Things That Matter

Water Pollution In This Guatemalan Town Dropped 90 Percent After The Town Banned All Plastic

The residents of San Pedro La Laguna have witnessed their town’s lake go from a garbage dump to its original pristine alpine condition within just three years. Why? In 2016, the entire town and its municipal government took on a monumental task: no new plastic would enter the town. Three years later, Lake Atitlán is clean, and plastic waste in the lake has reduced by 90 percent. It took all 10,000 residents of the town to fully commit to completely eliminating their use of plastic in order to revitalize Lake Atitlán, but it was worth it.

“Quitting plastic has not been an easy task,” resident Taira told Naturaleza Gurú, “but you just have to get used to it. We wrap the food in large banana leaves, store the bread in cloth napkins and use wicker baskets or woven palm bags to take purchases home.”

The town unequivocally banned straws, plastic bags, and styrofoam from entering its borders.

Credit: the.yogi.nomadic / Instagram

“There are three products that may not seem significant,” San Pedro’s Mayor Mauricio Mendez said last year. “But when we start to see rivers and lakes polluted with these products, we realize that they are a very important key to create change on this planet.” The town swiftly put up a banner at the entrance of the town that announced Municipal Code 111-2016: “No uso bólsas plásticas, pajillas y duroport.” San Pedro does not use plastic bags, straws and styrofoam.

Instead of plastic, the town has been using banana leaves or maxán leaves, which are traditionally used for tamales. to store their food.

Credit: DW Español / YouTube

When the town passed the ordinance, it received a lot of pushback. Rolando Paiz, Guatemala’s Plastic Commission’s President, told DW that plastic is “one of the noblest materials that humans invented,” and that San Pedro simply needed infrastructure to properly store garbage. Paiz appealed the ordinance to no avail. Three years later, the town has proved itself right.

The initiative has brought the town back to its traditional ways, bringing back childhood memories for many.

Credit: chrisraven_ / Instagram

Bakery owner Graciela Batz said that the return to traditional cloth and paper bags are bringing back memories from when she was a little girl. Another resident said that the mayor’s initiative is a real opportunity for the town to save its lake. “We always invoke the thought of revolution,” Mayor Mendez said, “The revolution is not about weapons. It is to make structural changes in each of our lives to create change.”

Lake Atitlán is a major tourist attraction for the town.

Credit: mochiladeliz / Instagram

While the town is more than 90 percent made up of indigenous Tz’utujil Mayans, there is a growing expatriate community of Americans and Europeans. That may be because Lake Atitlán is a major source of revenue for the town, drawing in hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world each year. The lake rests at 9,905 feet in elevation and sits beneath Volcan San Pedro. Tourists enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and snorkeling in the lake, which was becoming increasingly littered with trash. The community not only saved its economy, but it saved an entire body of water from dying.

Residents volunteered their time to take canoes out to the lake, and collect trash.

Credit: matiamubysofia / Instagram

Collectively, they would remove nearly 700 pounds of trash from the lake, each day. It was a last resort after protesters demanded the government clean up the lake. In July 2015, #AtitlánSano went viral on social media, but the government did nothing. The indigenous communities had to take it upon themselves to save the lake, which was experiencing explosive blooms of cyanobacteria, making the lake water toxic for human consumption. 

Atitlán has become the center of debate in Guatemala’s growing demand for water rights and an end to environmental racism.

Credit: true_nature_travels / Instagram

As massive international farms begin to operate in the country, rivers have been diverted, and waste management has not prioritized for indigenous communities.

“If this lake was in [the mainly white department of] Zacapa, we would have a lot of money, it would be privatized and the government would pay much more attention,” expert Juan Skinner told Truthout. “But because the lake basin is in an Indigenous stronghold, it suffers from the same exclusion that all Indigenous lands suffer from within the country. This is a tourist mecca, an incredible natural wonder, it is still abandoned and excluded because the majority is Indigenous. Because this is a racist country.”

San Pedro residents have become a shining example of the organizing strength of indigenous communities, in the face of a government that continues to divert funds to white communities over indigenous communities.

