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In October of 2009, my husband and I drove back down to Guatemala, the country of my birth, 3,118.5 miles, 53 hrs 1 minute of driving according to Bing maps, all the way from California. While I’d made similar drives with my mother, this time we weren’t headed down to bring back some family member or to be at the mercy of U.S. immigration officials to determine our legal status in the United States. This time we weren’t leaving because we were sick of being treated like mojados and maybe we just wouldn’t come back.
This time I was driving down to Guatemala as a Fulbright scholar, on a grant awarded by the U.S. State Department, making me a diplomatic representative of the United States (the irony doesn’t escape me). My Fulbright project was to research online citizen media and to create a collaborative citizen journalism website for Guatemalans to share information from their mobile phones to a website. With all my community organizing, nonprofit and journalism background, I was going down to listen, to learn and to orchestrate an online participatory space for civic issues in Guatemala.
I already knew that one of Guatemala’s biggest problems was internal communication (the reason why someone in Puerto Barrios has no clue what is happening in San Marcos), the lack of which is then exacerbated outside the country. Communication was prohibitively expensive so people often could not obtain information outside their municipalities. They often turned, as they do now, to community radio stations, many of them deemed pirate stations by the government. My family in the United States, myself included, wanted to know what was happening in Bananera, in Chiquimula, in Puerto Barrios, in Guatemala City. We wanted to share mundane events like the patron saint festivals, las ferias, the processions, and to find out news about catastrophes. Cheap, easy communication was essential for those living within the country and those trying to maintain a transnational connectedness.
This is an excerpt from “Citizen Media, Mobile Phone Democracy” written for ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America.
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