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The most brutal period of genocide in Guatemala, known as la violencia and denoting the period of 1978-1983, left tens of thousands of mostly Maya indigenous children orphaned. In this dissertation, I present results from research I conducted with war orphans who are now adults and who were raised at a permanent residential home for orphaned children in Santa Apolonia, a majority Maya Kaqchikel Highlands town. Comparing 20 of these war orphans with 20 of their peers from the town of Santa Apolonia, I found that orphans had suffered greater long-term consequences from the genocide. Relative to their peers, orphans reported more genocide-related childhood trauma and ongoing effects of that trauma, greater economic challenges in adulthood because of economic loss sustained from the death of parents and property destruction brought about by la violencia, and more severed familial and community ties, which dramatically shifted their centers of socialization and enculturation during their most formative years of childhood. Nonetheless, orphans in my research project reported higher levels of emotional resiliency and post-traumatic growth and higher rates of college and advanced education enrollment than their peers, allowing them to outpace their peers economically and professionally. In addition, despite having lost familial and natal community ties, orphans asserted a deeply-rooted sense of identity and belonging in the Guatemalan nation-state today, based on a more fluid conceptualization of identity that allows for a simultaneous internalized sense of continuity and active participation in creative practices. Experiencing neither identity loss' nor an 'identity crisis,' orphans are actively and creatively adapting to their situations and contexts as orphaned survivors of genocide and maintaining a sense of profound rootedness that cannot be destroyed by external forces. Based on these findings with a particular group of war orphans, I illustrate that even in the long-term aftermath of the most brutal, inhumane violence, genocide survivors, by engaging in creative and constructive practices, can overcome adversity and build a life of hope.'


genocide, Guatemala, identity, orphans, state, trauma


Latin American and Iberian Institute (Field Research Grant and PhD Fellowship), Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies (Ortiz Public Policy Scholarship), Student Research Allocations Committee, Graduate Research and Project Travel, and the Department of Anthropology.

Document Type




Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Anthropology

First Advisor

Field, Les

First Committee Member (Chair)

Brulotte, Ronda

Second Committee Member

Singer, Beverly

Third Committee Member

Smith, Jane Ellen

Fourth Committee Member

Gibbons, Judith

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Anthropology Commons