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Indigenous communities in Guatemala take the lead when ‘politics as usual’ disappoint

Like me, you may have felt let down and disappointed by Vice President Kamala Harris’ first foreign visit. I was initially excited to learn that the trip would be to Guatemala and Mexico. We heard her say, “I’m honored to be in a country whose history goes back thousands of years, as I was walking through this building and appreciating the Mayan art that adorns the walls.” But that was followed by her talking about the US Border Control’s Mobile Tactical Interdiction Unit meant to stop indigenous Mayans from migrating across the land as they have been doing for thousands of years. Nothing about US accountability for the roots of the upheaval: 56 US military interventions in Latin America since 1890.

While comprehensive immigration policy reform is certainly complicated, it was disheartening to hear the daughter of immigrants to the US be so unwelcoming. As my friend Giovanni Batz, himself a son of immigrants, said, “Biden says he loves immigrants. Trump said he hated immigrants. And they both say, “Do not come.”

As you know from being part of the Skylight community, I have been working with indigenous Guatemalan communities for over 40 years to support their efforts to shed light on egregious human rights violations committed against them by their government, military, and by multinational companies exploiting natural resources, aided and abetted by our own government.  From When the Mountains Tremble, to Granito and 500 Years, Skylight has amplified stories of resistance and resilience of the majority indigenous Maya population. 

Ongoing human rights abuses and the instability they perpetuate are at the heart of continued migration to the US. For example, the recent arrest of anti-corruption advocates Francisco Solórzano Foppa (he is a nephew of Julio Solórzano Foppa, a protagonist in 500 Years) and Aníbal Argüello is concerning as it points to ongoing attempts by Guatemala’s government to intimidate people seeking transparency and exercising free speech. Solórzano and Argüello were released from prison after having been held for 3 weeks, and await trial.  

And you have followed the dangerous journey of our colleagues and friends Gaspar Cobo and Francisco Chávez, indigenous leaders who made the difficult decision to leave Guatemala after threats on their lives intensified. Their story shapes a major part of Borderland, our forthcoming feature film. Gaspar and Francisco have said that they seek asylum in the US not to pursue the mythic “American Dream” but to continue denouncing the Guatemalan government’s historically gross persecution of the Mayan people as well as other indigenous and non-indigenous people, human rights and environmental defenders. 

While the US government exhorts Guatemalans and others from Latin America, “Do not come,” activists and artists once again are working to re-envision their world through efforts like the indigenous-led campaign Futuros Indígenas. The online and community-based campaign seeks  out the indigenous perspective about how to live on this planet in the face of climate catastrophe and inspires collective action.

Andrea Ixchíu

#FuturosIndígenas, is a collaboration between SolidariLabs Mexico participant María Inés Roque of Ambulante Film Festival and SolidariLabs mentor Maya activist filmmaker and member of the Culture Hacking Collective, Andrea Ixchíu.

You can join the project by sharing their rockin’ colorful and engaging images across social media. We’re proud of these artistic social justice projects that are emerging from the bonds of trust and understanding: a goal of our SolidariLabs initiative. 

Featured image: Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamatteii at the National Palace. Daniel Hernández-Salazar ©2021

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is an award-winning film director and the co-founder of Skylight, a not-for-profit media organization that for over 35 years has combined cinematic arts with the quest for justice to inspire the defense of human rights. Skylight’s films and programs strengthen social justice movements and catalyze collaborative networks of artists and activists.

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