Nahualá, Sololá, Guatemala (Jake Sandler)
It is extremely rare that people will talk about such topics at all; in fact, it seems the culture of fear and silence permeates even the most fiercely independent of communities. However, one evening the topic was brought up over dinner.
That night over dinner, they asked me where my family came from and said that I looked Arab. I told them "sort of" and explained the complicated story of the wandering Jew. Little Diego said "You mean the ones that killed Jesus!" I laughed to lighten the worried looks of the adults sitting around the stove fire, looking on intently. I told them that most of my family had immigrated to the United States before the Holocaust. Victor, the 30 year-old son of Ta Mash and Al Talin, said he had seen a few documentaries about World War II on the Discovery Channel and he saw how millions had died in the gas chambers and the firing squads. He said something like "but I believe one must have a better understanding of history before watching a documentary like that". The room agreed.
How much does our historical memory actually serve us? At other times, in other places I may have been ready to blabber on about a few stories I had heard. But, becoming accustomed to the silence, humility and sacredness with which the Nahualeños treated the massacres of ’82, I decided not say more. And then, as if feeding the unknowable silence, Ta Mash began talking a bit about the Guatemalan Civil War, a very delicate subject you don’t hear much about here.
Two Nahualeñas visiting a cemetery with unmarked graved seen behind to the right
Over in the corner was a stack of garments ready to be sold at tomorrow’s market. Then Al Talin asked me what type of huipiles they wear in Nuevo Mexico, and the middle generation laughed, knowing that we wear Lakers t-shirts and blue jeans. Al Talin's face got red and scrunched as she laughed, and I wished I could say more about the Navajo and Apache traditional garments we have up there in El Norte, where the desert serves as a grave for unidentified bones of migrants who can't follow their coyotes any longer.
"My host family in Nahualá may not be willing to say that they know what happened or how to change things, but they certainly know that not enough people have been brought to justice for it."
|Nahualá is 22 km east of Quetzaltenango in Southwest Guaemala (Wikimedia Commons)|
"It is not a state of resistance, not a state of anger nor action – it is a state of being accustomed to hearing politicians speak of peace and justice and witnessing the very opposite."