Oral history with Carlos Ixquiac
Marta Valier (MV): Today is November 15. We are at the Bradley Center, this is an oral history interview, with Carlos Ixquiac.
Carlos Ixquiac (CI): I was born in 1949 in Guatemala, my origins is from the Mayan roots, K’iche’ and Q’eqchi’. K’iche’ from the part of my dad, he was born in Quetzaltenango and my mom from Cobán, she is Mam. Unfortunately, although now I’m very proud of my origin, which is Mayan, I do not speak any other languages, you know, like Mam or K’iche’. First of all, my parents could not speak to each other. They could not understand, those are different you know languages and they couldn’t practice at home. And I wasn’t interested either in learning how to speak other languages, because of the discrimination in Guatemala, which is very cruel. In Guatemala it is said that the Indians are looked upon as animals, like dogs, like the worst part of the human being. So you don’t want to be called that and that hurts, and so you don’t, you don’t even want to have anything to do with your your origins. And so you deny, you know, where you come from. But I grew up in the city. My parents emigrated to the city very young and they marry in Guatemala and this is where I was born, and I grew up with what I said, what I called the Ladino culture. Because, you know, most of the people in the city are Ladinos. The Cashlan, we call the Ladinos. And so you absorb all the culture, all that racism even, you know, we are being discriminated. Then we discriminate against our own brothers and sisters. So I went to elementary school in Guatemala. And I grew up in la Colonia Bethania, Zona 7. It is a small town that was separated from the main city, but, you know, very close. So I I went to the elementary school and then later on I went to the secondary school, which was the Escuela Normal Central para Varones. That was one of the main schools in Guatemala for men, there was no no girls there. My parents were very poor. And they made the effort to send me to that school, which was public by the way. And even then, you know, it was very expensive for my parents because they were making small, small amounts of money and barely making it in the city.
MV: What were they doing in the city?
CI: Oh, yes. My father worked in a factory, sombreros factory, and my mom, she used to cook food and sell it to construction sites or individuals or families. You know, what they were earning was so little that, you know, we had a hard time at that time. So I had three sisters and one brother and I was the oldest. And, you know, we’re really struggling to survive over there with our little bit of money to buy food. And although, you know, it was in the city, which is even better situation than in the rural area, because in the rural area it was even worst. But nevertheless, my parents tried to do their best. And and they tried to support me going to the Escuela Normal Central para Varones. And the first year, I really didn’t make it because it was the transition from elementary school to secondary school, which was a different system and I couldn’t accommodate to it and I lost that year. And the second year, in the middle of the year I think, it was militarized. One day we went to, I went to school and it was surrounded with soldiers and tanks. And and they were taking some of the students away because at that time there was some organizations in the school that were participating in manifestations against some of the policies of the government and this is when I first started seeing the repression, you know, from the part of the government. The leaders were taken away and put in jails and being torturing and all this stuff. So I couldn’t come back to school anymore. We all were very afraid of it.
MV: When was this? What year, what month, do you remember?
CI: Yeah, in the year 1962.
CI:Yes, this is when actually the repression started, the military repression against the students and against the people who were organized in Guatemala. It was in the middle of the year, let’s say September of something like that. You know my memories really bad in that sense. Maybe, you know, sometimes I ask myself, you know, maybe I just try to forget, you know, that moments that really hurt. You know, this part of our brain that tries to forget what hurts.
MV: You talked about the militarization of the school, was it an isolated event, just that day?
CI: No, it wasn’t just an event, it was the part of the, let’s say, militarization of the society at the time and the repression. At that time there were many manifestations against the government because of their policies and because the government was a military government, and the people didn’t want military governments but civil governments. So the the struggle started with the students, you know, in that in that era, in those years, the main manifestations were made by the, by the that kind of schools where I was going to, you know, not the universities and not the lowest schools, but that middle you know, the preparatory schools. So this work, so the government started a systematic repression against all the manifestations in all the schools. So they decided to militarize all those schools to keep control of the students. And from there on, for many years, all the schools were militarized. You know, we had to wear uniforms as we were soldiers or part of the military. So it wasn’t an isolated incident for this school. It was part of a system that was implemented. You know, from from that time to many years later.
