I Still Have Your Luggage Tag

By William Lopez

On May 24th, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a local Ann Arbor restaurant next to the University of Michigan campus. ICE agents went in with a warrant for single man, but arrested three to five others, including a Legal Permanent Resident. The community was angry that the agents had the gall to eat the food prepared by the staff and then arrest them—yet in many ways, this is an apt metaphor for perceptions of immigrants in the contemporary United States: We welcome your labor, but we do not welcome you.

While the thought of eating an omelet and then arresting the cook is abhorrent, I am struck by a process happening over and over in our country: The use of a single warrant to arrest anyone “suspected” of being undocumented. This amounts to legalized racial profiling. My doctoral research similarly focused on a home raid in which many Latinos were arrested although only a single individual was the alleged target.

At times like these, academic writing feels too constrained to cut to the core of the suffering we witness. For me, I turn to other forms of writing--poetry, prose, short stories--to capture what a peer-reviewed article cannot. This poem is a compilation of experiences of the raid I studied for years of my life and of this most recent raid on May 24th.

Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Photo credits: Celena Lopez

I Still Have Your Luggage Tag

I still have your luggage tag in my bag. I carry it with me, can't quite seem to let it go.

It's not a luggage tag really. It's a suitcase tag. It's a number, an identifier, a CURP, a code, with the matching code attached to a maleta that sat in the immigration office as your plane took off to deport you.

I thought I delivered the maleta on time. I remember doing it as soon as I could, blocking off a whole day to go to the immigration office so they could get it on your flight with you. I really care about your sister, and her heart was broken when you were taken, when her son lost the third father figure from his life. All because you happened to look like Ignacio. You and everyone else in the truck looked like Ignacio

I don't think they actually give a fuck who Ignacio is. I think they saw a truck at a gas station that looked like it was on its way to cut a yard, to fix a roof. I think they thought about the promise Congress made to fill 34,000 detention center beds a day. And I think they had a warrant for some Ignacio somewhere. And they saw a truck of three Ignacio look-alikes. So they followed you out of the gas station. They pulled you over. They asked you all for papers.

And they got three Ignacios closer to their congressional mandate.

So I took the maleta to the immigration office for your sister. I thought I was being kind, but really, I was just being privileged. Even though I'm brown, I have a driver's license. And I would never ask your sister to drive to Detroit. I-94 is a war zone. The body count is high.

I remember wondering what was in the maleta. What do you send to someone who has just been deported?

Of course, poverty knows no privacy, and as I stood outside the metal detector the security guard emptied its contents in front of me.

It was then that I started to understand what was happening.

There were small tubes of toothpaste. Bottles of shampoo and conditioner. A toothbrush. Soap. So you could be clean when you got back to Honduras.

Then there were the jeans.

They were nice jeans. With designs on the back pockets. Crosses made of gold and bronze studs. The kind of jeans that you could wear with alligator skin boots and a cowboy hat to a sobrino's first communion. Nice jeans. I wondered if they were brand new.

Then I noticed the sweatpants.

They still had the price tag on them.  They were new. Maybe the jeans were too. I imagined your sister making the decision to spend two day’s wages--two days of bending down to clean hotel rooms--on jeans and sweatpants. And I wondered why.

But I get it now. This is a despedida, a sendoff. This is how your sister says she loves you when she can't drive on I-94 herself, and, even if she could, she would be too distracted by the jingling of shackles to tell you she'll miss you.

So she bought soap, toothpaste, jeans.

She's trying to tell you that you can hold your head up high when you go back home. That you can walk into your campo from the main road clean and fly as hell with no shame cause you had ridden La Bestia. You had crossed the Rio Grande. You worked. You put more shingles on roofs than any citizen would ever think possible. You did what you had to do, got it done, and paid the 5% to Western Union to get it back to your family without complaint. She's telling you: Be proud. You are loved. You are a warrior.

I drop off the maleta at immigration and go home.

A week later I get a call. Can I come pick up the bag?

The maleta never made it on your plane. The ICE agent was very nice when he informed me. Asked how my day was, smiled. But isn't that how it works? You meet a nice cop, a nice agent, a neighbor who works for the force and brings your kid ice cream, and suddenly you care that Laquan McDonald had a teenage mom and suddenly All Lives Matter.

So the maleta sat in the immigration office as your plane took off.

Your sister tells me that you were so dirty when you got to the entry to your barrio that the cab driver didn't want to pick you up. I'm sorry. There was toothpaste in there for you. And brand new jeans. I'm sorry.

So I keep your luggage tag with me. I keep it in my bag. I can't seem to throw it away, even though I took the maleta back to your sister already. Even though I had to interrupt her child's birthday to give her back the maleta from his deported uncle. Even though immigration has long stopped giving a fuck about your suitcase.

It’s irrelevant now. Just like that original Ignacio on the warrant.

But I can't seem to stop giving a fuck about your suitcase or those of all the other Ignacio look-alikes out there.


Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Photo credits: Celena Lopez

Take Action: I worked closely with the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights to gather data for my dissertation research and continue to collaborate with them whenever possible. I support the Washtenaw ID Project, the first government issued ID in the Midwest, in their efforts to bring photo-identification to everyone in the county. Increasingly, immigration status, for which lack of ID is often used as a proxy, is used to restrict resources access to immigrant communities. The Washtenaw ID is one way to disrupt these inequitable systems of resource distribution, as discussed in my recent article in Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. I invite you to support our efforts.


William Lopez is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the National Center for Institutional Diversity and School of Social work at the University of Michigan. He is the son of a Mexican immigrant mother and Texan father. He grew up in San Antonio, TX, before acclimating to the Midwest in Indiana, where he received his BA in psychology at the University of Notre Dame. William returned to Texas to receive his MPH at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston while working at a homeless services center and getting his first taste of qualitative work in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His mixed-methods work focuses on the effects of immigration policy on local Latino communities, specifically considering the health effects of immigration home raids. William’s work has been featured in Pacific Standard, The Conversation, and Nature.


From Undocumented to DACAmented: Can Changes to Legal Status Impact Psychological Wellbeing?

June 15 marks the 5-year anniversary of the DACA program. For the first time, a recent study analyzes DACA’s impacts on recipients’ psychological wellbeing. The results are clear: DACA can make you feel better, though it may not resolve concerns about deportation.

by Caitlin Patler and Whitney Laster Pirtle

Original art by Liliana Alonso and Andres "Rhips" Rivera.

Original art by Liliana Alonso and Andres "Rhips" Rivera.

Undocumented immigrant youth in the United States face a host of challenges that impact their psychological wellbeing. Many experience hopelessness, shame and self-blame, anxiety, fear of deportation, and concern about blocked social mobility. One recent study found that undocumented youth experience a loss of “ontological security,” or the inability to count on the stability of the future. Another study led by immigrant youth at the UCLA Dream Resource Center found that undocumented youth struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, and emotional distress related to their status. There have even been reports of suicide among undocumented young people who felt they could not overcome the barriers imposed by their status.

It is clear that the legal marginalization undocumented immigrants face can detrimentally impact health. Yet there is still very little research that documents how undocumented young peoples’ psychological wellbeing might alter if their legal status were to change, even if temporarily.

