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MAYA PEOPLE IN GUATEMALA IN THE 21ST CENTURY:

POLITICAL OPPRESION AND EXPRESSION THROUGH MUSIC

BENJAMIN CROWDER

CREA-372V – MUSIC AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE

DR. DANIIL ZAVLUNOV

6 May 2019
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Guatemala is a country that has been experiencing social upheavals for the past few

decades. In particular, the Maya people, descendants of the original Mayan civilization, have

been politically oppressed leading to a mass migration from the Guatemala highlands to Mexico

or the United States. Evaluating themes and events that have been occurring in Guatemala in the

past 60 years, such as the ‘Silent Holocaust,’ gang violence, drugs, politics, and immigration

policies, the paper will prove that there has been little done to include the Maya people in

Guatemalan politics despite the group representing a large population.

Located in Central America, Guatemala borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El

Salvador, and is considered to be a third-world country. The geography has both low terrain on

each coastlines and mountains that stretch through the middle of the country where. The Maya,

who are about half the population of Guatemala, live mostly on the mountainous areas. The rest

of the population such as immigrants from Europe, the United States, and other surrounding

countries live either in Guatemala City or coastline areas. The sheer contrast between the two

groups of people is most evident in the difference of language and culture and can be seen on a

map.1

The Maya people are an indigenous group in Central America and Mexico and are spread

out. Yet, Guatemala hosts the majority of the current Maya population. Compared to the culture

hundreds of years ago, the social life of a Maya person is peaceful and they have multiple

presentations every year to celebrate heritage and culture. One of the festivals they celebrate

each year happens in February is the Coban Festival. In this festival, the Maya celebrate about

coffee and put on traditional dances2, drink coffee, and prepare for Lent. Through the celebration

of the Coban festival, culture and identity of the Maya people are shown through this traditional

1 Refer to Appendix 1, Map of Maya dialects in Guatemala. Castilian is another name for Spanish speaking people,
while other names on the map are dialects of the Maya language.
2 Refer to Appendix 2, Coban Festival (Coffee Festival).
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festival. It make take place in one centralized area, yet many will come to experience this

festival, whether it is a tribe that is close or one of the other twenty tribes in the country. There is

no conflict, but is a time of gathering and peace.

The festivals are a way to express the identity of the Maya people, but on others day it is

a problem since they are politically oppressed because of their race. Since the colonisation of

Central America back in the 16th century, the problem has always been a racial one. This problem

exists not only in Guatemala, but in surrounding countries. This idea of racial dominance has

been ingrained in the culture that it makes it a norm for non-indigenous people:

Latin America’s societies are characterized by a race-based system of ethnoclasses in


which the subjugated indigenous groups, … have been politically, economically, and
culturally marginalized ever since the colonial conquest.3

There have been no leaders in Guatemala who have been from the Maya since most of the

population is impoverished to get an education. With the country not having state-sponsored

education that is free to the indigenous people, it makes it difficult to impossible for a Maya to

progress in society. Instead, the Maya are split into “structurally different segments (in society):

Maya peasants, plantation laboureres, and urban poor workers.”4

The Maya people have had no full participation in politics since the beginning of the

country’s history. The exception is WINAQ, the only political party of the Maya people, created

in 2009 by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu Tum. However, the party has had no

success with having a figure in the Guatemalan high office. Due to the lack of political

representation, this had led to protests around the country, for example:

On October 12th, 2011, [where] hundreds of Maya demonstrators led by several social
organisations marched through Guatemala’s capitol to demand an end to forced land
eviction and to national resource exploitation in indigenous territories.5

3 Vogt, 31
4 Little, 3
5 Vogt, 28
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The government had did nothing in reaction to this, ignoring the demonstrations that were held.

The “indigenous participation in government above the local level has been and continues to be

minimal in Guatemala and does not reflect the composition of the population.”6

One of the questions is why there is only political action taking place in the 21 st century,

and is because of the political instability the country has been exacerbated over the past 65 years.

