The Origins of Racism in Guatemala — An Interview with Marta Elena Casaús Arzú on Anti-Indigenous Racism

Plaza Pública published an interview with Marta Elena Casaús Arzú in 2017 by Carlos Arrazola and the subsequent English translation was published in El Faro. It is a fascinating interview on race and racism in Guatemala.

Marta Elena Casaús Arzú wrote the book Guatemala: Linaje y Racismo (Guatemala: Lineage and Racism), holding up a mirror to the racist Guatemalan oligarch families of which she was a part.


Marta Elena Casaús Arzú began studying the phenomenon of racism in Guatemala because she wanted to understand the behavior of her own family, which as a child she considered “strange” because of the way they interacted with and spoke about Indigenous people. Casaús Arzú would go on to become one of Latin America’s most distinguished and expert researchers on the subject of racism. Almost three decades have now passed since the publication of her landmark work, Guatemala: Linaje y Racismo (Guatemala: Lineage and Racism). In 2017, Casaús Arzú returned to Guatemala from her home in Spain to celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary. It’s surprising, she says, how “relevant and current” the book still is.

Born in “a golden crib” and raised among the same elite Hispanic families who founded the State of Guatemala, and who continue to make up its oligarchy, is what made it possible for Professor Marta Elena Casaús Arzú to study the origins and implications of racism in her native country. It was precisely because she belonged to the dominant class, Casaús Arzú says, that she was able to explore the imagination and mentality of those who “still think they own the state,” and who consider themselves superior to the region’s original Indigenous inhabitants and their descendants. “If I weren’t an Arzú,” she says, “I wouldn’t have had access to interview” the heirs of the Criollos. Having “the courage and strength to call them out,” through her academic research, Casaús Arzú has provided a crucial contribution to the ongoing project of understanding power relations in Guatemala.

Her book, Guatemala: Lineage and Racism—the first of what would become a series of publications on the orientations and ideological foundations of Guatemala’s dominant class, and on the phenomenon of racism and discrimination in the country—is now almost 30 years old. Since its publication in 1992, Guatemala’s elites have shunned Casaús Arzú as the “black sheep” of the oligarchy. And her own family, “most of all the Arzú side, they don’t even speak to me,” she says, with a hint of derision.

“When I’ve had to attend social events, which doesn’t happen very often, with other families of the oligarchy, they always scold me,” she says. “They ask me, ‘Why do you write these things—these lies?’ They say, ‘Hey! You’re the lying Marta Casaús!’ And I tell them ‘Yeah, the lies come from the grand lie you raised me under,’” she says, laughing.

“My mother has always been pretty progressive, and the rest of my close family always defends me, but all my other relatives are terribly critical, and have even insulted me,” Casaús Arzú says. “Before,” she adds, “I didn’t take it very well; now I just laugh,” her tone becoming more didactic, though never unfriendly.

Casaús Arzú is a Doctor of Political Science and Sociology and a Distinguished Professor of Modern American History at the Autonomous University of Madrid. Under the administration of former Guatemalan president Óscar Berger (2004-2008), she directed an academic investigation that was subsequently published as A Diagnosis of Racism in Guatemala, a report that then served as the basis for A Policy for Coexistence and the Elimination of Racism in Guatemala. In the following interview from 2017, Casaús Arzú begins with a short historical explanation on the origins of racism in Guatemala, then turns to an analysis of the phenomenon as it exists today.


You can read the full English language interview, including links and photos, here The Origins of Racism in Guatemala — An Interview with Marta Elena Casaús Arzú on Anti-Indigenous Racism.



Categories: Corruption, Culture, Gender, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Racism, Rios Montt, Solidarity in Action, Violence

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