I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I am the child of working-class Guatemalan immigrants, like thousands of others. I’m also part of the Guatemalan and Maya diaspora, a community that was forced to leave due to violence and poverty. While migration and displacement are part of Guatemala’s history, little is known about the diaspora, specifically that of the children born or raised away from their ancestral territories.
The Pew Research Center estimates that, in 2013, there were over 1.3 million Guatemalans living in the US. Of these, approximately 834,000 were born in Guatemala and 470,000 in the US. Many Guatemalans have settled in large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston and New York, as well as in smaller communities in North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Colorado. An estimated 60 percent of Guatemalans are undocumented. While data is lacking, the Maya form a significant part of ...
The Pew Research Center estimates that, in 2013, there were over 1.3 million Guatemalans living in the US. Of these, approximately 834,000 were born in Guatemala and 470,000 in the US. Many Guatemalans have settled in large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston and New York, as well as in smaller communities in North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Colorado. An estimated 60 percent of Guatemalans are undocumented. While data is lacking, the Maya form a significant part of Guatemalan migration and diaspora. Anti-indigenous sentiments and racism are present within the Latino and Guatemalan community, and derogatory expressions such as “no seas indio” or “cara de indio” are used to discriminate the Maya.
Many Guatemalans and Maya have created spaces in the US to promote their identity, culture, history and social justice struggles. These include La Comunidad Ixim (a collective of second-generation Maya and Guatemalans in Los Angeles), Contacto Ancestral (a Maya radio collective), and Pastoral Maya (a Catholic-based organization that works with Maya immigrants and youth). These spaces are important given that Guatemalans and Maya are marginalized within the Latino community and underrepresented in the educational system, in the media, in politics and in other spaces.
In the US, Guatemalans face discrimination and racism, and there exists state violence and a general anti-immigrant attitude within society. Under the Trump administration, hate crimes and attacks against immigrants and people of color have increased because of racial white terror and nationalism. Anti-immigrant policies have led to raids and massive deportations; to the criminalization and dehumanization of migrants, refugees and caravans; to family separation, children being placed in cages at the US-Mexico border, and to human rights abuses such as the 2018 deaths of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal (Q’eqchi’) and 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo (Chuj) while in detention by Border Patrol. There is a general ignorance in the US regarding Central America, recently highlighted by Fox News, which referred to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as “Mexican countries”.
My personal experiences growing up in the US and recovering my own Maya/Guatemalan identity has shaped my academic research in the areas of migration, displacement and diaspora, as well as about inequalities, resistance, state violence and social injustices that occur in Guatemala. When I’m in that country, my Maya and Guatemalan identity is often questioned or leads to confusion. In one occasion, a friend introduced me to someone by saying: “He used to be K’iche’. Now he is more Gringo than anything else”. Another friend once jokingly called me a “Gringo Maya” to capture the ambiguousness of my being, wherein my brown body is racialized as a source of cheap labor, criminalized, and dehumanized as “indio” (“indian”) in Guatemala and “wetback” in the US, but at the same time having the privilege of mobility due to being a US citizen, thus not fearing deportation, or of traveling back and forth to Guatemala without the need of a visa. Some in Guatemala have also said I’m an “hermano” (brother) who has returned to the motherland. In 2015, I became a Guatemalan citizen through my birthright and now hold dual citizenship.
While many of us were born in the US, we have confronted considerable challenges and have a wide range of experiences. In my column in Plaza Pública, I hope to use my personal and academic experiences as a member of diaspora to discuss social and political issues that indigenous peoples and Guatemalans face in Guatemala and abroad, and also provide an analysis of them.
Nota: Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son responsabilidad exclusiva del autor. Plaza Pública ofrece este espacio como una contribución al debate inteligente y sosegado de los asuntos que nos afectan como sociedad. La publicación de un artículo no supone que el medio valide una argumentación o una opinión como cierta, ni que ratifique sus premisas de partida, las teorías en las que se apoya, o la verdad de las conclusiones. De acuerdo con la intención de favorecer el debate y el entendimiento de nuestra sociedad, ningún artículo que satisfaga esas especificaciones será descartado por su contenido ideológico. Plaza Pública no acepta columnas que hagan apología de la violencia o discriminen por motivos de raza, sexo o religión