This political instability was exacerbated by widespread political corruption in Guatemala that

eventually contributed to issues, such as the impunity of presidential candidates and drug and

violence related crimes. This all started back in 1954 with the government coup d’état sponsored

by the United States government through Central Intelligence Agency as a proxy. The United

States wanted to intentionally over throw the government, since the fear that right-wing would

rise was strong. The CIA viewed “the left’s perspective closely mirrored by many elements of the

Guatemalan right, which see a victory by the left.” 7 This perspective by the CIA saw the

connection that right-wing politics was equal to communism, despite being on the opposite side

fo the political spectrum. The interaction by the US and the CIA ruined the judicial system in

Guatemala since the coup failed leading to guerilla warfare in the mountainous areas, where the

Maya people lived, and Guatemala City. An unstable government was in place and was

consequential as “the newly reformed judicial system faces a mother challenge in the surge in

violent crime.”8 Civil War occurred, from 1960 – 1996, and during this period conflict occurred

between right and left-wing extremists of the Maya.

Violence and instability in the government continued even in to the 1980s leading to The

‘Silent Genocide’ (1981 - 83). Funded by the Guatemalan and US government, this genocide was

6 Azpuru, 109
7 CIA Document, 18
8 Maihold, 11
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a horrific experience for the Maya people. Killings were done by rounding up Maya civilians in

villages and shooting from helicopters. Sexual assault and mutilation occurred. The purpose of it

was for ethnic cleansing and for the expansion of land, leading to the execution of over 200,000

Maya people with 40,000 said to be ‘missing.’ This racism, which is similar to the expulsion of

Jewish people during the Holocaust, is Type Two Warfare where the Maya people is “a native

population whose cultural and social level is beneath contempt. Techies invariably confirms this

judge mental verdict.”9 During the span of two years, a forced migration of many Maya people

occurred with people moving to the United States, and, Mexico – hence why there are Maya

people predominantly in the Yucatán region like in Guatemala. The issue of refugee status in this

situation for the Guatemala people was similar to Nazi Germany with the expulsion of Jewish

people as they are “event-alienated individuals … [that came] as a result of national calamity of

national upheaval.”10 The Maya people were not aware that a state-sponsored genocide was

happening against them, and it was only until 1983 where many Maya people migrated when

news spread around.

Due to the “Silent Genocide” this has created many problems in Maya society. Identity is

starting to be lost inside of the Maya with another group: Landino, or Latino Indians. Most of

them moved across borders into Mexico and the United States, specifically Los Angeles. This

loss of identity has created a youth where “they are incapable of identifying themselves as Maya

in the future” 11that do not know the past since their parents are afraid to talk about it. Society

had to rebuild itself and was difficult to do since Guatemala was still in Civil War

Impunity then becomes an issue in Guatemalan politics, being defined as “an informal

network of powerful individuals who use their positions and contacts in the public and private

9 Levine, 313
10 Kunz, 44
11 Batz, 203
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sectors to benefit economically from illegal activities and to avoid prosecution for any crimes

they commit.”12 This includes, but not limited to: drugs, violation of human rights, and violence.

In the case of the Maya people, they fall under violation to human rights and violence, and are in

this system of corruption. Corruption is a major problem in Guatemala , which is considered to

be among “ the most corrupt countries in the region.”13 Therefore, there is doubt by the Maya

would continue into the 1990s where peace was attempted to be sought the government and the

people, but failed. The organization of a Maya movement against the movement seemed likely

with “the Second Continental Meeting of Indigenous and Popular Resistance [in 1991] and after

Rigoberto Menchu won the Noble Peace Prize in 1992.” 14 The 2000s were silent, and it was not

until 2011 where the first trials would be held against political and military leaders in the past

would be brought to justice. These trials were a failure and did not make any progress but made

the Maya people upset, leading to protests in the cities – which were peaceful and never had any

violence occur. In 2015 there was a scandal against President Otto Perez Molina where he was

accused of corruption and an attempted coup d’état, leading to his resignation due to many

protests by the people. In January 2019 major protests were held since President Jimmy Morales

unconstitutionally terminated the CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in

Guatemala). This international commission was supported by the United Nations and the main

purpose of it was supposed to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, such as corruption and

drugs trafficking, through international intervention. Without this commission, it would be hard

to charge political leaders for their crimes and impunity would soar in Guatemala.

The reaction of the Maya people was not only protest however, but included the use of

music from the culture. Music has been a way to express problems in Guatemala, making people

12 Maihold, 12
13 Ruhl, 38
14 Azpuru, 109
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aware of what is occurring both on a national and international scale. This included many genres

of music that stemmed from the Unites States such as Classical, Rap, Hip-Hop, and Indie Folk

music. Many musicians are responding to the government and the impunity that came with it.

