Last month the world was once again shocked and saddened by a brutal mass shooting in the U.S. Attendees at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida were massacred by a lone-wolf gunman who had pledged allegiance to the self-declared “Islamic State” leaving 49 dead and injuring more than 50 others. A key difference in the Orlando shooting, however, was that it targeted a gay nightclub on Latin Night with most of the victims belonging to Orlando’s vibrant LGBTI community and over 90 percent being Latino. As the shooting happened to coincide with Xela’s yearly LGBTI pride march, we here at XelaWho HQ thought we’d take a break from our usual hilarious rants about chicken buses and garnachas to reflect on the state of the Xela’s LGBTI movement.
When it comes to progress on LGBTI civil rights and acceptance, Guatemala isn’t usually the first country that comes to mind — actually, it’s way down the list. When one of the most popular songs to mosh around on the dancefloor and chant along to in Xela has the chorus “amo al matón, matarile al maricón” (I love the bully, kill the faggot) it’s not a great sign.
Given that context, the powerful display of solidarity at last month’s Xela LGBTI Pride March was something rather extraordinary. Now only in its 6th year (the capital’s march is in its 16th year for comparison), this year’s marcha was the biggest yet, attracting around 150 attendees, up from the usual 30-50. Xela’s marcha is the only LGBTI pride parade in western Guatemala with people coming in solidarity from San Marcos to La Capital. Stunned onlookers in Parque Central were treated to impassioned speeches about LGBTI civil rights and some of the best lip syncing from a Guatemalan in drag this editor has ever seen.\
Part of the reason for the low attendance over the years is that many members of Guatemala’s LGBTI community are afraid of violence and discrimination if they come out publicly. To show their support but remain anonymous, many members of the LGBTI community travel to other cities to attend pride parades while not attending marchas in their home towns. After Orlando, prominent members of the gay community in Guatemala, including the organizer of the popular GayGuatemala Facebook page, who have spoken out about the need for more acceptance, have received violent threats to themselves and their businesses.
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P o p p i n g
Looking to go on a hot date with the cute guy from Spanish school, but don’t want to fork out the outrageous Q50 to chill at Fuentes? Well, we’ve got the perfect romantic getaway for you. The towns of Zunil and Almolonga boast some of the most authentic baños you’ll ever see, and it only costs Q5 per person to enjoy the day at most of them.
When one says baños, they could be referring to one of two styles of baño: one type is the luxurious, in-ground style pool (also referred to as piscinas), and the other type is more of a windowless cement sauna-like room (this is the more traditional baño).
The baños are supplied with geothermically-heated water, which comes straight out of the mountains (you can even trace the insulated pipes from the pool all the way up back up the mountain). Word has it that the restaurant in the baños near the tunnel in Zunil also make a mean michelada if you ask nicely.
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By La Salsa Inglesa
Chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers) are a popular Guatemalan dish. This recipe is a quicker version than the original because it fills the peppers with cheese rather than meat and vegetables, and uses a simple batter mix without the need of an electric whisk. However, it is by no means comida rápida so give yourself an hour or two on a rainy weekend in Xela to experiment with this recipe.
Another thing: true Chiles rellenos belong to highest class of Guatemalan culinary art. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t come out perfectly first time. Looks aren’t everything and they will still taste delicious. Trust me.
The batter should be enough to cover about 6 red peppers and 4-6 jalapeños (optional if you like hot chilies. Otherwise, you can always use more red peppers). Make as many as possible to aprovechar de the batter and fat. I tend to serve one large pepper and one jalapeño per person with a salsa de tomate casera.
- 6 largish red bell peppers (chile pimiento)
- 4 jalapeño chilies (optional for those that like their food hot!)
- A lot of oil for frying (at least a medium-sized bottle)
- Half pound of queso fresco
For the batter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup flour plus at least half an extra cup for coating all the chilies
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (polvo para hornear)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonato)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon oil
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By Diana Pastor
It’s 4.30 in the morning on August 9th, and in Joyabaj you can hear the fireworks announcing that the show has begun. There aren’t many people in the central square, but the traditional dances begin to flow through the streets of the town. One of these dances, called the flying bat, is one of the oldest traditions in the municipality. A depiction of it is on the municipality’s coat of arms, which depicts two men descending from the air, tied with ropes from a giant wooden stick.
