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Silvia Alvarez de Davila

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Silvia Alvarez de Davila was born in Guatemala in 1960 and grew up during the civil war. She studied at San Carlos University. She and her family moved to the United States in 2004 so that she could pursue her Ph.D. in education at the University of Minnesota. She currently works with the University of Minnesota Extension at the Center for Family Development.

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Silvia Alvarez de Davila Transcription
I was born and raised in Guatemala. I am the second of three siblings and the only daughter of a middle class Guatemalan couple.
Almost the same year I was born, the armed conflict in Guatemala started. A group of young military left to the mountains to fight the government and change social structures that were oppressive and unfair. The armed conflict lasted 36 years, 36 years of oppression and death.
I was one of the luckiest who had access to education in Guatemala. I went to a Catholic school where I developed a sense of social justice. I had great mentors who contributed to my development. I could say that I had parallel worlds: on one hand my family, who nurtured me but were away of the conflict and not involved at all; on the other hand, the society where I observed injustice, racism, oppression, and poverty.
We were not rich but never lacked food, shelter, or basic services. It was in the countryside, where most of the indigenous population lived, where the rates of mortality, lack of access to electricity, running water, health services, education, and decent levels of life, were really high.
Growing up during an armed conflict was challenging. There was no safety on the streets. Bombs, gun fire attacks on the military or the guerrillas were everyday events. Despite all this, life kept going and we kept living; of course with many limitations. We were not allowed to reveal our political inclinations, or to trust strangers. We lived in fear all those years.
I went to college at the national university, where students were associated with the leftists. Being a San Carlos University student, I was considered a terrorist. I met many people that actually were: leftist militants, students, professors, workers, peasants, but I wasn’t. I witnessed many atrocities, and had classmates that were kidnaped and killed, but still continued my education. Despite all this, I graduated from San Carlos University, got married, and started a new family.
It wasn’t easy. The violence and the challenges in a fractured society were intense. Opportunities were limited and barriers were many. I worked with the support of my husband while we were raising our family. I worked in different national and international development organizations that allowed me to understand the ethnic conflict, the political complexity, and the reality of my country. I was able to travel to very distant villages in the mountains and learn from indigenous people. The violence and delinquency increased after the signature of the Peace Agreements in 1996.
My husband and I didn’t want to raise our kids in that environment. I was interested in pursuing my higher education and decided to look for scholarships and opportunities abroad. I found a generous scholarship that brought me to the United States. And all of us moved in 2004.
My immigrant story could sound very light and easy but being an immigrant is not easy. I started my life as a student raising a family, learning the language, and trying to understand the culture. Sometimes it was overwhelming. People asked us if we will stay, and at the very beginning, we didn’t know. I was still missing my relatives, my food, my land.
Years later, I graduated, started my professional life in the United States. Our family has gone through different steps: high school graduations, transitions to college, and a wedding.
Did our lives change? Yes. Our lives changed. Did our hearts change? No. We still care about those left behind. We miss them. We miss the smells, the colors, and the sun, but we have them in our lives.