Becoming DACAmented

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides a unique opportunity to understand the experiences of individuals who transition from undocumented status into other, even slightly less marginalized, statuses. Announced by President Obama in June of 2012, DACA allows eligible undocumented youth to apply for temporary (and revocable) lawful presence that includes work authorization, a social security number, and other related benefits, renewable every two years. As of the first quarter of 2017, 925,921 individuals applied for DACA, with 26% of applications coming from California, and the vast majority of applicants originating from Latin America. DACA allows us to ask: Can changes to legal status impact health, particularly psychological wellbeing?

Put differently, can getting DACA make you feel better?

We recently completed a study aimed to answer these questions. Our research provides the first statistical analysis of differences in psychological wellbeing between immigrant young adults, retrospectively measured before and after a transitioning from undocumented to DACAmented status. Our data come from original telephone survey data of 487 Latino immigrant young adults in California. These data were collected 2.5 years after the program’s initiation (between November 2014 and February 2015), in order to allow sufficient time to observe the impacts of the program. We compared a control group of young people who remained undocumented with those who transitioned into lawful presence via DACA. Specifically, we examined four outcomes related to immigrants’ psychological wellbeing: 1) distress (including reports of stress, nervousness or anxiety); 2) negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness, shame, and embarrassment); and 3) worry about deportation of one’s self or 4) one’s family.

Our study revealed several key findings. We began by asking about psychological wellbeing during the time when everyone in the study was undocumented (either prior to receiving DACA, for recipients, or in the past year, for respondents without DACA). Statistical tests of responses to these questions show that past psychological wellbeing was predicted almost exclusively by socioeconomic status. For example, those who were worse off financially reported higher levels of distress, negative emotions, and deportation worry.

However, current psychological wellbeing is most strongly predicted by whether or not someone has DACA. For example, the predicted probability of experiencing distress and negative emotions started out at 70% for both undocumented and DACAmented individuals(see Figure 1). However, current distress and negative emotions (measured in the 30 days prior to the survey) for DACA recipients dropped to under 20%, whereas they were over 40% for those without DACA. These results suggest that the change from ‘undocumented’ to ‘lawfully present’ is associated with improvements to psychological wellbeing.

Figure 1. Predicted Probability of Psychological Wellbeing Measures, by DACA Status (From Patler and Pirtle 2017)

Notes: N=487. Responses were collected between November 2014 and February 2015. Predicted probabilities account for respondents’ sex, age, years in the United States, trouble paying bills, educational level, mother’s educational level, mother’s legal status.

Notes: N=487. Responses were collected between November 2014 and February 2015. Predicted probabilities account for respondents’ sex, age, years in the United States, trouble paying bills, educational level, mother’s educational level, mother’s legal status.

However, as Figure 2. demonstrates, DACA status does not significantly reduce worry about the deportation of family members, suggesting that programs that target individuals do not go far enough in addressing the overall wellbeing and needs of mixed-immigration-status families.

Figure 2. Predicted Probability of Psychological Wellbeing Measures, by DACA Status (From Patler and Pirtle 2017)

Notes: N=487. Responses were collected between November 2014 and February 2015. Predicted probabilities account for respondents’ sex, age, years in the United States, trouble paying bills, educational level, mother’s educational level, mother’s legal status.

Notes: N=487. Responses were collected between November 2014 and February 2015. Predicted probabilities account for respondents’ sex, age, years in the United States, trouble paying bills, educational level, mother’s educational level, mother’s legal status.

“I feel like I belong and other people know I exist:” How Legal Status Transitions Impact Health

Our study showed that transitioning to DACA status after being undocumented was associated with significant reductions in distress and negative emotions. What might explain these results? In response to the question “What do you think has most changed for you since receiving DACA?” DACA recipients in our study shared:

“[I have] a changed outlook on my future because it was very uncertain before.”

“I have a better job, I am more stable, and not afraid to drive around. I have an ID now and I am more capable to do what I want. I feel better emotionally, physically, and psychologically.”

“The security of knowing that you can actually be outside without worrying that you’ll get deported. It brings a lot of benefits: better job and more work and you can actually apply for healthcare. In a sense, it brings you into the community.”

“Peace. [I can] breathe better. Hope. And knowing I exist. I feel like I belong and other people know I exist.”

Such sentiments indicate that DACA has had a legitimizing effect on recipients, in which access to lawful presence and new opportunities has improved their sense of security in their future, which is so closely tied to overall psychological wellbeing.

Looking forward

While we are encouraged by the positive nature of these findings, we remain cautious about whether DACA can offer permanent transformative effects on wellbeing. First, DACA provides individual relief from deportation but does not apply to family members. As we show, DACA recipients in our study were no less likely than non-recipients to report ongoing worry that a family member will be deported. This finding is consistent with research documenting pervasive fear of law enforcement and family separation among the children of undocumented immigrants.

Perhaps most importantly, though, because DACA is a temporary program and does not offer permanent legal status, it is likely that the emotional health benefits of the program could decrease over time if access to permanent status and citizenship remains elusive or if DACA is discontinued.

In the absence of any large-scale legalization program since the mid-1980s, an entire generation of children has grown up without legal status. We know that a lack of legal status impacts multiple aspects of immigrants’ lives, including health and wellbeing, and we also know that communities do not benefit when individuals are unhealthy. Our research shows that changes to immigrant legal status can improve psychological wellbeing. Inasmuch as individual wellbeing is linked to overall community health, then our findings are of critical importance as the country continues to debate policy solutions for undocumented communities.

Dr. Caitlin Patler is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis. Her research explores citizenship and legal status as axes of stratification that significantly shape opportunities for mobility. She is currently conducting longitudinal mixed-methods research studies on: 1) immigration detention, deportation, and the intersections of immigration and criminal law, and 2) the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Dr. Whitney N. Laster Pirtle is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her research interests include race, identity, mental health, and quantitative methods. Her research is primarily informed by social psychological frameworks, and explores how social structures, such as racial hierarchies, might impact individuals’ lived experiences, wellbeing, and identities. Using historical, survey, and qualitative data, she is currently exploring the formation and transformation of the “coloured” racial group in post-apartheid South Africa.





Why the "bad hombre" Trump is the least of our worries: How state policies criminalize immigrant and undocumented youth

by Sophia Rodriguez and Timothy Monreal 

While Trump’s amplified attacks on immigrants—as “bad hombres”, rapists, and criminals—is disturbing, we must not let it overshadow restrictive state level policy contexts. In this blog, we share findings from our analysis of 10 years of South Carolina legislation to shed light on how state policies criminalize immigrants broadly and target undocumented immigrant youth specifically. We further connect these state-level policies to the larger hostile political climate in the United States.

Photo Credits: AP

Photo Credits: AP

When Trump announced his presidential campaign in a speech on June 16, 2015, he framed Mexican immigrants as an unwelcome and harmful group of people. He stated, “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems. When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.” Donald Trump characterized immigrants as takers, criminals, and threats one of the most prominent national stages—a presidential debate. The construction of the immigrant as problem motivated a nativist, conservative base and subsequently has fueled a series of anti-immigrant executive orders. Yet, a singular focus on Trump obscures how state level policy discourses have sought to create and perpetuate perspectives of immigrants as criminals or threats to society. In this piece, we connect the national debate with our current research on local policies in South Carolina.

