Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs

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Carlos’s Story, Part 1

CARLOS: I really don’t believe in destiny. I think it’s more a question of influence.

When he was eleven years old, Carlos’ family was starving. His mom, Carmen, felt she had no choice but to send him to an orphanage where her brother was the priest. She thought at least Carlos would be fed and would study. But the school was in the heart of the war zone. His uncle had to go into hiding because the army said Catholic priests were communists. Soldiers began killing people. Carlos was left alone. He was sad and angry at the world. When he was thirteen years old he joined a gang.

CARLOS: I became a gang member because I was influenced by gang members. I believe your destiny, you construct it yourself.

CARLOS: I remember looking at the names of the “disappeared” in central plaza in Guatemala [City]. I really felt it because I lived this. Masked men arrived to take the director of the school where I was studying. We all saw him killed.

CARLOS: I remember many times my mother telling me how she had seen people murdered being decapitated or mutilated. It makes me so sad thinking of all the injustice indigenous people have suffered and now it is forgotten.

CARLOS: At every meeting you had to have a gun or a knife. It was mainly to defend the streets you walk, the territory you control.

CARLOS: When I see weapons it’s not like something from another world. In a gang it’s normal. You have to defend yourself. One way or another you have to defend yourself.

CARLOS: Your gang is your family. You live by the law of the strongest. We kick our enemies’ ass or they kick ours and it is always like that. You never get to know who wins.

Carlos visits San Pedro Jocopilas in Quiche — the village where he witnessed massacres as a child. When he left San Pedro Jocopilas he was eleven years old. He immediately joined his gang.

CARLOS: I remember when I lived in this place; no one gave me attention or affection. I wanted to escape completely because this place gave me so many bad memories — so many murders, so many things.

CARLOS: At times it’s like a psychological trauma. You think you must die because you belong to a gang.

Many of Carlos’ friends in this early photograph are dead.

CARLOS: When I see this child, because really he’s an Ixto (Mayan Quiche term for a toddler) I would think that his father was in the Pavon prison and his mom was working in the bus terminal of a very poor area and his older brothers were gang members. This is the vicious circle. When you are so young, you can’t leave. You can’t break this cycle.

CARLOS: Definitely he would never be able to break this cycle unless he were a saint and able to think differently. With such a circle enveloping him, how would he be able to leave?

CARLOS: Since this conversation Carlos has learned that “Spike,” the child with tattooed arms, was murdered. He was eleven years old when I photographed him and twelve when he died.

CARLOS: I like to visit the forgotten places… maybe it’s because I come from such a place.

CARLOS: Well not maybe; I did come from a forgotten place: a place where there is no water, no food, where many families have only an ear of corn to eat in a whole day.

CARLOS: The people feel so happy when someone comes to visit them. People feel recognized: “They remembered us, they know we exist.”

CARLOS: I remember my grandmother giving me advice all the time. It goes in one ear and out the other or you file it, but you don’t listen.

CARLOS: Change has to come from within you.

CARLOS: I think about and reflect on many things. I wonder if I’d continued with this same force whether I’d still be alive or not.