For the last twelve years, I have been researching Guatemala for my latest novel, “The Secret of San Pedro La Laguna.” My research on Native American Historical Trauma here in America convinces me that the folks of the second and third generation of Northern Guatemala Maya people are most certainly faced with the consequences of domination and depredation by outside cultures.
Before my first trip to Guatemala in 2007, I began researching safety and health issues for travellers and discovered the CIA claimed it was a dark and dangerous place for tourists. In further research I discovered the slaughter of the Mayan Ixtl people that happened in the 1970’s while I was in college, when America’s attention was focused on getting out of Viet Nam. When I arrived in Guatemala City and toured up to Lake Atitlan, those fears were confirmed, indeed it seemed this country was not a safe place. But once we arrived at Lake Atitlan, I began to feel compelled to understand more about these people and the land they live in.
Before each subsequent trip I continued to read everything I could find and no longer wondered why Guatemalans are willingly offering themselves up for sacrifice in the long and arduous exodus to the United States of America. I read about the long history of conflicts between warring nations with exotic names, prior to the Spanish intrusion. Tragic social devastation and subsequent enslavery of the native population of Central America followed that conquest. For hundreds of years, the indigenous people of Guatemala were suppressed by various governments of their country and companies like the United Fruit Company or private finca owners who wrested land and resources away from the campesinos (farmers).
There are so many sources to finish, and many I have yet to find. I have read “I, Rigoberto Menchu.” This is a Nobel Peace prize winner’s story of her experience as a Mayan woman during the Civil War in Guatemala. Dr. David Stott wrote a anthropology book rejecting her story. On the other hand I read Erna Ferguson’s 1937 book, “Guatemala.” This woman was an ardent traveler and friend of American governors and presidents who loved Guatemala. I read dozens of other books, papers and reviews of the history, archaeology and anthropology of Central America. Along with my bookshelves filled with historical references, I have scrounged You Tube and dug into internet sites. With the help of my friends Carmen, Tiffany and Linda, I spent a delightful and rewarding afternoon in the Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology in Guatemala City.
I have wandered the dirt paths and ancient stone streets of small villages in the highlands and travelled into the hinterland with my dear friends Tiffany and Cecy. I worked shoulder to shoulder with Tz’utujil and K’iche kids like Ruth Gomez Simaj, hard-working Domingo Navichoc Puac and ‘tourista guide’ Olinda Cabrera. I visited with Mynor Mazariegos, about his desire to work in America and how he got his VISA to work in the USA. I sat in the dirt and learned words from children, while hearing about their dreams for the future. I chatted to the elders and visited the Ketchikel folks of Chuyquel, a small puebla north of Panajachel. I listened to their music and visited their markets, I have munched hand-made corn tortillas, eaten the Van Gogh colored, exotic fruits, and slurped the flavor-filled soups of this wonderful country. I will return to hear their stories and I hope to synthesize these experiences into my third Jewell Johnson mystery to preserve what I have discovered is the Secret of San Pedro la laguna.