I saw many friends, many colleagues disappear.: 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.
    Lake Atitlán surrounded by 3 volcanoes:  Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro.

    Latino, Oppression, War

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    Essential Question

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

    Politics & Government: How are other systems of government different than the U.S. government?

    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 4
    2:35 Minutes | 2.49Mb


    Narrator: Emiliano Chagil (EC)

    Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

    EC: It’s all well documented that in Guatemala over 200,000 people die in the civil war and also maybe over a million displace all over the country, and all over the world.

    LD: Right.

    EC: Many people took off for Central America, South America, Europe, and many, many people also came to the United States. That’s kind of also what gave me a reason to leave the country, too. Because I left Guatemala in 1980.

    I did my five years of engineering, and I was on my sixth year of engineering. We’re talking about here 1979, 1980, which, as you read the history of Guatemala in those days, were the darkest part of the civil war in Guatemala. Unfortunately, and it’s very sad, I still think about the moments that students and professors were getting killed like flies. I mean, the University of San Carlos is an autonomous institution, which, also, with its own autonomy kept its independence from the government. So the San Carlos, the national university, was more on kind of the liberal side of it and more kind of in the opposition to the oligarchy in Guatemala or the wealthy people in Guatemala. Even the government went on national TV declaring that the University of San Carlos was subversive. It’s a site for communism and, therefore, professors and students getting killed. That’s the case of many, many people getting killed. We are not talking about only university students and professors; we’re talking about also priests and many Catholic people were getting killed because were on the side of poor.

    I also knew that if I didn’t take care of myself, if I wasn’t careful of where to go and what to do and what to say, I mean, I would have died. Or they would have killed me, whoever. I saw many friends, many colleagues getting disappear. Even from my hometown, I saw a guy that kind of I worked together with him, and one day he went to take care of some business, and they must have just kidnapped him and he never showed up after that. And many other people, too.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective: Self-governing; independent.


    Noun: A fellow member of a profession, staff, academic faculty or other organization; an associate.


    Noun: The basic belief that property and goods should be owned in common.


    Verb: To move something or someone, especially to forcibly move people from their homeland (displaces, displacing, displaced).


    Noun:  An official paper that provides proof of something, like birth or citizenship.

    Verb: To record. (documents, documenting, documented)


    Noun:  The profession of applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize solutions to the needs of society.


    Noun:  Freedom from dependence and reliance on others.


    Noun:  An established organisation, especially one dedicated to education, public service, culture or the care of the destitute, poor, etc.


    Adjective: Open to political or social changes and reforms in favor of increased freedom or democracy.


    Noun: A government run by only a few, often the wealthy.


    Noun: A group that is set against something or someone.


    Adjective: Intending to overturn or undermine a government or authority.


    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: 2167