”, like that…

And maybe if you start to ask her, or something like that, she’s like… she’ll stop talking, you know. And my feeling about this book is… one is that I thought that I have all the perspective of the painful parts of the human history, but when I read the book, I say no, this is more than I was thinking, you know. I feel closer to the people (who told their stories) and I feel that it’s a history of all of us, you know. I feel that I can share more, maybe through the book I could understand the people and share with them, you know, that I’m with them and they are with me. Even though maybe we never talk about this, never.

In my testimonio I said that we lost things and maybe will never recover, you know, but now I can think that we are building again together, you know, it’s the opportunity to building again and to say yes, we had this situation, we lost many things, but we are living now, we are alive and we are rebuilding, too. I think it’s necessary to continue and to look to the future and to see what we want as an individual, as a Maya movement, as, you know, as a struggle, the Mayan struggle. We have to see the past and to talk about the past. And I think that’s what’s most important about this book. And I think it’s the first book to talk about young people’s experiences, not political. This does not mean that young people don’t have political positions, but I think we are talking about our experiences when we were very young or little boys or little girls, you know, little people. So, I think this is the most important, to give a voice to us to say what we were feeling during that time. Not now, that time.

That’s exactly what you said to me, and I remember the moment…It was way before I’d even written the book. You said, “thank you for bringing the story of young Maya people out into the world”. And I remember standing there with you, thinking,  “I can’t do that, that’s too hard, I don’t know how to do that”. And with your help and with the help of all of the other people giving their testimonies, we were able to do it. 

You articulated that very early on, way before I knew what we were doing. And that catapulted me forward into making it happen. What I hope will happen with the book is that we find a way to get it into the school system, so that other young people will learn about and be able to understand what the real history is. You said before that the book is simple, it’s written in simple language; that’s because that’s the way people told it, it’s not theoretical. These are the voices of the people who lived the experience.

I agree. My Mayan guides told me that the pain can purify you, and he said that our life is like hilo,(thread) and sometimes we have to wind and unwind it.

And some parts of our life are not too good, are not too happy, you know, but when we take the pain, I feel that we can do this, we can purify our soul. And then I can remember more clearly the other people who cannot talk anymore because they died. And the history is in Cual Guerra?, many people talk about friends, about parents, about brothers, about fathers, about sisters.

Maybe before they could not talk, or they don’t want to talk about this ever, but now they are actually recognizing their struggle. I mean, with the testimonios of the students, they are recognizing not only their own lives, they are recognizing the life of the family, the struggle of the family. And I think it is not necessary that they have political implications.  It’s their everyday life. So I think this is, for me, the most important of the book.

Do you think it’s possible to get the book embedded into the educational system so that more people would read it? And what do you think would be the best way to distribute it?

I think it’s difficult but it can be a goal,  because, for example, in the Peace Accords one of the commitments was that the Truth Commission Reports be distributed through the official educational system.

And has that happened?

No. No. And it’s a commitment of the government, you know, because the UN said that it’s necessary for the new generation to know what happened in Guatemala and, actually, the first recommendation was from the REMHI, the book from Archbishop Gerardi, Guatemala, Never Again! The UN said that is necessary to share, to talk about this. It hasn’t happened because this official system is not interested. One side is not interested in talking about this; the other side is interested in hiding, you know.

So, even though there is the mandate that this information be disseminated, it hasn’t happened. So, do you think that Cual Guerra? would fall into the same category, that the government would not want the book distribute?

We can try it. Editorial Cholsamaj probably has contacts with the Cultural Ministry, and maybe they would talk with the Educational Ministry, and we can see. And maybe it could be distributed through the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation, for example. Or the Presidential Commission against Racism.

And, you know Ricardo Falla? He is a priest, who was with the CPR (Communities of Population in Resistance) during the civil war and, actually, he has started to write about young people. Because he said that the last time we had the histories about the civil war it was just about adults, but what happened with the kids? And last year he made a presentation about young people.

The book is about how they are living now. Young people in Mayan communities where the civil war was very hard, for example, in Ixcán or Quiché. What’s going on with them, you know. So, he was thinking about a strategy to share and to send the books to more young people…

I think Cual Guerra? tells it’s such an important part of history that you all had the courage to speak about. It’s so important to get it out and have people read it. So that’s the next step. 






