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Maya Diaspora

Guatemalan Roots, New American Lives

James Loucky

Publication Year: 2000

Maya people have lived for thousands of years in the mountains and forests of Guatemala, but they lost control of their land, becoming serfs and refugees, when the Spanish invaded in the sixteenth century. Under the Spanish and the Guatemalan non-Indian elites, they suffered enforced poverty as a resident source of cheap labor for non-Maya projects, particularly agriculture production. Following the CIA-induced coup that toppled Guatemala's elected government in 1954, their misery was exacerbated by government accommodation to United States "interests," which promoted crops for export and reinforced the need for cheap and passive labor.

This widespread poverty was endemic throughout northwestern Guatemala, where 80 percent of Maya children were chronically malnourished, and forced wide-scale migration to the Pacific coast. The self-help aid that flowed into the area in the 1960s and 1970s raised hopes for justice and equity that were brutally suppressed by Guatemala's military government. This military reprisal led to a massive diaspora of Maya throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

This collection describes that process and the results. The chapters show the dangers and problems of the migratory/refugee process and the range of creative cultural adaptations that the Maya have developed. It provides the first comparative view of the formation and transformation of this new and expanding transnational population, presented from the standpoint of the migrants themselves as well as from a societal and international perspective. Together, the chapters furnish ethnographically grounded perspectives on the dynamic implications of uprooting and resettlement, social and psychological adjustment, long-term prospects for continued links to migration history from Guatemala, and the development of a sense of co-ethnicity with other indigenous people of Maya descent. As the Maya struggle to find their place in a more global society, their stories of quiet courage epitomize those of many other ethnic groups, migrants, and refugees today.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Many people have contributed to the development and production of this volume. We are most grateful to the Guatemala Scholars Network and to Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies for providing vital financial and intellectual sponsorship. Authors are to be thanked for sharing...

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1. The Maya Diaspora: Introduction

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pp. 1-10

WHEN THE Spanish conquered the Maya in the sixteenth century, they brought with them feudal patterns of land ownership, reinforced by a patronizing and racist ideology that in time brought about Spanish control over the Maya and Maya incorporation into colonial...

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2. Survivors on the Move: Maya Migration in Time and Space

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pp. 11-34

ON 22 March 1991, at a ceremony held in a snowy Ontario town more than four thousand kilometers from the village in which he was born, a Q'anjob'al Maya named Genaro Tomas Castaneda became a...

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3. Flight, Exile, Repatriation, and Return: Guatemalan Refugee Scenarios, 1981-1998

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pp. 35-55

CENTRAL AMERICA in the 1980s was one of the most violent, politically unstable regions in the world. During the period that United Nations rhetoric calls the "lost decade," more than 2 million of the region's then 20 million inhabitants were displaced, most of them...

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4. Space and Identity in Testimonies of Displacement: Maya Migration to Guatemala City in the 1980s

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pp. 56-73

THIS CHAPTER is an attempt to understand the phenomenon of displacement in Guatemala during the civil conflicts that occurred over the last three decades (1966-96). Massive displacement originated in the 1980s as a consequence of the military conflicts during the governments...

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5. Organizing in Exile: The Reconstruction of Community in the Guatemalan Refugee Camps of Southern Mexico

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pp. 74-92

WEAVING AND traje style have been markers of indigenous communities for hundreds of years for the Maya of Guatemala. What began as a tactic used by the Spanish conquerors to identify, divide, and control indigenous people has been appropriated and reformulated as...

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6. Challenges of Return and Reintegration

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pp. 93-111

WHILE THE previous chapter focused on the experiences of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico, this one looks at the issues those refugees faced when they returned to their homeland, to the villages they fled in terror twelve years earlier. I want to address the origins of the contrasting subcultures, developed under quite different...

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7. A Maya Voice: The Maya of Mexico City

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pp. 112-117

To START out, I would like to clarify that this is the first time I have given a talk on the refugees living in Mexico City.1 At other meetings we focused more on the conditions the Guatemalan people have had to endure--the situation in the interior of the country, the situation

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8. Becoming Belizean: Maya Identity and the Politics of Nation

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pp. 118-140

PEOPLES OF Maya and Maya-Spanish, or mestizo, heritage, natives and refugees alike, assume a common subordinate status in Belize, the former colony of British Honduras. The historical struggle on Central America's Atlantic coast between Anglo-identified Belize and...

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9. La Huerta: Transportation Hub in the Arizona Desert

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pp. 141-151

THE RAIN had been steady for the three days that Mario and his friends had been living under the orange trees.1 The grey Arizona December sky darkened as they sloshed through the mud toward the place where they had learned a meal was served every evening. The six...

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10. Indiantown, Florida: The Maya Diaspora and Applied Anthropology

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pp. 152-171

IN 1982 nine farm workers were picked up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in south Florida as part of a sweep of farm labor camps and small agricultural towns at the end of the harvest season. When INS officials found that the nine had no visas or immigration...

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11. A Maya Voice: The Refugees in Indiantown, Florida

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pp. 172-174

THIS BRIEF paper addresses the situation of Indiantown, Florida, but the same situation exists in other towns in the Florida countryside, like Immokalee near Naples, another area with three to five thousand Maya at the picking season for oranges, tomatoes, and vegetables.1 We...

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12. The Maya of Morganton: Exploring Worker Identity within the Global Marketplace

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pp. 175-197

BEGINNING IN 1991 and culminating in a four-day strike and successful union election campaign in 1995, a series of labor conflicts rocked the town of Morganton, North Carolina, a usually quiet industrial center (population 16,000) perched at the edge of the Great Smoky...

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13. Maya Urban Villagers in Houston: The Formation of a Migrant Community from San Cristobal Totonicapan

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pp. 197-209

IN THIS chapter we tell the story of the formation of a K'iche' Maya community in Houston, Texas. As is documented throughout this book, political strife and declining economic conditions in the Guatemalan highlands in the 1970s and 1980s forced thousands of Maya...

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14. A Maya Voice: Living in Vancouver

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pp. 210-213

WHEN I came to Canada I thought that all my dreams had died.1 But at the same time I could see that I had the right to talk, that I no longer had to worry that tomorrow the army would come for me or do something to my family. My physical protection is guaranteed here...

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15. Maya in a Modern Metropolis: Establishing New Lives and Livelihoods in Los Angeles

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pp. 214-222

"WE FLED the violence there, but now here it is. Where do we go from here?" For many Maya from Guatemala, such as this Q'anjob'al Maya man who recounts both the conflagration that consumed Los Angeles in 1992 and the everyday dangers in the barrios where he has lived for over...

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16. Conclusion: The Maya Diaspora Experience

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pp. 223-230

WHILE MOST of the participants in the Maya diaspora have come from northwestern Guatemala and from a background of farming or agricultural work, the whole diaspora stream contains people from many localities, with differing work, skill, and education histories. Two major factors compelled the movement out of the highlands: terror of...

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Epilogue: EIiIaI/Exilio

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pp. 231-234

San tremulo de mi pais perseguido por toros negros y rabiosos mastines pintos. He rodado por el mundo solo arrastrando mis penas y mi sombra sin descansar.


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pp. 235-252

About the Contributors

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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-263

E-ISBN-13: 9781439901229
Print-ISBN-13: 9781566397957

Publication Year: 2000