Guatemala is a country with a tumultuous and violent history which has resulted in extreme conditions of poverty throughout the country. This has prompted many Guatemalans to seek refuge elsewhere. About 40% of Guatemalans are indigenous and speak a Mayan language. Therefore, many Guatemalans do not speak Spanish when they arrive in the US, making their transition more difficult than that of immigrants from other Hispanic countries. Additionally, education is not easily accessible in Guatemala and the literacy rates are the lowest in Central America. The three women I spoke with emphasized that life in Guatemala is extremely difficult and that there are no routes, such as job training or education, to improve one’s life.
I photographed three Guatemalan women during my project. For all of them, Spanish is their second language. Juana and Eva’s first language Q’anjob’al and Raquel’s is Chuj. None of their children are learning these languages; instead, they are growing up speaking Spanish and English, although they do understand some of their mothers’ languages. While Eva learned Spanish in Guatemala, Raquel and Juana moved here speaking only their indigenous languages. All three of the women were motivated to learn how to read and write Spanish so that they could help their children. Juana also understands a good deal of English and speaks some as well. She began learning English by doing her daughter’s kindergarten homework and she works at Wendy’s, where she practices it. For these three women, the United States is a place of opportunity to create a life they never could have had in Guatemala.