Define American

Culture-Change: Reducing Forced Guatemalan Migrations and Creating Inclusive American Communities

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Today, at the US-Mexico border, thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are held in detention camps and forced to endure inhumane conditions that lead to premature death. Within the last year alone, six children have died in these detention camps; five of them were indigenous Guatemalans.Indigenous people account for over half the population in Guatemala where the economy is the fastest-growing in all of Central America. Yet, deep-seated systemic racism creates conditions that make it nearly impossible for them to thrive and force them to seek opportunities elsewhere.In collaboration with Guatemala-based international development agency, IM Sweden, Define American will lead an initiative to expand our tried and tested culture change model with local organizations into Guatemala in order to uproot the cultural narratives that have perpetuated hate, fear, and rampant discrimination. We will reduce the conditions that force indigenous people to leave their homes and risk their lives.

Problem Statement

Today, at the US-Mexico border, thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are held in detention camps and forced to endure inhumane and often deadly conditions. Within the last year, six children died in these detention camps; five of them were indigenous Guatemalans.Guatemala boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Central America. Despite the country’s significant gains, economic inequality rates only continue to increase between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. 1996 marked the end of a 40-year civil war and mass genocide of indigneous people in Guatemala. Though millions of dollars in foreign aid have since enabled the country to rebuild its economy, the continued dehumanization of indigenous people has prevented them from accessing or benefiting from this growth. Instead, they have experienced historically high rates of poverty, malnutrition, and premature mortality, specifically in rural and indigenous regions, due to entrenched racism.According to the Migration Policy Institute, migrants from neighboring Honduras and El Salvador primarily migrate due to violence; meanwhile the majority of vast migration out of Guatemala is due to chronic stressors such as discrimination, poverty, and violation of land and human rights, especially among indigenous people. These racism-created conditions force indigenous people (who make up 51% of the country’s population) to migrate to merely survive, and many are forced into a dangerous trek to the United States where they face additional language barriers (as many do not speak Spanish), family separation, detention, and death. Eradicating racism would uproot the causes of forced migrations in North and Central America.

Solution Overview

Our solution reduces the rates of forced migration from Guatemala and the xenophobia faced by Guatemalans in the United States by combatting White supremacy. We will enact wide-scale culture change through a series of interventions, including working with American media and digital campaigns in Guatemala. Unlike other economic-based solutions or pure violence prevention strategies, culture change touches all aspects of Guatemalan and American society, and through ending White supremacy in Guatemala and in the United States, we will build more inclusive societies that do not tolerate the economic or social marginalization of anyone. To note our progress, we expect to see a greater amount of inclusion of indigenous Guatemalans in all sectors of Guatemalan society and a more welcoming approach to immigrants in the United States. Moreover, rates of forced migration from Guatemala to the United States by foot or in dangerous conditions will have decreased, and there will be a greater number of positive representations of indigenous Guatemalans in American news and entertainment media.Our impact will be rooted in Guatemala and in the United States as non-white Guatemalans—and more broadly Central American—migrants will be increasingly included and accepted into Guatemalan and American society. Indigenous Guatemalans will encounter reduced rates of social marginalization, higher rates of inclusion, and deeper integration into the fabric of both American and Guatemalan culture. Additionally, all Guatemalans and Americans will have a more inclusive definition of what it means to be a member of their community.

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