Culture

The Other Flag

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September tends to be, by far, the most patriotic month of the year throughout most of Central America. In Guatemala, the national flag starts popping out everywhere from storefronts to people’s cars. However, there’s another flag that’s ever-present in the most random of places through the year: the American flag.

A man in the horse races of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemal. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A man in the horse races of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemal. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Guatemala’s own flag features two colors: sky blue and white. The two sky blue stripes represent the two oceans that surround the country and the white strip signifies purity and peace. This, however, is not the first flag that Guatemalans adopted after becoming a sovereign nation.

Like most countries in the isthmus, Guatemala gained its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Less than a year later, the country was annexed to the Mexican Empire-yes, that was a thing back then. That marriage was short-lived though, and in July 1st of the following year, the Central American congress declared its independence from all nations.

A man selling flags of Guatemala and the United States of America, Guatemala city, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A man selling flags of Guatemala and the United States of America, Guatemala city, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

That Federal Republic of Central America also didn’t last very long. Guatemala seceded from it in 1839 with a coup led by Rafael Carrera, who established himself as the ruler of the country until his death in 1865. And it was shortly after that that the current Guatemalan flag was adopted.

The American flag came into prominence much later in the country’s history. The civil wars in Central America from the 1950s and onwards forced a lot of people from the region to move to Mexico and the United States as refugees. After the wars ended, migration continued for various economic and security reasons well into the present day.

A girl with a 100 dollar bill towel in Pie del Águila, Sacapulas, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A girl with a 100 dollar bill towel in Pie del Águila, Sacapulas, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

According to the Pew Research Center, since 1990 “the Guatemalan-origin population (in the United States) has increased almost fivefold, growing from 267,000 to 1.3 million over the period”. Most of those Guatemalans living in the United States still have relatives in their country of origin and they provide them with a great economic support. For instance, in 2015 alone, there were nearly 6.3 billion dollars sent to Guatemala in remittances according to figures from the Banco de Guatemala (Guatemala’s central bank). That makes about 10% of Guatemala’s gross domestic product.

And so, people around Guatemala also often sport the American flag. It’s not because of the proximity to the nation or the culture in itself, nor is it some odd sign of reverence. Instead, it was incorporated as a symbol of their relatives living in the United States.

Women at the shores of lake Chicabal, on the dormant volcano of Chicabal, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Women at the shores of lake Chicabal, on the dormant volcano of Chicabal, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A man in the graveyard of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

A man in the graveyard of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A penitent crawls in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy

A penitent crawls in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

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