By Cynthia Mazariegos
LatinaLista — Second-generation Guatemalan-American, Cynthia Mazariegos, dreams of becoming a lawyer one day and championing justice for immigrants as an immigration attorney. Her dreams are fueled by the ongoing debate in the United States over comprehensive immigration reform and witnessing how hard-working, undocumented immigrants have been caught in the middle of this contentious issue.
Cynthia Mazariegos totes wood the traditional way while visiting Guatemalan communities.
(Photo Source: Cynthia Mazariegos)
Yet, it wasn’t until a recent opportunity presented to Cynthia by the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, that enabled this 24-year-old paralegal to return to her parents’ birthplace, did Cynthia fully learn what kinds of conditions exist in Guatemala that propel people to come and work illegally in the United States. Because of her trip, Cynthia learned, that contrary to popular perception, the people of Guatemala are trying to help themselves and change those conditions.
An unforgettable part of the trip was meeting with some of the Guatemalans who were deported from the United States as a result of one of the biggest federal immigration raids in the country at Postville, Iowa.
Cynthia shares with Latina Lista readers her impressions and her conversations during a trip that underscored how little international borders mean to people who need to earn a wage to live.
Living in Chicago, as a first generation Guatemalan-American, the topic of immigration has always been close to my heart. So when the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) offered me a seat in their August delegation to study the economic reasons for migration to the United States, I jumped at the opportunity.
What I learned in those ten days showed me that there are many alternatives to “comprehensive” immigration reform than what both political parties have presented so far.
On our ten-day trip through the beautiful country of Guatemala, the GHRC delegation met with several cooperatives that created jobs in which the employees could earn a decent wage.
Women of Lema weaving a scarf.
(Photo Source: Cynthia Mazariegos)
One example was L’EMA’ Tz’utujil Women’s Weaving Cooperative of San Juan la Laguna. The women of San Juan made a conscious choice to create a system to earn a wage they could live on so their families could stay united.
They formed a cooperative where they are selling their woven works in a small store and are trying to sell their pieces of woven works through the internet. What makes their work extraordinary is that they use dyes from local plants making them an eco-friendly cooperative.
If you are thinking they’re different than the general Guatemalan population, you would be surprised to know that all of the women who belong to the cooperative, even the administrative board, cannot read or write Spanish. Some women do not even know how to speak the language.
We visited another cooperative, the Diego Chocolate Family Cooperative, in San Pedro la Laguna. They also created an alternative to the day laborer’s wage, which is not enough for the daily food basket for an average family of four.
This cooperative consisted of one family who started making organic chocolate and selling it from their home in San Pedro. This business gave the family the income to keep all four of their children in Guatemala, which is not the case for many poor families, as it’s the young adults who are the first to migrate to the U.S. in search of jobs.
Diego Chocolate comes in 146 flavors.
(Photo source: Cynthia Mazariegos)
Other than cooperatives, the delegation also met with deportees from the famous raid of Postville, Iowa in San Miguel DueÃ±as. Here, we heard true stories of the human rights violations U.S. law enforcement officials perpetrated on the deportees and the reality of their desperate situation.
The town of San Miguel DueÃ±as has now been labeled “a state of economic emergency” by the Guatemalan government since many of the three hundred plus deportees were from this small town.
Yet, the bigger question is: Did the raid deter future migration to the United States? No.
The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission met with Potsville deportees.
(Photo Source: Michelle Cassel)
The reality of the severe poverty found in Guatemala is still enough reason for fathers, mothers, and children to leave their families behind and make the life-threatening migration north. What the massive raid in Postville did was to create more financial difficulties for a population that is already in poverty.
It also caused the starvation and poverty of many U.S. citizens who, with no other alternatives, where deported with their parents to Guatemala. That is the reality I experienced firsthand in Guatemala when I met with Maria who was deported with her three-year-old U.S. citizen daughter.
Since they have been deported, they have been evicted from their home and have had to count on the charity of others for food and shelter until Maria can find a job – which in Guatemala is extremely difficult.
Meeting Maria’s daughter and witnessing how hard her life has now become hit home with me for a very simple reason — Maria’s daughter and I are not very different. The only thing separating our polar opposite situations seems to be luck.
My parents came to the United States twenty-five years ago in search of a better life for their children. By the grace of Reagan’s amnesty, they were able to become U.S. citizens and give me the economic stability to get an education.
However, I will not just get an education — I will use that education to help people who were not as lucky as me. I will help people like Maria’s daughter who now faces starvation in Guatemala with no help from social services that are her right as a U.S. citizen.