Guatemala was immersed in a protracted internal armed conflict between the government and leftist guerilla groups between 1960-1996. During these decades, a series of military dictatorships engulfed the country in fraud and violence. A 1999 United Nations-commissioned report estimated that at least 200,000 people were killed during the war, including 40,000 forcibly disappeared. Victims included indigenous activists, academics, trade unionists, religious workers, and even street children.
Located in Guatemala City, Coalition member Casa de la Memoria “Kaji Tulam,” is a public space that uses Guatemala’s history to inspire understanding and action today. With a special emphasis on youth, the museum aims to rebuild the country’s collective memory, give new meaning to history, and highlight human rights violations to ensure that the crimes in Guatemala’s past do not reoccur – all vital goals in a place where discussing the past is often met with reticence and shame.
As part of these efforts, student docents lead tours of the museum. During a recent Coalition meeting in Guatemala, Coalition staff and Board members participated in a tour led by Andrea Fabiola Plician Méndez, a local high school student. Below are her reflections on what the site means to her. To read the original version in Spanish, click here.
“Kaji Tulam” Memory House
The Need for a Place to Discover My Roots
By: Andrea Fabiola Plician Méndez,
Student of Information Technology,
Anglo Guatemalteco High School
And where the Nahual Aq’ab’al appears with the first light of day, and with the day’s last darkness; So we remember, so we return to the heart…
With a bit of doubt, curiosity, and a need to find a place to discover my roots, I got involved with Kaji Tulam. To be there is to experience the feeling of being in a time machine. When I am there, I feel a part of the difference and the resistance. I find myself among the struggle. The best part about being a Memory House guide is that feeling – a combination of trepidation and joy – and getting to share it with others. It is the sensation of imparting a sort of energy, for memories like the kind we find at Memory House can cause pain, anger, and sadness, but they can also inspire us to discover our own heroes and heroines. To see emotion, from the very youngest to the very oldest: that is what it is to remember; that is Kaji Tulam.
Contrary to popular belief, youth are not the future of society. Youth are the present, which is alive and strong. That present needs memory, deserves to have Memory with a capital “M.” As the Guatemalan poet Humberto Ak’abal has said, sometimes we must walk backwards, backpedal, in order to remember. It is only then that we continue moving forward. We must remember who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go. Knowing our memory – knowing the reasons the past happened and the reasons for what will occur – allows us to find answers so that we can improve our present. We can create a better place, a better world, because the change starts with us, and because the change is us.
There is an ongoing fight for the recognition of our rights, and for the right to learn, grow, create, and share. As people empowered by knowledge, we can form our own opinions and thus position ourselves firmly in society, a society that is divided and which continues to divide us. We can raise awareness and change the direction of a society in need of brave young men and women who may become the protagonists of this story; because as young people we also have Memory.