Guatemala: A lot of great traditions.: Becoming Minnesotan

Emiliano Chagil. Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Office files.
  • Name - Emiliano Chagil
  • Age at interview - 57
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 04.07.2010
  • Pasada celebration, December 16, 1971.
    A view of Volcan Tolimán in Guatemala.

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Traditions & Values: What makes up “culture”?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    About 70% of Latinos are Catholic, and most of the remainder are Protestant or members of another Christian religion. Catholicism plays an important role in the daily lives of many Latinos and many Latino homes include an altar for prayer with statues or images of saints. The parish church has traditionally been the center of the community, and in the United States Latinos often work with the Church to organize services in Spanish and observe traditions important in Latino culture. Sometimes Catholic beliefs are mixed with indigenous religious practices that existed before European colonization.

    To learn more about Latino history and culture, visit our Latino Community page.

    • Chapter 1

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    Narrator: Emiliano Chagil (EC)

    Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

    LD: What are some of yur strongest memories, say, of growing up?

    EC: A lot of great traditions. Again, strong was the Mayan indigenous community in this part of the country, but also Christianity. The Catholic Church was very visible and strong, and with the mix of religions we had some great events, great festivities in the area. I have to mention about Holy Week, because we just passed Holy Week. It was a great thing growing up. It was like a community event. It was a very much time of reflection and parents explained to us why Holy Week, why God died for us, why this, why that. And it started with the holiest tradition of Christmas, special Las Posadas, which is well known around the world and Latin America. It’s a procession that goes in the community with music, singing, and also people providing food and drinks and those kinds of things. And then, we have this annual celebration at the finca Pampojila, because we had our saint. Every small community in Guatemala has their own saint, their patron saint, they call it. We had San Andreas, which is, San Andreas is Saint Andrews, in November, around November the 30th or so. And a big celebration with marimba music, live music, and also dancers and processions. All these celebrations they were just community festivities where all people came together. They’d dress up their best clothes possible. They bought new things. So in a very kind of humble, simple way, there was rich in tradition. It’s an amazing thing, that people...we thought that we were poor, we didn’t have money, but when it came to traditions and celebrations, people had money.

    Definitely also I saw a lot of people struggling with money and health, because at the time when I was growing up, definitely, there were no doctors. As I mentioned to you about there were no good roads. Cars would come by once in a while. Trucks would go by once in a while. So doctors or nurses or any access to this new world was kind of far away from us. But also, it meant bad news for many people that were ill. Children were ill. Women were ill. And because of the lack of medical attention, many of them died. So, as I look back about this happy childhood and healthy childhood, but also, I have to say a lot of great kids that grew up with me and died because of illness or because mom and dad didn’t have the money to take them to a doctor nearby. And so, therefore, they died at a very young age.

    LD: Right.

    EC: I’m the third child in my family. The first child my sister who lives. The second child, a sister, died at the age of one. That could have been, again, could have been prevented, but Mom and Dad didn’t have enough money or doctors were not close. But also it meant, this lack of doctors, or no medical attention nearby, also meant a lot of great ways of curing illnesses with old traditional medicinal plants and with a lot of curanderismo, we call it; with a lot of kind of mix of Catholicism with the Mayan tradition. They would worship and they would lit candles or incense. So there’s a lot of this kind of worshiping and praying, and they thought they would help kids also healing, and, in many ways, maybe they did. But that’s kind of the way people dealt with a lot of illnesses as we were growing up.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A group of people who share a common understanding of the same language, manners, tradition and law.


    Noun: Spanish word for a large farm or ranch.


    Adjective: Native to a land or region, especially before an intrusion.


    Noun: A traditional Mexican Christmas procession.


    Noun:  A group of people or things moving along in an orderly manner, especially if doing so slowly and formally.


    Noun:  A custom that is practiced within a group.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 2158