Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cartoon 20: Enemy of the State

In Guatemala City the police drive huge black pickup trucks and they are all over the place. In the face of all this security, I’ve never felt so insecure.  They look like war tanks roaming the streets prowling for the enemy.  This is in the wake of a 36 year war between the government and the pueblo that ended in 96’.  Come to find out that our US tax dollars helped supply the funds and ammunition for the Guatemalan elite to kill 200,000 children, women and men. 

I drew this cartoon after the fourth time we were stopped and searched by the police in Guatemala.  A group 8 of us were walking down the street to get a drink and one of those trucks pulled up and at least ten police men and women jumped out and told us to get up against the wall.  Each one had a huge gun that could probably extinguish a whole village in under five seconds (and maybe did at one point considering that many indigenous villages were massacred and erased during the war).

During the search I felt like I was in a bubble.  I was originally facing the wall but I turned around with my hands up to see what was going on.  I watched as the police-woman aggressively searched my friend, passing her hands over my friend’s body like it wasn’t a living thing.  I watched the looks on my friends’ faces being submitted to this invasion and waited for my turn. It never came, they skipped over me.  My friends told me that this is probably because I look so foreign and the police don’t want diplomatic issues.  I looked at the line of police that stood watching us with their riffles and I wondered how this scene would end.  They recorded our information in their little black book and then, not having found anything, informed us that this had been a routine revision and that we could continue on.

Even just being present, not having been touched or spoken to, I felt totally criminalized and violated.  What were these people doing pointing guns at us???  It made me think of how folks who were racially profiled in the aftermath of 9/11 must have felt.  Or Latino folks in Arizona and the other states that recently passed the law that says police can stop and search anyone they even suspect of being an illegal immigrant.  Or how folks in other marginalized communities in the US must feel at the hands of corrupt police.

One thing I love about what I’ve seen of Latin America is that people spend time in the streets.  People talk to strangers.  They joke a lot and are warm and friendly.   Quite the opposite, the people of Guatemala City seemed very serious.  People walk fast, they don’t say hello or make eye contact.   I felt like people were scared and couldn’t expand too much into their skin for fear of repression by the authorities.  I drew this picture at a barbecue thrown by the generous folks who housed us.  The backyard of the home was fenced in by a tall, cement wall topped with barbed wire.  With this cartoon I hope to express the feeling I have that the well being and happiness of the people of Guatemala City is seen as dangerous in the eyes of its government.

Upon talking to folks, I began to understand their response beyond the seriousness and closedness  that I perceived and it is truly amazing.  Many neighborhoods have organized their own community police.  They take responsibility for keeping justice within their own communities and negotiate with the state and federal police for them to only come for routine checks.  A friend brought me to a creative and interactive free museum documenting the war which seeks to assure that the war crimes do not go unpunished. We worked with an organization called Caja Ludica ( that hosts international parades of stilt walkers which declare loud and proud their dedication to free expression, art, song and dance. 

I leave Guatemala feeling deeply shaken with my heart strings pulled up and down by equally fierce forces...  

1 comment:

  1. You made some really interesting remarks here and the one that caught my attention was the feeling of being outcasted,unwanted, like if a person could really be an individual(in the world) of less quality. Unfortunately that category exists; fortunately it only exists because we want to -it´s not "natural"- and since each society has created it in different ways, there´s hope, will, and resources to end it. I think that the definitions we use to profile people are not good at all, and although we need them to get to know people, we shouldn´t use them to create false hierarchies. In the end, as human beings, what does it really mean to be an american, mexican, or guatemaltecan? Just because we got to be born somewhere, does it mean we are better human beings than others? I think not: human beings are constantly creating themselves through their experiences and how they choose to absorb them. Government actions that assume the quality of human beings are completely drawn from imagination. Thanks for sharing this experience!