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The Characters

 

Guatemala

diego youngdiego now

DIEGO

Diego grew up living next door to the men who had killed his father — and he still lives there today. What kind of peace and reconciliation have Diego and his neighbors worked out over the years? What does he tell his own two children about the violence that swept through their town? Diego has suffered many losses over the years and struggles to support his family financially, unable to find stable work, in part because he never had the opportunity to get beyond the fifth grade in school. In the new film, we’ll see Diego and his extended family prepare to honor their lost loved ones in traditional Mayan Day of the Dead celebrations, including bringing flowers to the cemetery where the remains of his father — whose exhumation we see in “If the Mango Tree Could Speak” — have been properly buried.

rosario youngrosario now

ROSARIO

At age 35, Rosario has four children and a two-year-old grandson. She and her family live in the same house where we met her twenty years ago. Mere survival consumes her family's daily lives. Their income is meager: her husband walks long distances to collect the firewood that she sells at the market. She also makes beaded key chains sold to tourists. How are they to educate their children when they cannot always provide even enough food? Her situation is fraught with tensions among her other family members, who also share the family compound, leaving her something of a prisoner within her own house. Her one support, her mother, passed away in 2009. Even so Rosario still has the same defiant spirit she showed 20 years ago following the death of her brother in a massacre. We filmed her recently participating in the anniversary events commemorating the massacre and talking about the impact that has had on her life.

dora youngdora now

DORA

When it became too dangerous for them to stay, Dora’s family fled their Mayan village to blend into the urban landscape of Guatemala City. Dora was proud of her Mayan identity as a child, but how has that changed over the years in the face of societal pressures to be more ladina? What ‘s happened to her family as the violence of war surrounding them has been replaced by drug and gang violence? Dora lives in the same house as she did twenty years ago, together with her parents and three siblings, all of whom have graduated from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, a remarkable achievement. Dora is a first grade teacher at the local school and has not lost a shred of the spunk and smarts that were evident in her appearance in “Mango Tree.”

SebastianSebastian

SEBASTIAN

Twenty years ago, Sebastian was growing up a nomad in his own country, living in what were called “Communities of Population in Resistance,” groups of internally displaced people whose villages had been destroyed by the army. After an extensive search, we found him living in the same region today in a remote village accessible only on foot or by mule. He owns no land and works incredibly hard to provide the education he never got to at least some of his 7 children. But when everyone in the family must work so that all can eat, and when your community has no electricity nor cell phone service to connect to the rest of the world, what options for a better life will your children have?

 

EL SALVADOR

chico youngchico now

CHICO

Recently Chico moved to upstate New York after living in the Washington, DC area for several years while working with a construction firm. He originally moved to the US after marrying a woman from Minnesota who had lived for two years in his home town of San José Las Flores (they are now divorced). Chico became a US citizen in 2011, but he still faces the challenges of being an immigrant. He’s struggling to learn English and he misses his large extended family, most of whom still live in Las Flores. He’s been able to take advantage of many opportunities he’s created to feed his wanderlust, but says he may be settling down a little now, as he recently enrolled in nursing school.

yesenia youngyesenia now

YECENIA

Yecenia today lives in a small town outside of San Salvador and works as a first grade teacher in her local school. Her life appears settled and stable, but it’s not been easy. She left San José Las Flores as a pregnant teenager with the father of her son Kevin, who is now 16. Like almost every family in El Salvador, hers has been impacted by migration: her husband went to the US nine years ago leaving her to raise Kevin on her own. Undaunted, she finished her college degree in education, walking long distances to her classes with her young son in tow. As feisty as ever, Yecenia is determined to help Kevin avoid the gangs and violence that plague El Salvador today.

ana youngana now

ANA

Ana is the only one of the original four kids from San José Las Flores who still lives there. She’s married and the mother of two children, ages 12 and 14. Ana was a shy and lonely girl who lacked the family support that other kids had, but she flourished anyway. If it takes a village to raise a child, Ana is a shining example. The community of Las Flores, rebuilt on the ashes of a destroyed town at the end of the war in El Salvador, sent Ana to study and become a teacher. Until a teaching position opens up she’s been working as a part time school librarian. Most of her time is spent serving her community, which elected her city council president in 2011. Although still a little timid, Ana has become not only a leader in her community but also in the Catholic church where she leads youth groups.

isael

ISAEL (GIOVANI)

Shortly after we met Giovani (his nom de guerre) and took him to see if his mother was among a group of recently returned refugees from Honduras (she wasn’t) we learned that she had indeed left the camp and traveled to Brisbane, Australia, to be resettled with her three younger children. After trying for years, she got permission for Giovani, who now uses his given name of Isael, to join her in 1996. He still lives there, and says he’s had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but is now more stable. He works as a machine operator and lives with his girlfriend, also originally from El Salvador. They recently gave birth to their first child.

evelyn

EVELYN

When she was fourteen, Evelyn said her dream was to go to the US and work when she grew up. In 2006 Evelyn fulfilled her dream: she moved to North Carolina, following the footsteps of her mother and aunt. But she’s paid a high price: she left four children behind in El Salvador. Three live with her sister, as their father died, and the fourth lives with his father. Evelyn has given birth to two more children since being in the US and really struggles, like so many immigrants, to send back money earned from minimum wage jobs to help support the children she left behind. She misses them terribly and wonders if she did the right thing.

juan youngjuan now

JUAN

Juan grew up in an orphanage after both his parents were killed during the war. He finished high school and was studying to become a chef in San Salvador in the late 1990s when he felt called to join the Mormon Church. He left his studies to complete his required two year missionary duty in Guatemala. When he returned to El Salvador, he was told he’d have to begin his studies all over again. With no parents alive to help out, he couldn’t afford to both eat and study at the same time, nor could he envision a brighter future staying where he was. So he made the difficult decision to head north to the US where two of his siblings were living. After surviving harrowing experiences in Mexico for a year, he finally made it across the border. He worked a couple more years to pay off his debt, but finally made his way to Utah, where he met and married a teacher. One of his biggest dreams has come true: he is now father to two young children. The other one, to become a teacher, is on hold. Meanwhile, he works in landscaping to support his family. Perhaps Juan’s experience of violence and its aftermath can help Americans understand why so many Salvadorans like him have come to the US.