19 “La cumbia de la memoria” (2016) by Rebeca Lane—Human Rights

Before the song

1. The song title highlights the importance of memory in creating community bonds. Let’s put that into practice with an activity in which the whole class participates. Sitting in a circle, choose a memory that everyone shares (for example, the first day of school) and, one at a time, share your personal story of that shared memory.

2. Lane’s song talks about the memory of the Ixil Mayan people regarding the crimes committed by the army against them during the Guatemalan civil war. The testimonies of the victims and witnesses served to convict the military of the crime of genocide. What distinguishes this legal term from other violent crimes against people? How does the perspective change if one uses genocide instead of violence against people? Discuss these questions with your classmates.

In groups, read the description of genocide and discuss what elements stand out to you the most. The text below comes from the report Guatemala: Memoria del silencio (Guatemala: Memory of Silence)[1], an account and evaluation of the human rights violations that occurred during the conflict.[2] The report was prepared by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) at the request of the United Nations.

Genocide

109. Article II of this instrument [the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide] defines the crime of genocide and its requirements in the following terms:

“….genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;

b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

§122. In consequence, the CEH concludes that agents of the State of Guatemala, within the framework of counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people which lived in the four regions analysed. This conclusion is based on the evidence that, in light of Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the killing of members of Mayan groups occurred (Article II.a), serious bodily or mental harm was inflicted (Article II.b) and the group that was deliberately subjected to living conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (Article II.c). The conclusion is also based on the evidence that all these acts were committed “with intent to destroy in whole or in part” groups identified by their common ethnicity, by reason thereof, whatever the cause, motive or final objective of these acts may have been (Article II, first paragraph).

3. Rebeca Lane is the artistic name of the Guatemalan singer Rebeca Eunice Vargas Tamayac (Guatemalan City, 1984). Watch the interview that Lane did for DW channel. Activate the auto-translate function to include English subtitles. After watching the interview, answer the following questions:

3.1. Who is Rebeca? How does she define herself? How does her family describe her?

3.2. What is Lane’s view of music and art? What topics are in her songs? Who are the protagonists in her music? Who is her audience?

3.3. How does Lane explain the trial against Ríos Montt? What does she think about armed struggle? And what about political activism?

3.4. How does Lane understand and describe feminism?

3.5. How does she describe her indigenous origins and mestizaje (mix of races) in Guatemala?

3.6. How does she picture Guatemala nowadays?

 

Song and music video  

4. Listen to the song and watch the music video on YouTube.

5. Below you can find the lyrics of “La cumbia de la memoria.” Click on the links to know more about the references in the text.

We are here to vindicate the memory of the Ixil people.
We are here to say:
Here in Guatemala, there was genocide!

Rivers of blood that the Earth cried,
after so much slaughter in times of war.
And don’t think that this happened only in the 80s,
so many towns razed in such a bloody way.
So many killings in such a violent way,
the army murdered over and over again.
As they think with hatred they do things the wrong way,
they defend the interests of the rich, you may
have not realized this but the massacre of Mayan
communities had a genocidal purpose.

Sofía said it, they want to kill majorities,
what a coincidence that there is mining in those lands now.
Rifles and beans to reeducate,
those are concentration camps to ladinize
Ríos Montt, do not deny it, we are gonna judge you.
As many times as necessary, I will testify.

Of course there was genocide,
this body knows it because the body never forgets,
you try to erase history and I write memory,
listen to this song, it is a conviction.
Of course there was genocide,
this body knows it because the body never forgets,
you try to erase history and I write memory,
listen to this song, it is a conviction.

I am not the genocide.
They can’t force historical amnesia
on our collective memory.
I am fighting.
We are not the genocides.
What a nerve! to say that there was not genocide.

There was a genocide!

The genocide is Ríos Montt.

The Ixil people have already brought you to trial
Judge Jazmín Barrios said, yes, he did it!
For days you listened to the tortures
of people so brave that they refuse to forget.
The power managed to overturn the conviction,
antediluvian oligarch pushed back progress
they fear that we have lost our fear
we were reborn from the earth with all our dead.

Of course there was genocide,
this body knows it because the body never forgets,
you try to erase history and I write memory,
listen to this song, it is a conviction.
Of course there was genocide,
this body knows it because the body never forgets,
you try to erase history and I write memory,
listen to this song, it is a conviction.

