Mayra Jiménez, from the 8 Tijax Collective, from Guatemala City, visited Fredericton on February 28 on a speaking tour about the Hogar Seguro Fire that occurred on March 8, 2017, which killed 41 young girls and left 15 other survivors.
In conversation with Vanesa Fung, a student interning with the Registro Creativo and Stacey Gómez, with Breaking the Silence Maritimes Guatemala Solidarity Network, Jiménez discusses her role with the collective and the #Nosduelen56 Art Expo, which has been touring the Maritimes and is currently in Fredericton for two weeks. The exhibition will be viewable at Renaissance College from March 15-21. The exhibition will then move to the James Dunn Student Lounge at St. Thomas University on March 25-30.
Fung: Can you tell me how the 15 injured girls are, after everything that happened?
Jiménez: The girls have a series of issues, especially physical and psychiatric, which are not attended to by the state. We try to help, through psychosocial therapy that they receive. Although the amount of help they receive is too little, it is some support.
Fung: What did the Guatemalan government do to help the families of the girls who died?
Jiménez: The government gave them a poor quality coffin the day they died, that was all they gave them. It has never given them anything. No support.
Fung: How did the Guatemalan people react to the fire?
Jiménez: The day that the tragic event happened, people took to the streets and rallied at the Central Plaza. They went to light candles and protest because they knew that the state was partly responsible. People were enraged and angry about what happened. That was the day of the fire. The next day, there were protests about how it had happened. It is believed that the girls were not the ones who set fire to the facilities where they were. It is very likely that the fire was caused by an accelerant used in the back of the building.
Fung: Was the fire intentional or accidental?
Jiménez: It has not been proven yet. The Minister of Justice’s position is that the girls put fire to the mats. However, there are very interesting hypotheses that make people believe that the girls did not cause the fire.
Fung: Where did the work of 8 Tijax begin? How many people are working with you in the cause?
Jiménez: In the city of Guatemala, due to the fire that occurred in March 8, 2017. That is where the Ocho Tijax Collective began. Approximately 8 people work with me.
Fung: Before the 8 Tijax Collective, did you belong to any other social justice groups or organizations?
Jiménez: Yes, I have participated all my life. I am a feminist. I was part of the Nuestra Voz group, a group of women from the Rebel Armed Forces in my country. I was a trade unionist and general secretary of a union. I spent a lot of time working in unions.
Fung: Are any human rights organizations involved with 8 Tijax?
Jiménez: There is an institution called the Human Rights Ombudsman. The person in charge of childhood and adolescence is one of the people indicted. She was there that day and signed an act, making the police responsible for taking care of the teenagers when the police don’t have anything to do with managing the care of minors. So, the Human Rights Ombudsman is always there when an event occurs. But, we also have the shadow of Gloria Castro, the person I just mentioned. In fact, she will face a public trial shortly, in May.
Fung: Have you received any support from other countries?
Jiménez: No, we have not received any support from other countries.
Fung: Can anyone help with the 8 Tijax cause? How can people help?
Jiménez: We would appreciate the help because the surviving girls all live in precarious situations, really precarious, in very dangerous places. The government does not help them at all, the state does not help either. They have committed to give help, but they don’t follow through. So, any initiative to help the surviving girls, would be appreciated. Many of them have suffered amputations. One of the girls is 14 years old and has a baby, a little boy. Another girl has a baby too, they are survivors. So, they have serious economic needs. I think doing an online fundraiser or doing any activity would help. You can contact us at the 8 Tijax collective with great pleasure.
Fung: Nowadays, besides the 8 Tijax Collective, is the group involved with other causes in Guatemala?
Jiménez: No, we dedicate almost all our time to the collective. To the collective, to our activities and to the needs of the surviving girls, especially now because of the legal part; we attend all the hearings. Right now, while we are getting ready, we really need resources. Unfortunately, everything requires money. If families come and want to attend their daughters’ trials, they have to eat and lodge somewhere. Someone has to pay for it because they are very poor. Plus, the transportation, which is internal because it is in Guatemala but they have to come from other regions. I think that any way that we can get funds would be very helpful. The Collective is one hundred percent in this, from the press coverage to the trials, and with continual moral support.
Fung: When and where was the #Nosduelen56 art project launched?
Gómez: Breaking the Silence brought the art exhibition here to the Maritimes, but it is a project that started with two groups, Prensa Comunicatoria and Desinformémonos, and several other organizations.
Jiménez: We launched #NosDuelen56 in 2017 and we made the effort of contacting different artists and painters from all over the world. Then, they were given information about the girls and depending on their medium, they made a portrait of them. We have 41 portraits of girls. There are 41 portraits, that aren’t necessarily from photographs. A photograph is not the same as something artistic, that is why it was an effort to put together #NosDuelen56. We presented the exhibition in several places. Six or seven months after the fire, they started making portraits of the girls. We asked for the approval of #NosDuelen56 and several shows have been held in Guatemala.
Fung: Why did you choose to call it #NosDuelen56?
Jiménez: We are in mourning for 56 girls: 41 deceased and 15 survivors. I didn’t choose the name, it was done by the collective.
Fung: How many artists participated in this project and from what countries?
Gómez: 58 artists participated.
Jiménez: Some artists made portraits of different girls. The artists are from Spain, Italy, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, United States, and France.
Fung: What inspired you to represent the girls through paintings?
Jiménez: We were inspired by the girls. We didn’t necessarily want to use their portraits. We were inspired that, through art, we could discover each girl.
Gómez: Each piece of art is inspired by the personality of each girl, of what is known about her. I think it is very beautiful.
Jiménez: Yes, for example, there is a portrait of a girl named Milexi. For example, her mother did not have a photograph of her. So, the artist asked Milexi’s mother what she liked or with what she identified hers and her tastes. The mother told the artist that she liked doves and the color red, she also liked red clothes. Her portrait is very interesting. The artist painted her from the back, he painted her wearing a red dress and some doves around her. There were also easier portraits; there is a portrait that is made of plasticine. Each artist had their own technique.
Fung: Do you think the project had an impact on the Guatemalan government?
Jiménez: I think so. Many people came to the exhibitions that have been put up at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. It was brought to the library too. The most impressive one was when it was put in dialogue. On the external part of the campus, they put some pink crosses up, and the portraits were hung in the frame. If a student was walking by and saw that, it was impactful. One time, an exhibition was made in an enclosed area. They made a recording and it was 41 women screaming for 9 minutes. It was very moving. They say that it tore your heart out, 41 people screaming without stopping for 9 minutes.
Fung: In what countries will the paintings be exhibited? In what part of Canada the will the paintings be exhibited?
Gómez: The paintings have been to the United States. I don’t know if they’ve been to other countries too. It is something independent that has been done in the Maritimes and it will also be shown in other parts of the country.
Jiménez: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, until now only in those places. Possibly, in other parts of the country. We don’t know yet.
Fung: Does the art exhibit have a social media campaign?
Jiménez: Of course, it is using the #NosDuelen56 hashtag. You can also access it through Ocho Tijax’s Facebook where there are a lot of paintings, names, videos and activities.
Vanesa Fung is a UNB student and intern with Registro Creativo. Sophie M. Lavoie is with Registro Creativo and the Fredericton chapter of Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network. This interview was translated from the Spanish by the authors.