Why are we as we are?
by Juliana Salgado Vega
International Indigenous Peoples Day last month was a very special day for the women of UPAVIM, who attended the Guatemalan exposition entitled, ‘Why are we as we are?’
What better day than this to contemplate and discuss the diversity of Guatemalan society within the context of the violence and insecurity that the La Esperanza community – just like the rest of this country – experiences on a daily basis.
‘Why are we as we are?’ was a space to reflect on how the past, from colonial times up to the 36 years of armed conflict, has affected how Guatemalans see themselves, as well as to consider how the inequalities and continuing violence that the people suffer today is a result of persistent discrimination, exclusion and conflict.
Starting from this reality, the exposition was an invitation to debate how each one of us could contribute ideas and look for alternative ways to escape the trap of violence in order to live with social justice in a truly peaceful and inclusive Guatemala.
The UPAVIMas took the opportunity to learn and reflect, and to debate and contribute ideas about how the exposition connected with their daily lives, their personal experiences and their work, while searching for a way forward for themselves and their country.
Some of the UPAVIMas’ contributions to the debate were related to the violence that has made them victims in their own community, and they talked about how they have tried to overcome their losses and actively fight on behalf of their families.[blockquote align=”right”]Through UPAVIM, we have learned to recognize and appreciate our qualities, and through this we have succeeded in empowering ourselves and our families.[/blockquote] As one of the UPAVIM workers said, referring to the official end of the war, but also to the violence that continues to this day, “Our people still live in a war.” An UPAVIM seamstress related how she grew up in the capital and only experienced the war from watching it on television, “but although now it is supposed to be over, we find ourselves still living in a war because our community is in a Red Zone where many of us are personally touched by the violence.”
She also added, “through UPAVIM, we have learned to recognize and appreciate our qualities, and through this we have succeeded in empowering ourselves and our families.” One of UPAVIM’s school teachers commented, “asking questions is difficult because our history has not encouraged us to do so. The war was a hard time, but it is good to remember. Now our children need to learn from this history to be able to claim their rights.”
Another teacher explained, “Gangs exist because young people have nothing to motivate them to fight for a better future, so it is important for our community to have a place like UPAVIM, with schools to educate the children of the neighborhood and give them a safe place where they can learn and develop aspirations for their future.” She concluded, “It gives me great comfort to know that my children can count on UPAVIM and are not playing in the street risking their lives.”
After more than three hours touring the exposition and absorbing such interesting topics, we concluded that coming up with an answer to the question, “Why are we as we are?” – and moreover, finding a solution to all our challenging problems – is not an easy task.
In fact, this requires a real commitment from each one of us – as empowered women, mothers, partners and workers – to take the lead and make the necessary changes, and to do so in solidarity with our community and in solidarity with the most vulnerable and excluded people in Guatemalan society.
We have a duty to know our own history, to understand and to recognize that everyone of us has a story, and that all these stories together create the diversity that makes up the community, the society and the country with which we identify.