(Written by Dalila Maria Godoy Zamora; translated and published with permission)

Our Battle Cry

The wall is blue and the spray paint black. The blue wall belongs to one of those houses easily recognized in the Historical Center of the city of Guatemala. An old house, doomed to be forgotten, to the wearing down of the paint, to the fetid smells that can scare away the curious that for any reason wanted to know its story. I saw it three weeks ago and it wasn’t until today that I took a picture of that phrase that frames the entrance. The phrase doesn’t talk about past loves or threats, it doesn’t talk about political propaganda and it also doesn’t talk about messages between the gangs. Some passerby, one of those adventurous ones that walks on foot and with a backpack probably wanted to launch battle cry. One of those cries that we Guatemalans have stuck in our throat, a magnificent replica of those that we cry at the moment of birth, maybe because we know ourselves to be Guatemalan.


We know ourselves Guatemalan and even though every person cries at birth, independently of the place of birth, I’m sure that we understand from the maternal womb that living here is not easy, we understood that the books of our history cry blood. The majority of us know that at some moment in life we will also have to grab a weapon at any cost and with such weapon, a cry to war. I don’t mean those weapons devoted to lead and smelling of gunpowder. We cry because we have more sophisticated weapons: those that exude blue ink, black or green (such as Neruda’s admirers), we cry because our weapon is our voice, our drawings or perhaps our guitar. We cry because we know that we’ll have to take them up and we will be persecuted. Better that way, we’ll know we’ve done things right.


There are some illiterate, others like myself that aren’t good for anything beyond making a sketch that can be confused for a tree, but the truth is that each of us have a weapon, that can be your smile, your hope, your own integrity, your punctuality at work, your constancy for investigating, your eagerness to shine your clients shoes well, or who knows, to make him happy.


My uncle Epaminondas, inexhaustible fountain of my daily inspiration, stressed that it’s possible to be the best in what you do without losing the path of what is right. He achieved it. I dare someone to refute that. If he did it, why not you? Why not me? If being one of the good guys is difficult because it brings along with it beautiful sleepy nights and a smile on the recumbent body. That smile that indicates that death has been cheated to enter into immortality. That’s how the good ones are, immortal…and in many instances, anonymous.


Why do we Guatemalans cry? What intuition did we have at birth? If we know ourselves loved by greats, we know ourselves owners of an exquisite millennial history, we know ourselves owners of a luxurious gastronomy, owners of a great part of the color green in America, owners of colors.


We cry at birth because we know that we have to share this land with those who did not deserve to even see the blue of our flag, we cry because we know that not everyone who leaves their house today will come back and maybe we ask ourselves if he or she had an opportunity to say goodbye in their own way and to feel loved in the middle of a country that has cancer, of a country that seems to hate. We cry because a lot of us have family members who have been killed for political motives, because we have family members who have been kidnapped, because we have had threats of death even over our heads, because even without opening our eyes we have read the history and its only ten years of glory. We cry and starting there we are revolutionaries, starting there we have in our throat and in our chest the battle cry.


We cry because we are part of that rare race, of survivors.


And who said crying was bad? If it revitalizes, if it gives peace…we cry at birth because we feel like it, because that’s how we Guatemalans like to be. And afterwards we draw a smile, we adjust our backpack, and we go ahead, as if nothing had happened. And we smile and on the inside we cry because it seems like we live in a permanent state of mourning. That’s how the history is, that’s how Hemingway said it in the prologue to “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” we are part of an everything and any event that happens affects us, a part of us dies daily for every innocent who’s blood spills or spills a tear for a violent act. The bells toll for us…also.


Guatemala hurts….it hurts too much.


The passerby in question had a can of spray paint as his best weapon and wrote:


“THE PEOPLE HAVE TO WAKE UP”


Like a continuation of an August Monterroso story and like a hope of no longer seeing dinosaurs as a tradition I thought that the phrase was well accommodated for its appropriateness and for its happiness. It is well accommodated especially now, when the most dignified representative of politics and of the left in Guatemala dies: Mr. Alsonso Bauer Paiz; it is well accommodated because in my country they have murdered a poet whose best weapon was his guitar: Facundo Cabral; it is well accommodated because there is an average of twenty murders a day and I can’t be alien to it and it is well accommodated because my heart is torn, inevitably, knowing that since a few days ago a person with whom a grew up can’t hug her sister because this country keeps putting up with kidnappings, keeps putting up with people disappearing while things are accommodated and they rinse themselves in their tears.


Well I don’t want to anymore, I don’t want to accommodate myself…


To Mr. Alfonso Bauer I would like to ask him, teacher where are your apprentices? Where are we or what has us distracted from beginning to demand what we really deserve? When will this farce end that consists in granting the presidential seat to the loser from four years ago? Where are we the grandchildren of that revolution? We are sick and tired, it’s true…


To Mr. Constitutional President of the Republic of Guatemala, I want to wish you a life that is long enough to pay the debt you have pending with us. That your life is long enough to pay for each one of the tears that have been shed in Guatemala in the last four years for acts of violence…may your life be long enough. I would like to call you out on the fact that Cristina Siekavizza is not with her family, that maybe a man named Carlos or another named Pedro will die today…maybe they’ll die because a bullet crossed their destiny while they were walking to hug someone they love and who loves them. And I would like him to pay, each of those tears.


We have a lot of battle cries, the Guatemalans, and we have a lot worth fighting for…to the sound of the ballads, of the marimba or to the rhythm of those songs that perhaps we hum when we’re bored.

I grew up in an educational institution in which it was eliminated – to the good fortune of all of us that have passed through –from our vocabulary the word “impossible” and because of that I still believe that regardless of everything, that the nine letters that compose the name of my country can still highlight with dignity in mid flight of that bird of green plumage that represents us and that maybe now lies in some forest…and bleeds.


(My apologies to the author if anything was lost in translation, hope I’ve done her writing an ounce of justice.)

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