Guatemala: Proud to be a Mayan | Juan de Dios

04 Oct 2013

 Victims' memorial museum in Guatemala City. Photo: UNDP Guatemala

I am a Mayan from Guatemala. Though I am proud to be an indigenous person, discrimination against us is a serious problem. Especially in the private sector and in the government, we rarely reach high-level positions and are often seen as a source of cheap labour.

I come from a family of people who were displaced by conflict. When I was nine or 10 years old, my father was persecuted and tortured by the military during Guatemala’s civil war, which lasted between 1960 and 1996 and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were indigenous Mayans. During the war, 45,000 Mayans were abducted by security forces and “disappeared,” 200,000 families were displaced and 2.5 million children became orphans.

After my father was tortured, my family, including my seven brothers and sisters, was forced to move to a new region. However, our troubles were not over. We were thrown out of our new home once again because the government planned to build a hydroelectric plant. When we resisted leaving our homes, the government labeled us enemies of the State and began organizing massacres of women, children and newborns, which nearly wiped out our communities in 1981 and 1982.

But today, I work with other survivors seeking justice for atrocities suffered by the Maya-Achi people during the conflict. With UNDP support, my organization provides legal assistance to survivors of genocide in the northern region of Guatemala, recovers historical documents and helps victims search for the truth. We have to keep our culture alive – make it stronger and prevent these atrocities from happening again. That is why we also set up a historical museum to document the atrocities committed against us and remember what happened to begin to heal as a nation.

I have a brave wife who is also a survivor, and three children. And even today, we continue to face threats and persecution because of our work. But nothing will stop us until our communities gain back their lives and, first and foremost, the respect they deserve.

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