Saturday, October 24, 2009


The first 15th of September that we were out of Guatemala, we held an acto civico in the house...complete with a flag and the national anthem. I was 9. Our flag had somewhat deteriorated and the sky blue sections of the flag had acquired a purple hue. Nevertheless, my family and I paid homage to a country that was no longer our home.

It is interesting to note that I remember certain things and that perhaps my mind plays favorites as to what memories get front page space. This is not to say that I do not remember the sad, tragic moments in my family, but it is true, since I was kid I probably have come to build an idealized version of Guatemala.

Either way, I do no think the items I remember are that less special.

For example, I remember the incense at Sunday Mass, especially during Holy Week. I remember the smell of wet soil after it has rained. The sweetness of dulces tipicos and the bouncing one experiences in the camionetas. I remember being in charge of putting baby Jesus in the Nativity Scene once the clock struck midnight on December 24th. The songs that were sung with a joyous feeling at La Misa de Gallo and the food that was served at functions seemed never ending. Although I tried to stay up as much as I could for these, I probably had one tamal, gave the traditional hugs at midnight, but was out before sunrise.

Out of all the memories I have in my treasure chest, I especially remember how even when people had little to give, they still gave whatever they had with all of their heart.

Whenever I go back to Guatemala, I look for those details from my childhood. I suspect I get weird looks as I cherish the first bite of a tamal or how in the mornings, I gaze at the volcanoes as if it were the first time I come across them. It is hard to explain to relatives and friends why I like to walk under the rain or why the sound of the rain on the laminas sends me into a deep slumber at night.

It has been years since I have been to a 15th of September function, but the last time I was in one, I was in Antigua and my eyes got misty when a girl carrying a flag passed by. You see, my sisters got the chance to carry the flag, an honor bestowed upon the best students. I never got the chance. As I walked away from the desfile though I realized I had carried the flag once and although I carried it from the Principal's Office to the school's patio, it still counted. Smiling to myself and with the volcanoes as background, I kept walking in the cobblestone streets of Antigua.

Libre al viento tu hermosa bandera
a vencer o a morir llamará;
que tu pueblo con ánima fiera
antes muerto que esclavo será.

On Identity

In the film El Silencio de Neto, Neto's uncle says that he has come home to die...that only where you were born are you able to die in peace. The film was filmed, for the most part, in the city of Antigua, Guatemala...a city I know and visit quite often.

I saw the film a bunch of years ago, when I was still in college and I struggled with my national identity. It seemed as it is now manifested, that I was not sufficiently American here, but I was also not sufficiently Guatemalan there. Thinking back, that is why I subconsciously chose to be a double major. In more ways than one, I was trying to reconcile these two opposites. For part of my day, I was an English major and then for another part, I was a Spanish major. Leave it to me to try to find my way through the wilderness of cultures and languages.

I remember when a professor flat out told me I was a hyphenated self. I was a Guatemalan-American and that hyphen served as a bridge between two worlds. There. Done. He had fixed all my problems for me.

Last month I went to visit my parents to celebrate my dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary. I had a friend ask me what I was, what I considered myself to be.

"As far as nationality?" I asked already knowing that's what he meant.
"I was born in Guatemala, but I grew up in California...I guess you could say I'm a hybrid".
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, I seem to not fulfill all the requirements on either side so I have decided to respectfully send each group to hell and be my own person".

There was laughter followed by an awkward silence.

Ten years after college, I am done searching for my identity. I am made of different ingredients all necessary to my being. I do not struggle between worlds nor do I adhere to either. I am able to use the best from both and form my own opinions.

That is, I see myself in Neto's uncle. He can live in Guatemala and even adapt to his surroundings, but he is not completely blind in order to ignore that having lived outside of Guatemala has marked him for life. He is able to see things from more than one perspective.

In the end though, I wonder if I will be able to die in the land where I drew my first breath. I do not mean to sound morbid, but it is something that has crossed my mind. I would like to think that I will be at peace no matter where I am. Poetically though, going back to the land where one was born does sound like a beautiful way to close one's story.

Note: I wrote this in August of this year and had it in a blog that I no longer use, but I find it is necessary to start with this post on this my new blog.