As the Incense Burns

Translated by Katrina Hassan

Disiderio lights a candle for the altar he has at home in his living room. He has just come home from work. He lives in Colorado and works cleaning public toilets for the district’s parks. It has come to the end of the year in which his mother Modesta has died. She was the last survivor left from his family who were massacred by the military during their dictatorship of Guatemala.

His parents would tell the story of how they and other families went into hiding, in the jungle, for months, in order for them not to be murdered. They told of persecution, hunger, cold, anxiety and of burials at the bases of trees. They were buried like that so that later on they could be found and taken to the town cemetery. In that survival trip, Disiderio met Onésimo, whose parents and siblings had been murdered. They were married many years later when they lived in Colorado, USA.

Not one of those families ever went back to their country and the surrounding mountains their parents told them so much about. Now, those mountains have been destroyed by mining and the oligarchs. The stolen land was never returned and their ancestor’s town is now an immense African palm plantation. Doña Modesta asked to be buried in the country they lived in not their homeland, just like Onésimo’s dad. They believed there was no need to go back to the place that harmed them so much.

Disiderio talks to his sisters as they prepare food and coffee. He tells them that now it is their turn to continue the legacy of historical memory left from their parents. They must explain why they are US citizens and their great grandparents were Native people from Guatemalan.

This is more than a prayer. He announces it as the whole family gathers around the picture of Modesta, as candles flicker and incense burns.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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