I'm not sure what happened to my brain, or my fingers, in the months since my last entry in January. I didn't even finish writing up my trip to Guatemala in January, let alone cover any of what has happened either here or in the immigrant community in the intervening months. Sometimes the blog just hangs over my head, or the back of my mind, or hangs around my neck like an unfulfilled obligation. But, self-recimination is not going to fill in the empty spaces, and so the best I can do is just start a new page now, and when I have the time, fill in some of the missing pieces -- like the immigration cases I worked on, the controversy about unaccompanied minors on the border, and other assorted things.
The journey always begins before I even fix dates or purchase a ticket; there is a long process of calculating and balancing obligations and schedule. This year I became chair of my department, and I was teaching a summer online class. But the most important factor that affected my departure date was the Marxist Intensive Summer School --something that had been carried out under the auspices of the Brecht Forum, which met an untimely and precipitous demise this past spring. It's not really relevant to the main themes of this blog, but since I have been part of the effort to keep some independent left educational activities going in the wake of the Brecht's disappearance, I had committed to teaching in this year's intensive -- hastily organized by a small ad-hoc committee. The intensive was scheduled for the weekend of July 18-20, and there was a follow-up meeting on July 22, to talk about "where do we go from here?", so I knew that the earliest I could leave was July 23, Wednesday.. and as I started to look for tickets and check out prices, it turned out that the cheapest fares were for a Friday, July 25 departure. So that settled it.
In the meantime, emails and Facebook messages to my various contacts and friends here. A month always seems like a long time when I try to make arrangements for keeping my life somewhat in order while I am away, but then when I try to figure out what I can accomplish in Guatemala in terms of research and other commitment, then it feels like it's way too short. Since I live alone, and have cats and a car, leaving the country for a month means making arrangements for both (plus my plants - important but not as urgent as the kitties and the car). I've been lucky in the past and have found short-term subtenants who have taken care of the cats in exchange for reduced rent, and my daughter's father has often offered to take care of my car ("take care" means having a parking spot: while my building has a parking garage, it's an extra charge -- I don't even know how much -- and I'm not sure that they would accommodate me for a period of time that is not a calendar month). This time I messed up with the Craigslist ad for the apartment and forgot to "publish" it. When I realized why I hadn't gotten any queries I hastily published it and got some inquiries right away but the person who was going to take it told me the next day that she had gotten short-term gig out of New York and wouldn't need it; the next few prospects also fell through for various reasons. Then I just needed someone to take care of the cats even if I couldn't find anyone who would help cover my costs, but thanks to my wonderful daughter, one of her friends agreed to cat- and house-sit. My ex offered to drive to the airport with me and pick me up upon my return and deal with the car in the interim; that was an offer to good to turn down.
Lining up what I wanted to do in Guatemala is always hard to do. Since my research/other commitments are not in one single location (the writing on "multi-sited fieldwork" doesn't always address the logistical issues involved), I have to figure out what is a logical trajectory in terms of travel, and then also figuring various people's schedules. My plans this time included spending some time in northern Huehuetenango, where the situation has continued to be somewhat explosive. On the one hand the indigenous movement seems to have become more united on a regional level and has positioned itself nationally and internationally, and on the other the authorities have continued with militarized responses and criminalization of the opposition movements. Previously I've spent time in Santa Eulalia and Santa Cruz Barillas -- both Q'anjob'al towns. Barillas is where the proposed hydroelectric project is, and the "resistencia pacífica" (peaceful resistance --i.e. encampment) in Poza Verde. Santa Eulalia is where the community radio station Snuq Jolom Konob' is located, which has reported on resistance activities throughout the area. In the last few months, there has been a lot happening in the municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán, located in between Santa and Barillas. I have only passed through San Mateo, but the community leaders there are allied with those in Barillas and Santa. It is a Chuj community (another one of the 22 Maya ethnic groups). There is another hydroelectric project in San Mateo -- imposed against the community's wishes -- and during the last several months there have been a series of "disturbances". Residents have blocked the highways; the government has sent in troops; and most recently there were some paramilitary units menacing folks. And so that will now be part of my itinerary. So, I figured a week in Huehuetenango.
I did not visit Quiché at all the last time I was here, but this time I must. I am planning to bring a group of students in May of next year, 2014, and the idea behind the study tour is for students to make connections between the Maya immigrant community in New Bedford and the communities where these immigrants come from -- which means Quiché. I want students to understand something about the conditions that propel migration -- poverty, structural inequality, lack of economic alternatives, the armed conflict, racism - and also to engage in some service-learning activities that they would plan together with people from the immigrant community in New Bedford. So I need to figure out some of the logistics -- talk to one of the sisters at the Catholic parish in Zacualpa to see if we can stay in their dormitory rooms, and also to see if there are some community-based projects that students could visit or help out with during their short stay. I need to check whether there is any place we could stay in Chinique. I need to talk to people from the group Chilam Balam de los K'iche's -- a group devoted to maintaining cultural traditions and also sacred sites -- to see if they would be able to meet with the students and accompany them to Gumarkaaj. In addition, I have to accompany a woman who has been threatened, and who brought a legal case against the men who have been threatening her. The family feels that the attorney she had had, who is Ladino, was not the most effective counsel for her (especially as her command of Spanish is limited). So I am going to go with her to visit a Maya attorney who speaks K'iche'.
Then, I want to expand my analysis of the resistance movements a bit to include one or two other case studies, and a friend put me in touch with people from San Juan Sacatepéquez, where there are 12 communities that have been resisting a cement plant. This would mean a few days in San Juan; not sure how long since I haven't ever been there before.
And then San Miguel Ixtahuacán. It turns out people from SMI and the neighboring municipality of Sipacapa, also threatened by the Marlin Mine, are coming to Guatemala City next week to meet with several groups of lawyers and human rights defenders to talk about and map out the various legal and political strategies. So I will attend that meeting, and then will make plans to visit SMI later on during my stay.
Finally -- I'm not sure there IS a "finally" -- I have a new project about the "reinas indígenas trans" ("trans" in the Guatemalan context does not mean people who have undergone sex-change surgery or who cross-dress in their everyday lives, but gay men who cross-dress on weekends, or special occasions; they may or may not refer to themselves or present themselves with the female pronoun when they are not in drag). A group called Kajib Kawoq put out a call for a beauty contest, Ali Gay Tinimit Re Xelajuj Noj -- "Ali" means "girl" in K'iche'. "Ali Tinimit" would be something like "the town's female representative" or "the girl of the people". "Tinimit" is one of those polyvalent words. It can mean "country" or "place of origin"; it can mean "town"; it can also mean "the people" (as the word "pueblo" in Spanish can mean both "town" and "the people"). So, the pageant would be "The Gay Female Representative of Xela" (Xelajuj Noj is the original name for Quetzaltenango, shortened in everyday speech as Xela -- and in Maya languages, the X is pronounced "SH"). There was some controversy when Kajib Kawoq petitioned the city government to use the municipal theater for the pageant and rehearsals. The news reports last week were that the request was turned down, but someone told me yesterday that it was approved.
In any case, I had started to talk with people in the gay/drag community the last time I was here and so I want to follow up on that and find about this pageant, and about the politics of drag more generally, and especially the interface between gender performance and racial performance.