The first full day in Guatemala brought a roller coaster of emotions for me. The day started with a lecture from a professor about the history of Guatemala and how present day politics, and social structures are still impacted by the very recent and violent political history of the country. Although, he gave a detailed overview of the intersecting factors that have led to the current political and social strife in Guatemala the most appealing part to me of the lecture was his discussion of the multiple truths of history and conflict. Professor Victor stated that although there are many truths there is only one reality. This resonated with me as a concept that I discussed and wrote about extensively in grad school. In this context, however, Professor Victor was discussing the fact that the Guatemalan government has not accepted responsibility for the past human right violations it has committed and in fact, some government officials have stated that these atrocities never happened. Throughout the conversation I could not help but continue to think of the quote by Malcolm X, “Truth is on the side of the oppressed.”
The above quote also relates to a conversation I had with one of the in country delegates that stated the history of the genocide and the role the government played is often not part of the school curriculum. He stated as a member of the first post war generation is struggles personally and politically to make sense and amends for the wide reaching impacts of the war.
The role of emotions and reconciliation also was a major topic of the day. Whereas Professor Victor noted that we should forgive and move on, we also met with a youth group called, H.I.J.O.S who stated, “We don’t forgive, we don’t forget.” HIJOS is a group that spreads its message via street graffiti and murals, stated their ideology stems from the fact that the government does not take responsibility of its actions which makes it impossible to reconcile the past if, according the government there is nothing to be sorry for. During this time we also took a tour of the murals HIJOS painted (dope) and discussed some of their murals (on abandoned buildings) as an attempt to reclaim public space. Hearing of this rationale drove the point home for me that the impacts of the war and the process of moving on as individuals and a country are as much of an ideological and psychological struggle as it is for physical space.
Below is a picture of the Guatemalan National Palace. At first site (when I took this picture) I was impressed by the physical layout of the building. The building seemingly took up the entire block and its white stone stuck out from the surrounding structures. However, after looking back at the photos I took for the day I was more drawn to the notion of a distorted reality. While taking a walking tour of this area, I had a conversation with another in country coordinator who pointed out the banners hanging, “Por el Pais Que Queremos, For the country we love.” The coordinator pointed this out as a political propaganda put forward by the current government to celebrate its political and social accomplishments. In this sense the distortion comes from the reflection in water of image. Again although a breath taking image representative of the rich history and beautiful images I have taken in over my first couple of days, the contrast of the physical beauty of building and the distorted imagery of the building reflected in the pool is analogous to the history of Guatemala politics. The disconnect between the multiple truths that Guatemala is a beautiful country rich in history and with the potential to grow economically, socially and politically and the truth of Guatemala as a country seeking a political, economic and social identity in the aftermath of systemic violence and war. I was continually drawn to the notion of the ahistorical impacts. If the full history is not taught to Guatemalan youth how is it possible to reconcile or even have open discussion of the impacts of the war. Further as HIJOS stated their mission is ever changing, partly because they are reaching a point where the disappeared people they represent in their murals are no longer at the forefront of society’s mind makes it difficult to hold on the historical significance of the atrocities that have occurred and have left many with the question “Now what?”