Patron saint festivals, or fiestas patronales, are yearly celebrations dedicated to a patron or saint and are held by most towns in Guatemala, and Joyabaj is one of the most famous. Joyabaj is a municipality in the department of Quiché, located 4 hours from Quetzaltenango. Although it is a bit far from Xela, it is certainly worth traveling to during its fiesta patronal which runs from the 8th of August to the 15th. We recommend visiting Joyabaj during the first day of the fair, which is when an interpretation of the pole-stick dance is performed, along with many other colorful dances. The traditional dance of this area has ancient origins, and requires quite a bit of preparation which must be done days in advance.
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By Jalapeño Jacobo
Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Sophie Anastassiades, who was raised near the city of Marseilles in France but now works for the organization Alterna here in Xela.
So what brings you to Xela?
Five years ago a good friend of mine told me that Xela would be the perfect place for me, but I didn’t finally make it here until September 2013 when I arrived for a fellowship position at an organization called Alterna.
How long were you originally planning to stay?
Well, my fellowship position was only supposed to last for four to six months but from the very beginning I knew I wanted to stay longer. I was looking for a place to settle and I immediately loved Xela and the work Alterna was doing.
And what is it about Xela that made you stay?
Xela is the perfect balance of so many things. It’s a big city but it feels like a small community, there’s a balance between local authenticity and businesses that cater to foreigners, and there’s a balance between urban life and nature. I also love the cute little gangs of street dogs, and how beautiful the moon is here.
What does Alterna do?
Alterna is the first social innovation and entrepreneurship center in Central America. Our mission is to help people create and grow social businesses. We also serve as a platform to help local social business owners network and learn from each other.
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By Alex Mac
XelaWho’s ear-to-the-suelo correspondent, Alex Mac, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month he spoke to Mayra Perez Oxla, proprietor of the famous Tienda Mayra y Rosy Venta de Pupusas (aka the “Parque Central pupusa ladies”). Right on the corner of the park, locals and foreigners alike line up for ages every night of the week to taste Mayra’s pupusas .
So where are you from Mayra?
I’m from here in the center of Xela, pura Chiva toda la vida!
How long have you been selling pupusas here in Parque Central?
The store has been here about 15 years. My mum Maria Louise Oxla used to run it while I was growing up but since she passed away I’ve been looking after the stand.
If you’re pura Chiva, how come you sell a typical Salvadoreñan dish?
We don’t sell Salvadoreñan pupusas, we make them with a different recipe and style that’s popular in Xela. So they are pupusas but Guatemalan pupusas not Salvadoreñan pupusas.
Every night I see huge lines of people waiting to buy pupusas at your stand but other stands are empty. Why are yours so popular?
We’ve been here for so many years so people really know us and trust the quality of our delicious pupusas.
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By Auntie Dolores
Dear Auntie Dolores,
A week ago I met a girl. I want to ask her to go out but before I do that I want to organise have the perfect first date. We both live in Xela. She’s a gringa and I’m from France. Neither of us know the city very well so I need some stellar advice on what to do. However, there is a small detail that I have omitted thus far which may turn out to be a problem during our first date and our future together: she loves Donald Trump! I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to deal with this. I like her a lot so I want to be able get over this obstacle and get to truly know the girl underneath. Help me Auntie!!!
Trapped by Trump
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Cantinas… ever been to one? We’re not talking about your Brooklynite hip nightspots where your man Sergio sorts you out with the best $15 cuba libres you can find while listening to authentic South American classics like Justin Timberlake’s “Señoritas.” (Fun fact: a cantina in your faithful editor’s hometown Sydney, Australia has a candlelit shrine with photos of Jesus below a giant iron statue of a pig… because that’s Latin American, right?)
