The Mayans among Us: Migrant Women and Meatpacking on the Great Plains

The Mayans among Us: Migrant Women and Meatpacking on the Great Plains

The Mayans among Us: Migrant Women and Meatpacking on the Great Plains

The Mayans among Us: Migrant Women and Meatpacking on the Great Plains

Synopsis

Voices of Mayan refugees in Nebraska

When Ann L. Sittig made a quick stop at a secondhand shop in a small meatpacking town in Nebraska, she overheard a couple speaking Spanish with the unmistakable inflection of Mayan. When she inquired further, the couple confirmed that they were Mayans from Guatemala and indicated there were lots of Mayans living in the area. Soon afterward, Sittig met Martha Florinda Gonzalez, a Mayan community leader living in Nebraska, and together they began gathering the oral histories of contemporary Mayan women living in the state and working in meatpacking plants.

In The Mayans Among Us, Sittig and Gonzalez focus on the unique experiences of the Central American indigenous immigrants who are often overlooked in media coverage of Latino and Latina migration to the Great Plains. Many of the Mayan immigrants are political refugees from repressive, war-torn countries, and as such are quite distinct from Latin America's economic immigrants. Sittig and Gonzalez initiated group dialogues with Mayan women about the psychological, sociological, and economic wounds left by war, poverty, immigration, and residence in a new country. The Mayans share their concerns and hopes as they negotiate their new home, culture, language, and life in Nebraska to survive and send economic support back home for their children. Longtime Nebraskans share their perspectives on the immigrants as well.

The Mayans Among Us poignantly explores how Mayan women inrural Nebraska meatpacking plants weave together their three distinct identities: Mayan, Central American, and American.

Excerpt

My name is Martha Florinda González. I am a Guatemalan Mayan Q’anjob’al woman living in Nebraska. From 1954 to 1996 my country suffered a civil war in which more than 200,000 Mayan indigenous people were massacred, their villages burned and razed, and their bodies discarded in hidden mass graves. After the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, my people began trying to rebuild our millenarian culture and country, searching out our indigenous beliefs and customs as a stronghold to begin the long journey back to peace.

This long civil war impoverished communities and triggered endless waves of emigration to other countries from the 1970s and on. the war depleted our natural resources, destroyed the physical terrain that had been modified for war, and halted all social services. Emigration emptied our country of most of the remaining young men who had survived the civil war, but were consequently subsisting below the poverty line. Full of optimism and hope for a better future, some crossed two borders to reach El Norte , the North, in search of work and sustenance for their families back home. Some men managed to establish themselves in the United States and began sending remesas, or remittances to their families in Guatemala. Years later, because of severe poverty, the women decided to join the men. As the women and mothers of the house, they left Guatemala, and oftentimes their children, to help their families survive by working in the United States.

We Mayans arrive and build community in the United States. Many live in Nebraska meatpacking cities, working at the plant to . . .

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