Genocide is not just our fight in the country,
but a demand from the world,
that the genocides in Guatemala,
be tried and sentenced.

There was genocide.

 

After listening to the song

In groups of three or four, answer the questions below to know more about the themes in the song. Share your answers with the rest of the class.

6. The song begins with a quote by Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias: “The eyes of the buried will close on the day of justice, or they will never close.” The same quote can be found in the prologue to the Report by the Commission for Historical Clarification. What does this phrase mean? Why do you think it is included in the report and the song?

Search online who was Miguel Ángel Asturias. Write down five key ideas about him and his work and present them in class.

7. The music video includes different locations. Describe each of the locations: who are the people there? How do they look like? What do they wear? What are they doing?

The scenes of the trial[3] come from the documentary Dictador en el banquillo (Dictator in the Dock(2013) directed by Pamela Yates. Watch the episode 24, in which the judge reads the sentence and answer the questions below: What is the sentence? What reasons does the judge provide to justify her sentence? What does the judge hope for the future of Guatemala after issuing the sentence? How do people in the room react? How does this episode relate to Lane´s song and what you have read about genocide?

8. The lyrics of the song use the first person in plural (we) and singular (I), as well as the second person (you) and the third person plural (they). Read the lyrics, watch the music video and try to find out who those persons are. What actions does the song attribute to each person? Does the singing voice identify with one of them?

  Who is…? What actions are carried out by…?
I    
We    
You    
They    

9. Along with racism, the song brings a new reason why Ixil people were been exterminated. Which one?

Final assignment  

10. The genocide carried out by the Nazis during Second World War prompted the international community to develop international treaties to prevent something similar happening again in the future. One of those treaties was the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, whose definition of genocide we have read in activity #2. Another was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Read article 1 of the Declaration and write a reflective essay about it.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

References

Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española. Diccionario de americanismos.www.asale.org/obras-y-proyectos/diccionarios/diccionario-de-americanismos. 5 Feb. 2021.

“Collective memory.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2021,  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_memory. 4 April 2021.

Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico. Guatemala, Memory of Silence. United Nations, 1999. Human Rights Data Analysis Group, hrdag.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/CEHreport-english.pdf. 4 April 2021.

“Efraín Ríos Montt.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2021,  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efra%C3%ADn_R%C3%ADos_Montt. 3 April 2021.

“Episodio 24.” Vimeo, uploaded by Skylight, 6 Aug. 2013, vimeo.com/71834988. 4 April 2021.

“Genocide.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide. 3 April 2021.

“Guatemalan genocide.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guatemalan_genocide. 3 April 2021.

“Guatemalan Civil War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guatemalan_Civil_War. 3 April 2021.

“Iris Yassmin Barrios Aguilar.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 March 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixil_people. 3 April 2021.

“Ixil people.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixil_people. 3 April 2021.

Lane, Rebeca. “Biography/Bio.” Rebeca Lane. www.rebecalane.com/about, 2016. 3 April 2021.

—. “La cumbia de la memoria.” Alma mestiza, MiCuarto Studios, 2016.

—. “La cumbia de la memoria.” YouTube. 13 June 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bw_0e__U6k. 3 April 2021.

—. “Rap y memoria histórica en Guatemala.” Entrevista con Natalia Orozco. Youtube, uploaded by DW Español, 23 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vVh5QF0WQY. 3 April 2021.

Meislin, Richard. “Guatemalan Chief Says that War is Over.” The New York Times, 11 Dec. 1982, www.nytimes.com/1982/12/11/world/guatemalan-chief-says-war-is-over.html. 3 April 2021.

United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights. 3 April 2021.

Yates, Pamela. Dictador en el banquillo. Dictator in the Dock. Skylight, skylight.is/es/blog/films/dictador-en-el-banquillo/. 4 April 2021.


  1. The available English translation is a summary of the original report in Spanish that can be accessed here: www.centrodememoriahistorica.gov.co/descargas/guatemala-memoria-silencio/guatemala-memoria-del-silencio.pdf.
  2. The Commission's conclusions and recommendations did not have legal effect.
  3. The sentence was revoked shortly after by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala. Another trial was initiated but it was interrupted because the defendant passed away.