Fleming ’10 Presents on GuatEmala

After returning from his Public Service Scholar project to Guatemala, Scotty Fleming ‘10 researched the Guatemalan immigration and economy and shared his findings with the Andover community last Thursday. Fleming was one of two Public Service Scholars chosen to combine academic research and hands-on involvement with a public service organization. Fleming said, “The most important thing I’ve learned is that you really can’t take anything at face value, there’s always some sort of context that you’re missing, a history, a country, a people.” Fleming had already traveled to the Boca Costa region of Guatemala and volunteered with the Proyetco Linguistico Quetzalteco for the two summers prior to his Public Service project. Though he focused on learning Spanish during his visit, after seeing immigration issues in California, Fleming decided to explore why Guatemalans leave their home country to immigrate to the United States. To conduct his research, Fleming interviewed people living in the small town of Nueva San Jose, the Boca Costa region of Guatemala and some Guatemalan immigrants in California. Fleming discovered that the majority of Guatemalan immigrants were middle-class Guatemalans seeking a better life for themselves and their families. He realized that the cycle of poverty trapped many in Guatemala and that the Guatemalans living in the United States often led better lives than those they had left at home. Fleming also learned to reject common stereotypes about immigrants’ reasons for moving. “I had this impression that immigrants from Guatemala had been mistreated and they came to America looking for political or economic asylum but that was just not the case,” he said. “Miguel [a man from the Boca Costa in Guatemala] came from a pretty well off family. He was struggling in the US but didn’t have it too bad in Guatemala, and that gave me more insight into the people who did end up immigrating,” Fleming continued. Since the Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco hosted members of the community for dinner weekly, Fleming was able to interview key members of the Nueva San Jose community. He recorded ten interviews but said, “A lot of other off hand, more informal, discussions really helped and influenced my thinking.” After talking with community members in Guatemala, Fleming tried to determine what was necessary to obtain more rights and resources for the Guatemalans. Fleming concluded that rebuilding the local government to equally distribute land and create public centers would be essential for the communities. Fleming began his project by analyzing cycles of oppression and land ownership within Guatemala’s history, finally dividing the history into five distinct periods. The first demand for land ownership came during the 1500’s as the Spanish presence in Central America drew more settlers to Guatemala. The poorer white settlers began to exploit the indigenous people to gain more profit. Another claim for Guatemalan land came as the United States’ United Fruit Company (UFC) began to invest heavily in Central American countries in the 1940s. The UFC exploited workers, creating the roots of main of the present day problems. Fleming explained how many families in Guatemala are still stuck in the injustices of land ownership when working and purchasing food from a landowner. The landowners sometimes do not pay them on time for their work or charge more for food than the Guatemalans make. The limited resources force many Guatemalan children to drop out of school. Fleming noticed that typically after completing third grade, children join their families to work in the fields. Fleming analyzed the case study of one community, Nueva Florencia, which fought for over 20 years before finally acquiring their own land with the help of foreign aid organizations. Communities that try to rebel are often harshly treated and many in the community lose their jobs and sometimes even their lives. Policemen in Guatemala often side with landowners and attack the homes of the rebelling workers. Some of the people Fleming talked to commented on the unjust government. He recalled one quote in particular from a man who said, “Justice is like a snake, it only bites those without shoes.” Fleming jokingly added that drinking less coffee, Guatemala’s main export, would help the harsh conditions where many Guatemalans work. “I think if you look at all in to where coffee comes from, the results are pretty startling…Coffee as a crop is particularly difficult to grow, it’s in a difficult area to live, and ultimately the whole system isn’t really fair,” said Fleming. “I don’t think coffee is the problem, but in my mind I kept thinking, all of this [work is] for a beverage that we don’t really need,” Fleming continued. Lily Shaffer ’10 attended the presentation and said, “I thought his anecdote about drinking coffee actually made the most sense. We’re supporting this supposedly fair trade that is [actually] a Catch-22 of people being forced into this labor where they don’t own the land and they can’t get out.”