I was between 8 and nine years old in 1982 during the worst part of the war. We were in a town near where there were massacres. But we were lucky that they did not continue with the massacres, they stopped about 4 or 5 Kms. from my town. The military came to my town but they were tired of killing . So, in my town they just rest, but all the men get together to receive the military and around 5 or 6 p.m., the military arrive at the school and talk with the men in the community and say they want food. So, the men go back to their houses and bring all the food they can for the military and the military sleep that night at the school, in our community, in Santa Eulalia.
Our people used vacuum sealers in the military camp and I really like this idea, highly recommended for everyone. Read more about vacuum sealers on the shark rocket review that’s come out recently. It has everything you need to get started.

In the morning before the military arrive, the people who see the massacres run from the military walk white ghosts.  In my village, the people who were fleeing said to my mother and father “let’s go, the military are coming”. My father and mother say “No, this is my home, I can’t abandon my home”, and everybody left by midday, but my father and the community waited. I don’t know why but they all waited. They say, “If we’re going to die, we die, but we won’t leave.”

It was lucky, when the soldiers arrive they don’t do anything. They  said “We’ll guard tonight and you guard tomorrow. You can go home to rest”. So, it was like an option to wait for death, to die at home. But, that night with the military there, my father and mother pray to God together, to the God that doesn’t exist, but they all pray. All my family got together. I was very little…

All of my siblings were born by then, there are 8 of us, the little ones and the older ones with my father. So, we pray that night but I don’t understand then, not now.  My parents cry and pray. I was 8 or 9, I didn’t understand, but nothing happened during the night. The next day, the military return to town and go in the military trucks to the military base in Huehue, so luckily nothing happened to us. They were tired of so many days and nights just killing, so when they got to us they just wanted to rest and nothing else.

What did your parents tell you?

They already knew about the massacres , how they happen before.  When the military come they already know everything, they hear that the military kills people. Women, men, houses, everything…they know.

Yes, they know.  My father mostly, maybe because of pride, was trying to organize the civil autodefense groups. They voluntarily got together and they take the Guatemalan flag and welcome the military, so it’s like a good relationship. Because if they are not welcomed, it is as if the groups were guerrillas.

It’s just a warning from the military. That’s why my father talked a lot with the military. He’s like a friend of theirs because he belongs to the civil autodefense group. In the past, my father was the commander in chief for about 4 years. But later on, in 91, 92, 93, there were no problems with killings.  With the past commanders there were.

My village is very big. The military were killing in communities far from the city where there’s no newspaper. But my town is close to the city, so it’s more difficult for the military to kill.

Rios Montt’s killing policy comes from a mix of different cultures. It’s called “model towns”. He uses the United States system for killing. Before, his policy is to create cooperatives in the mountains. He says that “the land is free”. So the people who have no money or land go to the mountains to a town or community. One community here and another one there. His program of model town I think lasted for 3 or 4 years. So it’s a mix of cultures like Quiches, Kachiquel, Mam. Ladinos, Espanol, in one community: this is Rios Montt’s plan so that they can’t communicate, they can’t organize.

They are from different towns, for instance, people in one community that don’t have land or money. But Rios Motts offers them an agricultural economy, INTA politics (National Institute of Agricultural Land). They give them land but in the mountains. They have a house, school, church, there in the north, so people travel to live there. And people from the capital that have nothing also go there but after 2 or 3 years. Rios Montt sends the military to protect the people from guerrillas. And then, when there are military in each town, Rios Montt starts to kill the people in model towns.

It’s politics. First they promote it, then they kill. But this is very common in the north, as you see it’s the jungle, there are mountains, communication is not possible and the international community can’t see it. My town is in the north, but not in the mountains. There is newspaper to know if they kill. Generally, in the radio they say it’s the guerrillas, but the guerrillas are the people who escape a model town. So the military look for them in the mountains and it is there where they kill.

You know the conditions, the discrimination, racism, because the idea that ladinos have is that the indigenous, Indians, are the problem in Guatemala. For instance, Miguel Angel Asturias, the Nobel Prize in literature, is the first racist. His thesis is about evaluation of indigenous and ladinos. Whether the indigenous are intelligent or not. He’s very racist. Racism starts there. He’s an intellectual, it’s a racist investigation. And the people now are not intellectuals, but they are racist. So, the problem is racism.

