After Jenny and Jhonathan gave our delegation a tour of Cafe RED, we returned to the room where we ate lunch for a meeting with Juanita Lopez. Juanita Lopez shared her remarkable personal journey: She is a Mayan Mam woman from the small community of San Martin, Sacatepéquez, near Xela, who was married at age thirteen. By the age of seventeen, she had three children, and she realized her life with her husband, who sexually abused her, was not the life she wanted. She separated from him, defying deeply ingrained social norms to live as a single mother. Since her separation from her husband, she has become a community leader, and is currently studying to become a social worker.
As Juanita shared her story, she returned to a reoccurring thread of how depressed her abusive marriage made her feel, including moments of intense suicidal despair. Yet in sharing her suffering, she showed tremendous equanimity, calmly repeating the phrase, “but you never know how life is going to work out.”
She compared separating from her husband to “dreaming while awake.” Although this decision was a positive one for her as an individual, defying social norms for women shocked her community. Rumors spread that she was now a “street woman.” In order to financially support herself and her children, Juanita began learning how to use as sewing machine so that she could earn money as a seamstress. While she was taking sewing classes, the community gossiped that she was spending time with her lover. Aware of the rumors, Juanita showed a mischievous sense of humor, bringing her sewing machine home one day, she displayed it to her family declaring, “See, here is my man.”
Juanita’s life as a single mother had many obstacles–she lived with her parents, who provided some financial support, but she also had to wake up every morning at one a.m. to weave and sew to cover the expenses for her children’s education. However, she thrived emotionally, becoming a leader for women in her community. She is on the board for a local development council, and recently was elected secretary for a women’s commission that works with 52 communities. She also works with a Mayan-Mam indigenous association that promotes local economic development by selling crafts and produce.
Currently, she is studying to be a social worker. Through all these accomplishments, she humbly stated that she wants “her children to live a better life and accomplish more than she has.” Pointing out that one of her daughters is now the age she was when she was married, she considers it very important to support females. She participates in local women’s groups and shares her story with young women to encourage them to pursue education and develop positive self-esteem.
She added that a few years ago, she created a 15-minute documentary film (linked below) about her life. She stated that creating the film enabled her to heal from the emotional traumas wrought by her marriage. One moment that deeply affected her was when she interviewed her father, asking, “why did you marry me off at age thirteen?” Her father asked for her forgiveness, stating that he though he was doing the right thing at the time.
She wrapped up her story by stating that although her life has many challenges, “it is my challenge…and although my life has included many obstacles, I get back up and continue.”
Learn more about Juanita Lopez
1. “‘For Women’s Right to Live’: A Delegate’s Reflection” El Quetzal. October 2010. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/El-Quetzal-Issue-8.pdf This issue of GHRC’s publication El Quetzal has an article about Juanita Lopez, and a translation in Spanish is also available.
2. “Juanita: Documental.” DESGUA. January 28, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb-5sH2DxW8 Juanita tells the story of her life and family in this 15 minute documentary, which is in Spanish without subtitles. Seeing and listening to her tell the story of her life is incredibly powerful, as is the glimpse into rural Guatemalan life.