Written by Floridalma BojLopez

Background: Guatemalan Maya migrants have been coming to Los Angeles in large numbers since the 1970s. It was during this time that the Guatemalan military was carrying out an all-out war and campaign of terror against poor people, Indigenous people, leftists, and women. From 1960 to 1996, 200,000 people were murdered, over 40,000 were disappeared, over a million people were displaced, and there were hundreds of massacres primarily concentrated in the highlands of Guatemala. Since that time, Guatemalan Mayan migrants and their children have faced a series of challenges in the United States from police brutality, to targeted deportation, to the loss of language and cultural practice. Our project challenges the idea that we should disappear into a general idea of who Latinas/os are. Instead, we ground ourselves in a millennial history and practice of community building.

My Tia Lola who raised me from the age of two and a half would sometimes tell me that there is a rebellious streak in our family; that there was something about us that made us fighters, and at times resistant to just living in peace. I knew she was speaking as a mother who was tired of seeing her children struggle. She was speaking as a mother who had crossed multiple borders to bring not just her own biological children but her siblings, nieces, and nephews—because, for our people, motherhood does not stop at biological lines, it extends out across generations and borders. I knew she was speaking as a woman who had worked for most of her life in domestic labor. First as a domestic worker and street food vendor in Guatemala and then cleaning houses in Los Angeles. She was speaking as a person who was incredibly intelligent, curious, a natural born leader who only had the chance to achieve a sixth-grade education, and who learned not just another language but continues to stay on top of new technological advancements. She was speaking as an elder who wanted her children and grandchildren to find the peace and stability that had evaded our family for generations.

And she is right. There is a rebellious streak in our family and it is my belief that this is how we have survived.

So when I think about my work with Las Fotos Project I think about the need to continue building that spirit of rebellion. We are rebellious because we believe that knowledge lies among us, within our lives as women identified people, and within our communities. For many of us, our sessions on Monday evenings are the only time when we are surrounded by many (non-biologically related) Guatemalan and Mayan women and that is powerful.

When I see the six young women who have chosen to come along for this program, the three mentors who have taken responsibility for the program’s success, and my co-planner Emily, I see a group of rebellious women and I am reminded that we, as a people, will survive. We hope you will come witness our refusal to be erased.

“I’m very excited to learn more about Mayan Indigenous Women who have always been underrepresented by the government of Guatemala,” says Ixchel, a student in my LFP class. “Through photography, I feel that I will be able to tell astonishing stories about indigenous women whose culture was lost and the oral history will connect with their stories.”

The Mayan Women in L.A. exhibit opens May 12th from 5-7pm at Las Fotos Project Gallery.