Rios Montt believed that Guatemala doesn’t progress because the indigenous are uneducated, lack hygiene, don’t shower. That they don’t have good habits, that was the problem that kept Guatemala from progressing. Then, it’s better to kill, genocide, to kill the indigenous culture because they are the problem for Guatemala. This is the main problem, racism.

But, since there are many indigenous people in Guatemala and few ladinos, then, if the indigenous population grows, it’s a problem for ladinos. And it’s a problem now because the indigenous have an education. Ladinos don’t like it because each time there is a Maya professional at the university, it’s like substituting a ladino in a profession. Because Mayas are bilingual and ladinos are not, then, since it isn’t good for ladinos, it makes it harder for indigenous people to graduate from the university. Before, about 20 years ago, only the ladinos had an education. But now it’s different. 20 years ago, the ladinos were teachers at the university, at the elementary school, administrators at the court, in medicine, at the bank, everything was ladino.  But now there are many teachers that are indigenous or bilingual.

About 5 years ago I had a lot of problems with discrimination. It was hard on me. But for about 3 years, I have been changing because I don’t want any more problems with Ladinos. I want to share, but generally, I can’t talk with a Ladino.

There are very few Maya, about 10%, who get a university education.

For example, in my field, Agronomy, generally, there are not many women, it’s mostly men. But, about 20%  of the Agronomy students are indigenous. But it’s different in other fields.

Maybe a little more, but it never reaches a 50% of indigenous people. Because, generally you need to live in the city, and the majority of the indigenous don’t live there. They live in the mountains, in the rural areas, and in order to study in the city they need a job to pay for the university, rent and food. So, one of the problems for them to study is the economic issues. Another one is the social pressure against indigenous people. It’s like it’s not possible to leave that low position. Indigenous (are believed) never have an education, they can’t work, they are not smart.

There’s the belief that the indigenous can’t do it. Then, in a rural area there is not much university culture. In a rural area, there are only teachers for secondary school, since the university is difficult for money and for the belief. There are many factors. But I think that it’s mainly the economic aspect, because there are many people that want to go to university, but can’t. But, you can see that in my university I never had an indigenous teacher. There were all ladinos. Not even in the secondary school, only in the primary or elementary school.

But now there are many indigenous teachers in elementary school and also in secondary school. But very few at the university. In my field there weren’t any, but in other fields there were some, but just a few, it hasn’t changed much.

Only in primary and secondary school, not at the university. That’s the system. In the university, if you are indigenous and want a job there, it is competiton for the intellectuals. For instance, I’m indigenous, and at the university I bring an indigenous point of view for the students. But the Ladinos don’t want that. They usually believe an indigenous that is not intelligent.

Because my ideology is peaceful there is no problem working in the university with Ladinos. But, if I am very extreme, the Ladinos don’t like me because I am competition for them.

And it is difficult to compete with Ladinos. And it is a problem for Ladinos, because the Ladinos don’t know the history, the political situation, no.

My friends are indigenous. I am toxic for Ladinos because Ladinos always talk about things that aren’t interesting, or they talk about cars or clothes, or they just talk about money. They never talk about things that are important for personal development or to develop the country.

Because in my university, in agronomy, we are drinking and discussing  political history. And always they are all against me because I know the history, I know the reality. But they are all against me. They say I am lying.

But I feel proud because I know the truth.

In my family all of my brothers are studying. My sisters not much. My first brother is very racist against Ladinos. Because of the system. And he’s studying a lot of the culture and now he has got a master in intercultural studies and he’s bilingual.

He speaks Canjobal, Espanol, but his specialty is in cultural-bilingüal in Guatemala. And he reads a lot of books about the cultural, and rascism, and he has strong ideas and in some way he taught us his ideas.

Have you talked with other people about your experiences during the violence?

In my family…well, we didn’t have direct problems with the military, with the violence… well, a little, but not as much as death. The one that died was my aunt’s husband.

But now we have the expositions to learn about and to accept that the reality we have in Guatemala is multicultural. We have Germans, hispanics, “Belgas”, different people from different countries. And the schools are bringing the children to see it.