Place: Escuela de la Montaña
Interview and translation by Lena Dorfschmidt and Justin Shenk
My name is Maria. I am from Nuevo San José.
My story is about the work, my experience, mi experience that I had […].
In the past I lived on a finca. I was born on the finca Mujuliar. […] That is a finca that is more or less on the other side of the road from where we are now. My family lived there. But my story is sometimes sad and I am telling it because it was difficult for me. I was just twelve years old, when I started to work on the finca.
That was, because my parents had many children. I studies only fours years in school, because I had to work to help my parents with my siblings. So I worked more or less from six [in the morning] to one in the afternoon. And then in the afternoon I went to school in the first two years [that I was working], because there were people that told me that studying is necessary and that I should study. And also my father old me that he wanted me to study.
But it came the time where it was difficult for me p[to go on studying], because the work on the finca was difficult. We were working from sic to one and the work was hard. And for the daily work, the payment was low. We only earned six Quetzales. Every day we got six Quetzales.
The time passed and I went on working. Then I was also working in the afternoon, so I only studied five years.
The salary of the men was twelve Quetzales, but we women were paid half of that.
When I started working on the finca I was only a small girl. They gave us about fifty pounds if chemicals. And I remember it were 50 pounds and it was so heavy. And I wanted to lift it, but I couldn’t. I started crying. And my friends, too.
So there was this person, the caporal, and he asked if we could [lift it] or not. And we said we couldn’t. He was very nice. “Then I will carry it.” Because the place was very steep. So one by one he carried it to where we were to put the chemicals. He took one by one. We started to work. In the end we were happy. […] We noticed that the work of men and women was the same as the men’s, but they were paying half.
Today the work is different. The women go to the finca. They don’t accept children anymore. The women do the work of cutting the grass on the coffee fields. And for one cuerda they only pay ten quetzales, one cuerda, and for twenty quetzales they do two. They start at six in the morning till one to earn twenty quetzales per day.
In coffee, that is starting now, when there is a lot coffee in December, you have to do 100 pounds. But over the years the payment for coffee changes. Two years ago it was forty Quetzales per 100 pounds. Because, they said, the coffee had suffered a lot below a plague. We have to do 100 pounds from six to four or five in the afternoon.
And you have to carry the coffee on your back to take it where it will be weighed. So it is with the coffee that the people benefit and make a little more money. At these places children of people working on the fincas don’t have vacations. The children work with the mother or the father, until the coffee season is over in February. But as school start in January, those children pass two months cutting coffee. They don’t know what playing means.
The work is difficult, cutting coffee. I wanted to go on studying. I had the dream to study nursing.
At that time I had the possibility to learn a little about medicine in the catholic [parroquia] in Colomba. But natural medicine. How to help ill people, how to inject them. […] I studied for two years. I walked on foot to Colomba. That helped me a bit, but the time passed and I didn’t go on studying. I spent my time cutting coffee. I was working from six to four, five in the afternoon and they paid very little for the coffee and it was hard work with my parents. And it happened that when there was no coffee anymore, we worked on the work that was to be done on the finca itself. I was barely 16 years old when I married Jorge.
I married and went to live on the finca where he was. And I had thought that when I would marry I wouldn’t have to work anymore, because I was tired of working already. And I married Jorge and went to live on the finca [where he was].
But being on that finca the same happened, because three years passed and the peoples salaries started to be
They were not paying the people for two years and we hardly had any food. I already had two daughters at that time. We were working, working, but didn’t have any food. We only ate the vegetables we had on the finca. And my father was still alive and told me that is was difficult, but he brought me some food for the girls. So I was also working with Jorge, helping him. And later, after the finca, the story too is difficult, is big.
It is the finca San José. The finca was called San José Altmira. And that is why we called this village Nuevo San José [New San José].
So we hadn’t been paid for two years. So the people decided to organize themselves. They were organizing to fight for the payment that the owner was owing us. And they organized in a group of men and fought to be paid. […] They went to talk to the finquero. And he told them he didn’t have any money. And that he was going to sell the finca. […] So the people demanded their loans and the finquero sold his finca. What the people wanted was to stay on the finca. Instead of the money they wanted to stay at the finca. But they couldn’t.