No, we’re talking about the salt of the earth bars/room-with-a-fridge-in-it you find all over Xela. If you’re looking for a real Guatemalan experience, you can’t go wrong chatting up the usually colourful crowds you find in these local institutions. As always, we here at the XelaWho HQ have got you covered with a guide to Cantina-land here in the fine city of Xela.
You can’t walk a few blocks in Xela without running into a cantina usually blasting Trova (local sad guitar folk music with hits like Tristezas Quetzaltecas) from a classic jukebox surrounded by tables of men enjoying a Quetzalteca Blanca or seven. The crowds are usually (read: always) all male and can get pretty rowdy after a few drinks, but you’ll hear some pretty wild tales of local folklore if you join in the fun. Word of warning: cantinas can be a bit rough so keep your wits about you and if you feel unsafe at any point, it’s probably time to move on.
The are some pretty famous cantinas in Xela. None more than El Carmen just opposite Mercado Central. Established in 1954, the same year that Guatemala’s President Jacobó Arbenz was assassinated in a CIA sponsored coup, Doña Ana Maria and her mum of El Carmen have outlasted the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, Guatemala’s civil war and the Rolling Stones. Surprisingly enough, while most cantina regulars are male, the proprietors are usually pretty tough ladies who don’t take schtick from anyone making a ruckus in their establishment. Doña Aura Violeta of the Super Chiva Cantina up near La Democracia market remembers passing many jovial Christmas Eves with her regular crowd of festive cantina dwellers who affectionately call her Abuelita (granny). So if you don’t have any plans for next Christmas, we’ll see you at the Super Chiva to neck back some quetzaltecas with granny.
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With the highest number of Facebook users in Central America and a Twitter population growing by the thousands every month, social media can be a great place to find out what’s buzzing in Guatemala. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of nonsense posted online too, but at XelaWho we like nonsense so here are some of last month’s social media trends, with the interesting & the informative alongside the vacuous & the ludicrous.
The end of April saw yet another explosive corruption case come to light in Guatemala, implicating disgraced ex-President Otto Perez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti once again. In the #CasoTCQ, the pair is accused by the anti-corruption crusaders, CCIG, of leading a criminal organisation that pocketed over $30 million in bribes in return for awarding a contract to build a port terminal on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast to Grupo TCQ, along with a 25-year concession to operate it worth $255 million. Prosecutors allege that Perez Molina and Baldetti received 60 percent of the bribes. Then to add insult to injury, current president Jimmy Morales, who claimed during his electoral campaign last year that “the greatest guarantee of transparency for my government is my mother, because she didn’t raise thieves”, was accused of holding secret meetings with the Maersk company, the majority stakeholders in the TCQ Group. The Guatemalan Twitterverse responded with the #AEscondidasComoJimmy hashtag, with which users tweeted that they #GoIntoHidingLikeJimmy when they “watch Sex and the City”, “come home drunk and my mother is waiting for my with a frying pan in hand” and when they “listen to musica banda.” @_SuperAlejo summed up the situation, tweeting that Jimmy’s government is “as transparent as the waters of Lake Amatitlan.”
On the plus side, things do seem to be looking up on the corruption front: Prensa Libre reported a whopping 398% increase in official corruption accusations since 2014. Throughout May a National Dialogue on reforming the Guatemalan justice system was also held across the country. You can follow the updates with the #ReformaJusticiaGT hashtag.
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Each month our very our investigative reporter Jalapeño Jacobo interviews a foreigner who’s gotten themselves stuck in Xela. This month we spoke to Richard Brown, who was raised in Virginia in the United States but now lives here in Xela and works with EntreMundos, a local NGO.
Sooo Rich, what brings you to Xela?
Well two and a half years ago I was living and working in the US until one day at work I ate half a bag of potato chips and became so ill I had to leave the office. It was the last straw. I knew then that it was time to make a big change.
I knew I wanted to move to a small city where I’d be surrounded by Spanish speakers, and it just so happened that the flights to Guatemala were cheaper than any other flights I could find. So I ended up in Xela.
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