This protest brought the revival of marimba music as a symbol of resistance. Marimba music is

played in the streets Guatemala when protests occur and has even made public performances in

concert halls. It has also been a way for younger generations to use the “marimba as a means to

express their [the younger generations of Maya] Mayan identity.” 15 Rap and Hip-Hop have also

been used as a symbol to rebuilding culture in an innovative way, teaching the younger

generations to understand issues that have occurred in society. Indie Folk music, however,

appears to be the most influential art form.

Sara Curruchich (1993) is considered to be the leading figure in Maya music. Her style of

music was influenced by the Rigoberto Menchu Tum, and her creation of WINAQ in 2009, as

well as her colony, choosing Indie Folk as the medium to show this. Her songs focus on issues of

her experiences of being a Maya, such as: the social injustices of women rights, representation of

the Maya people in the government, and violence. Two songs which gained popularity by both

the Maya and Guatemalan people due to the Indie Folk nature are Ch’uti’xtan (Girl) and Resistir

(Resist).

Ch’uit’xtan16 (2015) focuses on Curruchich’s identity as a Maya. The name of this song is

her native dialect with and is translated to Girl. Mixing two different languages, both in her

dialect and Spanish, in popular songs is uncommon, which makes this song stand out. Not only

does it appeal to Guatemala people since it has Spanish, but as well to the Maya people since it

includes a commonly used dialect. The instrumentation for it is relatively easy for anyone to play

15 Batz, 202
16 Rindt, YouTube
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with the use of guitar and singing. The text does not suggest any revolutionary action nor any

commentary about social injustice, however the reasoning Curruchich wrote this is interesting.

Curruchich “rarely sings about love”17 and men in her music and associates them with

“politically engaged Central Americans of the 1980s called compraneros de lucha (comrades of

struggle).”18 This reference to the 1980s is about the “Silent Genocide” that occurred from 1981

to 1983. The irony is that the text does not fit what Curruchuch believes in about love and

comrades of struggle. One would have to listen to what the tense of the song is in order to

understand that this song is rather tragic. The entire song is in past tense, and it reminiscent of

when life was good until “hours passed, days passed, phases of the moon passed, years passed.” 19

With love being a theme of this song, there is no sense of resolution when Curruchich says “If

you love me, marry me”20 six times and never says “we” by the end. There is no sense of unity

by the end and seems lackluster.

Resitir21 (2016) proclaimed success on an international scale and is what brought

Curruchich to fame. The song has themes of hope and unity for a better future for the Maya and

Guatemalan government. Curruchich achieves this by repeating at the end of the song “May it

never go out, may it never go out, our voice, our voice” 22 to make sure that the government will

always remember that the Maya people exist and that their representation matters as much as

immigrants. She also says, “We’re walking and leaving our footprints, sharing looks and shining

stars, walking, walking … …together in our lives.” 23 This line is about the unity and identity of

what it means to be Guatemalan. One day a Maya person will be equally represented with a

17 Hennighan, 241
18 Ibid, 241
19 Refer to Appendix, Figure 3 Ch’uit’xtan text with Spanish and English translations
20 Ibid, Figure 3
21 Abiertos, YouTube
22 Refer to Appendix, Figure 4 Resistir Lyrics with Spanish and English translations
23 Ibid, Figure 4
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Guatemalan citizen and be able to walk on the beach where a regular Guatemalan walks. One

should be positive when listening to this, and when a Maya person listens to this it provides one

to educate themselves and work hard; the song is a morale booster.

The reaction of the Guatemalan government to Resistir is shocking, “receiving no radio

airplay because the lyrics were deemed too political.” 24 Ultimately, it was banned from any

airwaves but made Sara Curruchich famous worldwide, being performed in Europe and North

America with orchestras. Curruchich attained great success since she was able to get her message

across on an international scale, about the problems with the government and social injustice that

has been happening, and proved to the Maya people that it was possible to rise to popularity and

fame being an indigenous person.

Even with these songs, the fight for justice and political equality of the Maya people is

still a struggle. There is no political unity in the Maya community to create change. When the

social aspect of change is occurring inside the community “their [Maya people’s] lack of unity

and common actions limit their impact on the political system.”25 With internet and social media

becoming more accessible to the Maya people the message about impunity and inequality that

exists.

