"Once I had the opportunity to fully recognize myself as indigenous, that is when the floodgates fell open. I thought, what does this mean? How do I reflect on this part of myself that I've never fully grasped? Having talked with my parents about what history they learned, what was narrated by political propaganda, and clarifying that helped me see history through a different lens. This led to having hard conversations about the past and the family. I don't think I have fully grasped that part of my identity just yet."
Lucero Gonzaléz Alvarado has almost completed her studies for a master’s degree in Human Rights Practice. She stands at the precipice of a life-long inquiry into personal identity and politics, contending with her family's past before and after they emigrated from Guatemala to the United States, even as she engages with a career in human rights.
Guatemala is a country in Central America with a violent history. For centuries, the indigenous Maya, which make up over half the population, endured harsh colonial exploitation. A 36-year internal war began in 1960 when leftist rebel groups, supported by indigenous and rural communities, began fighting the oppression of the Guatemalan government. The government, led by a series of right-wing military dictators, carried out genocidal massacres, torture, and disappearances of Mayan civilians during the decades of civil war. From 1980 to 1983, an estimated 150,000 people were systematically killed and disappeared. The war finally ended in 1996.
Lucero grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with hard-working parents who did everything possible to shelter Lucero and her younger brother from harm. Lucero was encouraged to engage in school, and there was little discussion of the family's roots in Guatemala. Lucero says, "I think our goal was to assimilate, our goal was to better ourselves, our goal was to adapt ourselves to a new culture."
Lucero first began to question her indigenous identity as an undergraduate in Social Work at Arizona State University. Once enrolled in the University of Arizona graduate program in Human Rights Practice, however, Lucero started her journey to understand and defend indigenous human rights.
In Professor Beverly Seckinger's class, Human Rights and Documentary Media, Lucero was introduced to filmmakers from Skylight, Pamela Yates, and Paco de Onís. They are also advisors to our Human Rights and Documentary Media Certificate program. The Skylight trilogy of films about indigenous Guatemalan's struggle for independence and human rights, When the Mountains Tremble, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and 500 Years: Life in Resistance, offered an immersion in the struggles and triumphs of the indigenous Maya of Guatemala. As part of the curriculum, Professor Seckinger introduced various applications of documentary films for human rights work. Lucero remains interested in pursuing employment as an Impact Producer, a producer who engages and extends the impact of a documentary film beyond initial screenings.
However, Lucero credits Professor Elisa Marchi's course examining de-colonization for kindling a deeper awareness of colonial rule in the Americas and how colonization has conditioned contemporary perception of indigenous peoples. For her coursework, Lucero used her bilingual skill to translate documents for use by José Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
When Lucero enrolled in Human Rights Practice coursework, she worked full-time as a Customer Service Specialist for Arizona State University, where she had obtained an undergraduate degree in Social Work.
Soon after, she began working full-time for UMOM New Day Centers, a Maricopa County non-profit organization dedicated to providing families experiencing homelessness with shelter and resources. Lucero continues to screen folks at the intake phase, matching them with appropriate services.
Asked about her future after receiving her master’s, Lucero says, "Something that I am gifted at is bringing people together...if I can be a leader, it's not about me. It's about the people…I am thinking about pursuing a second master’s degree.” Lucero wants to communicate about human rights defenders and organizations. She says, “How can I further their work? I've seen human rights organizations with great stories doing great work, but they are not being marketed well. How can I further their work?”