From a bloody past to a troubled present, Delaware’s Guatemalans seek a brighter future with new President Bernardo Arévalo

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Thousands have fled Guatemala over the past 60 years, hoping to escape a civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The following years saw rising violence, civil unrest and pervasive poverty.

Over the course of the 36-year-long war, more than 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. Indigenous Maya made up 83% of that number of casualties. The U.S.-backed Guatemalan army’s destruction of more than 600 villages further deepens the scars of the country’s history.

Many of those who fled the violence ended up in Delaware. Guatemalans make up the second-largest segment of Latino residents in the state.

Last month, Guatemala’s new President Bernardo Arévalo took office, after promising to battle corruption. With new leadership, what do Delaware’s Guatemalan residents hope for from the new administration?

Aracely Garcia Ramirez is one of those who escaped to the U.S., eventually landing in Newark, Delaware, after leaving Ixchiguán in the San Marcos section of Guatemala near the Mexican border 24 years ago.

She remembers what it was like when the war was raging. She was just 3 years old when she heard soldiers knock at their door and children crying. She saw people running, homes being demolished and even burned.

“Por lo poquito que yo me acuerdo, las personas no podían dormirse en su casa, se tuvieron que quedarse en las noches en el monte y todos tenían miedo porque estaban amenazados de que los ejércitos iban a llegar a quemar sus casa”, ella dijo. “Por ejemplo, la casa de mis padres, la quemaron y la quemaron la casa de mi abuela y pues en ese tiempo, pues yo perdí a mi padre en la guerra, perdimos a muchos familiares”.

“Algo que no se me olvida fue de que cuando llegaron a sacar a uno de mis tíos de la casa, de la cama y enfrente de nosotros lo asesinaron”, ella añadió. 

“From the little bit that I remember, people could not sleep in their houses, they had to stay in the hills during the nighttime and everyone was afraid because they were threatened that the army was going to come and burn their houses,” she said. “For example, they burned my parents’ house and my grandmother’s house and, well, at that time, I lost my father in the war, we lost many relatives.”

“Something that I haven’t forgotten was when they came to take one of my uncles out of the house, out of bed, and in front of us, they murdered him,” she added.

When she was 10, Garcia had to end her education at the elementary school level when she moved to the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, for “better opportunities.”

“Por ejemplo, en mi pueblo allá no hay trabajo más que en el campo… Mi pueblo era un pueblo abandonado porque no había buenas carreteras, no había buenas escuelas, no teníamos el apoyo del gobierno”, ella dijo. “En mi pueblo hay una, hay un grupo de personas que se dedican a recaudar dinero para arreglar las escuelas, para arreglar las carreteras, todo lo que necesita el pueblo”.

“For example, in my town, there are no jobs except in agriculture… My town was an abandoned town; there were no good roads, there were no good schools, we did not have the support of the government,” she said. “In my town, there is a group of people who are dedicated to raising money to fix the schools, to fix the roads, everything the town needs.”

Yet, even with the improved job prospects, transportation, and structure in the city, it still fell short of providing a good quality of life. That prompted her decision to migrate to the U.S., mirroring the widespread trend of mass migration out of Guatemala.

  • February 11, 2024
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