Day 3 in Guatemala was a great example of work in action (not that our other presentations were not). The day started with a presentation from a lawyer in the Rios Montt trial. He discussed the process of preparing and the emotional roller coaster that accompanied the trial. His story was very powerful in many ways but the section that resonated the most with me was when he discussed working with women that were victims of sexual assault during the village raids. He discussed the personal, systemic and social norm challenges that were encountered while working with these women. For me I reflected on the influence of machismo, patriarchy, and stigma around sexual assault the lawyer discussed and how rape was used as a psychological warfare tactic that impacted the social level and more importantly the nuclear family dynamic. Although, his story was very intense, I could not help but admire the courage and resilience he and his colleagues portrayed as he discussed the moment the decision in the Rios Montt trial was overturned on a technical error and how instead of giving up they re organized and are working on an appeal.
Day 3 also brought a visit to La Puya; a social movement named after the area in which it effects. La Puya is a community organized “sit in” (for lack of a better term) where surrounding communities have occupied the entrance of a mine for 22 months to prevent a mining company from invading their land and way of life. The members of La Puya discussed the multiple tactics used by the mining company and police force (including using 400 hundred riot outfitted police officers who threw tear gas at 10 women who laid in front of the mine entrance) to try and evoke a violent response from the community. While viewing a banner that community members presented and pointed out the women’s contribution I noticed one of the women depicted in the pictures was sitting right next to me. This was very powerful and humbling moment for me as the work and struggle of this community became REAL for me. However, this moment was also very frustrating as I could only mutter a gringo “gracias” as a way to thank her for her bravery in their struggle.
On a personal note, Day 3 in Guatemala was also frustrating for me because I am realizing that my level of Spanish is not where I anticipated it would be. Although, it is a slightly different dialect than what I grew up hearing, I have realized that I am understanding just enough for the conversations to remain very broken for me. In understanding phrases rather than following the conversation, it has been mentally and emotionally draining for me to try and not relay on the translations that Jenny and Ellen have provided. In addition to the here and now of trying to navigate conversations and environments where I cannot fully engage, I am processing through what it means on an individual and social level to be a Latino male who does not speak Spanish. Although, I grew up around the language the emersion into it has been difficult in both processing the information and has caused me to reflect on the history of colonization and systemic level oppression that has led me to be part of the generation of my family that has lost the language. Although, I do not believe that my Chicanismo is based solely on my ability to speak Spanish, it is a significant loss of cultural and social capital. However, I did note that as the day progressed I began to get more of an “ear” for the conversations so hopefully that will continue over the next 8 days. All in all, the day was another successful and enjoyable one for me both as an individual engaged in the learning and a professional working to help a good experience for the students on the trip.