Look at Me: I’m Indigenous and I’m also Guatemala

Indigenous Children

Maria Marcos in her community. ©UNICEF/GUA2017/SurProfundo

uatemala has a very rich cultural diversity. Four ethnic groups coexist in the country: the Maya, Garífuna, Xinca, and people of mixed ethnic origin. This cultural diversity leaves its mark in how life is viewed, including customs, gastronomy, dress, speech and the relationship with the natural environment and the community.

María Marcos, aged 14, who belongs to the Ixil ethnic group, is in the eighth grade and her parents support her wish to stay in school. “I like to read. I want to become a teacher and teach children. I like my culture and the place where I live, which is beautiful. I would also like to travel to other countries and meet different people.”

María Marcos, proud representative of the Ixil people, at home in Nebaj. ©UNICEF/GUA2017/SurProfundo

The official language in Guatemala is Spanish; however, there are twenty-three indigenous languages that are part of a rich culture. These languages are spoken mainly in rural areas. The State recognizes, promotes and respects the languages of the Maya, Garífuna and Xinka people.

Maritza Cholotij, aged 12, belongs to the Tzutujil ethnic group. She lives in San Juan la Laguna, Sololá. She says that her family is close-knit and they all support each other. It is made up of her father, mother and three sisters. “I feel happy because my parents and sisters have always supported me, in good times and bad. I want to become a psychologist and help people who have problems. Another of my dreams is to travel to different countries and see their cultures.”

Maritza, from the Tzutujil ethnic group, crossing the deck at Lake Atitlán. ©UNICEF/GUA2017/SurProfundo

Maritza adds that one of her biggest dreams is to become a great basketball player and play at the NBA (National Basketball Association of the United States).

In Guatemala there are seven million girls, boys and adolescents under the age of 17. Of these, about three million identify themselves as indigenous. Most are disadvantaged.

Inequalities among indigenous children persist throughout their lives and in all areas, even before they are born.

Eight out of ten indigenous girls, boys and adolescents live in poverty. Another sign of inequality is chronic malnutrition, which affects 60 percent of indigenous children under five, compared with 35 percent among people of mixed ethnic background. Out of ten indigenous girls and adolescents, only six finish elementary school, two finish high school and one goes to college. These inequalities are aggravated by the inadequate investment made by the State, which only invests $1.00 per day to fulfill the rights of each girl, boy and adolescent.

Carmen Mendoza Culum, aged nine, also belongs to the Tzutujil ethnic group. She lives with her parents and five siblings. In the morning she helps clean the house, makes tortillas and then goes fishing with her siblings to bring their mother something to prepare for dinner. In the afternoon she goes to school. She is now in the third grade at a community school. She says that she enjoys learning, that her school is very nice and that her favorite activity is reading. Regarding her dreams, Carmen says, “I want to be a nun in Guatemala City to be close to God and be near my sister who lives there, because I miss her a lot. She is also a nun.” Carmen says that despite the hardships at home, she is a happy girl.

Carmen, also from the Tzutujil ethnic group, at home in San Juan La Laguna, Sololá. ©UNICEF/GUA2017/SurProfundo

In view of this situation, UNICEF advocates for an in-depth transformation of the State to address the structural causes that prevent indigenous girls, boys and adolescents from fully exercising their rights under equal conditions.

In spite of these disadvantages, indigenous girls and adolescent women do not stop dreaming and hoping.

Whenever we respect children’s and adolescents’ world vision for exercising their rights, there is hope.

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UNICEF Guatemala

UNICEF trabaja para salvar la vida de las niñas, niños y adolescentes en Guatemala. Para defender y garantizar el cumplimento de sus derechos.