Of course, Donald Trump is not the first policy-maker to advance racialized classifications of belonging and an immigrant-as-problem discourse. From the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882 and the “one-drop rule” in the case of United States v. Thind, 1923 to segregationist practices against Mexican-American students such as the so-called  Lemon Grove Incident, 1931, the construction of immigrants as problems has a complex history in the U.S. These legal and social understandings of immigrants in the U.S. placed hurdles to integration at best, and criminalized immigrants in everyday social life at worst.

What are the intentions behind creating the immigrant as problem?

A problem calls for ‘rational’ solutions. In social science academic research, this is called policy problematization. This concept highlights how policy forms by framing marginalized groups as problems, and then justifies drastic ‘solutions.’ Take for example Trump’s Border Security (“the Wall”) executive announcement. Part of the announcement offers an expanded definition of who is a criminal: i.e., anyone who “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” As Jennifer Medina writes in the New York Times, this loose definition of criminal covers people authorities believe to have broken the law. This new definition further links immigrants specifically to criminal behavior. As such, policy solutions work to restrict the actions of targeted groups with determined precision. The everyday lives of immigrants become further constrained, meaning they fear driving to work or even leaving their homes to attend school, resulting in a deep social isolation.


A glimpse at South Carolina's policy context

We analyzed South Carolina’s proposed and enacted immigration legislation from 2005-2016 to understand how policy language shapes public opinion about immigrants and restricts their access and opportunity to social advancement. To do this we used Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), which seeks to uncover the authority of texts and their influence on social practices. This blog  draws from a multi stage ethnographic study enlisting CDA conducted by the first author (2015-present) to illustrate the effects of the restrictive policies in South Carolina. Our analysis, spanning six legislative sessions, reveals how immigrants are criminalized in everyday social life and restricted from accessing public institutions and social services. The focus on enacted and proposed legislation follows Stephen Ball’s (1994: 10) argument that policy research should tend to the “process” of policy production and focus on the “action, words and deeds, what is enacted as well as what is intended.” Our work accordingly demonstrates that local policy makers in restrictive state contexts like South Carolina propose and enact legislation that both constructs immigrants as problems to be dealt with and limits immigrants’ opportunities for thriving and advancing economically, educationally, and socially.

Source: Migration Policy Institute. U.S. Immigration Population by State and Country: South Carolina

Source: Migration Policy Institute. U.S. Immigration Population by State and Country: South Carolina

The analysis of South Carolina policies impacting immigrant communities reveals an intentional construction of all immigrants as Othered individuals who are economic and security threats. This purposeful construction contributes to a belief that immigrants are in some way distinct or alien to ‘rightful’ citizens of the state. Proposed legislation such as S.706 and H. 3953 (11-12) characterizes “illegal aliens” as individuals who are criminals that need to be battled against. The policy documents read:

Whereas, the bill would also allow illegal aliens after arrest to be detained in a state or local prison or detention facility pending transfer to federal custody, thereby insuring that potentially dangerous criminals would remain in custody pending trial or adjudication…

It is important to note that this particular piece of legislation names “illegal aliens” as “potentially dangerous criminals,” rendering them as threatening and thus more susceptible to crime (even when this statement is factually inaccurate). Sadly, the above example is not an isolated instance. In our analysis, we located more than 25 proposed and enacted pieces of legislation that used similar language whereby immigrants are Othered, typically as economic and security threats. Senate Resolution S.1015 (13-14) typifies this threat:

"Over fifty percent of illegal aliens currently in the United States arrived here with visas and overstayed them upon expiration. These include radical Islamic Jihad students who come here under the pretext of study only to instigate acts of terror; and

Whereas, the burden placed upon our nation's governmental services, taxpayers, environment, and infrastructure is on a disastrously unsustainable path due to massive population growth directly attributable to immigration; and

Whereas, solutions to immigration policy include ending chain migration, verifying the visa entry and exit system, ending the visa lottery, ending birthright citizenship, and offering federal assistance for states to combat immigration problems."

This example identifies undocumented immigrants as “burdens,” “unsustainable,” and even “radical Islamic Jihad students,” both creating and reifying them as problems. By constructing the “immigrant problem,” policy-makers advance their solutions—solutions that politicize immigration enforcement and conflate the immigrant with the criminal and/or terrorist. These alarming and inaccurate depictions of immigrants coexist with the reality that South Carolina farmers largely recruit and depend upon immigrant labor. Amidst considerable recruitment of immigrant labor, immigrants paradoxically are accused of taking jobs and draining public resources. Taken as a whole, a picture emerges where immigrants are desired for their labor, but controlled as human beings. The construction of immigrants as problems allows for this dual reality. Immigrants continue to serve the South Carolina economy while policy solutions seek to constrain their material lives and force them to live in the shadows.

In practice, state legislative acts restrict the daily lives of migrants by limiting access to public services. For example, South Carolina is one of two states to ban entry into public higher education for undocumented students. Efforts have even been made to exclude non-citizens to all forms of public education in South Carolina H.3110 (07-08), including denying some undocumented youth in the state entry to public schools in clear violation of Plyler v Doe. Similarly, other legislative acts attempt to limit access to health care, worker’s compensation, and employment, thus formally demanding that immigrants first prove their status before receiving basic protections.

It is within this policy framing of immigrants as problems that the United States’ most egregious legislation towards immigrants has been enacted. Emulating Arizona’s infamous “Show Me Your Papers law, South Carolina rushed to pass S.20 in 2011. S.20 granted, “Law enforcement authorization to determine immigration status, reasonable suspicion, procedures, data collection on motor vehicle stops.” Although the courts dismissed the most draconian profiling portions of the South Carolina law, the solution of increased law enforcement still presents a daily threat to immigrant communities. Since this legislation passed, students have expressed to us how anxiety-provoking simple activities like driving, going to school, or answering the door remains.


Policy effects on undocumented youth

The effect of constructing immigrants as problems is felt strongly in schools. Educators have the imperative to create safe and welcoming spaces for all students regardless of immigration status, one where the cultural knowledge(s), strengths, and experiences of immigrant students are valued. Yet, all too often strengths that immigrant students bring to school (bilingualism, resilience, cultural ways of knowing) are also problematized in schools. As we argue, educators can be at the forefront of the resistance to the criminalization regime. For example, they can recognize, mitigate, and resist the impacts of repressive policies that enshrine “immigrants are problems” on their students by framing students skills as assets rather than deficits.

Photo credits: AP/LM Otero

Photo credits: AP/LM Otero

Take for example how restrictive policy contexts impact the lives of undocumented youth. Even D.A.C.A. recipients now confront uncertain futures in the U.S. Current research efforts has focused on recently arrived undocumented and unaccompanied youth in southern states like South Carolina, where their families reshape the southern landscape. Undocumented youth are highly aware of the contradictory language of the state policies while state continues to benefit from the work of Hispanic workers. Several youth with whom we work identified ways the state restricts their livelihoods and opportunities for social mobility. For example, undocumented youth in two Title I high schools in the first author’s larger study said: 

“This state is racist.”

“The state wants Hispanics to do their work for them, but we can’t go to school without being afraid? That is ignorance.”

“They don’t want to have a solution for us being here, but they want us to do the work they don’t want to do.”

“I am, like, stuck. I have scholarships to four state schools and cannot attend any of them. Here, they are ignorant of Hispanics. I don’t have papers, but I am smart.”

