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Sentado en un Arbol Caído

Sentado en un Arbol Caído is a play based on the testimonio of Jesús Tecú Osorio, one of the survivors of the massacre in Rio Negro, Rabinal, Guatemala. This massacre was one of five massacres planned and carried out in 1982 by the Guatemalan military as a means to “evict”, more like exterminate, the villagers of Rio Negro to make way for the Chixoy hydro-electric dam.

Due to the villagers’ strong opposition and resistance towards the building of the dam, many of them were targeted and massacred systematically. The total population of the village was about 800. And, it is believed that after five massacres, at least 444 assassinations were carried out.

The hydro-electric dam, of which so many Maya-Achí women and children were massacred for, was funded by both the World Bank (WB) and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). After 30yrs, five military officials were sentenced to 780 years for the March 13 Río Negro massacre, but they will only serve 30 of the 780 year sentence due to a 1969 law that sets the maximum penalty for the crime of assassination at 30 years.

While the massacre of indigenous people is not a new phenomenon, it is particularly infuriating that the World Bank (WB) has not been held accountable for the atrocities that were committed for the sake of building the dam. The WB, along with many other foreign investors and the Guatemalan government, oversaw this project and were key decision makers in the “removal” and “relocation” of the Maya-Achi people, yet they have not been held accountable for violation of human rights and genocide. Also, it is ironic to see how the WB claims to alleviate poverty and provide funding for the sustainable development of marginalized communities, yet it has a history of funding projects that further disenfranchise and oppress communities of color across the world.

It is not surprising that a few economically powerful countries—i.e. the United States— control the World Bank.  Instead of being a tool to help encourage development and, ultimately, improve living conditions, the WB solely seeks profit.

Sentado en un Arbol Caído is particularly powerful because it brings to life the unheard voices of not only the Maya-Achí peoples from Guatemala, but those from other countries as well who are being murdered for refusing to be displaced from their ancestral lands.

It is saddening to know that very few people know about this history and, more importantly, that very few understand that it is not about something that happened in the distant past, but rather, something currently happening every single day. Indigenous people are being displaced by globalization and the privatization of water, land, and other natural resources—forcing many to also immigrate. It’s ridiculous! In the case of the Maya-Achí people, I hope that the World Bank and the IADB are held responsible and provide reparations to the communities that were harmed by the Chixoy Dam project.It is evident that there is a need for transnational organizing that helps apply pressure on international banks to develop in such a way that future projects will comport with international human rights standards and that they do not further displace indigenous peoples.

If you would like to see Sentado en un Arbol Caído it will be running at Frida Kahlo Theatre from May 31 to June 9. Follow the link for more information. http://fridakahlotheater.org/Upcoming%20Events.htm

Connecting to Her Ancestors through Art

Art hangs from the painted green walls in an apartment filled with paintbrushes and containing a canvas with a work in progress. In a small apartment near Echo Park, there lies bright paintings that have helped a young woman reconnect with her heritage.

Ana Ruth Castillo was born in Los Angeles in 1982 to Guatemalan parents, economic refugees during the civil wars of the 1970s. She grew up in various parts of LA such as Inglewood, Southbay, and eventually graduated from high school in South Central. At six years old, she had the opportunity to visit Guatemala because of the access allowed by the government to the refugees. Her parents took Ana and her sister to visit the family members that still resided in the country.

It was through those visits when she first realized the difficulties in relating to her parent’s country. “I was always considered gringa,” she says when talking of her childhood visits. It was her first time she was introduced to poverty. Before then she didn’t know another world less privileged existed, fueling her desire to learn more about her parent’s native country.

A section of "My Ancestors Presente"

She became attracted to the trajes of Guatemalan’s indigenous villages. It was difficult to learn about the culture she was not part of, but loved since a young age.

In the US, she was disheartened that there was never a space where she could learn more about her parents’ country. Her visits to Guatemala showed her there was another world, and she looked for its history, her ancestor’s heritage, but could never find it.

