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How one Guatemalan family joined Alaska’s small Hispanic community

For Kimberly Mejía Gúzman, her mother and her five siblings, moving from Guatemala to Anchorage brought the promise of new opportunities. But leaving Guatemala behind also meant learning a new language, community and way of life.

On her first day of school, Gúzman struggled to navigate her classes and communicate with her peers, she said. “When I first got to school, they showed me where my locker was but then they left me alone,” she said. “The problem was that all the classes were in English … it was kind of painful because I didn’t find anyone who could tell me, ‘We can help you.'”

Gúzman’s family are among more than 1.2 million Guatemalans living in the U.S., according to U.S. census data from 2011. Of that group, 38 percent live in Western states, with the most people of Guatemalan origin living in California. But the Hispanic community in Alaska is relatively small; approximately 6.8 percent of Alaska’s population is of Hispanic origin, as opposed to 17.4 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2014 census.

In the past year, the family has worked to adjust to Anchorage with the help of their local church, who has helped them make Spanish-speaking contacts. Gúzman said she wants to return to her home country one day. “I’m proud of being from Guatemala. Every time I see the flag I want to raise it up in the sky because it is the place where my family comes from, the land that saw me being born,” she said.

Video produced by Noelia González. Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

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