These lived experiences of youth in the South Carolina speak back to the negative language and stereotyping perpetuated in proposed and enacted legislation. While derogatory perceptions of immigrants appear amplified under Trump, it is important to note how historical precedents and state policies enable structural and institutional racism and the criminalization of immigrants to persist. The current political charades under Trump should not distract us from the broader and more pressing structural discrimination being institutionalized in policies and practices in restrictive states such as South Carolina.


Sophia Rodriguez, PhD, is an assistant professor of education and sociology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She conducts research on (un)documented immigrant youth activism and discrimination as well as the impact of educational and social policy on minoritized youth experiences broadly. Her published and forthcoming work on immigrant youth activism and education policy can be found here.

Timothy Monreal is a doctoral student in social foundations of education at the University of South Carolina. He is also a middle school teacher in South Carolina. He is interested in Latinx education in the U.S. South broadly as well as the intersections between teacher practice and education theory. To that end you can find him on Twitter where he mixes academic musings along with everyday classroom observations.

On Process and the Public: Creating the "Migration and Belonging" Series

(Spanish translation below)

Amidst so much disciplinary discussion about audience, open access, and applied anthropology, we want to follow Migration and Belonging: Narratives from a Highland Town with a more informal conversation with the series' creators. Below, Michele Statz talks with Giovanni Batz, Celeste Sanchez and Lauren Heidbrink about the challenges and possibilities of collaborative public ethnography. 

Almolonga. Photo credits: Giovanni Batz

Almolonga. Photo credits: Giovanni Batz

Michele: It strikes me that when viewed as a whole, the potential of these posts suddenly exceed their goal. Each is immediately informative about global youth, deportation, and social reintegration, but together they confront the reader with additional questions about audience, voice, and translation. Did you ever discuss the academic “costs” of this kind of collection? Some of the posts are more formal or “traditional” in their style, while others are quite vivid and at times very intimate and heartfelt. I found the combination incredibly appealing, but still wonder: Is this type of analysis forever relegated to the blogosphere? As editors and contributors, who should read this series?

Giovanni, Celeste and Lauren: We hope that this blog series offers a nuanced yet accessible exploration of the issues and challenges emerging from and within sending communities. The images, at once powerful and provocative, invite a broad public to explore the rippling and enduring impacts of migration and deportation on individuals, communities and families. This public importantly includes loved ones and community members that are invested in Almolonga’s future beyond the academic or theoretical questions raised in the series. 

The bilingual series also offers a unique modality for collaborative research, one which showcases the voices of Guatemalan scholars, many of whom remain excluded from the largely English-speaking academic presses. 

From the outset, we were committed to defying what has tragically become routine academic practice.

M: Will it be shared with the community members with whom you conducted research?

G, C and L: From the outset, we were committed to defying what has tragically become routine academic practice--that is, students and researchers conduct studies in Guatemala, publish exclusively for English-speaking audiences, and fail to return or share findings with participating communities. It is a long-standing practice which dates to colonial times. We recognized that Almolonguenses generously and sometimes painfully entrusted their experiences of migration and deportation in us, and that these experiences belong to them. “Migration and Belonging” is the first in a series of innovations, including workshops, radio spots, community forums, and bilingual reports to be shared with community members and local and regional authorities.  

M: A number of the "Migration and Belonging" posts are translated into as many as three languages--or more, if you include framing this for an anthropological audience. What is gained and lost in translation?

G, C and L: Language is important to understand different worldviews. Translating is always a difficult task when trying to find the appropriate words and phrases to express a concept. As translators of the blogs, collectively we tried to respect the intent of the authors and maintain intact their passion and critical analysis in their original format. We consulted with the authors and each other to minimize losing meaning in translation. One of the authors (Amparo Monzón) translated her own poem into three languages (K’iche’, Spanish, and English).

M: What is missing from this series?

Almolonga. Photo credit: Lauren Heidbrink

Almolonga. Photo credit: Lauren Heidbrink

G, C and L: One of the interesting aspects of this research was the uniqueness of each of our positionalities, especially since all of us have personal experiences with migration. Some of our team members have siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles or other relatives who migrated or had attempted to migrate to the US. In addition, two of us were born in the US to Central American parents, bringing into conversation varying experiences and understandings of migration, privilege, identity, and belonging. This research sparked a broad range of emotions in our professional work and our personal lives, sentiments that are not easily captured in virtual form.

After sharing our findings with the community this coming summer, we aim to supplement this series with digital narratives from community members--a vehicle to reflect on their experiences unfiltered by our experiences and perspectives.

M: When you consider the posts together, what do you find? And/or feel?

G, C and L: These posts were written by a diverse group of people from distinct academic disciplines such as political science, international relations, social work, anthropology, women’s studies, and development studies. Our own distinct experiences and lenses provided us with our own interpretations of migration as well as nurtured our own academic and professional passions, as you see in this multi-foci series. As a collective, the series provide a well-rounded, yet understandably incomplete, view of migration from Almolonga.  We hope that the reader may peek through our lenses to grasp the powerful and lived impacts of migration.


Giovanni Batz, MA, is a doctoral candidate in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas-Austin and a research assistant on a grant investigation the deportation and reintegration of youth in Guatemala.

Celeste N. Sánchez, MSW, is a Central American woman born and raised in southern California. She has several years of experience in direct work with children and adolescents in Guatemala and Honduras. She is currently working as the social worker for the Refugee Family Defense Program at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, CA and as a research assistant on this investigation the deportation and reintegration of youth in Guatemala.

Lauren Heidbrink is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Human Development at California State University, Long Beach. She is author of Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State: Care and Contested Interests (University of Pennsylvania Press, May 2014). She currently the PI on a multi-year NSF Law and Social Sciences grant investigating the deportation and social reintegration of youth in Guatemala.

Sobre el proceso y el público: creación de la serie "Migración y pertenencia"

Entre tanta discusión disciplinaria sobre la audiencia, el acceso abierto, y la antropología aplicada, queremos seguir Migración y Pertenencia: Narrativas de un pueblo altiplano con una conversación más informal entre los creadores de la serie. A continuación, Michele Statz habla con Giovanni Batz, Celeste Sánchez y Lauren Heidbrink sobre los desafíos y posibilidades de la etnografía pública colaborativa.

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Giovanni Batz.

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Giovanni Batz.

Michele: Me parece que, en su conjunto, el potencial de estas entradas excede su objetivo inesperadamente. Cada post es inmediatamente informativo sobre la juventud global, la deportación y la reintegración social, pero juntos confrontan al lector con preguntas adicionales sobre audiencia, voz y traducción. ¿Alguna vez discutieron los "costos" académicos de este tipo de colección? Algunas de las entradas tienen un estilo más formal o "tradicional", mientras que otras son bastante vívidas y a veces muy íntimas y sinceras. Encontré la combinación increíblemente atractiva, pero aún me pregunto: ¿Es este tipo de análisis relegado para siempre a la blogosfera? Como editores y contribuyentes, ¿quién debería leer esta serie?

Giovanni, Celeste y Lauren: Esperamos que esta serie de blogs ofrezca una exploración matizada y accesible a los problemas y desafíos que surgen de y entre las comunidades que envían migrantes. Las imágenes, a la vez poderosas y provocativas, invitan a un amplio público a explorar los impactos extensos y duraderos de la migración y la deportación de individuos, comunidades y familias. Importantemente incluye a un público de seres queridos y miembros de la comunidad que se invierten en el futuro de Almolonga más allá de las cuestiones académicas o teóricas planteadas en la serie.