READ: The United Nations Gave Costa Rica The Highest Award Possible For Their Work Saving The Environment

Guatemalans Called Out A Viral Tweet For Misrepresenting Their Nation’s Tamal

Culture

Guatemalans Called Out A Viral Tweet For Misrepresenting Their Nation’s Tamal

@urfavsalvi / Twitter

It started with a simple tweet: “Aver which one do prefer?” Bryant Sosa Lara (@urfavsalvi) asked Twitter their favorite tamal, alongside a photo of different maíz-featured recipes emblazoned with their corresponding emoji flags. Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan Twitter rose up to toss their votes into the ring, and to defend their nation’s tamal recipe. “And I’m not trying to start an argument lol you’ll be surprised by my answer,” Sosa Lara follow-up tweeted to no avail. Thousands of likes, retweets and comments later, #Guatemala started trending and Sosa Lara had to post the most bien portado video to explain Latin America’s biggest misunderstanding yesterday.

Twitter users were quick to point out that one of these is not a tamal.

CREDIT: @URFAVSALVI / TWITTER

The Salvadoran “tamal” is in the center and before you start questioning (like everyone else) why El Salvador is represented by a burrito, don’t. “The salvi tamal is wrapped cause it JUST CAME OUT LA OLLA IT WAS HOT AF pasmados inútiles,” Sosa Lara defended. Guatemaltecos rose from their graves to point out that their representative dish is not a tamal. “Guatemalan tamales are wrapped in banana leaf wtf,” tweeted one Guatemalteca. “Those are chuchitos,” another Guatemalteca pointed. Pretty soon, everyone and their mother were trying to point out that Sosa Lara was wrong.

Thats not a Guatemalan Tamale. The ones from Guate are made using a banana leaf and is like twice the size of Mexican tamales,” tweeted one Señor Leo (@SenorLeo_). “Guatemalan tamales are wrapped in a banana leaf that are then individually wrapped in aluminum foil so that they’re as moist as possible,” tweeted Ivan Ortega (@IvanOrtega94). Others were perplexed AF, tweeting cropped photos of the Guatemalan dish and asking, “que en the f*** es esto?” Someone else hilariously joked, “Damm Guatemalan joints are FIREEEEE”

Guatemalan Twitter educated the lost and confused: “It’s a Chuchito, it isn’t really a Guatemalan Tamale.”

CREDIT: @WALTERG_REAL / TWITTER

“ES LA MISMA MIERDA!!!!! people really trippin cuz this man displayed a chuchito 💀” an incredulous tweeter shared along with a screenshot of a Google image search of chuchitos. Guatemalan chuchitos are usually much firmer and smaller than Mexican tamales but are prized for the salsa and curtido that comes with it. While Guate chuchitos are made with maís like Mexican tamales, in Guatemala, a tamal is always wrapped in a banana leaf and made of potatoes or plantains. 

“Lmao leave it to a salvadorian to start a full on war 🇬🇹,” someone else tweeted.

Even though Sosa Lara never called them tamales, the Internet got confused and started dissing Guatemala, enraging Guatemalans.

CREDIT: @YOOADRIENNEEE / TWITTER

“Guate with the sad a** tamal. that jaunt ta mal,” tweeted one Francisco. Of course, no proud Guatemalteca would allow their country’s tan rico tamales and chuchitos to be so misunderstood. “That ain’t no Guatemalan tamal that’s a chuchito,” one Adrienne responded. A dialogue commenced. “Ma’am that’s the word used to described a small dog in Salvadorian lingo. Example: “El perro de blues clues es un chuchito”. Thank you for coming to my Ted talk,” Francisco replied. “Well in guate it’s what that pic tries to pass as a traditional tamale,” Adrienne responded. Okay, alright, we see you.

But Lara Sosa *never* once called the chuchito a tamal and had to post a video to clarify and end the war.

CREDIT: @URFAVSALVI / TWITTER

“Why they diss our tamales like that?? It don’t even look like this?? 🇬🇹” tweeted @muertoculo. Sosa Lara took time out of his life to individually respond to the offended Guatemaltecos to tell them, “Scroll down and look at my video pasmado.” In the video, Sosa Lara took a moment to politely educate the people who called him “uncultured swine.” To all the folks who came out to angrily tell Sosa Lara that the chuchito isn’t a tamal… he knows. After people watched the video, there was only one conclusion to be made: that man es bien portado.  He politely recited all the shade he got and spoke “con todo respeto.” 

Y’all. The Chuchito won anyway.

