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February 08 , 2011

Maya Diaspora: Guatemalan Roots, New American Lives


Maya people have lived for thousands of years in the mountains and forests of Guatemala, but they lost control of their land, becoming serfs and refugees, when the Spanish invaded in the sixteenth century. Under the Spanish and the Guatemalan non-Indian elites, they suffered enforced poverty as a resident source of cheap labor for non-Maya projects, particularly agriculture production. Following the CIA-induced coup that toppled Guatemala's elected government in 1954, their misery was exacerbated by government accommodation to United States "interests," which promoted crops for export and reinforced the need for cheap and passive labor.
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This widespread poverty was endemic throughout northwestern Guatemala, where 80 percent of Maya children were chronically malnourished, and forced wide-scale migration to the Pacific coast. The self-help aid that flowed into the area in the 1960s and 1970s raised hopes for justice and equity that were brutally suppressed by Guatemala's military government. This military reprisal led to a massive diaspora of Maya throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

This collection describes that process and the results. The chapters show the dangers and problems of the migratory/refugee process and the range of creative cultural adaptations that the Maya have developed. It provides the first comparative view of the formation and transformation of this new and expanding transnational population, presented from the standpoint of the migrants themselves as well as from a societal and international perspective. Together, the chapters furnish ethnographically grounded perspectives on the dynamic implications of uprooting and resettlement, social and psychological adjustment, long-term prospects for continued links to migration history from Guatemala, and the development of a sense of co-ethnicity with other indigenous people of Maya descent. As the Maya struggle to find their place in a more global society, their stories of quiet courage epitomize those of many other ethnic groups, migrants, and refugees today.
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