Combative poetry from a young Maya Kaqchikel poet

By Juan José Alvarado Sitavi

1. Yesterday’s woman, today

Dibujos por Juan José Alvarado Sitavi.

“Indian!” is the first thing that barefoot woman heard. “Maria,” everyone called her, though she had her own name.

“Get out of the way!” those people said to her.

“You hear?” they repeated to her in a language she didn’t know.

“So dirty!” But if she every morning went down to the river to play with the water…

“Filthy-hair!” But if she braided her own hair…

“Ugly paws!” said those eyes that watched her walk barefoot in the streets.

She is an adobe brick in a mountain of snow.

In Guatemala there are many strange people like her, who walk without understanding that when they’re shouted at or spoken to it is only to degrade or insult them.

She never answers these people, because she has never understood their language since she only ever nursed from her own dialect. She is the person who stands aside, not out of fear, but because her grandmother taught her that manners don’t fight anyone, but instead make you bigger.

She is the foreigner and the stranger in her own land.



2. That social network

Yesterday the best social network was the fire, since it brought together our grandparents, parents, and us, the children, to talk and hear advice.

Yesterday everyone connected with each other around the fire made in the middle of the kitchen, as the coffee and chirmol boiled.

Yesterday everyone told each other, “that’s good,” “that’s bad,” “that needs to improve.” This way our parents and grandparents assessed us, and meanwhile we the children froze the moment to keep in our mind’s eye, without anyone being able to see it.

All of this is over, that fire that united the family disappeared. Today only ashes remain, and the three stones that held the comal.

Now no one keeps or freezes those beautiful moments of life in their mind. Now the world decides if they’re worthy of the approval they need.

Today there’s no more Pixab’anik (council) like yesterday; today we see and find advice in memes, and if we like them we “like” them… only if we like them. We miss that yesterday, that fire that united the family as our grandparents gave us advice.

In this present we disconnect from the land to sail in the ship of a cellphone, immersing ourselves in the ocean of the internet and with the sharks of technology…



2. Where are they?

…Yesterday my grandmother told her secrets to the trees, and she bathed with pine needles to smell nice.

Today she walks with a cane and when she lifts her eyes toward the hill that was her playground, where she too climbed the trees like the k’oy (monkey), her eyes fill with tears.

My grandmother always says, “Did you ever ask the hill permission to tear off its clothes? Did you give thanks? Or clothe it again?” “…Who were they? What day did they do it?” my grandmother asks herself. She also thinks that when she dies she will have to go back to play and visit the hill, but then she asks herself, just like this, “How can I smell nice if there aren’t any pines left? What tree will I climb?”

She asks herself where the trees went, or perhaps the Nahual of the hill hid them… she thinks in a low voice.

Aaaaaaaaay! Where did the trees go? I want them to tell me today the things I confided in them before, because now I’ve forgotten, aaaaaaaaay! I want them to shade me, for pine needles to fall to smell nice like yesterday…

Where did the trees go? Aaaaaaaaay! They tore them out and with them went my secrets. Where are the trees that yesterday I climbed? And from which I looked upon my town, Aaaaaaaaay! They tore them out and took them and with them went my secrets…


Juan José Alvarado Sitavi was born in 1989 in Chi Xot (San Juan Comalapa) in the state of Chimaltenango.

He has participated in two national and international poetry contests in Quetzaltenango and Chi Xot. He is a prize-winner in various poetry events, has several honorable mentions and has been invited to different cities to participate in both unpublished poetry readings and readings with famous writers. In 2010 his poem “When they didn’t want to sleep” was featured in Guatemala’s national historical memory poetry competition.

He has developed politically and intellectually with different organizations, like: Somos Seres, Sol Maya, Maya Balam, Yo También Decido. He is a member of the collective Aj Tz’ib, and also collaborates with MIA (Women Beginning in the Americas), which educates male students to eradicate femicide in the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City.

His poetry is mystical, coming from the context that be believes, that he breathes, that he lives.