I was born on June 30, 1980. I was four months old when my father was killed by the soldiers…and, bueno (okay), my mother told me the truth about what happened.That we were persecuted by the army, we had to flee, and that we must not tell the truth to anybody, because our lives were in danger.We always had to invent a different history to tell people, because my mother told us that it was very dangerous to tell the truth to other people here in Guatemala City…My father Reyes and my older brother Daniel were murdered by the soldiers in 1980 in our village, Macalajau, Uspantán, which is in the Quiché Department in the north of Guatemala. Another of my brothers, Demetrio, was kidnapped [at that time]. My older sister, Bernadina, was kidnapped in 1983 here in Guatemala City.We have still not found her; she is still disappeared.

I want to say to you that for me, the war has affected me more than anything else in my life…we have problems, psychological problems. Oh, and the hardest part about the war is that we lost the process of our lives, we lost our childhood, many things that will never be able to be repeated.

My family, yes, had a direct participation in the war. My father supported the guerrillas, he was a person who was convinced that in our country things needed to be changed because the indigenous people are very poor and it’s very difficult to improve their situation. Life in the communities was very hard and my father thought it was necessary to fight, and so he was killed by the soldiers.

But my mother always told us the truth, we always knew the truth about what had happened. I think the most difficult was that we always had to lie, and we had to change our names, all of my family had different names. My brother, my sister, my father, my uncles, had been assassinated in my community, then in 1983 my sister was kidnapped, so we were still being pursued by the military.We had to change houses many times here in Guatemala City, and afterwards all of my siblings were put into schools in different places. I have family that escaped to Mexico, and family that fled to Spain, where they still live even after the war.

But, those of us who are students, we can still have a happy ending.We have the opportunity to study in the university. So, I think that this is what we have to value, we have to be thankful that we have this opportunity.We’re lucky to have this different story. But it’s not the common story, because other families are still living in poverty. Sometimes, when I look at the shoe-shiners, when I look at the people that are prostitutes, or all those people who are working as domestic servants, they have a situation different from ours.

That is, we are lucky in this sense, but I think that we haven’t been able to overcome everything that has happened.We are still suffering from racism, discrimination, exclusion, and we still live in a very divided society.Well, what I believe is that, well…for me, anyway, what most affects me… well….

Kaqla cried. His friends sat, staring away into their own distance, then, one by one they got up to touch his shoulder, bring him a paper cup of water, or walk out of the room. No one said a word.

What I believe is that we’ve lost a lot in the war. I mean, my father had an ideology, my mother, all my family, they actively participated in the changes of the country. I’ve already lost a lot of family, and we lost so much, and I don’t want the war to keep affecting me anymore, I want to overcome all these things, because I believe that until we are stronger ourselves, it will be difficult to support others.

There are a lot of people who are still affected, and they have to heal their wounds.We have to strengthen ourselves, as victims of the war, as survivors, because in the end, this is what we are. We are survivors. And although we are survivors, this doesn’t mean that they haven’t destroyed our lives.We lost the most important thing we had, our family relationships, right? We lost a way of life, of our existence, that we will never be able to get back. Never.

The feeling of surviving came from my mother who protected us.Along the way, we met many good people who helped us. Even though our future was already marked…my mother couldn’t speak Spanish, we were in such a big city, a racist city, and with eight kids, well, surely we would have had a different future than the one that we have now. However, we managed to defy destiny, and we’re alive.

If they ask me if I am resentful, no, I don’t think I’m resentful, but I think that these things hurt, and with much difficulty we will forget them, too.Yes, the pain and suffering lasted a long time, but I think that we can transfer all of this, or at least, what I have done with all the pain that I have, I have converted it into energy, that day-by-day allows me to continue. But during all of these problems I had many crises, emotional, psychological—very strong—and I have had to go into treatment to be able to go on. Because, yes, sometimes, you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the work that I have done, especially the cases of exhumations, I can see that some people are still very affected, when they are searching for their disappeared family members. I am aware that I’m not prepared to support other people, because I am also still very affected. I haven’t overcome this, and I don’t want to forget. Now more than ever, I want to have with me all that happened in the war, and I want to tell about it, because the war affected my mother a lot, and my brothers and sisters, and everyone who had to hide their history, and who had to invent histories, who had to change the truth so that nothing more would happen to them.

When I first went to school I wanted to study journalism, but instead I studied law, because I became aware that many human rights abuses were committed against us, simply because we were indigenous. I believe that our profession can help us a lot, and that as a lawyer I can contribute to the changes in my country, and work to avoid the abuse against the Maya, that still persists to this day.

Right up until this present moment, we have had to fight a lot and suffer through all of this, to be able to get back our rights. I think all children should know the truth of what happened, they have to know the history of their country. If not, the memory is lost. In the case of my nieces and nephews—yes, at least I have nieces and nephews—I think they should know where they come from, who their grandfather was, who their aunts and uncles were.

They may live in a different situation now, but they should know the truth, because this is the only way they are going to truly understand, and be able to take a coherent point of view in discussions, and be people who really give a damn. And, moreover, they should fight against all the horrible acts committed in the war, so that they don’t ever happen again. For a long time we were afraid, we were afraid because of what had happened to us, and of what was going to happen to us. We thought of forgetting what had happened to us, but more than ever I think that we should not forget.All of the people of the world must know what has occurred here in Guatemala.