La serie bilingüe también ofrece una modalidad única para la investigación colaborativa, que muestra las voces de los académicos guatemaltecos, muchos de los cuales permanecen excluidos de las prensas académicas anglófonas.

Desde el principio, nos comprometimos a desafiar lo que trágicamente se ha convertido en una práctica académica rutinaria.

M: ¿Se compartirá la serie con los miembros de la comunidad con quienes se realizó la investigación?

G, C y L: Desde el principio, nos comprometimos a desafiar lo que trágicamente se ha convertido en una práctica académica rutinaria--es decir, estudiantes e investigadores realizan estudios en Guatemala, publican exclusivamente para audiencias anglófonas y no regresan o comparten los hallazgos con las comunidades participantes. Es una práctica antigua que permanece desde la época colonial. Reconocemos que Almolonguenses generosamente y a veces dolorosamente nos confiaron sus experiencias de migración y deportación, y que estas experiencias les pertenecen a ellos. "Migración y Pertenencia" es el primero de una serie de innovaciones, incluyendo talleres, spots de radio, foros comunitarios e informes bilingües que se compartirán con los miembros de la comunidad y las autoridades locales y regionales.

M: Algunos de los posts de "Migración y Pertenencia" se traducen en tres idiomas o más, si se incluye plantearlo para una audiencia antropológica. ¿Qué se gana y qué se pierde en la traducción?

G, C y L: El lenguaje es importante para entender cosmovisiones diferentes. El traducir es siempre una tarea difícil cuando se trata de encontrar las palabras y frases apropiadas para expresar un concepto. Como traductores de los blogs, colectivamente intentamos respetar la intención de los autores y mantener intacta su pasión y análisis crítico en su formato original. Hemos consultado con los autores y entre nosotr@s para minimizar la pérdida del significado en la traducción. Uno de los autores (Amparo Monzón) tradujo su propio poema en tres idiomas (K'iche ', español e inglés).

M: ¿Qué falta en esta serie?

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink.

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink.

G, C y L: Uno de los aspectos interesantes de esta investigación fue la originalidad de cada una de nuestras posiciones, especialmente porque todos tenemos experiencias personales con la migración. Algunos miembros de nuestro equipo tienen herman@s, prim@s, tí@s, u otros parientes que emigraron o habían intentado migrar a los Estados Unidos. Además, dos de nosotr@s nacimos en Estados Unidos a padres centroamericanos, poniendo en conversación diversas experiencias y entendimientos de migración, privilegio, identidad y pertenencia. Esta investigación generó una amplia gama de emociones en nuestro trabajo profesional y nuestras vidas personales, sentimientos que no son captados fácilmente en forma virtual.

Después de compartir nuestros hallazgos con la comunidad el próximo verano, nuestro objetivo es complementar esta serie con narrativas digitales de miembros de la comunidad--una modalidad para reflexionar sobre sus experiencias sin tener que filtrar por nuestras experiencias y perspectivas.

M: ¿Cuándo ustedes consideran las entradas en conjunto, qué encuentran? ¿Y/o sienten?

G, C y L: Las entradas fueron escritas por un grupo diverso de personas de distintas disciplinas académicas como la ciencia política, relaciones internacionales, trabajo social, antropología, estudios de mujeres y estudios de gestión social para el desarrollo local. Nuestras experiencias y lentes nos proporcionaron nuestras propias interpretaciones de la migración, y fomentaron nuestras pasiones académicas y profesionales, como se ve en esta serie multifocal. Como colectivo, la serie ofrece una visión integral, pero comprensiblemente incompleta, de la migración desde Almolonga. Esperamos que el lector pueda mirar a través de nuestros lentes para captar los impactos poderosos y vividos de la migración.


Giovanni Batz, MA, es candidato doctoral en Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Texas-Austin y asistente de investigación en esta investigación sobre la deportación y reintegración de jóvenes en Guatemala. 

Celeste N. Sánchez, MSW, es una mujer centroamericana nacida y criada en el sur de California. Tiene varios años de experiencia en el trabajo directo con niños y adolescentes en Guatemala y Honduras. Actualmente es trabajadora social para el Programa de Defensa de Familias Refugiadas en Public Counsel en Los Ángeles, CA y asistente de investigación en esta investigación sobre la deportación y reintegración de jóvenes en Guatemala.

Lauren Heidbrink es antropóloga y Profesora Asistente de Desarrollo Humano en California State University, Long Beach. Es autora de Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State: Care and Contested Interests (University of Pennsylvania Press, May 2014). Actualmente es investigadora principal de una beca plurianual de NSF Law and Social Sciences que investiga la deportación y la reintegración social de los jóvenes en Guatemala.

For the previous blog in the series: Angélica Mejía: La Resiliencia: Generador de movilización y auto-crecimiento/ Resilience of Youth without Parental Care

La Resiliencia de Jóvenes Sin Cuidados Parentales/Resilience of Youth without Parental Care

by Angélica Mejía

(English translation below. For additional posts in this series, visit: "Migration and Belonging.")

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos:  Lauren Heidbrink

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos:  Lauren Heidbrink

La falta de cuidados parentales es un problema que afecta a un número significativo de niños y adolescentes en Guatemala. De acuerdo al informe de la Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (RELAF)  (2010), más que 5,600 niños están institucionalizados en Guatemala, muchos de quienes experimentan inseguridad considerable mientras están transferido a través de orfanatos e instituciones por el país. Las razones por la ausencia de cuidado parental son diversas--como una alta prevalencia de enfermedades crónicas, pobreza extrema, el conflicto armado, un legado de la violencia a migración significante que pueden resultar a la desintegración familiar. Estos factores deben ser entendidos necesariamente como factores relacionados entre sí en lugar de entender como factores individuales o aislados que resultan en la pérdida de cuidados parentales.

Si bien las estadísticas son alarmantes, es importante reconocer cómo algunos niños y jóvenes sin el cuidado parental desarrollan la resiliencia. Al analizar cómo los jóvenes se emprenden proyectos de vida, tales como la búsqueda de educación formal y vocacional, así como sus fuentes de motivación, podemos empezar a desarrollar las instituciones y programas que inspiran más que impiden su desarrollo.

A través de mi colaboración desde 2007 con varias organizaciones comunitarias, he llegado a trabajar con 29 jóvenes, varios de los cuales encarnan condiciones de desigualdad y abandono al tiempo que demuestra al mismo tiempo la resistencia y la fuerza a pesar de estas condiciones. A pesar de encontrar algunos orfanatos e instituciones que disuaden a niños a partir de continuar su educación o el aprendizaje de las competencias profesionales, es decir, otras organizaciones sociales promueven el desarrollo personal y ofrecen importantes recursos educativos. Los que recibieron el apoyo y la oportunidad han terminado el ciclo de primaria, básico y bachillerato; algunos iniciaron una carrera en la universidad.