Ana asked herself, “Where the hell am I from?”

That sense of displacement was a big push for Ana who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2006 with a degree in Latin American and Latino Studies. It was in college where she first took a chance in art. Ana and her friends began to have “art nights” by bringing different art supplies to paint for a fun night in on a Friday night. Soon creativity took over. She took art as a means to put onto canvas everything she had learned and felt about her culture. “How do you give continuity to everyone who came before you?” said Ana.

Ana sees her paintings as a responsibility toward her culture and her ancestors. Through her most personal art pieces, called “My Ancestors Presente,” Ana believes that she honors her ancestors for this space and time.

Her sense of cultural displacement from it is a “big part of why I paint what I paint,” said Ana. “The more I paint the more I want to get better. At this point I have to get better.” Her art incorporates Guatemalan cultural myths like her painting “Ixel” depicting grandmother moon, or the common problem of searching for identities in a world with man-made borders shown in “Borders and Struggles.” Her art is like a collage of everything that she associates with on a personal or cultural level to her parent’s homeland. Ana looks toward the future on how art can now allow her community to connect to their culture

Ana is a strong supporter of the reviving the LA mural movement. In addition to taking part in the Restoration Project at the Great Wall of Los Angeles, she is also painting a mural in Xela, Guatemala, her mother’s hometown, at Café R.E.D.

Café R.E.D. focuses on the arts as a way to support the local the community and its economy. She explains that whenever she is taking part in creating a mural, many people, especially the youth, come to help. “Public art is important,” said Ana, “[it] has that function to bring people in and public art should represent the people who live there.”

“As central Americans, my parents were the first generation to come to America and stay here,” said Ana. She believes it is important to create something for the next generation. She hopes a museum would be available for children so they could have a place that would teach them where they come from. She believes that this is the responsibility of the Latino community, which she expresses through her art.

She recently became a part of the Central American Writing Arts Collective in Los Angeles. It is a one-year old collective where painters, writers, musicians, poets, and media makers of various generations come together to share their work.

Ana’s vision is the same as the collectives: a space where artists and other members of the Central American community could teach history through art to the children of future generations.

“I can not go back to practices that have become lost over time and conquest, but I can honor what I have learned and retained and put in canvas,” said Ana.

 

To see more of her art, see the Winter 2012 Issue and visit her website.

Former Guatemala President on Trial for $15 Million Embezzlement

The prosecution of former President of Guatemala Alfonso Portillo is underway for the embezzling of public funds to the ministry defense fund. During Portillo’s 2000-2004 term of presidency, he is believed to have transferred more than $15 million, according to BBC. Not only is he wanted in Guatemala, but the US wants to prosecute him as well for committing fraud with donations for educational projects in Guatemala.

Why has it taken seven years? Portillo fled shortly after his presidency but was forced back to Guatemala in 2008 to continue his trial. The US cannot prosecute him until he is done with his trial in Guatemala, in accordance with Guatemalan law.

Reconnecting Broken Links

Entering a concentration camp at 13, Benjamin Waserman, a Holocaust survivor, moved to the United States in hopes of starting a new life, yet a big chunk of his past was missing. His daughter, Kastle, with the intent of learning more about her ancestry decided to do something about it.

She proceeded to contact the Red Cross of Los Angeles and submitted a Family Tracing Services request. Family Tracing Services is provided by the Red Cross free of charge to anybody in the U.S. looking for a close relative in another country. In order to qualify, separation or loss of contact needs to have occurred because of armed conflict or a natural disaster.

Kastle’s efforts proved fruitful as her father was reconnected with his long-lost cousin who relocated in Paris, restoring a link within the family history.*

Now imagine similar success stories from the countries devastated by blood-thirsty civil wars such as the guerrilla filled mountainous regions of El Salvador or the grim jungles of Guatemala.

*The Wasermans’ full story and more information can be found at www.redcrossla.org