Reclaiming My Narrative

by Lyrica Maldonado

When I was a kid, I learned that my family, my ancestors, had gone “extinct,” that in between the diseases that Europeans had brought over and Cortez and Columbus, the Maya people or civilization had disappeared. Of course, I learned plenty about my other ancestors, my Europeans ancestors, in fact I even remember re-enacting the Mayflower in sixth grade. However, as the daughter of a Guatemalan immigrant, returning to Guatemala was difficult for a number of reasons, and so I believed this lie. I heard my father speaking his dialect to his parents on the phone numerous times, a dialect that might be mistaken for an Asian language. Of course this did not line up with that I had been told in textbooks, and I chose to believe them over my father.     

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Imagine being told that your family and people no longer exist. 

Twenty-two years later, I know this narrative was a form of erasure. I’ve been so privileged to be able to return multiple times, to hear Mam, the Maya dialect of my community in western Guatemala, spoken by my 80-year-old great grandma and my three-year-old cousin. I’ve had the privilege of perusing markets full of Mayan subsistence farmers, watching the colors of huipil and their villages blur together. And so now, I no longer believe the narrative that my people and community no longer exists.

An overview of my family’s village.

An overview of my family’s village.

This is how we reclaim our narratives. 

Barillas Chon, a Pocomam scholar from Guatemala, says that we are “writing ourselves into history.” As most histories have tried to write over Indigenous histories and narratives, specifically Indigenous migrant histories and narratives, I find strength in the remembrance of these stories.     

Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez was a young Maya Mam woman from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. She traveled North to pursue a university career, something that is not available in her home country. A lot of immigrant narratives talk about how smart, hard-working, good, intelligent, and all kinds of attractive characteristics migrants are, as if these thing are necessary in order to live, work, and love in your home.

Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez

Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez

Claudia was killed by the United States federal government, she was shot by Border Patrol in Texas.  Her life was ended by state sanctioned violence, violence the United States stood behind and continues to enact upon Indigenous migrant children. 

Jakelin Caal Maquin (Qeqchi)

Felipe Gomez Alonzo (Chuj)

Juan de Leon Gutierrez (Ch’orti)

Carlos Hernandez Vasquez (Achi)

Wilmer Josue Ramirez (Ch’orti)

All these children were killed by the United States through a combination of foreign policy and internal domestic security policy. Many immigrant rights movements will  feature these children’s pictures with slogans such as “we are a country of immigrants,” “this was once Mexico,” “America was founded by a country of immigrants.” Many of them will conveniently forget that these children are not immigrant- descended, neither are they Hispanic, nor their first language Spanish. Their, and our, Indigenous identities will get lost in the erasure rhetoric that also told me Maya people no longer existed.  

Migrant Justice is Climate Justice

My grandma is a subsistence farmer, meaning she grows the food that she eats, and she only eats the food that she grows. What she and her family don’t eat will get sold at the local market. This has been the traditional livelihood of our people for generations and generations. With the advent of capitalism, colonialism, and American imperialism, many people are being forced to work in the cash economy, 9-5 hour jobs that displace people away from their families and lands. 

We know that the climate crisis is driven by capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, which so happens to also fuel mass displacement of Indigenous peoples. We also know that Indigenous peoples are among the most impacted by climate change and the current ecological crisis, their traditional livelihoods disappearing because of irregular rain patterns, drought, monoculture, flooding, which are all products of climate change. Around the globe Indigenous peoples are being displaced from their lands and having to travel long distances to reach some sort of safety for their families. While I believe that immigration is a human right, I also believe firmly in the right to reside on your homelands, to live, work, and love the way your ancestors did.