Date of Award


First Advisor

Mileta Roe

Second Advisor

Daniel Giraldo


This paper focuses on first-person accounts of women who lived through the Guatemalan Civil War that took place from 1960 to 1996. This "hidden" war occurred largely in the rural, indigenous communities in the mountainous regions where genocides of the indigenous Mayan communities were carried out by clandestine military groups. The conflict began earlier, in 1954, when the U.S. under Dwight Eisenhower backed a coup and supported a conservative mil itary dictator named Carlos Castillo Armas in order to thwart land reforms promised by then President Jacoco Arbenz, a leftist who had recently come to power. Arbenz's land reforms would have hurt the U.S. business interests, specifically fruit companies. The U.S. interference contributed to a chain of military regimes that ultimately led to General Efrain Rios Montt's dictatorship in 1982 that used genocide as a way to quell indigenous resistance. The oppression and violence that took place over more than thirty years have been documented in an array of first-person accounts created primarily by members of indigenous communities. These accounts, some of which became hallmarks of testimonial literature, form an important narrative as well. I compare several of these accounts for their relevance in exposing the massacres, giving voice to the survivors, and contributing to the cultural complexities of post-war Guatemala. Among these sources are the testimonies of Rigoberta Menchu in her book I, Rigoberto Menchu, and in the documentary film When the Mountains Tremble, directed by Pamela Yates and Newton Thomas Sigel. Denese Becker relates her own testimony in another documentary, Discovering Dominga: A Survivor's Story, directed by Patricia Flynn. Finally, I also discuss the collected testimonies of ex combatiente lxil women recorded by Rosalinda Hernandez Alarcon in Memorias rebeldes contra el olvido. By considering all three works together, I am able to explore the context and effectiveness of their first-person accounts of the Guatemalan Civil War. I include historical issues of class and economy, gender and politics, and Guatemala's linguistic diversity, as well as the role of memory. Finally, I attempt to understand these very personal histories as a part of a collective phenomenon that tells a greater story and represents those who were not able to have their testimony heard.

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