How do oppressed communities fight control in order to stay genuine and keep beliefs and culture alive? How can a group of people be resilient when faced with life or death options?
While staying in San Antonio we visited a house that held the Cofradia for the town. The house was in between an alley way that seemed like all the rest. It had a simple outside wall, with an open door frame, but the house held so much more for the community. Inside was the alter, la Cofradia, that had models of baby Jesus and Judas.
My mind immediately started buzzing, trying to understand how Saint Judas was glorified here, but the madre of the house soon explained what the saint meant for her. While Saint Judas is seen as the betraying apostle, he has a more complex meaning for this town. He is seen as the apostle that is an outcast, unwanted and different, so while he caused a lot of pain for Jesus, Mayans in San Antonio feel a certain connection to him. When the Spanish came to Guatemala, the Mayan religion was compromised. Not only did they become the outcasts of their own land, but they were forced to become Catholic or die. While this is very vague and does not come close to representing the intense and violent struggle of the Mayan people, it is a quick background to understand the current situation. People now bring Saint Judas alcohol, cigarettes, and money to pay respect and ask for favors.
So I started to understand the meaning of his presence there through listening to the madre; however, what caught my eye is what she didn’t explain. San Judas was wearing a huipil, the traditional Mayan way of dressing. A colorful and bright weaved skirt that holds so much history and stories for the Mayans. It was so normal for San Antonio to see figures in their way of dressing that the madre didn’t make a point of mentioning it.
Syncretism highlights Mayan strength: the subtle combination of rich culture and a religion imposed upon them is a sign of resilience. The beauty of resilience was so strong in that one room and encouraged me to think about the simple progressions and bravery within San Antonio.