MV: Some people decided to stay in school and some people decided to leave?
CI: Yeah. Many, many students had to leave because, you know, they first of all, they didn’t like the militarization, you know. And secondly, they were, they were not allowed to study because of their involvement. And a lot of them were taken away. Also thrown in jail and all that kind of repression at that time. So a lot of students, you know, had to go, they couldn’t come back to school or they didn’t, like in my case, you know, they decided not to be in a military school. So we had to go someplace else. In my case, I had to go to a private school, which I had to pay for. But I had no other choice. I had to leave that kind of school during the daytime and had to work during the daytime. And I went to private school in the night. I had to pay for my own studies, trying to study and help my parents at the same time. So it was pretty hard for me. And it’s, I mean, I went on like that for many years, I became an accountant. Right after I graduated from accounting I saw a lot of my friends, the ones there were around me, that were once where we were studying together and all that stuff, they were coming to the US. And we used to criticize them because we used to call them losers, because you cannot make it over here in Guatemala and you are selling out to the U.S. But after a bunch of them left, I started feeling the need that I needed to follow them, and I came over here. I mean, it was an ordeal to come over here, you know, because I had no papers, I didn’t have a visa. I had to walk through the mountains. I was caught many times by the Immigration Department, thrown back to Guatemala. And by the way, my mom had to get a loan to cover all those expenses. And finally I made it, I crossed the border.
MV: Two borders?
CI: At that time the first border was in Texas. This is where I first came.
MV: But between Guatemala and Mexico?
CI: Oh, no, no. There was, you know, going through Mexico wasn’t too bad at that time, although the authorities in Mexico, you know, the Immigration Department’s agents knew there were a lot of people from Guatemala coming through, and they used to take our money away or they would throw us in jail or they would take us back to Guatemala and other stuff, so we had to suffer that too. Until we got to the border of the US and Mexico and we tried to jump, you know, the border.
MV: You say “we”, was it like a group?
CI: Yes. Yes. We got together with some friends that well, the first time that I tried was because one of our friends had gone back to Guatemala in a car, and when he was coming back to the US, he said, well, “I can take you somewhere, you guys. And we just jump in there,” we organized and we came with him. And he said, “Oh, you know what? It is so easy to go, you know, to jump the border. I just drop you off next to the border. You walk, and turn around and go around the checking point. And I go, park just about a mile ahead and I’ll pick you up.” And we said, “Oh, it is so easy? Yes let’s go” And he was going to Chicago, that’s where we were heading. You know, I didn’t know anything about the US. And that never happened, we could never find him on the highway, he took off, I guess he was waiting for us. We found out later that he waited for us for a long time. You know, we never showed up. Well, we didn’t know, you know, which way to go. So we got lost in the mountains and he took off. We were caught by the immigration, thrown back.
MV: Because you got lost when you were already in the US?
CI: In the U.S., yes.
MV: In Texas you said?
CI: Yes, in Texas. So we were caught, and sent back to Guatemala. And I said, well, you know, I’m not gonna just stay like that. I’ve gathered some more money over here and I went back. I tried many times, I was caught many times. At that time I kept trying and kept trying until I finally made it, made it to San Antonio, in Texas, worked for some time.
MV: Do you remember when you arrived in San Antonio?
CI: It was in 1972. I was only around 22 years old, was very young. So I’ve been in the US for more than half of my life.
MV: Can you, can you drive us through one of the trip? How would you travel, would you travel few days and then stop and work little bit?
