Maria Jose Pedro is one of the estimated 1.5 million Guatemalan migrants who fled to the U.S. during the country’s 36-year civil war or in its aftermath.
“You think we wanted to leave? We wanted to live,” said Pedro in the caption to a photograph captured by Ixchel Boch for the “Maya Womxn in LA” exhibit. “We had to escape.”
More than 200,000 Guatemalans, primarily Mayas, were killed “or disappeared” by the military’s acts of genocide. Post-war environmental disasters, economic instability and violence have caused Guatemalan people, primarily from Indigenous communities, to continue fleeing their homeland long after the war.
“Maya Womxn in LA” offers a unique view of the Mayan identity by allowing women to portray themselves as they want to be seen. The photography program by Las Fotos Project gave six young Guatemalan young women in Los Angeles the tools and space to learn about Guatemalan history, explore their identities and build advocacy skills through the art of photography. During their 12-week program, the group found common themes of discrimination against Indigenous communities, racism and classism. The cross-generational project featuring portraits of women ranging from 4 to 96 years old, also gave the photographers a chance to connect with their heritage.
“I always felt there was a missing connection between my grandmother and I, and this project helped me understand more about us," said 17-year-old photographer Emaly Escobar.
Las Fotos Project is currently fundraising to send the teen photographers to Guatemala to document the narratives that connect Maya women across the continent. Also, a portion of the images is now on display at Patria Coffee in Compton.
The examples below are just a sample of the collection, which consists of more than 30 portraits of Guatemalan girls and women, photographed by young women who identify as Maya and Guatemalan themselves.
Mina Tikal Alvarado-Goldberg, age 14
“My maternal grandmother Martha was born in the city with roots from Guanagazapa/Escuintla, San Marcos and San Jose Pinula. She migrated to Los Angeles in 1967 at the age of 20 and managed to create a beautiful community for my mom to grow up in. My abuelita has given me the gift of culture through teaching us about the importance of family, connections, love, and language. Since her passing in October, my abuelita still serves as a powerful figure for my family to look up to.” | Mina Alvarado-Goldberg / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Maricela Lopez, age 26
Maricela is holding a picture of her grandmother. | Jessica Oxlaj / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Floridalma Boj Lopez, age 32, with her daughters Soledad Boj-Lopez, age 6, and Luna Boj-Lopez, age 4.
La familia Boj-Lopez is from Xelaju Noj (Quetzaltengo), Guatemala and now live in East L.A. They wear corte to honor all the abuelitas who continued this practice despite the racism they faced. | Jasleen Reyes / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Maricela Lopez, age 26
“My mom is from Coatepeque (Quetzaltenango) and my dad is from Tejutla (San Marcos). My great-grandparents spoke Mam and wore corte. My grandmother wears corte and speaks a few words in Mam. My aunts no longer wear their corte and do not speak Mam. I packed my bags, went to Guatemala to buy my first corte with my grandmother. More than representation, wearing my corte in Los Angeles is a responsibility. Knowing that I wear the stories, the life, the love of my ancestors is beyond powerful; it is tenacious, it is resilient. My ancestors, my grandparents, my parents have lived through colonization, wars, and genocide, yet here I stand wearing the one corte that I own, the one corte that my grandmother and I share; that is resilience. By wearing my corte in Los Angeles, I am telling white supremacy, “Look at me. You tried to erase my existence, but here I am. My resilient ancestors prevailed.” | Jessica Oxlaj / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Sinnai Avila, age 23
“As is true for any place en Las Americas, we want to remember that we are on Indigenous Territory. Los Angeles is Tongva territory, it always has been and it always will be. As we build our own families and communities, we have to ask ourselves how we can support their ongoing struggle for sovereignty in all its meanings. Los Angeles was a city planned by and for settlers, we as Indigenous migrants should remain committed to disrupting those plans.” | Jasleen Reyes / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
From left to right on the family picture: Zully Juarez, 25; Maria Francisco, 58; Yesenia Francisco (back), 28; Maria Gaspar Juan (center), 96; Andrea Toj (back), 36; Maria Lucas, 62; Gladis Tomas, 28.
The Francisco Juarez family is originally from Santa Eulalia and Santa Cruz Barillas in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Their Maya language is K’anjob’al, which is predominantly spoken in the north-western region of Guatemala. The eldest of the family is Maria Gaspar Juan, she is 96 years old and has 7 children, 26 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. The majority of Maria’s children now live in the United States. They immigrated to Los Angeles and settled in South Central Los Angeles 37 years ago. | Emaly Escobar / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Luna F. Boj-Lopez, age 4.
She enjoys picking flowers and has recently adopted a turtle named Heart Jewelry. | Jasleen Reyes / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project
Top image: Zully Juarez, age 25, and Maria Gaspar Juan, age 96, holding hands. Maria is Zully’s great-grandmother. | Emaly Escobar / Courtesy of Las Fotos Project