There’s a woman that I’ve never met, but she’s all I’ve heard about since I arrived here in Guatemala. She’s Abuelita Lipa. She’s the most “Jill of all Trades” that there ever was. She could farm, sew, and cook with the best of them. She would open her home to the homeless and feed them plus her 10 children. Unfortunately, she passed away over two years ago so I never got the chance to meet her. I have, however, seen her in numerous photographs. From the stories I heard about her from Miky and the family, I know that la Abuelita was an indigenous Mayan. A native to Chimaltenango who spoke Kachikquel as her first language and never learned to read or write.
From all the photos that I’ve seen of her, I always wondered why this beautiful indigenous Mayan woman didn’t wear the traditional traje. In Guatemala, the traje consists of a long striped skirt called a corte and hand-woven top called a huipil.
Last weekend the family was sitting around telling stories about Abuelita Lipa and Papa Meme. I decided that now was my time to finally ask. I asked Ale, “Why did your grandmother never wear the traditional outfit?” The answer I was given surprised me more than I thought it would.
“She took off her traje the day she inscribed her two youngest children in Elementary school and never put it back on.”
I was confused. What did her outfit have to do with her kids receiving an education?
Ale quickly explained that when la Abuelita was growing up and even when Miky was a child, education was not for everyone. Mayan children, especially Mayan females could not go to the Catholic schools in Guatemala. This is one of the reasons la Abuelita never learned to read or write. She so truly wanted for her kids to have better opportunities than she did, though; that’s why she took off her traje. She took off her culture in exchange for her kids to have an education.
The most heart-breaking part of the story to me was that her sacrifice didn’t completely work. Doña Miky, the brilliant woman who started CEMOC, was not permitted to go to the Catholic school because the administration knew that her mother was indigenous. For this reason, Miky went to the local public school instead. Since then, for decades Miky has fought for educational and human rights across Guatemala. She even became the President of all the Catholic schools in Guatemala at one point, an ironic place to be considering she couldn’t enter a classroom decades prior.
I wish I could’ve met la Abuelita. But I see everyday the way her legacy lives on in her children and grandchildren in the way they fight for equality and knowledge.