So the finquero sold his finca to another finquero and with that he paid what he owed the people. So the people kept organizing themselves, and decided to leave the finca, all, everyone. No one was to stay at the finca. A group of men decided to leave and look for land to live on. They kept organizing, went to different places and were looking for help. That is how they arrived at this village. At this place there lived a family, they were from somewhere else, but they lived here. Everything from Nuevo San José where there is the school now belonged to them. They talked to the owner. […] They told about the community’s story and said that we were going to leave the land and the person said it was fine, he was going to sell us a part of his land. But at that time not everyone came [to live] in the community. We were only 28, 29 families. Others went to a different community, some to Xela, San Juan… But here we were 28, 29 families. We bought the land and it was the month of June, July that we started to leave the finca. It was a very sad story that sometimes is difficult to remember. We left and there was a lot of rain. They way was very bad and all those children with their things, chicken, others with dogs, they had in their arms what they owned. When we arrived here we didn’t even have a place to live. We just started to work hard. There were many coffee trees, children, men and women, [started] to cut the trees to be able to build houses of aluminum panels. Others lived under plastic. That is how we started, how we left the finca. We started to live, but then the women, we returned to work on the finca, because we didn’t have money. Another three years. We walked nearly and hour to reach the finca. Everyday with the children on our backs. We left at five thirty to arrive at six, six thirty. We were worked for three years. Then […] we were tired already.[…] The men kept organizing themselves, asking for help and projects because we didn’t have houses, fluent water, or schools for the children. The first thing they were looking for was help for a school, because the children were studying below not more then a roof.That was the first thing. They children were studying, but without a teacher. Only sometimes for example Abelino would help them. Then we got support from the municipality of San MartÌn. They built a school for the children. We kept on fighting, apart from that, for projects for the community. A housing project, a project for fluent water. To realize the water project people weren’t working for six months, because they went to work on the water to come, because it was very far, nearly at the mountains. It was a help, but we had to work. The men went to work, but when the water was close already, we, the women, could help, too. But we didn’t have a salary, because nearly everyone was working [for the water to come].
That is how we realized some projects for the community.
Today, thank God, I don’t go to the finca anymore. Two years ago I was still going, because I had a daughter that was about to graduate and needed a lot of money. Because it was [her] last year [at school]. We worked very hard. But now she graduated already and had work in the capital. Because here is is difficult to find work. The other one works here, but we don’t go to the finca anymore. Because there is a lot of discrimination on the finca. That is why I say it is difficult. They treat us very badly, and women even worse. Two years ago I had an experience with my daughter, because of that [experience] I said it was the last year. Not anymore. She noticed, she saw how they were discriminating women. […] People who enter the finca have to have an ID Card. If you don’t have an ID, you don’t work. And now we noticed that at another finca, they put a bracelet on people’s wrists. If you don’t have the bracelet, you don’t enter. My daughter says, “How are they discriminating the people!”. To get some fire wood, not either. It had to be on a special day. The person that runs the finca say, if you want to get fire wood, before you have to hand in the coffee […]. And there are the people, guardaespaldas [protect-backs] is what we call them, examining that you don’t even take a single coffee grain. It is difficult. Even the women [they touch].
Two years ago we were working there with my daughter.
“Are you working?”
“Yes”, she says.
“Oh good”, he tells her, “I want to offer you work. All the young girls will work inside the finca now, not in the fields anymore.”
“Okay, and what is the work?”
“You will have a look for coffee. The good coffee, the pure gold. The one that will be exported.”
“Fine. What are the conditions?”
“Wear a very tight shirt and very tight pants.”
“And why that?”
“So that we can see that you don’t take even a single coffee grain.”
“No thank you”, she said, “This is the last year we are at the finca. Not anymore.”
She wouldn’t let herself be discriminated.
“What are the conditions?”
“Come well bathed. No rings, no earrings, no bracelets, no painted nails.”
“No thank you.”
She said no. There are young girls wearing corte [the traditional mayan dress] that were told to wear pants. The said no, because that is discriminating. That is why I say the finca is bad. It is a story and an experience. And it still happens today. […]
For the future, for the children of the community as well as my own, because I still have small ones. Now I have one of fifteen and one of ten years and I have grandchildren already. In the future [I hope] my children will go on studying, to [be able to] fight. So that they have a better future than we had. That is what I tell my children. Sometimes during dinner we talk. With Jorge we tell them about how we were fighting and that they studied and now would have to find a job. And go on studying, so that they wouldn’t have to suffer like we suffered on the finca. We keep fighting so that they can study. […]
There are parents still that don’t give their children the possibility to study. But for me studies are important. Because nowadays in Guatemala, if you go to Guatemala City as well as on the fincas, they require education. If you haven’t studied you don’t get the job.
What gave you hope when you left the finca?
What gave me hope was that we finally had our own land. A land where no one was going to boss us around. On the finca [the land] wasn’t ours. They finquero could just tell you, “Tomorrow you leave. Get lost.” It wasn’t our own land. Here the land is ours already. Maybe it was difficult, but it was about fighting for our children’s future. It was our own, it was the community’s.
We have fluent water, we have electricity. It is our own. We have a future. I tell my children, I have a piece of land already, so that they can build their house in the future. On the finca – [solo de paso]. So for the future, I tell them, it is about studying. Because we wont leave this place anymore. That is our motivation, our struggle.
What do you think the next generations should know about your story and your experience?
Keep telling them this story. […] At dinner we talk. We tell them everything from the very beginning, how it was at the finca, how I got married, and then how we came here, how we worked on the projects, everything till now. That is what I hope all the parents tell their children. So tat they don’t forget.
What do you think they can learn from the story?
Maybe to go on fighting. Fighting like the people in the past, the story is bitter, but they should go on fighting so as not to return to the finca, to have a better future. They graduated already. They will have partners, children […] That it doesn’t stop.