Child Survivors of Genocide: Trauma, Resilience, and Identity in Guatemala presents mixed-method, comparative ethnographic research conducted with orphaned child survivors who are now adults. These survivors were orphaned during Guatemala’s thirty-six-year internal armed conflict and particularly during the heightened period of genocide from 1978 to 1983, referred to as la violencia. Raised for the majority of their childhoods in a family-style permanent residential home in the highlands region, the author examines the long-term consequences that these individuals have faced not only from grieving the loss of their parents and family members but also because of their orphan status. While they suffer from lasting trauma, these child survivors have become resilient, well-adapted adults with a strong internalized sense of ethnic identity. They also engage in creative and transformative practices regarding ethnic identity and belonging that have contributed to their abilities to adapt to their life circumstances in positive, constructive ways, and have expanded what it means to be Maya Indigenous Guatemalans today. Child survivors’ experiences offer inspiration, justify expanded research with child survivors as their own distinct survivor group, and warrant reconsideration of in-country residential care when other forms of loving, nurturing in-country care are unavailable.
Shirley A. Heying is applied anthropologist working primarily in the government sector.
Chapter 1: Origins and Orientations
Chapter 2: Destroying the Seed
Chapter 3: Trauma and Loss
Chapter 4: Trauma and Resilience
Chapter 5: Born Indigenous, Die Indigenous
Chapter 6: Making a Future
Chapter 7: Giving Away the Future
How do child survivors, orphaned by the violence of Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict, thrive and even flourish into adulthood? Anthropologist Shirley Heying describes her meticulous and compassionate research over almost three decades to document the resilience of 20 child survivors who grew up in a children’s home, safely ensconced from the brutal terrorizing of Maya communities by civil patrols and the Guatemalan army. The family-style home and supportive caregivers allowed children to reclaim their ethnic identity, grow, and succeed despite the trauma of their early lives. As Dr. Heying follows the child survivors into adulthood, she chronicles the lifelong sequels of early trauma and how resilience must repeatedly be enacted by survivors in order to face the transitions and challenges of life following tragic loss.