By Kelly Shank –
Independence Day. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Fireworks. Parades. National Pride. Every summer we pause as a nation to celebrate the day our founding fathers declared their independence from England. In September, the people of Guatemala will do the same.
Much like our own independence celebrations, on September 15th Guatemalans take to the streets to celebrate their independence from Spanish rule.
With vigor and pride that rivals any July 4th celebration, towns become a sea of blue and white while the people of Guatemala overflow with national pride, celebrating a history that is both triumphant and fragile. Bringing together both indigenous Mayans and those of Spanish decent, Independence Day highlights bright traditional Mayan garments as performers showcase traditional dances and more modern traditions that bring a contemporary flair to the celebration.
Cities are filled with music as parades of marching bands and school groups weave their way down streets. Performing in these parades is an honor and young musicians will practice extravagant routines and complicated musical pieces for months in advance. The heavy sounds of percussion instruments mixed with the whimsical tones of the traditional marimba pieces are the perfect blend of Guatemalan culture.
Independence, peace, and national pride are prized within Guatemala but they did not come easily. September 15th celebrates victory over the struggle and turmoil that plagued Guatemala for many centuries. Originally inhabited by indigenous Mayans, Spain’s first conquest into Guatemala occurred in 1511 and by 1523 the area was officially a Spanish colony. For nearly 300 years Spain controlled the majority of Central America until on September 15, 1821 Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras declared their independence. All five nations continue to celebrate their joint independence and unique cultures with the “Antorcha de la Indepencia” relay each year. The 350 km relay commemorates the efforts of Maria Delores Bedoya who ran through the streets of Guatemala on September 14, 1821 carrying a lantern to bolster support amongst the people for independence and inject hope for their future.
Independence has not been without hardship for Guatemalans. Throughout its history various governments created an environment that was difficult for the people of the country, especially those in rural areas. Their rich agricultural regions were exploited by large foreign companies and governments for much of the twentieth century, eventually leading to a devastating civil war that waged from 1960 to 1996. The Monument of Peace is located in the National Palace as a lasting reminder of the country’s struggle for peace and hope for a unified future. Together the nation is moving forward to create a government for everyone.
We are proud to be a small part of this movement as we raise the next generation of Guatemalan leaders.
The long struggle for independence created a fierce patriotism within Guatemala. As they celebrate Independence Day this week, Guatemalans will remember their history, honor their traditions, and look forward to greater progress with hope for the future. We wish our staff and children a wonderful Independence Day complete with fun, music, parades, and of course, fireworks.