After waking up and having breakfast at the hotel (delicious!) we met Professor Victor to discuss Guatemalan history. From the start, it was undoubtedly one of the most open conversations that I have ever had when dealing with such a heavy topic. Professor Victor initiated the discussion by letting us know that we should interrupt at any point if we didn’t understand or didn’t agree. He emphasized that new ideas always come from diversity of opinions, thus reinforcing that our individual opinions are powerful. We talked about the conflicted history of Guatemala, from the first conquistador parties that Spain sent as well as the more recent past. During the conversation my mind sifted through all the stories of conquest and struggle that I have heard and experienced in my life. From the conquering of North America, of New Mexico, and even the Holocaust, all share similar characteristics. I mentioned this to the professor (I am proud to say that I’m becoming much more confident with my Spanish thanks to encouragement from the group) and his answer was profound, and maybe obvious, but it struck a chord with me: Conflict is not of the world, but of relationships and self interest. We must detach from the ideas of good guys and bad guys, and come to our own conclusion about truth. Professor Victor highlighted that although 17 years have passed since the Peace Accords, the culture of fear and silence is still strong. As a country, he believes that to heal they must forgive. Forgiveness is hard, but violence in revenge for violence was not the path. He acknowledged that this is difficult, but then cited individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela, who inspired nations with their ideas and forgiveness.
What I took away from this conversation was the fact that I should question everything, especially the stuff written in textbooks. Youth are powerful, because our minds are still developing, and we are not yet set in our ways, which is our collective power. However, as a young person, we have been trained to ask for permission all our lives. In order to change the world, we must shed this habit of waiting for permission. We have the power of change and hope, as long as we give ourselves permission.
That afternoon we met with the organization called H.I.J.O. S. HIJOS, is an organization that works on empowering youth through non-violent, yet powerful street art. HIJOS members have been affected by the recent war. They first started as an organization focused on locating the disappeared. They explained that the forced disappearances were a means of psychological warfare, whose effects are still very real today. I was surprised to hear the members indignantly declare that they do not forget, forgive, or reconcile. Initially, I was very shocked to hear this. As the discussion progressed, I understood where they were coming from. The government completely denies any wrongdoings, and even denounces that the genocide occurs. Additionally, the war is not taught in the schools. HIJOS explained, that not forgiving is a way of loving themselves. How could they even think of forgiving when no one admits to any wrongdoing? Who should they forgive? How can they forget, when their lives have been directly affected? I do agree, that is better that they do not just simply forgive and forget. For Guatemala to begin to heal, acknowledgement of the past is a necessary first step.
After dinner (again, DELICIOUS), we watched a documentary together about Rigoberta Menchu (look her up if you are unfamiliar with who she is) called When the Mountain Trembles. It was a very blunt depiction of the war. It was raw, graphic, and extremely sombering. It was very intense, but connected well with the day. Again, I think that all three emphasized the power of youth. Today reminded me of the fact that we are not here on vacation. We are in a position to learn and grow, and the intensity of emotions that I feel can be harnessed to drive change in the world.