At the Cantina

Joe, who works at a cantina in Tiquisate on the South Coast of Guatemala, spoke to me on the night of Feb. 20, 2018,  along with his friend, James Jason.  Both were eager to speak in English.

I don’t know who I am. My parents were killed in Guatemala when I was a baby, so some people brought me to the United Stats and I grew up as a chicano. I lived in Tucson. I still have no papers from anywhere, not from the United States, not from Guatemala. I got deported from the US and now I am here in Tiquisate, working in this cantina.  We only have one girl here because a bunch of the others left. There were like five here. You never know when the money comes in. There is always money around, but who knows when it comes your way.

I got deported after serving 15 years in prison in the US. It was about drugs. I originally got 30 years but served 15. This all happened when I was 13 years old.  I served in the minors (a juvenile detention center) and then in the majors (a federal penitentiary). I also spent time in jail in Guatemala because I got into a fight. In Guatemala, you have to pay to be in jail. It’s not that way in the US. There is no pressure to pay anyone.  But it’s different in Guatemala.  And if you’ve got money, you don’t even go to jail. People with money can buy their way out, because it’s all about the money.

The hardest thing when I got here was the language. I didn’t speak Spanish so I had to learn it. But now it’s fine. And I have settled down.  I am not like what I used to be. That’s all done. I’m 40 years old and don’t want to go back to those places. I stay out of trouble.  I have a two-year old daughter and I am a very good father. But still, I have no idea what to do.  I’m just here.  I may try to get back into the United States in a few months.

James Jason, a young Guatemalan man who was hanging out at the cantina where Joe works.

I lived in Texas, but I was thrown in jail here in Guatemala not long ago, and I spent six months there.  A friend of mine murdered a woman not too far from where we are sitting.  She was a lesbian and my friend thought she was too involved with his wife.  The police know he killed her, but they dragged me into it because I was his friend and I had been with him that night.  I had nothing to do with it.  It was bullshit.  I told them I wasn’t even there.  Anyway, I spent time in a Guatemalan jail.  That sucked.

Author: storiesfromguatemala

Dr. Stephen O'Brien is a historian who resides in both Guatemala and New Haven, CT collecting oral testimony to gain insight into various historical and cultural forces. He has a PhD from Yale University in History, with a concentration in modern Latin America, and is a Fulbright-Hays scholar. He has taught at Trinity College in Connecticut and at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Before that time, he was a reporter and anchorman in local tv news in the United States.

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