Being oppressed for so long, a reason why there has been no revolution or violent protest

is because of the “Silent Holocaust.” There is an instilled fear that exists with every Maya that

still lives in Guatemala as the fear of getting killed still exists. The leaders of this peaceful

revolution are Sara Curruchich and Rigoberto Menchu Tum who want to provide safety and

equality with everyone. With how corrupt the country is, only time will tell if corruption will be

solved.

24 Henningham, 241
25 Azpuru, 109
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Annotated Bibliography

Abiertos, Sesión De Micros. "Sara Curruchich - Resistir (acústicos SdMA)." YouTube. April 14,

2016. Accessed May 06, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kl1Rai8rkE.

Azpuru, Dinorah. "PERCEPTIONS OF DEMOCRACY IN GUATEMALA: AN ETHNIC

DIVIDE?" Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue


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Canadienne Des études Latino-américaines Et Caraïbes 34, no. 67 (2009): 105-30.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/41800449.

Azpuru is a professor of political science at Wichita State University, from Guatemala.

This secondary source is about how democratic Guatemala is, focusing on the

government’s corruption and different groups in Guatemala with emphasis on the Maya

people. Through the use of this paper, I will use it to argue about there is an ethnic divide

between the Maya people and the government.

Batz, Giovanni. "Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles: The Recovery of Identity and

Culture among Maya Youth." Latin American Perspectives 41, no. 3 (2014): 194-207.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/24573923.

Batz is the son of working immigrants from Guatemala who specializes on Maya

migration from Guatemala to the United States and Mexico. This secondary source

focusses on traditional Maya culture such as presentations and music. Despite talking

about Los Angeles, Batz makes a link back to Guatemala as being the source.

"Guatemala: Significant Political Actors and Their Interaction." CIA, May 30, 2010. Accessed

May 6, 2019. https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-

RDP86T00589R000300430001-7.pdf.

Made by the CIA, in an undisclosed time, I will use this primary source to describe the

reasoning for why the United States interfered with Guatemala in the 1950s.

Henighan, Stephen, Candace Johnson, Kalowatie Deonandan, W. George Lovell, Helen Mack

Chang, Lisa Maldonado, Catherine Nolin, Rita M. Palacios, Claudia Paz Y Paz Bailey,

Magalí Rey Rosa A., and Rebecca Tatham. Human and Environmental Justice in

Guatemala. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018.


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Through the use of this secondary source, I will use it to comment on Sara Curruchich's

music and motivation - specifically "Resistir" and "Ch’uit’xtan."

Kunz, Egon F. "Exile and Resettlement: Refugee Theory." International Migration Review 15,

no. 1/2 (Spring 1981): 42-51. Accessed April 14, 2019. doi:10.2307/2545323.

Kunz was a Hungarian historian that specializes on topics about immigration and refugee

status. Despite the article being from 1981, this will help strengthen the argument that

Vogt has about why the Maya people would want to leave Guatemala. The connection

between both of these papers provides that the 'refugee theory' that Kunz presents is

relatable to why forced immigration is such a problem in the 21st century, and how much

it emulates being a refugee in the 20th century.

Levene, Mark. "Why Is the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide?" Journal of World

History 11, no. 2 (2000): 305-36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20078852.

Levene is lecturer of History at the University of Southampton, specializing on the

Jewish Holocaust. The secondary source has a developed chronology of genocides that

have occurred in the 20th century and argues what genocide occurs. The use of this source

will help argue that “Silent Holocaust” has similarities to “Jewish Holocaust” despite

there being a fifty-year difference.

Maihold, Günther. "Intervention by Invitation? Shared Sovereignty in the Fight against Impunity

in Guatemala." European Review of Latin American and Caribbean States, no. 101 (April

14, 2016): 5-31. Accessed April 14, 2019. doi:10.18352/erlacs.9977.

Maihold is a German political scientist that has done research in Central and Latin

America, focusing on social policy, with one of the countries being Guatemala where he

had residency. This source will contribute to the reason why the Maya people would want
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to leave Guatemala, talking about the government's ability to minimize organised crime

in the country and lack of representation of the Maya people in politics in the 21st

century.

