Part 2 of April Flies By… San Juan

San Juan

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Our second iteration of Unlocking Silent Histories began on a sunny Saturday morning in a pristine town on Lake Atitlan.  This town is somewhat of an enigma.  There has been a lot of attention on this down in terms of development.  It is the only town with no garbage on the streets.  The community is clean and the buildings almost seem almost stage like.  There are murals on the walls, depicting many aspects of the history of this place.  The painters and artisans are prevalent – more sales, however, are in their stores or studies rather than in the streets.   It is quiet and while there are tourists, this does not feel like a touristy town.  The tourists come because of the nonprofits that exist here and to buy textiles from the woman.  There are tuk tuks that carry people to parts of the town as well as to near by villages.  Chicken buses pass through here as well.  Yet despite the traffic that exists, the town does not feel polluted.  I’m not sure why this is, but it is.  It is not as if there is some magical muffler put on just when they pass this town – but it is true that it does feel different than the other lake towns that have this traffic.

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The other part to note is that San Juan has a number of youth programs.  Importance is placed on youth leadership programs for youth.  I suppose that we are peripherally connected to those efforts, but I don’t feel wholly connected.  Rather, I feel largely separate from knowing what truly goes on here.  Yet, I can feel that it is different, very different than Chirijox.  Chirijox is rural and in many respects that the youth are disconnected from much of the outer world.  I do not know this for certain, but I feel a different energy here and this becomes obvious on my day here with this group.

We had five today, there were supposed to be nine, but there were five.  What is more, there were only boys – our girls who signed up did not show.

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We (meaning I), after conversations with a member of my board, refocused the direction with San Juan.  Some things I kept the same, but I wanted to return to the importance of history.  It is taking us so long with Chirijox to get them to think about history, that I wanted to be sure to start off with this.  Since our focus is on unveiling the historical notions of the community and how they play into the current lives, it seemed natural for me to start with that.  In this way, I did two things.  First, I asked them what they know about their history.  This the kids wrote.

As they were journaling, I thought it might be boring to ask them to write.  It might instead be more fun to have them play with the cameras.  I asked them to interview each other asking them: What do you think that people think of you?

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Here were some of their answers:

  • I am Andres Emilio, and from here in San Juan de la Laguna.  Today, all young people use the typical dress, and their classmates laugh at them.  That is not right because it is their culture here at San Juan de la Laguna.  They are classmates… they are classmates at schools and grade…
  • Hello! Good morning! My name is Juan, and I am from San Juan de la Laguna.  Other places in Guatemala we are discriminated against because of our personality and our culture.  Every town has a different culture.  There are tourists that discriminate against us, but because we have some many cultures they say that they are not same and that they are “bigger”.  Today, we are raised the same way and therefore, in Guatemala they don’t discriminate so much like in the Mayan culture.  Today, we see that tourists see us as different people, but there are some that want to practice our culture, and others that don’t.  We also see that communication is longer because people can put things in the internet.  We can be in different places, and there are people that are interested in our culture.  That is all that I want to say to you…  Like I was saying, we feel comfortable and amongst family here in the community of Laguna.  It is a pretty place and very touristic, but at the same time, we feel very rejected by other places such as the capital and the tourists that look the other way.  We have the same right, but I think they do it just to do it.  Truth, we are always rejected, those who are of communities.  This makes you get and say that we are different and fight for our lives, keep on going.  I feel good when they reject me because I realize that I am different, and I like that.  At least, I am trying to be different than others. 
  • Hello.  My name is Carlos.  In my community they call me Ting.  I am trying to find the way to communicate and express how we feel about being Indian and being from a pueblo/town.  I feel rejected because of the way I talk.  Sometimes I am wearing the typical dress by other people when they look at your with a certain face.  Sometimes the same thing happens with my language…
  • My name is Jose and I live in the in the town of San Juan de la Laguna.  It is a beautiful town that has a lot of riches that we sometimes don’t take advantage of.  The first one is the women here practice sewing.  This is the sewing they do here.  And the other one, this is the fabric of the typical dress that we use here.  Women more…., and men use more the typical dress.  I don’t like to use it because when we use it, it gets really hot.  That is a problem because were not practicing our culture, we are losing our own language.   People from Guatemala discriminate against us, our language.  We don’t get well along with them.  Their customs are different from ours.  I appreciate tourists because they think about our textiles and it helps women a lot, because they are the “administrators” at home.  Thanks!
  • My name is Pedro.  I would like to tell you about how outsiders see us, starting with the language.  I speak Tz’utujil, and sometimes I have realized that in some areas people that do use that language discriminate against you and tell you things.  When you hear that, you feel bad.  The same thing happens with the traditional dress.  For example, if we were to look for a job in the capital, if people would see us use this clothing, people would say a lot of things.  Tourists would say like what we do, because what we do, we do them by hand, for example the textiles and the paintings.  Some people from Guatemala, discriminate and that shouldn’t be like that because it is our culture…

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I like this as a start and will return to our Chirijox group and ask them similar questions.  I see these as foundational incentives to inspire them to tell stories of how they want to be seen.

This group is going to be more challenging in many respects, but it is clear that this beginning sets the stage for powerful accounts from these youth.

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