Guatemalans celebrate decades-long presence in SLV

Photo by Priscilla Waggoner 2023 Queen of Santa Eulalia, Delia Pablo, and her attendant.

ALAMOSA — An estimated 200 members of the Guatemala Mayan Community gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Alamosa on Saturday evening, Sept. 9, to celebrate their decades-long presence in the San Luis Valley. Jesus Gaspar, a leader in the Guatemalan community, served as the Master of Ceremonies.

The first people from Guatemala initially started settling in the San Luis Valley in the early 1980s, including Pedro Francisco Diego who was living here in 1982. He then helped his son, Sebastian Pedro Francisco Sebastian, and other families to settle in, find employment, and establish roots.  

Not long after Sebastian arrived, his daughter, Marta, was born in 1983, making her, as she describes herself, “the first-born Guatemalan in the Valley.”

Marta went on to tell the Valley Courier that her father “started a Guatemalan and Mexican soccer league in Alamosa,” that was “open to all ethnicities and heritages. The league ran for many years bringing the community together.”

Many members of the Guatemalan community immigrating into the San Luis Valley in the 1980s were fleeing a civil war in their country, which would last for 36 years.

Regarding that war, the George Washington University National Security Archive states that approximately 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 “disappeared”, the vast majority of whom were Maya civilians.

According to Flora Archuleta, Executive Director of the Immigrant Resource Center in Alamosa, Guatemalans arriving in the 1980s, applied for asylum. But “asylum applications take so long to be adjudicated,” she says, “that they ended up applying for residency under the Ronald Reagan amnesty program because their asylum cases were still pending.”

President Reagan signed the sweeping Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, granting amnesty to all immigrants who were in the country without completed documentation. Reagan also invoked executive authority to include children who were not protected by the act.

With women dressed in the colorful fabric of the region where their families were from, Saturday night’s festivities included the unveiling of the image of Santa Eulalia in a room off the sanctuary of Sacred Heart followed by a community feast. The image is encased in a cabinet made by community member Juan Lucas.

A procession of young women who had served as “Queens of Santa Eulalia” over the last 24 years was honored as they walked up onto the stage followed by a number of speeches made by community leaders including a representative of the Guatemalan consulate in Denver, Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman and Father Carlos Alvarez, who is described as a “people’s priest” by parishioners at Sacred Heart.

“I came here in 1997,” Father Alvarez told the crowd, “and one of my first conversations was with a 13-year-old parishioner. I asked her a question and she answered me in Spanish. She then translated to her grandmother in Q’anjob’al and then she spoke to me in perfect English.” He smiled. “I was immediately impressed.”

That tri-lingual ability was demonstrated by most of the local leaders who spoke to the crowd, including the current Queen of Santa Eulalia, and Alamosa High School student Delia Pablo.

“There are an estimated 300 families and more than 1,500 people in the San Luis Valley’s Guatemalan community,” said Mayor Coleman. “Hardworking people employed in agriculture, professional services, law enforcement, and other industries. Your hard work has made a significant contribution. Thank you for sharing your rich culture and having such a positive impact on this community.”

The evening’s festivities ended with a dance to the music of “Los Atrevidos”.

Saturday night, the focus was on all that has been accomplished in the past 40 years, and the collective creation of the strong, cohesive, warm, and welcoming community of Guatemalans who call the San Luis Valley their home.

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