It was a permanent state of fear.: Becoming Minnesotan

The town of San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, with Lake Atitlán in the background.

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 Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin 2
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Narrator: Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin (RH)

Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

LD: I’m just curious about growing up during a time of civil war, if that impacted you and, if so, how.

RH: You can’t escape that if you live in the middle of the war.

LD: Yeah.

RH: Second, if you’ve got the largest military base in the country within about half an hour walk from your place, you are woken up. We would wake up at four a.m. to gunfire every single day. It was training gunfire, of course.

It was a permanent state of fear. The thing that we dreaded the most was being caught in the middle of a checkpoint. With young people and young boys, recruitment was forceful. The military would pick you up with your work clothes coming from the farm and put you in the back of a truck and break you down that day and put you in the military. If you were lucky, you made it through for a while. Otherwise, like most of my friends from school, you came back in a body bag in about a couple months. That was it.

If you live in the middle of that, one, you learn a lot of things. You observe a lot of things. A lot of kids that, for whatever reason, got into a situation with the military, were just shot in the back, you know, while running away. Others were just killed.

There was a neighbor, Alphonso. He had been shot about four times from the back with an M-16 and blown apart. This was a very poor family, so he was still in his clothes he was shot. There was no morgue or anything. He was already smelling, had been washed up a little bit. But it was still Alphonzo there. Then Gaetano, just down the road, was picked up by the military. I went to his funeral when he came back about two months later in a body bag. It was sealed. You couldn’t see it because, obviously, he was blown apart. And so on.

As a kid, you don’t exactly make a lot of sense out of it, but believe me, I’ve got those memories stuck. They will never go away. I know that. Then you start growing up and you start investigating and learning. And very quickly you take sides. You pretty much decide and start to believe the things that make sense to you. Some people call it radicalized and some others, like us, it’s just what makes sense to you.

Related Glossary Terms


Verb: To influence; to affect. (impacts, impacting, impacted)

Noun: Influence; effect.


Verb:  1. To follow the custom, practice, or rules (especially of a religion).  2. To notice or view.  (observes, observing, observed)


Verb: To make someone or something more in favor of complete social or political reform. (radicalizes, radicalizing, radicalized)


Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
nid: 2170