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Featured image: Gaspar (center), during production for 500 Years. He and a friend/fellow activist fled Guatemala in 2019 to seek political asylum in the United States due to ongoing threats to their lives resulting from their work.

Last August we published a blog post featuring Gaspar, a Maya-Ixil environmental defender in Guatemala whom we featured in 500 Years, as he set out to claim asylum in the United States. A year later, he’s sharing a reflection about what he’s experienced over the last 12 months and his ongoing case for asylum. To support Gaspar and his family while he awaits a decision, you can contribute at this Go Fund Me campaign

By Gaspar

It was a year ago that I left.

Today, June 8, 2020, marks one year of having made the most difficult decision of my life.  Around 2:30 in the morning when everything was silent, I got out of bed. It was time to leave. I could not sleep because of the pain I felt in my chest. I was going to leave my elderly parents, I was going to leave my brothers and sisters. The most painful thing was that I was going to leave my very young children, I was their whole world.

I arose slowly so as not to wake my young children. I thought my wife was sleeping, but when I saw her face she was wide awake. Her eyes were swollen and filled with tears. She had been crying most of the night about the difficult choice I’d made. Even that morning she tried to convince me to stay at home and just leave activism, leave my life in defense of human rights and mother earth.  I told her that I had to leave for her safety, for the safety of my brothers and sisters, and of my comrades, but above all, for my own safety since the threats against me were increasing and they had already murdered my closest companions. That morning would mark my life forever. We did not know what would happen on this dangerous journey. It was summertime at the border. In the news we heard that many people were dying on that trip north, but I had no other choice. I could no longer stay in Guatemala as more and more leaders were being assassinated in different parts of the country.

At 2:45 in the morning I went to the door of my house and looked at my children sleeping. My wife was crying silently so as not to wake the children. I grabbed a piece of firewood to defend myself against the neighbors’ dogs and walked towards the stop where a small bus passes by. Everything was very quiet. The streets were dark, people were asleep. You could hear the barking of some dogs complaining about my walking the streets in the early hours. At 3 a.m. sharp, I was picked up by the small bus, full of traders who travel down to town to buy their products and then sell them in my community. Upon entering the bus I saw that almost all the people were sleeping I was afraid that some of them suspected that I was leaving Guatemala.

On the road, I thought about my family and also about the young corn seedlings that I had left behind. I didn’t know how my wife was going to maintain the cornfield. I didn’t know if I would reach my destination. I didn’t know if I would to return home one day. I didn’t know if I would ever see my elderly parents again, especially my mother who is very sick from the trauma of the armed conflict. I was also thinking that my children were going to spend their childhood without their father’s love. I didn’t know how old my children would be when I’d be able see them again.

At 5 a.m. in the morning I met up with Don Francisco, my traveling companion. He was accompanied by his son, a teenager who came with us until we met the coyote. The young man said goodbye to his father. From there we headed with the coyote to Huehuetenango and from there we started our journey into exile.

Today, one year later, I am still here in Ciudad Juárez, México waiting for my asylum case to be heard and to be allowed to enter the United States.

I deeply thank Salvador Gonzales and his wife Laura for opening the doors of their home when we arrived in Juárez. They have never left since then. Thanks to Laura’s parents for the unconditional support they give us.

I thank Pamela Yates and her husband Paco, for always thinking of me and my family. Also, for their commitment in demanding justice for the marginalized and forgotten peoples in this world, especially the indigenous peoples of Guatemala.

I thank doctor and comrade Giovanni Batz for his commitment and support towards me and towards the comrades of the Ixil Region. He has been a great companion who has always accompanied me.

And I thank the lawyer Carlos Spector and his team for accepting our case.

And thanks to the team that has supported us and been on this journey with us.

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is a an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder/Creative Director of Skylight Pictures, a company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice by implementing multi-year outreach campaigns designed to engage, educate and activate social change.

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