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos: Angélica Mejía

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos: Angélica Mejía

Tal es la experiencia de Marcos(1), 17 años de edad en su último año de bachillerato y sus hermanos menores, Mercedes de 15 años de edad y Dario de 13 años de edad. Son becarios de la Fundación Portales de Esperanza, ellos lograron continuar su educación, recibir apoyo de una organización comunitaria, y sobreponerse ante las circunstancias socio-económicas. Otros han optado por estudiar en escuelas vocacionales—carpintería, cocina y mecánica—para lograr un empleo que les permita contribuir con sus familias.

En mi colaboración durante la última década con las instituciones y organizaciones que sirven a los jóvenes sin cuidados parentales, los jóvenes articulan varias fuentes de resilienciade un deseo de continuar su educación, a contribuir al sustento de su familia, a la creencia en su propio potencial, a un deseo para controlar sus propias condiciones y futuros. Aun cuando estamos a menudo rápidos alabar a organizaciones no gubernamentales, fundaciones privadas e iglesias de distintas religiones para "salvar" a los niños y niñas necesitados, hay que señalar que los propios niños y niñas demuestran la resistencia en la identificación y la búsqueda de oportunidades dentro de estas redes sociales.

La identificación de las fuentes de la resistencia interna de los jóvenes es crítica. También lo importante es apoyar a las instituciones estatales, sociedad civil, y los sectores privados que reconocen y fomentan la capacidad de niños y niñas de recuperación. Sólo por crear oportunidades para que la población infantil participe de manera significativa en estas conversaciones, que podamos satisfacer las necesidades de los niños y niñas sin cuidados parentales.


Informe situación de la niñez sin cuidado parental o en riesgo de perderlo en América Latina (2010). Contextos, causas y respuestas. Guatemala: Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar.

Mejía, Angélica. (2014) Tesis: “Orientación, metodología para la atención escolar de los niños huérfanos”

Angélica Mejía (Angie) cumplió una Maestría en Gestión Social para el Desarrollo Local de la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala) y cuenta con estudios de licenciatura en administración de organizaciones educativas de la Universidad San Pablo de Guatemala. Ella ha trabajado en diversas organizaciones educativas con enfoque social en organizaciones locales principalmente atendiendo a la niñez en orfandad.

(1) Seudónimo.

Resilience of Youth Without Parental Care

School activity. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

School activity. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

The lack of parental care is a significant challenge confronting a growing number of young people in Guatemala. According to Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (RELAF) (2010), over 5,600 children are institutionalized in Guatemala, many of whom experience considerable uncertainty as they are routinely transferred between orphanages and institutions throughout the country. The reasons for an absence of parental care are diverse—from a high prevalence of chronic illnesses to extreme poverty to armed conflict to a legacy of violence to significant out-migration that may lead to family disintegration. These factors must necessarily be understood as interrelated rather than individual or isolated factors leading to loss of parental care.

While the statistics are alarming, it is important to recognize how some of the children and youth without parental care develop resiliency. By analyzing how young people undertake life projects, such as the pursuit of formal or vocational schooling, as well as their sources of motivation, we may begin to develop institutions and program that inspire rather than impede their growth.

Through my collaboration with several community-based organizations since 2007, I have been able to work with 29 young people, several of whom embody conditions of inequality and abandonment while simultaneously demonstrating resilience and strength in spite of these challenges.  While I have encountered some orphanages and institutions that dissuade children from continuing their education or learning vocational skills, that is to say, other social organizations promote personal development and offer important educational resources. Those receiving support and opportunity have finished primary, middle and high school; some are pursuing a college education.

School activity. Photo credits: Angélica Mejía

School activity. Photo credits: Angélica Mejía

Take the experiences of Marcos(1), a 17-year-old in his last year of high school, and his younger siblings, 15-year-old Mercedes and 13-year-old Dario. With scholarships from the Fundación Portales de Esperanza, they have been able to pursue their education, receive support from a local organization, and begin to overcome difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Still others pursue vocational training—carpentry, culinary and mechanical—eventually securing employment to contribute much needed financial resources to their families.

In my decades’-long collaboration with institutions and organizations serving young people absent parental care, youth articulate varied sources of resilience—from a desire to pursue education, to contributing to their family’s livelihood, to a belief in their own potential, to a desire to control their own conditions and futures. While we are often quick to laud non-governmental organizations, private foundations, and churches for “saving” young people in need, it should be noted that young people themselves demonstrate resilience in identifying and pursuing opportunities within these social networks.

Identifying the sources of young people’s internal resilience is critical. So too is supporting state institutions, civil society, and the private sector that recognize and nurture their resilience. Only by creating opportunities for youth to meaningfully participate in these conversations, may we meet the needs of young people without parental care.

Works Cited

Informe situación de la niñez sin cuidado parental o en riesgo de perderlo en América Latina (2010). Contextos, causas y respuestas. Guatemala: Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar.

Mejía, Angélica. (2014) Tesis: “Orientación, metodología para la atención escolar de los niños huérfanos”

Angélica Mejía (Angie) graduated with a Masters in Social Management of Local Development from Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala) and has a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Educational Organization from Universidad San Pablo of Guatemala. She has worked at various educational organizations with social focus on local organizations principally serving orphaned children. 

[1] Pseudonyms.

For the previous blog in the series: Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero: El Papel de las Comadronas de Almolonga/The Role of Midwives in Almolonga

For the next blog in the series: Celeste Sánchez, Giovanni Batz, Lauren Heidbrink, and Michele Statz: A Conversation on Translation/Una Conversación sobre Traducción

El Papel de las Comadronas de Almolonga/The Role of Midwives in Almolonga

por Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero

(English translation below. For additional posts in this series, visit: "Migration and Belonging.")

En el municipio de Almolonga, las comadronas contribuyen una habilidad especializada para la comunidad—de salvar vidas. La población reconoce que ellas son portadoras de grandes sabidurías ancestrales, que trasladan de generación a generación.  Mantienen una relación integral con individuales, desde el vientre de una madre. Aunque para ser reconocidas, hayan pasado por otras luchas para contrarrestar discriminación por las autoridades médicas y por el personal en hospitales departamentales en el apoyo de sus pacientes.

Oficina de comadrona, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Oficina de comadrona, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Durante mi participación en una investigación comunitaria en Almolonga, yo entreviste Maria Isabel, una comadrona de 86 años. Ella compartió que esta misión de comadronas la traen desde el nacimiento: “Cuando yo empecé a trabajar, yo me enfermaba mucho, pero fui a consultar a un anciano y me dijo que yo sería comadrona. Que solo mejoraría si realizaba mi destino.  Mi primer parto fue en Panajachel hace más que 50 años...Yo no sé escribir ni leer, pero gracias a Dios porque ni uno [de los bebés] se me ha muerto” (Entrevista personal, 4 de Junio 2016).

Para la población, las comadronas cumplen un papel importantísimo.  Ellas son consultadas a orientar en los temas de métodos de planificación familiar, diagnosticar y proveer tratamiento de enfermedades, cuidar las mujeres con tratamientos y cuidado prenatales, y atender mujeres en parto y postparto. También, son consultadas para varias temas sociales y culturales.  Además, son un recurso valioso porque conocen el contexto y los recursos con los que se cuenta en el municipio. “Entienden el idioma de la localidad, la cultura y las necesidades de las mujeres; no miden riesgos ni tienen límites para llegar al lugar donde deben atender la labor de parto, por ello son muy queridas y respetadas en las comunidades” (Pacay 2012).