CI: Well, there is a whole history that I can tell you about and it would take hours because there were so much suffering, you know, walking. Just to cross the border I walked more than, I think, a week, that my feet got so bad that I couldn’t walk anymore. They were they were bleeding. I had to stay in bed for about a week because we. When I said we, I found a Mexican friend, that we crossed together. And we found a place where, they call them ‘sombradíos’, where they grow up they grow ‘sandías’, you know watermelons. And they contract people and they set up a house in the middle of the field. And a lot of workers from Mexico come to do the work and they stay there and then they go back to Mexico and other stuff. So there, that’s where my friend took me and I had to stay in bed for about a week, I couldn’t even walk. And I’m very thankful to some of those Mexican people that, you know, they helped me a lot. So it was it was really, really bad until I got well. And we started moving from one town to another, more to the north and in stages. And until, you know, we got to a main, to a bigger city, like San Antonio. Then I knew how to fix cars, and in a big city I could find a better job. Actually we didn’t, I didn’t know where I was going. I had no, no, a really special city or, you know, we just wanted to make it to one bigger city where we could find work send some money to our families. That was my, our main goal. And until we, you know, like I said, in my case I got to Dallas, Texas, and there I started working on construction and getting better paid, you know. Then I think it was by the hour, which was to me a lot of money, I could send, I could help my family. And then, after two years of working in Texas, I came to California. After I settle in in L.A., in California, I tried to help, you know, bring my my family over here. So I started, I started, you know, first I brought my my dad. He didn’t like it.
CI: He went back right away. He said, “I don’t know like it, I can’t make it over here.” So he went back. And then later, I brought my sister, my brothers, and later my mom. And so my close family, all my close family is here, gladly, because I was very concerned about them, you know, what they were doing and all that stuff, and even my mom, who is now 96 is here.
MV: What about today?
CI: If I talk to you about the situation in Guatemala, we are going back to those years in the 1980s, you know when the repression was so bad in Guatemala, because the things in Guatemala are getting really, really bad with the last government, which we call a clown, who was just a puppet from the military and the oligarchy in Guatemala. You know, the people with big money. They dictate what’s happening in Guatemala. So things are getting even worse in Guatemala. Nowadays Guatemala is recognized as one of the countries where malnutrition of the kids are really bad, it is one of the worst countries where kids are dying of malnutrition. And in the case of Guatemala right now, all the people who are defending their right for the water, for the land, you know, fighting for the respect of human rights and organizing in and what they want are being repressed, are being killed. So a lot of the people, the leaders, are being disappeared or tortured or killed right now. In fact we are, in Guatemala was selected a new government, Giammattei, which is giving even more freedom, freedom to the military and more power. So we are afraid that we will be facing this next four years to be really, really bad, will be a real struggle to survive in Guatemala, mainly for the leaders who are fighting for a better situation in Guatemala. And that’s what I’m afraid of, you know, we’re going have to keep on organizing over here, and receiving and trying to help the people that are really fearing for their life and leaving the country. And also while keep informing, you know, the North American public of what’s going on in Guatemala, really. And try to somehow change the foreign policy of the U.S., that is helping and supporting that kind of government in Guatemala. We just keep on struggling, and keep on helping, keep on working.
MV: You were just in Guatemala, where did you go, in which cities did you go?
CI: You know, I still have family in Guatemala. And so, every chance that I go, I go visit them, although they’re like, you know, not so close. You know, no sisters or brothers like because like I said I have all my close family over here, but I have aunts, and nephews, and nieces. And I go to Cobán, Quetzaltenando, Antigua, San Felipe, that’s where I have, you know, most of my family.
MV: So now that you went back, is that the impression you had, that the people, especially the people that maybe went through already a lot of repression, they fear there is a rise again?
CI: Oh, yes, yes, yes. Most of the people, that’s what they say. Well, you know, now you see the military on the streets and you hadn’t seen that, you know, for many years. And now they’re going back, you know, and then when, you know, you see the military on the streets, you know, it means repression. You know, you cannot talk, you cannot organize. You cannot do anything. And that’s why the people are fearing and are seen already, you know, because like I said, some of the leaders that are speaking up against the government, against their policies are being killed. And those men are mainly in the rural areas. So people are really scared now of the repression getting more strong with this new government, and with the military with more power.