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The Characters

GUATEMALA

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DIEGO

“There are five people here who killed my father. When we meet each other on the road we talk, but only about other things.…not about what happened before.”

Diego is a Maya from the Quiché province in the heart of the Guatemalan highlands, one of the hardest hit areas during the civil war in the 1980s. Diego watches as the bones of his father, who was a community leader, are exhumed from a mass grave. Local men, forced into civilian patrols by the army, often were ordered to kill anyone suspected of being a guerrilla sympathizer.

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ROSARIO

“The soldiers were blocking the road. My mother had been told that my brother was dead, so she was really mad. I said to my mother, ‘Throw a rock at the soldiers’…”

Rosario is a Maya from Santiago Atitlán, the only town in Guatemala to have evicted the army, following a massacre on December 2, 1990 in which Rosario’s fifteen-year-old brother died. She speaks no Spanish and has never attended school. She leads a traditional life with her family: weaving, sewing, cooking and carrying out other chores often assigned to the females.

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DORA

“The Mayas here are afraid to say who they really are. They know in their hearts, but they don’t say it. We have to identify ourselves as Mayas and know where we come from.”

Like many thousands of people, Dora’s family fled from their Mayan village in the highlands due to the violence. They landed on the outskirts of Guatemala City, where Dora is learning to negotiate both the indigenous language and customs of her family as well as the Spanish and ladino culture that now surrounds her.

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SEBASTIAN

“Sometimes I dream that the soldiers are chasing and killing us. A lot of the kids are afraid to go to school because they think the soldiers might be nearby. We like going to school but it’s hard for us to learn because the fear makes us confused.”

Sebastian’s village is hidden deep in a remote area where the army and guerrillas are still fighting. They are “internal refugees” who fled their destroyed homes and are struggling to become recognized — and protected — as a civilian population. They have suffered extreme deprivation and fear, barely surviving both the fighting and the hardship.

 

EL SALVADOR

Chico, Ana, Yesenia and Geovani are all from San José Las Flores, a small town whose population suffered severe repression from the military and dispersed, but then repopulated the area starting in 1986. When we visited in 1992 the peace accords had just been signed between the FMLN rebels and the government of El Salvador, ending twelve years of civil war.

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CHICO

“If the mango tree could speak… it would tell you the truth.”

“A good punishment would be to make [the soldiers who killed his relatives] do the work…they should have to feel our pain, the pain of the peasants…. We wouldn’t kill them because we are all human, but they should be punished.”

Chico sits next to a majestic tree alongside what had been his house, before the bombs fell which destroyed it and killed his grandparents. Chico and his sister search for the site where their grandparents were buried, hauling a heavy wooden cross to mark it. They encounter an old woman who shows them the place, saying there had been a bloodbath.

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YESENIA

“The kids in the US don’t know how we’ve suffered. They don’t believe it.”

Yesenia describes something all children in Las Flores experienced during the war: guindas, when everyone had to flee at a moment’s notice and hide from the soldiers for days in ditches. She tells how mothers had to clamp their hands over their babies’ mouths so as not to reveal their whereabouts.

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ANA

“My mother was going to another town and the soldiers accused her of carrying things for the subversives, so they grabbed her and killed her. We don’t even know where her bones are.”

Ana has never found her mother’s remains. She lives with her grandmother and sister, but feels lonely and apart from the other children.

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GIOVANI

“The soldiers in Las Flores, one time they killed a little girl. That gives you more courage to take up a gun and fight and that’s why I was fighting. I wanted to kill the soldiers, but now I also feel happy that there’s no more war.”

Giovani is a war veteran at age fourteen. He is struggling to adjust to a civilian life again, going to school and working the land with his father. He eagerly looks for his mother among a group of recently returned refugees from Honduras, but she isn’t there.

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EVELYN

“When we got back to the house… the soldiers had emptied all the water barrels and they drank all the soda pop and ate all the snacks from the store. There was nothing left at all. Even the jar of candies didn’t have anything in it.”

Evelyn works very hard in the little store bearing her name. Her father was killed, but living in San Salvador protects the family from much of the fighting. Evelyn has a dream: to go to the US when she grows up and work to help her mother.

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JUAN

“Without the guerrillas it would have continued on the same as before, when the rich people didn’t want to share with the poor. The rich people wanted everything. So the peasants formed the guerrillas and among them was my father. At least he did something. The bad thing is they killed him.”

Juan and his five siblings live in San Salvador now, but they spent years in an orphanage after both parents were killed. He shows us around the orphanage and takes us to visit other relatives, who helped him get through the anguish of losing his parents.