I understand when people see the photos of the thousands of men, women and children migrating daily from Central America, it triggers a variety of responses. These reactions range from compassion to outrage.
I want to offer a perspective as a Canadian, born in the United States, living and working in rural Guatemala for the past nine years. The situation here is not simple, but it is not as complex as it is sometimes portrayed. People just need the basics of life – food, shelter, employment, security. Without these fundamentals, there will be an exodus, regardless of the country or culture.
In my view, the majority of people in Guatemala have been abandoned, mainly by the government, but also by the church. As a conquered people and Spanish colony, the indigenous Maya people were seen as a resource of labour. Not much has changed today and discrimination unashamedly continues.
Guatemala has very strong labour laws that are mostly unenforced, so the majority of the rural indigenous population are malnourished, illiterate, and with only rare opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. They are not lazy, waiting for a hand out, or just dreaming of a better life. Everyday they face their families suffering from extreme poverty without any resources to change that tragic course except travel north.
It is a mistake to think that anyone from Guatemala would migrate to the United States and risk this very dangerous and costly journey if it were not out of sheer desperation. It is not on a whim or vague dream for a better life.
250,000 people from Guatemala have been apprehended on the southern US border since October 2018. This is a crisis.
Guatemala is a culture of families living together, and it is an enormous sacrifice for anyone to leave one’s family, culture and country. Most of any money earned in the US is unselfishly sent back to family and not spent thoughtlessly on self-gratifying stuff in the malls. They are not living the “good life” in the US. They are in hiding, fearing arrest, and not earning what they deserve.
I believe few of us have had the experience of the refugees, to see one’s family suffer and decline before one’s eyes. To watch your fields planted for food, whither and die, year after year; to have threats and acts of extreme violence perpetrated against one’s friends and family; and not to have access to a basic education, medical or dental care for one’s family. If I was faced with the above situation, I would actively seek a solution, however desperate. Including entering a country illegally to work. This is what millions face in Guatemala and throughout Central America.
Read more about this crisis.
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Project Somos Guatemala