Rindt, Markus. "Ch'uti' Xtän (Niña)." YouTube. January 17, 2015. Accessed May 06, 2019.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0E1efv6mLA.

Ruhl, J. Mark. "Political Corruption in Central America: Assessment and Explanation." Latin

American Politics and Society53, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 33-58. Accessed April 24, 2019.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41342299.pdf?

refreqid=excelsior:307711eb80cbfb61cda2ea7f5b8d5a53.

Ruhl is a professor of political science from Dickinson College. This journal is an

overview of political corruption in Central America. The countries included are

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc. and are provided with statistics over

the span of 40 years. This source will help provide an overview of corruption in Central

America, proving that Guatemala is the most corrupt country in this area.

"Sara Curruchich - Ch'uti'xtän Lyrics English Translation." Sara Curruchich - Ch'uti'xtän Lyrics

English Translation. Accessed May 06, 2019. https://lyricstranslate.com/en/chutixtän-

girl.html.

"Sara Curruchich - Resistir Lyrics English Translation." Sara Curruchich - Resistir Lyrics

English Translation. Accessed May 06, 2019. https://lyricstranslate.com/en/resistir-

resist.html.

Vogt, Manuel. "The Disarticulated Movement: Barriers to Maya Mobilization in Post-Conflict

Guatemala." Latin American Politics and Society 57, no. 01 (Spring 2015): 29-50.

Accessed April 11, 2019. doi:10.1111/j.1548-2456.2015.00260.x.


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This source will help bring understanding to why there is such a mobilization for Maya to

leave Guatemala in the past few years due to political oppression, rather than revolt. It

brings up issues that start from the past 50 years, such as the Maya genocide – commonly

known as the ‘Silent Holocaust,’ which have led to this point of inequality in society that

still resides today. This will focus on political, militaristic, and social aspects which all

amalgamate into the forced Maya mobilization.

Appendix

Figure 1 - Map of Guatemala split up to represent different languages and dialects that
exist
Figure 2 - Photo from the Coban Festial with women in traditional dress
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Ch'uti'xtän
(Figure 3)

Se conocieron en una fiesta tradicional


él tenía 8 y ella apenas tenía They met at a traditional party
ellos jugaron bajo la lluvia he was 8 and she was about the same.
corrieron, sonrieron, They played beneath the rain,
compartieron sueños, crecieron. they ran and smiled,
sharing dreams, they grew up (together).
Pasaron horas, pasaron días
pasaron lunas. pasaron años Hours passed, days passes
nació un sentimiento, inevitable. phases of the moon passed, years passed
a feeling1 was born, it was inevitable.
Janila yanwajo' rat nuch'uti' xtän
roma ri nub'ij chawe' I love you so much, girl
tqatunub'a' ri qak'aslem that's why I say:
we should join our lives2.
Katk'ule' wik'in wi rat yinawajo' [x6]
If you love me, marry me. [x6]
Eterno amor, con abrazos y sonrisas
An eternal love, with embraces and smiles.
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Resistir (Figure 4)

Que no mueran los sueños,


que no se apague la luz,
que no languidezca la esperanza,
que no se apague el amor

Que no se apague...

Vamos caminando dejando huellas,


compartiendo miradas y estrellas
caminando, caminando...
...por la vida juntos.

Que no muera nuestros los sueños,


que no apague nuestra luz,
que no apaguen la porfía
que no apaguen nuestra vida.

Que no se mueran tus sueños


que no se apague tu luz
que languidezca la esperanza
que no se apague el amor.

Y que florezca nuestra victoria


que no pueda...
que no se apague nuestra luz.

Que no se apague, que no se apague


nuestra voz, nuestra voz,
que no se apague, que no se apague,
nuestra voz, que no se apague
nuestra voz...

May dreams never die, may the light never go out,


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may hope never become listlessness,


May it never diminish...

We're walking and leaving our footprints,


sharing looks and sharing stars,
walking, walking...
...together in our lives.

May our dreams never die,


may our light never go out,
may our endeavor never diminish,
may our lives never go out.

May your dreams never die,


may your light never go out,
may hope never become listlessness,
may love never diminish.

And may our victory flourish


may it never...
may our light never go out.

May it never go out, may it never go out


our voice, our voice,
may it never go out, may it never go out,
our voice, may it never go out,
our voice...