13th, 1982 is the day of infamy in Santa María Tzejá.
It was the day that changed everything. People who lived through
it can remember where they were standing, what shoes they wore,
and who they were with. When the rebel scouts signaled that soldiers
were approaching the village, people dropped everything and ran
for the mountains.
From that day forward, the community would be divided between those who fled further into exile and those who returned to the military-occupied village. And as in the fabled story of two brothers who met on opposite sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, Miguel and Juan Reyes ended up on opposite sides of Guatemala's civil war. Miguel made the arduous trek to Mexico and became a leader in the refugee camps; while Juan went back to the village, where he toiled under strict military control and served in civil patrols.
Edwin Canil was only six years old on that fateful day in 1982, but what happened is burned into his memory. He led me to the grave of Vicente Mendoza, his invalid aunt who was raped and killed by soldiers. He had etched an epitaph into a block of concrete. "With assassin's bullets they have taken your life, but your spirit remains alive in the memory of those who knew you, in the hopes of those who demand justice and reconciliation, and in the tasks of those who work for peace." As he pulled out new weeds crowding the gravestone, I asked him to tell me what he remembers.
At first, I wasn't sure if he was crying or whether the sweat was just stinging his eyes. He had fled into the jungle with his brothers and sisters, mother and grandmother, aunts and cousins. Only they hadn't fled far enough. He recalled what happened when a band of soldiers discovered them crouched in the forest.