CREDIT: @MUNOZISFANCY / TWITTER

Though Sara Martinez has an idea that could give us peace on earth. Why do we have to compare what the word “tamal” means in different countries? Her bid for world peace is to just compare dishes, regardless of their name, based on their ingredients. “K, first off: chuchitos are not even in the same level and they still won. Second, We need to start comparing husk with husk tamales and banana leaves with banana leaf tamales. Masa with masa and masa de papa with masa de papa. Don’t trip,” Guatemalteca Sara Martinez tweeted, enforcing universally respected tamal rules.

READ: People On Twitter Can’t Get Enough Of A Woman Selling The Official Tamales Of Billie Eilish

This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

Things That Matter

This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

@ajplus / Twitter

In an exclusive interview with People Magazine, a 32-year-old Guatemalan woman recounts her experience fleeing her home country in August 2017 after being shot in the face at a demonstration. Not only does the woman—who goes by the false name Daniella—describe the event that catalyzed her desire to leave Guatemala, but she tells of the many months spent traveling north, and the many months spent in a detention center after reaching the border, separated from her young son.

On August 9, 2017, Daniella and her son, Carlos, were leaving their family’s house when they encountered a large protest against a new measure that would require people to pay for water. At first the protest was peaceful—but then bullets started flying through the air. Daniella and Carlos were just passing through, but a bullet had caught Daniella in two parts of her body: the left arm, and right below the eye.

“I threw my arm around Carlos to protect him—he was covered in blood, and I started to panic,” she told People. “Little did I know that the one bleeding was me.”

Because of rampant corruption in that part of Guatemala, Daniella knew that the police wouldn’t come—they were told not to interfere. So vigilant were certain members of the demonstration that Daniella’s father received a threatening call before she even made it to a hospital. The caller told her father that if they filed a report, he would kill the whole family. Later she learned that the man who had shot her lived just three blocks away from her mother. Fortunately, when she made it to the hospital, her husband—who had moved the the U.S. five years earlier to find work, sent money for the expenses.

After more than a week in the hospital, both bullets remain in Daniella’s body to this day.

“The doctor said that if they were taken out, I could be left in a vegetative state, or I could die,” she said. “To this day I still feel pain.”

After this harrowing experience, Daniella decided that it was time to follow in her husband’s footsteps and flee to the U.S. She knew that the journey would be anything but easy, but she could have never guessed how nightmarish a month lay ahead. Traveling by truck and by bus, there were many nights spent on the side of the road. When they finally made it to the Arizona border, they were not dropped off at an immigration center, as she had expected. Instead, she and Carlos were told to climb a tree, then jump from the tree to the border wall. From there, they could reach the other side.

“I told Carlos, ‘Mijo, you have to jump.’ He was so afraid that he wouldn’t move,” she said. “I looked into my son’s eyes, and I said, ‘Son, please trust me. Everything’s going to be all right.’

After they had both made it safely to the other side, they took just a few steps before the Border Patrol arrived. They were taken into custody and dropped off at “La Hielera”—The Icebox. There, Daniella was forced to sign papers she didn’t understand, and the officer who was present told her that the children would be taken to a shelter, then given up for adoption. Naturally, all the mothers were desperately frightened by this news.

Before leaving for court that same day, Daniella said goodbye to Carlos, unsure if they would ever see each other again. She told People Magazine that she held her son and said: “You’re a champion, Papa, and you’re always going to be in my heart.”

The mothers were not immediately told the whereabouts of their children. But five months after being moved to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, Daniella learned that Carlos was in a New Jersey foster home.

A few months later, Daniella had her official court hearing. Her bail was posted at $30,000, and after filing an appeal to extend the bail deadline, Daniella was released from custody. She had been detained for 11 months.

The organization Immigrant Families Together had gathered the money for Daniella’s bail, and they helped her get back on her feet by providing her with food and clean clothes. They also took her to the airport to fly to Virginia, where Carlos had relocated to live with his uncle, her brother.

Daniella’s story isn’t unique—roughly 30,000 people are detained in the U.S. on a given day, and these numbers have seen major upticks throughout 2019. What makes Daniella’s story remarkable is her reunion with Carlos. Many families who have been separated at the border are not nearly as lucky.

While she and Carlos continue to deal with the psychological trauma of this experience, Daniella is grateful and focused on the future.

“Without the assistance from all the people that helped me, I wouldn’t be free,” said Daniella. “Now my only focus is my family, my son, starting a new life here in California . . . I don’t have to worry about being shot again or putting my son’s life in danger.”