The Shade Under the Achiote Tree

Translated by Katrina Hassan

When Candido was 7 years old, he emigrated to the capital with five of his cousins. His uncle took them there so they could work and help with household expenses. At dawn they would sell orange juice, atol and bread with beans near Bolivar avenue. During the day they worked at a carwash. At night they would sell corn and christophenes near the Aguilar Batres street and the ring road. They took advantage of the end of the day foot traffic from the nearby University of San Carlos. Candido is originally from Nahualá, Sololá, Guatemala. He learned to wax cars at a top speed, forgetting his native tongue Kaqchikel just as fast. They only returned home during Christmas and two other days for the patron saint fair. They lived in a shack made of pieces of sheet metal and scraps of wood, squatting on a disused plot of land. They moved in when Ciudad Peronia was first created, a suburb of Villa Nueva and Ciudad San Cristobal. These two towns started as squatted land by thousands of families who escaped the genocide in Eastern Guatemala. Candido has four younger sisters. His dad works in the Zunil fields. He comes home once a month. His mom makes chuchitos to sell every afternoon.

In Peronia, Candido met people from all over Eastern Guatemala. Just on his street here were about 20 families from different towns and speaking languages other than Spanish. As the years passed, he learned that almost every family had a missing or massacred family member. They were taken or killed by the military. Some people had their crops or houses burned down. They sought refuge in the capital but later found out about president Vinicio Cerezo’s New Habitation Project. They squatted in Ciudad Peronia and made it their home. They have had to defend their home many times from the riot police. They would come in squads and burn the shacks down. The riot police tried many times to kick out the squatters, but their will was much stronger. The squatters rebuilt and resisted every time. Capitalino’s uncle said that they will never kick him out, even though they had burned his shack three times. He said he would rebuild his home a thousand times if he had to.

Shortly after Capitalino and family arrived, a military detachment arrived and settled between La Selva and El Calvario, just off the foot of the mountains. The local families were feeling the terror after seeing the busloads of soldiers passing through the main boulevard. In squads, the soldiers walked through the streets to buy provisions of food and toiletries. They took advantage of the trips and got drunk in the cantinas.

Families from the capital and a few from the East had never lived the cruelty of genocide and the Land Grabs and had nothing to fear. The indigenous families from the East that lived near the market, El Asentamiento and La Surtidora neighborhoods are in a panic and don’t even dare venture outside of their homes. They know what the military is capable of doing. The soldiers are young, almost kids, indigenous themselves, from the East, being forced to do military service. Most of them only buy a few things then have their few drinks in the cantina and go back to base. One night though, people are woken up by machine guns. The next day people hear the news.  A few drunk soldiers were looking for more to drink late at night. They arrived at El Asentamiento and knocked on the door of the store demanding beer. The family was sleeping but the dad woke up to check who was pounding on the door. He saw the soldiers, armed and drunk and told them he couldn’t sell them anymore beer because the store was shut. By this time the wife and kids were also up and begging the soldiers to leave. The soldiers were out of control and insisted on getting more beer. They shot and massacred the whole family. Other people said that the family did sell them beer out of fear but the soldiers wanted more. When the family declined, then the soldiers killed them. This became a national headline. Once again soldiers had massacred an indigenous family in times of democracy. This terrorised the indigenous families of El Asentamiento and many fled the country. They did not want to be massacred at the hands of the army. This was how Capitalino’s uncle, who by now had a wife and child, got all the family including the nephews and took them as far as he could. They manage to make it to the United States.

They cross through the Rio Grande on December 24th, 1993. It is not difficult to cross through to Mexico. They travelled by bus. The country is a refuge to thousands of indigenous families that settled in Chiapas. They had all ran away from genocide. In California, a friend of Capitalino’s uncle let them stay at his place for a bit. The man had left El Ixcán, Quiché in 1989. Thirty four members of this man’s family were massacred in all of Quiche. Candido has been working in the vineyards of California for 29 years now. His cousins work in the nearby fruit fields. His uncle has moved to Colorado where there is a community of Nahualá. The community has pitched in to buy some land there and they work it in the summer. They have lorocochipilín and aside from this milpa, they grow sorghum and squash too. Capitalino’s uncle and wife make a living cleaning offices. Every year they fundraise to buy school supplies, busloads of clothes, shoes and medicines for the people of Nahualá. 

Candido married a lady from Totonicapán that he met at work in the vineyards. They have four kids, all US citizens. The kids also worked in the vineyards part time as they studied. All graduated from the University of California and they all speak Kaqchiquel. Candido re-learned his native tongue thanks to his wife.

Capitalino has just managed to get his documents in order, his oldest daughter helped him. For the first time in 29 years he is going to Guatemala to visit his parents and sisters. He never stopped sending them monthly remittances. The family awaits with open arms. They have missed him so much and have opened a family business Panadería Candida, a bakery which delivers bread to the whole of Sololá. He has dreamed of his return to Nahualá for 29 years; to hug his parents and sisters. He is happy, even if it is only for one week, he isn’t allowed any more time off work.  It isn’t paid vacation either. That is the least of his worries. He is walking on air because gets to see those folks again who would never stopped sending their care packages of bean tamales, ground coffee, grilled chicken and ground achiote from their own achiote tree. Candido remembers this tree very well. He never saw it again since the first time he emigrated at 7 years old.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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