Accompanying Maya Women: Armed Resistance and Transitional Justice Struggles.

AuthorLykes, M. Brinton

For most people in the world, peace is war--a daily battle against hunger, thirst, and the violation of their dignity. Wars are often the end result of a flawed peace, a putative peace. And it is the flaws, the systemic flaws in what is normally considered to be "peace," that we ought to be writing about. --Arundhati Roy (2004, 15)

THOSE OF US WHO POSITION OURSELVES AS "INTERMEDIARIES" (MERRY 2006), grounded in international human rights norms and feminist transnational activist scholarship in partnership with local women and children working at the grassroots, contribute in particular ways to feminist peacemaking and peacebuilding. Over 25 years ago, having completed a PhD in community-cultural psychology and while teaching university students in the Global North, I responded positively to an invitation from a Maya Ixil woman, whom I had worked with when she was in exile in Mexico, to facilitate a workshop with women in a rural town in the Guatemalan Highlands. I had been training community-based health promoters--mostly men--during my summer breaks from university teaching, and I was eager to experience a rural community and work with women. Since then, I have returned annually, living and working with Maya women and children in contexts of war and postgenocide transitions. I draw on some of these experiences of coconstructing knowledge(s) from the bottom up as one small contribution to a collective feminist/womanist (1) effort to build the more equitable, just, and peaceful world in which we seek to live.

I was introduced to feminism in the 1970s through a United States-based women's movement that Adrienne Rich (1986) once described as Western--a faceless, raceless, classless category of all women and a creation of white, Western, self-centered women. As a white, privileged, highly educated UnitedStatesian (2) whose government not only supported the genocidal violence of the early 1980s in Guatemala but also trained many of the military responsible for its planning and execution, (3) and whose violence persists in the twenty-first century through, among other practices, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and brutal migration, detention, and deportation policies, (4) I chose to position myself in pragmatic solidarity5 with the Guatemalan pueblo (people). I learned more about the "politics of [my] location" (Rich 1986) through a series of friendships and political alliances forged through actions taken to challenge experiences of racism, heterosexism, colonialism, and nationalism (see Okazawa-Rey in this issue for a related discussion on nationizing) in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of those years were spent in rural Guatemala or with Guatemalans and those in solidarity with them in the United States.

I begin with three vignettes, stories that represent what I have come to understand as some of the multiple ways of Maya being in the world--both during armed conflict and postgenocide, through and alongside of transitional justice processes. The Maya Ixil, K'iche', and Qeqchi' women's resistance and survival strategies summarized briefly below reflect diverse actions through which they have sought transformative change, that is, a world in which they and their pueblo are guaranteed the return of previously stolen lands and water as well as the dignity and well-being for which they and their ancestors have struggled for more than 500 years. These stories were generated through my psychosocial accompaniment (6) of and feminist antiracist participatory and action research (Lykes & Hershberg 2012) with these women and their children in rural Guatemala. This stance is both relational and ethical and involves walking alongside and "standing under" the women, that is, on the margins of their lives. The Latino-Indian philosopher Raimon Panikkar's (1990) (7) insightful transliteration of the word understanding underscores how dialogical relationality is developed through that alternative positioning vis-a-vis another's experiences. (8) I positioned and repositioned myself in Guatemala as I critically and reflexively interrogated the multiple actions and inactions I and other UnitedStatesians have taken in and toward Guatemala through my developing dialogical relationality with Maya women. These positions informed my facilitation of multiple participatory, creative workshops through which Maya women reflected upon, analyzed, and documented their experiences of oppression and resistance. Through these processes, we coconstructed critical inquiry and they imagined desired changes, frequently taking actions to realize these changes (Lykes Sc Crosby 2015). After presenting the three vignettes, I discuss in greater detail the knowledge(s) coconstructed from below and my understandings of their contributions to peacemaking/peacebuilding.

Pragmatic Solidarity and Psychosocial Accompaniment in Guatemala

Vignette 1: Maya Ixil Women in Armed Struggle

After many years of silence about her political participation in the armed struggle, Maria Izabel (a pseudonym) shared her reasons with me for having joined the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP for its Spanish name) (9) in 1980. She spoke of her decision to take up arms in the wake of several massacres that had destroyed some of the rural villages surrounding her town, during which the Guatemalan military tortured and killed elders and infants, raped young girls and women, and ripped fetuses from pregnant women--accusing many of supporting the Guatemalan insurgency (Commission for Historical Clarification 1999, Nairn 1983, Archbishop's Office of Human Rights of Guatemala 1998). (10) She and her companeros and companeras (comrades) determined that their current sociopolitical reality demanded a radical choice. As she described:

We said: either we remain with our arms crossed and they kill us at any moment because that's the way it was--or you do something. So I said: Better that they capture me really doing something than that it only be with my arms crossed. It was then that I decided. I also knew that my family was not there. I knew what had happened [to them] so I said that if all of that had happened to them and if people continued to suffer in this way, we needed to denounce it. They later confronted the Guatemalan government's false promises to end its violence in the Ixil area in 1982 by occupying the Brazilian Embassy in Guatemala City, thus calling local and international attention to the ongoing massacres and violence in the Guatemalan Highlands. Those involved were able to negotiate their exodus to Mexico but not before the Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC for its Spanish name) issued a statement to the national and international press "denouncing] the brutal repression that the indigenous communities of Guatemala are suffering at the hands of the military junta's army.... Since March 23, far from seeing an end to the massacres we have seen the junta continue and intensify them"(Lovell 2000, 58).

Vignette 2: Recreating Community in the Wake of Massacres

In 1992, I traveled to the rural Ixil town of Chajul for the first time and met a small group of women, including some who had descended from the Communities of Populations in Resistance, and others who had returned from exile in Mexico or internal displacement in Guatemala City, were former guerillas, or had spent days, sometimes weeks, hiding in the town where the army controlled all movements from a military base that was at first in the town's center and later on its outskirts. A former member of this community had invited me to meet with them, in hopes that I could facilitate a series of participatory, creative workshops, similar to those I had been coordinating with rural community-based health promoters. The women wanted to build a corn mill. When I tried to explain that I was a psychologist, not a development worker, they noted that the corn mill was a mental health project. Below I describe in more detail the journey we took together through which they taught me how a corn mill was good for their mental health.

Vignette 3: Postgenocidal Violence and Transitional Justice

In June 2013, during a creative workshop that Alison Crosby and I facilitated in Guatemala City, one of the Maya Qeqchi' women in the group noted: "I am not going to stay with my arms crossed if I see another woman's suffering." She had been participating in a series of activities with 53 other Maya Qeqchi', Kaqchikel, Chuj, Popti, and Mam women for nearly a decade. Accompanied by Guatemalan ladina (Spanish-speaking) and Maya intermediaries, including psychologists, feminist activists, and lawyers--as well as international participatory and action researchers, that is, Alison and myself--these women had broken nearly 30 years of silence about sexual violence perpetrated against them and dared to speak about the racialized and gendered violence...

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