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Guatemalan-Americans - Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 21, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment
Guatemalan school children
Guatemalans

In the US, the word "Latino" is used often, regardless of accuracy, as shorthand for a region's dominant Latino population. In the southwest it usually means "Mexican," in the northeast it means "Puerto Rican" and in Florida, "Cuban." Indeed, those are the three largest populations of Latino-Americanos in the country, although it goes without saying that there are many less-recognized groups of Latinos. Each have their own distinct culture, history, and place in America. This entry is about Guatemaltecas, who at around 900,000 estimated to be living in the US, make up the sixth largest Latino population.

Flag of Guatemala
The Guatemalan flag

The Guatemalan population is the most purely indigenous in the Americas. 65% of the population identify as Native. Of them, most come from various Mayan groups including K'iche (9%), Kaqchikel (8%), Mam (8%), Q'eqchi (6%) and smaller Mayan groups (9%).

22% identify as white, although only about 5% are descended solely from Europeans. Other notable ethnicities are descended from West Africa and the Garifuna -- those of mixed African and indigenous Caribbean origins who live primarily in the country's Eastern portion. There are large numbers of Guatemalans of Chinese heritage, descendants of farm workers and railroad laborers in the early 20th century. Thousands of Guatemalans are also descended from various locations in the Middle East. After World War I, many Arabs, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Turks came to Guatemala.

Diego Rivera's Operation PBSUCCESS
Diego Rivera's Operation PBSUCCESS

The roots of The Guatemalan Civil War go back to 1954, when the Eisenhower administration organized, funded and equipped a right wing military coup to topple the democratically elected government of the people. Operation PBSUCCESS, under the aegis of anti-communism, was mainly about protecting the fortunes of United Fruit and Guatemala's small, super-rich minority. As a result, 200,000 Guatemalans were killed and another 50,000 simply “disappeared.” The intensification of the Guatemalan Civil War during the 1970s and 1980s led to an influx of tens of thousands of Guatemalan refugees into the United States, mostly in and around Los Angeles, particularly in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Little ArmeniaPico-Union, Westlake and Wilshire Center. The Guatemalan Civil War finally ended in 1996.

Guatemalan women cooking
Guatemalan women cooking

One thing that distinguishes Guatemalans from most of their Latino cousins is that that the majority are not Catholic, but rather Protestant and Evangelist, which helps explain those billions of strip mall churches with people singing and banging tambourines. Another distinguishing characteristic is Guatemalan cuisine, which is much more obviously based on indigenous Mayan traditions than the cuisine of most other Latin American countries. Even when they share a name with the dishes of other countries, they always have a uniquely Guatemalan twist. Typical Guatemalan dishes include arroz con leche, atol de elote, buñuelos, cack-ik, caldo de gallina, caldo de res, caldo de res, carne adobada, carne guisada de garrano, chancletas de güisquil, chicharrones y carnitas, chiles rellenos en salsa de tomate, chuchitos, chuletas fascinante, dobladas, dulce de leche, enchiladas, ensalada en escabeche, estofado, fiambre, flan de leche condensada, frijolitos fritos, gallo en chichi, güicoyitos rellenos, hilachas, jocón, lomo relleno, longanizas, mole de platanos, paches, pastel de banana, pastel de tres leches, pastel de zanahoria, pavo relleno, pepian, pipian de indio, pollo a la cerveza, pollo encebollado, pollo en crema, pollo frito, pollo guisado, pulique, quesadillas, rellenitos de plátano, repollitos con dulce de leche, revolcado, schucos, subanik, tamales, tamales de frijol con chiltepe, tamalitos de chipilín, tamalitos de elote, tapado and tortillas de yucca.

Benito Martinez Eugenia Wright Oscar Isaac
         Benito Martinez                                      Eugenia Wright                                              Oscar Isaac

In general, the less white the Latino population, the lest likely to be cast in Hollywood films the Latino actor is. With most Guatemalans so obviously at least mostly indigenous, the only Guatemalan actors I can come up with are Benito Martinez and Oscar Isaac. There have been a couple of documentaries and films about Guatemalan-American issues, including El Norte (1983), When the Mountains Tremble (1983) and The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez (2007).

Though the music of Guatemala is diverse, its main contribution to American music is the national instrument, the marimba.

Cute Guatemalan Baby
A Guatemalan baby just because


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Hispanic Heritage Month (34), Guatemalteca (1), Guatemalan (1), Native American Heritage Month (11), Guatemala (1), Mayan (2), Central America (2), Latinos (12), Latino-american (1), Central American (3), Spanish/latino Cinema (3), Latino (8)