Guatemalans' barrio an oasis
La Voz
Mar. 31, 2006

Valeria Fernández

The little houses of yellowish stucco are clustered in the housing complex that a group of Guatemalans affectionately call El Barrio de la 35.

The area along 35th Avenue close to Van Buren Street doesn't resemble the green mountains and the smell of water soaking their crops during rainy season in Guatemala. But those who live here consider their barrio an oasis.

"Here, everybody knows everybody," said Antonio Velásquez, while driving his truck on the barrio's main street. Along the way, some neighbors greet him.

Velásquez, better known as Toño, comes often to the barrio as part of his job to help the community through the Maya-Chapin Organization of more than 5,000 Guatemalans.

At night, the lights in the homes' living rooms are on and the doors open for the residents to talk about the struggles of the day, or about a relative's journey through the desert.

A seller of pirated CDs comes to one of the homes, then a seller of chuchitos - a Guatemalan-style tamale - makes his pitch. The sound of marimba, an instrument typical of Guatemala, is heard at another home.

The majority who live in the barrio are from the Department of San Marcos on the western side of the country. There are so many from the same area that the street dividing the complex is about to be renamed San Marcos, Velásquez said.

Many of the Guatemalans in the barrio come from small villages of 500 to 1,000residents where they tended crops. Their Guatemalan saying is rather simple: If you don't work, you don't eat.

Many of them speak "Mam," a dialect experts say is one of the most complicated languages derived from Maya. There are about 21 languages spoken in Guatemala, excluding Spanish.

The 200-housing units slowly turned into a barrio as cousins, brothers, and friends from the same villages helped each other to get here.

Managers of the complex say they began noticing an increasing number of Guatemalans settling there about eight years ago.

Guatemalans also concentrate in other areas like El Barrio de la 11 and some neighborhoods in Chandler, one of the first places where Central Americans lived, Velásquez said. In the '90s, human smugglers brought indigenous Guatemalans to Chandlers' orange groves.

Once there, they had to wait several weeks until the coyotes or smugglers came back only to find them without food and sleeping under the stars. Later, many of them started to come to the city.

"This in turn opened the door for other abuses like assaults and robberies," Velásquez said.

Translator: Manuel Gutiérrez Fierro.