Guatemala’s national holiday is September 15, when the country, along with its neighbors, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, celebrates its independence from the Spanish Crown. But here in Philadelphia, Guatemalans raise their flags a little bit earlier in the year.
Last year, a proclamation signed by Mayor Jim Kenney declared May 16 as Guatemala Day in Philadelphia. This past Tuesday, Guatemalans raised their flag on the north side of the City Hall.
“For the Guatemalan community, hoisting our flag means a bit of peace, something like a spiritual and literally physical refuge away from the daily violence of current anti-immigrant policies. It is not about cheap, divisive, and toxic patriotism, but a momentary but very symbolic refuge. It's like entering the house of unknown people, and those strangers embrace you”, according to Manuel Portillo, one of the members of Guate en Philly, the group behind the event.
Sheila Hess, the City Representative, along with Nivia Rosemery Arauz, General Consul of Guatemala in New York. Photo: Edwin López Moya / AL DÍA News
Portillo, Guatemalan by birth and director of Civic Engagement at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, explains that they didn’t want their celebration to coincide with any of the official holidays there, where national celebrations are usually used by the government to cover up controversial issues.
But due to ironic coincidence, a nonpolitical date still had political undertones.
While Guatemalans were hoisting their flag and singing their anthem here, Jimmy Morales, Guatemala’s president, was opening their embassy in Jerusalem as a demonstration of support to President Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to the contested territory last Monday.
“As a Guatemalan, I am not proud of the fact that the Guatemalan flag is raised in Israel. For me, that's more of a shame! How to ignore the massacre of 60 Palestinians carried out by Israeli army forces. That is a crime against humanity and should be not only condemned but punished through due process (…) by an international court,” said Portillo. “The people of Israel deserve real peace, not the peace of bullets or massacres, but the peace of a just coexistence with the Palestinian people,” Portillo said.
The ceremony in Philadelphia took place in the Caucus Room of the City Hall, where several members of the community as well as of the City of Philadelphia, parishioners, and social leaders gathered together to celebrate their presence in the U.S.
A group of Guatemalans wore their traditional Mayan dress. Photo: Edwin López Moya / AL DÍA News
Among the attendees were City Representative Sheila Hess, President of the Consular Corps Association of Philadelphia Peter S. Longstreth, General Consul of Guatemala in New York Rosemery Arauz, and Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs Miriam Enríquez.
To Nolberto Guerra, evangelical pastor and member of Guate en Philly, “celebrating Guatemala Day is a blessing and a privilege to represent my country in Philadelphia.”
Many members of the Guatemalan community work in the construction and social services sector. Photo: Edwin López Moya / AL DÍA News
Jeaneth Cordón, who emigrated from Guatemala 14 years ago to settle in the city, expressed a similar perspective.
She still misses the landscapes of her country, and would not hesitate to encourage others to visit Guatemala so that they can witness why it is known as “the land of eternal spring.”
The Guatemalan community in Philadelphia numbers close to 10,000 people, with many of them living in the Olney area in North Philly, as well as Northeast and South Philadelphia.
It has been growing in recent years, which is why General Consul Arauz assured that their government remains committed to opening a Consulate in Philadelphia, though she didn’t say when that would happen
Alba Lucero with Jeaneth Cordón, both immigrants and mothers of little Americans. Photo: Edwin López Moya / AL DÍA News
Alba Lucero has been in Philadelphia for 20 years. She said that days like this are "a blessing and an opportunity to recognize ourselves as Guatemalans.”
To Portillo, this kind of ceremonies help communities to understand each other and create an environment of mutual existence. “Hoisting the flag is an integral act of mutual solidarity, both from the Mayor to the community, and from the community to the Mayor. That is something very valuable, humanly and politically speaking.”