Let’s go to Central America for World Wednesday, where the designs of Guatemalan huipiles tell stories, woven into the cloth, strand by strand, using a backstrap loom. It would take many weeks for Tomasa or her mother to weave enough cloth for an entire skirt or blouse.
Tomasa tells her story as she would weave a huipil, strand by strand, row by row, along the jungle paths and strange city streets of their journey. Guatemala’s long civil war was at its height in 1984, when thousands of Native Mayan families like hers fled from their land as soldiers destroyed their villages. Many thousands more were killed in the government’s “scorched earth” campaign – it was a bitter time.
Questions about refugees or immigrants often have no easy answers, but hearing the stories of others’ lives can help us understand how their world is different and perhaps show us ways to make life better for others.
Recommendation: As she and her mother weave, Tomasa hears the helicopters carrying soldiers. As they wash clothes at the river, she worries aloud about the planes spraying poisons, trying to force people from their small farms. Stones are thrown at their house, wrapped with notes threatening them to keep quiet about the planes and the pesticides.
Maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, the army will come for the older schoolboys, like her brother Carlos, to make them soldiers against the rebels who are trying to save their land, to make them shoot at their neighbors.
Mama and Carlos slip away one night, escaping to the north. Soon, Papa decides it is too dangerous for the rest of the family to stay, and they flee in the darkness, just ahead of the soldiers who burn the crops, bulldoze down the houses, try to erase their village from the map of Guatemala.
Tomasa helps Papa lead her little brother and baby sister through the jungle, across rivers, and even into cities, looking for Mama and Carlos. When sanctuary workers locate them in the United States, the journey becomes even longer and more perilous.
Can the family get through Mexico to find Mama and Carlos? Will they die crossing the borders, as so many refugees have? Who can hear Tomasa’s dreams of running, of friends left behind in the ruined village?
Tomasa weaves into her huipiles many symbols from the Qui’che legends that Papa retells, the faith of the Church, and the love of her family in this compelling look at the Central American refugee experience, as seen through a 12 year old’s eyes. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.