I got a visa and I thought I would come up here for one year.: 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
  • A view of "Volcan Tolimán" in Guatemala.

    Escape, Latino, Travel to U.S., War

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    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    Push & Pull Factors: Why did this person come to the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Guatemala was in a state of civil war between 1960 and 1996, as guerrilla forces staged attacks on Guatemala City and attempted assassinations, and conservative paramilitary forces abducted, tortured, and executed suspected insurgents. A military junta gained control of Guatemala in 1982 and enacted martial law in an attempt to stamp out all guerrilla activity, leading to the most violent period in the country’s history. The country began a return to democracy in 1984, and a representative government was firmly established in 1996.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Emiliano Chagil 5
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    Narrator: Emiliano Chagil (EC)

    Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

    LD: So, tell me what prompted you, then, to move to Minnesota?

    EC: Well, again, we are talking about here the worst years, the years of the civil war in Guatemala. I was finishing my degree, but, at the same time, watching so many people disappearing, getting killed, professors and students and union leaders and any type of leaders in the community. More than once, people said to me, “Emiliano, you have to be careful, because you are the one who is educated. You’re the one from a community that could use a lot of help with social justice, but, also, you’re the one that could disappear if you’re not very careful.” That’s kind of what I thought. Sooner or later, I had to do something with my life. So many of my friends disappearing, taking off for Costa Rica, or disappearing, just disappearing, Costa Rica or other parts of South America. They were running away, and I remember several of my friends said to me, “Hey, if you have a chance to leave the country, go, man.” Many, many of my school buddies left and came to Mexico and they came to the United States. I wasn’t sure if I would just leave like just one day, disappear. I was very much concerned about my family. Because, once again, as I was explaining to you how close we were as a community growing up. You cannot just disappear from a community like that. It’s so hard.

    LD: Yeah.

    EC: It took me forever, but with the help of other people, I got a visa and I thought I would come up here for one year. The priests who were in my area were from Minnesota, so that’s how I got to know about Minnesota, and I met several people from Minnesota in Guatemala, especially this professor who was teaching in Mankato State at that time.

    Related Glossary Terms


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


    Verb: To cause or bring about something. (prompts, prompting, prompted)

    social justice

    Noun: The idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 2171