Boing Boing on GOOD: A Mayan Village Reacts to Obama

The folks at GOOD Magazine invited each of the Boing Boing editors to contribute essays to their online edition, and my first submission is now up. I wrote about reactions in a remote K'iche Maya village in Guatemala to the election of Barack Obama.

So, despite many years visiting their homes and sharing their difficult life experiences, we were surprised by their reaction to the Obama election. It was of great symbolic importance. That sudden jolt of aspiration felt around the world? It struck here. Hard. It meant hope. It meant a renewed belief in change, for a people who have survived natural disasters, racism, and 36 years of civil war that many describe as the Mayan genocide. If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, they are saying, maybe a Mayan person can one day become president of Guatemala. Maybe we will live to see a true democracy here, the thinking goes–a government that represents the rights of Guatemala’s First People, instead of representing their destruction.

There are no landline phones in this village. Some heads of households have cellphones (the inexpensive kind, called “frijoles,” because they’re cheap and bean-shaped), but not everyone has even this basic connectivity. Don Victoriano, the local leader of the international nonprofit, travels to the one nearby internet cafe once a week or so, and pays a few quetzales to correspond with us over a Hotmail account. On November 3, we received an email which read (I’ll translate from the Spanish and K’iche here):

“We are preoccupied with concern over the elections in your country. We are praying for you, so that your country doesn’t suffer such a horrible depresiòn caused by bad governments. We hope in Ajaw [the Mayan creator god] that Obama wins. I don’t know how you feel, but that’s how we feel.”

To understand why Don Victoriano and others felt such intense preoccupation with what happens in America, all you need to do is look at the walls in their homes. They are covered with snapshots of sons who left.

In the Highlands, Hope (GOOD)