Las comadronas se comunican en k’iche’, el idioma principal de las mujeres y jóvenes en Almolonga; es importante porque la comunicación en un mismo código produce confianza y facilita que se busque una solución a los problemas dimensionados.  Según las comadronas, las jóvenes son las que más frecuentemente buscar su apoyo, ya que tienen preguntas y buscar consejo, a veces con miedo o vergüenza a pedir a sus padres. Ellas explicaban que los adolescentes están en la etapa de la juventud en donde buscan ser escuchados por otras personas y cuando a veces no encuentran ese nivel de confianza en el hogar o con los padres. Ellas y ellos las buscan para contarles sus problemas y buscar respuestas a sus dudas con su salud. Una comadrona de 40 años reflejaba: “Esto me hace sentir satisfecha porque con esta labor me siento útil para mi municipio, en apoyar a la población joven en sus derechos sexuales y reproductivos.”

Centro de Salud, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Centro de Salud, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

El director del Centro de Salud en Almolonga explicó que hace cuatro años atrás, ninguna mujer visitaba el centro de salud para su control de embarazo.  Ahora sí porque del papel de las comadronas en aconsejarlas para su cuido, y ahora el Centro de Salud ha tenido resultados más positivos. Las comadronas de la municipalidad mantienen que su relación con el Centro de Salud está cambiando.

Antes, las comadronas sirvieron a sus comunidades sin regulación estatal. Sin embargo, en el 2010, la Ley de Maternidad Saludable estableció una relación formal y regulatoria entre las comadronas y el Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social. “Los proveedores comunitarios y tradicionales brindarán los servicios de maternidad en el primer nivel de atención, aplicando normas y protocolos establecidos… En el caso de las comadronas, el Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social deberá formular coordinadamente para establecer un programa para la formación de comadronas capacitadas y certificadas a nivel técnico” (Pacay 2012).

Regresando del mercado, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Regresando del mercado, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

A pesar de las mejores intenciones, habría que ver si se está cumpliendo con estas leyes sin consecuencias adversas y exclusiones de comadronas.  Uno de los objetivos específicos de la Política Nacional de Comadronas (Acuerdo Gubernativo 102-2015) es: “Fortalecer la participación activa de las comadronas en concordancia con el Sistema de salud como una de las formas fundamentales de reconocimiento del derecho al ejercicio de sus prácticas ancestrales y medicina tradicional” (Política Nacional de Comadronas 2015-2025). En práctica, las comadronas de Almolonga realizan reuniones una vez al mes, manejan un carnet emitido por el Ministerio de Salud y documentan los nacimientos que atienden.

Con el cambio a una política de regulación, hay comadronas, particularmente las que son de mayor edad, que de repente no son autorizadas por el estado a practicar su vocación. Maria Isabel, la comadrona de 86 años tiene más que 60 años de experiencia, no ha recibido un carnet del gobierno.  A pesar de que la gente sigue buscando su cuidado. Las mujeres tienen confianza y respeta en ella, reconocen su sabiduría para que las atienda y les de consejos para el cuido de los bebés.  Aunque estas relaciones suceden en la práctica, tenemos que preguntarnos si la política está realizando sus metas. ¿Se debe cuestionar este carnet y sus consecuencias?  Aunque la política pretende de reconocer a las comadronas garantizando al mismo tiempo el cuidado de alta calidad, ¿discriminamos y arriesgamos a la una sabiduría ancestral?

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Las comadronas son actores claves en Almolonga. Son parte fundamental en el desarrollo del municipio y también la nación. Los Acuerdos de Paz de 1996 dice: “Valorándose la importancia de la medicina indígena y tradicional se promoverá su estudio y se rescataran sus concepciones, métodos y prácticas” (Acuerdos de Paz 1996: 83). En consecuencia, es crítico que las comadronas no solo sean reconocidos por la comunidad sino también por las leyes. El futuro de Almolonga depende de ellas.


Gobierno de Guatemala y URNG. (1996). Acuerdos de Paz. Guatemala: Asamblea de la Sociedad Civil.

Pacay, M. (2012). El Don de Ser Comadrona. Revista: Amiga.

Ministerio de Salud Pública. 2015. Política Nacional de Comadronas de los cuatro Pueblos de Guatemala 2015-2025.

Municipio de San Pedro Almolonga. 2010. Plan de Desarrollo Municipal: Almolonga.

Pies de Occidente. (2001). El potencial de las comadronas en Salud Reproductiva. Quetzaltenango: Asociación para la promoción, investigación y Educación en Salud.

Pies de Occidente. (2006). Redes de Médicos Mayas en San Andrés Xecul. Quetzaltenango: Asociación para la promoción, investigación y Educación en Salud.

Ley de Maternidad Saludable. (2010). Decreto 32-2010, Artículo 17.


Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero es una mujer Maya Mam. Ella cumplió una Maestría en Gestión Social para el Desarrollo Local de Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala) y una Maestría en Violencia Intrafamiliar y de Género en la Universidad de Costa Rica y Universidad Nacional. Posee una Licenciatura en Pedagogía de la Universidad Rafael Landívar de Quetzaltenango. Ella trabajó  como investigadora colaborando en el estudio de migración y retorno en Almolonga en 2016. 


The Role of Midwives in Almolonga

by Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero

In the municipality of Almolonga, midwives contribute a specialized ability to the community–they save lives. The people recognize that they are carriers of great ancestral knowledge, which they transmit from generation to generation. They maintain an integral relationship with individuals, initiated in the womb of a mother. However, to be recognized, they have undergone various struggles to counter discrimination by medical authorities and hospital personnel in support of their patients.

Midwife Office, Almolonga. Photo credit: Lauren Heidbrink

Midwife Office, Almolonga. Photo credit: Lauren Heidbrink

During my participation in a community-based study in Almolonga, I interviewed Maria Isabel, an 86-year-old midwife. She shared that midwives carry their mission since birth: “When I began to work, I would get very sick, but then I went to consult an elder, he told me I would be a midwife. That I would only improve [my health] if I fulfilled my destiny. My first birth was in Panajachel over 60 years ago...I do not know how to read or write, but thanks to God none [of the babies] have died on me” (Personal interview, June 4, 2016).

For the population, midwives fulfill a very important role. They consult with peopleproviding knowledge on methods of family planning, diagnosing and providing treatment for diseases, caring for women with prenatal care and treatments, and attending to women during and after birth. Also, people consult midwives on a number of social and cultural topics. They are a valuable resource as they know the local context and available resources in the municipality. “They understand the language of the locality, the culture, and the necessities of women; they do not measure the risks nor have limits in arriving at a location where they have to attend the work of birth, for this they are very loved and respected within communities” (Pacay 2012).

The midwives communicate in K’iche’, the primary language of the women and youth in Almolonga. This is important because communication in the same language creates trust and facilitates the search for a solution to multidimensional problems. According to the midwives, the youth in particular most frequently seek their support because they have questions and seek counsel, at times afraid or embarrassed to ask their parents. They explained that adolescents are at the stage of their youth where they look to be listened to by other people; sometimes not finding the trust they seek in their homes or with their parents. They look to midwives to discuss their problems and respond to doubts about their health. A 40-year-old midwife reflected: “This makes me feel satisfied because with this work I have felt very useful with my municipality, in supporting the young population in their sexual and reproductive rights.”

