Reclaiming Historical Memory

Two weeks ago I attended a community radio workshop at Mujb'ab'lyol in San Mateo, Xela. Around 25 radio station programmers from around the country boarded chicken buses for the monthly workshop, which has topics varying from environmental awareness to indigenous rights. The issue for the weekend was la memoria histórica, in which programmers shared their knowledge and stories about the recent history of Guatemala in relation to indigenous identity and the armed conflict. Saturday morning we formed groups to consider two questions: "What do we know of our history?" and "What do we know of the armed conflict?" 


Tino, the founder of Muj'bab'lyol and leader of the legalization movement, recounted his life story of battlefields, torture, family murders, and guerrilla radio. Though his family was Mayan, his father never taught him the Mayan langague of Mam because he did not want to pass on what had become a source of discrimination and a symbol of inequality. He explained this shame of indigenous identity as one of the callings for community radio to help revitalize cultural pride. "Our customs, dress, and languages are disappearing. Community radio is a fundamental tool in fighting the causes of the armed conflict." 

Following his speech, Rigoberta, a programmer from Radio Ixchel in Sacatapequez, represented her experience as a female growing up during the civil war, "I didn't cry, I didn't speak, out of fear." She went on to explain that she hopes to empower women as a female programmer reaching out to her town, "I want to speak to women through the radio. I can express myself. I love this form of communication."


Relating the past conflict to the present situation, Lino, the founder of Radio Celajes in Tacaná offered his opinion, "We haven't changed but instead continue believing those that make offers. For example, in the system of the government, they don't follow through, and four or five months later they don't do what they offered and we stay in the same position. So I think in this way, we are the same as our ancestors-- we continue to be deceived." 

Ages of the programmers ranged from around 14 to 70, but the workshop emphasized that, whether or not one lived through the conflict, every Guatemalan has stories, opinions, and ways in which it has affected them directly or indirectly. Enlisting the help of the comunicadores of community radio, Tino concluded explaining that, with the microphone, they all have the power to make change. "36 years maintained this repression, and if we don't break the fear, it will happen again...We must build true communication. We must reclaim our rights. We have advanced a lot, but there still remains a lot to build."