Monday, August 9, 2010

A Man-Child of Many Nations?

By: Vincent Stanzione

Photograph by: Tom Waters

This is a short blog about a single photograph of a boy who was often encountered on the pathways around the lake-side near Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. The photograph was take about five years ago. It, the blog, is another result of collaborative work of myself, Tom, and my long-time friend, Vincent Stanzione. Vincent and I walked many miles around Lake Atitlan and throughout the Highlands. His writing is in response to an agreement we made that he would look at photographs and, then, respond spontaneously with his thoughts. Vincent speaks at least one Mayan language proficiently, Tz'utujil, and understands adequately others. The result being that he can speak, when need be, with the flavor and cadence of local Maya which always makes for interesting perspective and feeling.~~~~~~~~~ tw

A Man-Child of Many Nations?

We live in the America (Central America, where this is being written) where people from all over the world lived together for over five hundred years. There is much history that goes untold yet appears in the faces of children. One meets such children often, on roads and paths and in this instance on the lake-side near Santiago Atitlan. I love this Man-Child’s look, the keenness in his inner sense of self. He knows who he is, a man in a child’s body, There appears to be insight, and perhaps intrinsic knowledge of himself, based on some ancestral memory. This is a Maya-Tz’utujil boy who could easily be from the countryside of Louisiana, Southeast Texas, Alabama, or somewhere similar.

It is amazing how much his physical features remind me of children I went to school with as a kid years ago in New Orleans. It is the way his eyes, forehead, eyebrows and lips appear to question the on-looker, “What do you want with my photograph?” “ Who are you lookin’ at mister?” I am surprised that a young child can look at an adult like this. It opens one to wonder while wandering through the faces of this America’s past. This child knows who he is. At least that is what his body language seems to say with its confidence.

I walk a lot in Guatemala. I have walked through the desolate wind-blown waste of the highlands, down into the lowland jungles, wandered the piedmont, and back to my home again. Often I come into contact with people who speak one of two dozen Maya languages but who could be, based on physical appearance, from any of several places in this world. Some look Asian, either Chinese or Japanese, others could be from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia or Thailand. Sometimes I encounter, though not often, people whose ancestry is clearly West African. or West Indian (this is not unexpected as Guatemala has its own Garifuna population on the east coast around Livingston). It is amazing how different looking people are in a place that is supposedly completely Maya. The amount of miscegenation that has historically happened in this Maya world could hardly be better represented than by this boy’s visage.

The child here looks a lot be a young Louis Armstrong. He has strength of character in his build, a knowingness in his look and that famous Armstrong smile about to appear on his lips. I know, too, that this boy is a rascal and a joker; he is a spirited and playful child who knows that he is exactly where he should be. He has four sisters none of whom look a bit like him.

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