Sunday, July 4, 2010

Guatemala's thirtysomethings.

Guatemala: eternal primavera, eternal tiranía: Thirty-somethings.

On June 23, the Centro de Cultural de España (CCE) hosted the launch of my book, Guatemala: eternal primavera, eternal tiranía, and the opening of the related exhibit of 38 photographs at (Ex)Céntrico art gallery in downtown Guatemala City. Both events were packed; CCE was SRO, and someone mentioned that the (Ex)Céntrico opening was the largest crowd to date.

For me, the events were a watershed event in two respects.

First, I was happy to have my book published in Guatemala and to be well received. Guatemala: eternal primavera, eternal tiranía is number one on the Guatemala bestseller charts, beating out even Stieg Larsson’s girl wonder, Lisbeth, in June sales at Sophos bookstore. It has been reviewed in every newspaper and featured on the inimitable Ángel Elías radio program (see links below). With respect to the photo exhibits, (Ex)Céntrico’s zone one address is an appropriate venue; the location lends itself to viewing by lots of Guatemalans, not just folks who buy art. A smaller traveling exhibit of the photographs in 12 communities, sponsored by CANEK/CCE, has made the photographs available in places like Nebaj, Zacapa, Xela, and Comalapa. Despite Pacaya, Ágatha, Álex, and sinkholes, CANEK reports that thousands of people have viewed the show; the comment book in Santiago Atitlán contained 198 comments.

I was especially fortunate to have our daughter, Renée Simon Anderson, at the CCE and exhibit opening. Her presence that night – meeting friends, taking snapshots of Mommy and old acquaintances -- meant more than I could have imagined.

Speaking of my 17-year-old daughter, the second watershed event: youth. At the CCE question-and-answer, someone asked if today’s Guatemalan youth is a lost cause. The answer is simple: No.

First, the thirty-something generation largely produced this book: the contributions of Andrés Asturias, Lucía Menéndez, Jorge Castrillón, Pamela Escobar, and Claudia Méndez Arriaza reflect talent, hard work, and commitment. Isaac de los Reyes, Laura Luja, and Johanna Barrios are responsible for the traveling exhibit, which entailed hundreds of hours traveling to highland communities In addition, several “almost thirty-somethings” also contributed: José Fahsen, the general manager of Print Studio, is a businessman who heads Guatemala’s best printing house. He also believed in this book and has good ideas for the next popular edition. Juan Luis Font, managing editor at elPeriódico, was passionate about the idea of resurrecting my two-decade-old English edition for the Spanish version.

In retrospect, perhaps what struck me as most unusual about working with this group of people was that we never actually talked politics. For one thing, everyone was working so hard that there wasn’t much time for chitchat. At the same time, however, everyone in the group was committed to the idea that historical memory is important, and the book was worth it for that reason alone.

Second, I was floored by the crowd that showed up for the CCE presentation and the exhibit, since two-thirds of them were the under-forty crowd. Some of the people there have disappeared relatives, and a few have vague memories of the 1980s, when the war was most intense. However, most of the younger crowd was curious: I watched in amazement as they stood in the CCE for the presentation, or made their way through the exhibit.

George Bernard Show, you’re wrong; youth is not wasted on the young.

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