Health Center, Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

Health Center, Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

The director of Almolonga’s Health Center explained that four years ago, no women visited the health center to monitor their pregnancies. Now they do because of the role of midwives in advising them on their care, and now the Health Center sees more positive results. The midwives of the municipality maintain that their relationship with the Health Center is changing.

Returning from the market, Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

Returning from the market, Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

Before, midwives functioned without state regulation. However, in 2010, the Law of Healthy Maternity established a formal regulatory relationship between midwives and the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance. “The community and traditional providers provide maternity service at a first rate level, applying establishment norms and protocols…In the case of midwives, the Minister of Public Health and Social Assistance should coordinate in establishing a program for the instruction of trained and certified midwives at a technical level” (Pacay 2012).

In spite of best intentions, there is a need to verify that these laws are being implemented without adverse consequences and exclusions of midwives. One of the specific objectives of the National Policy of Midwives (Government Decree 102-2015) is: “To strengthen the active participation of midwives in accordance with the health system as one of the fundamental forms of recognizing the right to exercise ancestral practices and traditional medicine” (Política Nacional de Comadronas 2015-2025). In practice, midwives of Almolonga meet once a month, maintain a Ministry of Health-issued license, and document the births they attend.

Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

Almolonga. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

With the change to a regulatory policy, there are midwives, particularly elderly ones, who have automatically become unauthorized by the state to practice their vocation. Maria Isabel, the 86-year-old midwife has more than 60 years of experience, has not received a government-issued license. Yet people continue to seek her care. Women trust and respect her and recognize her wisdom to attend their births and to provide guidance in caring for their babies. While these relationships continue in practice, we must ask if the policy is realizing its stated aims. Should we question this license and its consequences? Although the policy claims to recognize midwives while ensuring high quality care, are we not discriminating against and risking ancestral knowledge?

Midwives are crucial actors in Almolonga. They are foundational to the development of the municipality as well as to the nation. The 1996 Peace Accords states: “Valuing the importance of indigenous and traditional medicine will promote its study and will recover its concepts, methods and practices” (Acuerdos de Paz 1996: 83). Thus, it is critical that midwives are not only recognized in practice by the community but also under the law. Almolonga’s future depends upon them.

Works Cited

Gobierno de Guatemala y URNG. (1996). Acuerdos de Paz. Guatemala: Asamblea de la Sociedad Civil.

Pacay, M. (2012). El Don de Ser Comadrona. Revista: Amiga.

Ministerio de Salud Pública. 2015. Política Nacional de Comadronas de los cuatro Pueblos de Guatemala 2015-2025.

Municipio de San Pedro Almolonga. 2010. Plan de Desarrollo Municipal: Almolonga.

Pies de Occidente. (2001). El potencial de las comadronas en Salud Reproductiva. Quetzaltenango: Asociación para la promoción, investigación  y Educación en Salud.

Pies de Occidente. (2006). Redes de Médicos Mayas en San Andrés Xecul. Quetzaltenango: Asociación para la promoción, investigación y Educación en Salud.

Ley de Maternidad Saludable. (2010). Decreto 32-2010, Artículo 17.

Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero is a Mam-Maya woman. She completed her Masters in Social Management in Local Development from Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala), and a Masters in Interfamilial Violence and Gender at the University of Costa Rica and National University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Pedagogy from the University of Rafael Landívar in Quetzaltenango. She worked as a researcher collaborating in the study of migration and return in Almolonga in 2016. 

For the previous blog in the series: Catarina Chay Quiej: A la Intersección de Género, Relaciones Familiares y Migración/At the Intersection of Gender, Family Relationships and Migration

For the next blog in the series: Angélica Mejía: La Resiliencia: Generador de movilización y auto-crecimiento/ Resilience of Youth without Parental Care

A la Intersección de Género, Relaciones Familiares y Migración/At the Intersection of Gender, Family Relations and Migration

Por Catarina Chay Quiej

(English translation below. For additional posts in this series, visit: "Migration and Belonging.")

Aunque conocido como el país de la eterna primavera con un ecosistema rico, Guatemala sufre de desigualdad socioeconómica extrema, con altos niveles de desnutrición, limitadas oportunidades de empleo, y exclusión de género, entre ellos la violencia contra la mujer, femicidio, racismo y exclusión social. Como revela nuestra encuesta comunitaria en Almolonga, la migración también es prevalente. Para algunas familias, es la única opción a pesar de la incertidumbre tremendano solo en los peligros del viaje, pero también, los riesgos de la desintegración familiar a largo plazo. 

Casa de remesas, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

Casa de remesas, Almolonga. Créditos fotográficos: Lauren Heidbrink

En nuestra encuesta, los padres cuentan de experimentar una presión psicológica y emocional para proveer las condiciones adecuadas para el desarrollo saludable de los hijos y su familia. Entre las limitadas opciones, buscan la mejor alternativa considerando factores como la educación, conseguir un empleo, ahorrar sus ingresos, y mandar remesas. Las familias buscan las oportunidades de comprar terreno, construir una casa, amueblarla, agenciarse de electrodomésticos que facilitan la vida, y dar una buena educación a los hijos. Este es el mejor escenario.          

Vehículos en Almolona. Créditos fotográficos:  Giovanni Batz

Vehículos en Almolona. Créditos fotográficos:  Giovanni Batz

Como encontramos en Almolonga, a veces la realidad es bastante diferentellena de riesgo, deuda, pérdida y con pocas garantías. Los que quedan, quedan angustiados al ver como su querido se obliga a las incertidumbres del viaje. En los casos más tristes, sus queridos terminan desaparecidos o muertos. En otras ocasiones, aunque el migrante llega a su destino, la llegada viene con una mezcla de emociones dado a los traumas y la violencia que sufren en el camino mientras que felizmente celebran una llegada como un gran logro. Las familias nos dijeron que, si bien el migrante busca conseguir rápidamente un empleo, la familia que queda lucha para subsistir y pagar su deuda migratoria hasta cuando las primeras remesas llegan. Varias de las mujeres que entrevistamos describen que viven en la casa de los suegros sin sus esposos resultando en su pérdida de privacidad y libertad de realizar actividades que beneficien su entorno social, emocional o familiar. Algunas mujeres describieron ser vigiladas constantemente y ser víctimas a explotación laboral de parte de sus suegros; al llegar las remesas, los suegros se apropian del dinero, no permiten que sean autónomas ni independientes.

Si bien la migración puede contribuir a mejores condiciones económicas y materiales, también puede transformar las estructuras familiares cambiando los roles típicos de género. Como nos encontramos en nuestro estudio, cuando el padre de familia migra, las madres se quedan como cabezas de la familia, asumiendo responsabilidades de sustento económico de la familia y de lidiar con la educación de los hijos. En estos casos, las madres cuentan que trabajan de más para cubrir los gastos familiares, deudas y, a veces, para enviar remesas inversas; es decir, algunas mandan dinero al esposo en Estados Unidos mientras este se establece. En Almolonga, nos encontramos mujeres también que migran, luchando para mejorar sus situaciones económicas. Sin embargo, la migración también trae sus riesgos. Según los entrevistados, las mujeres son más vulnerables a sufrir violaciones, robos, enfermedades, discriminaciones, y sufrimientos.