How the Guatemalan-Maya Center helps migrant farmworkers in South Florida feel more at home.
( Valerie Muzondi / Rowdy Magazine Art Director)
It’s funny how despite being one of the five countries with no official language, the United States continues to exclude people based on their native tongue.
In Lake Worth, Florida there lies a community with cultural ties that courses through blood, action and speech itself. The 80,000 Guatemalans in South Florida have had a distinctive immigrant experience. Unlike the majority of Latin American immigrants, this community barely speaks Spanish. Instead, they keep native culture alive through everyday speech bringing 5,000 years worth of history well into the 21st century.
The Guatemalan-Maya Center helps ease this transition into an evidently monolingual society.
What exactly is the Guatemalan-Maya Center?
Father Frank O’Loughlin formally founded the center in 1992 as a non-profit that drove mothers with limited health services to doctors and bridged the language and culture barrier faced.
But the history of the center goes back way before then.
O’Loughlin’s advocitism for the Mayan people really began in the ‘80s when Indigenous migrant workers fled to America to escape the Guatemalan genocide that threatened the lives of around 200,000 Guatemalans. Many struggled to settle into their new environment in the states, and even faced harassment from employers. So O’Loughlin wanted to help them feel more at home.
Since then, the Guatemalan-Maya Center has expanded to advocate and work for different communities throughout South Florida.
What does the Guatemalan-Maya Center do?
The Guatemalan-Maya Center is designed around and for this unique and incredible community of immigrants.
The Center has provided VPKs (Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Programs) to this community since 2011 to help children learn English from scratch and receive an American education. To make the programs even more accessible, it offers at-home services designed to include children in a quality education without having to worry parents’ about transportation. According to O’Loughlin, some graduates have become as fluent in English as native speakers. With no other widely spoken language at home, it’s a miracle to get these kids to any comprehension much less the enforced Anglicized standard.
(That didn’t stop the government from shutting down one of the programs due to “unsatisfactory results” at the end of the program.)
For parents, the center also offers parenting classes and citizenship courses. The center’s advocacy is so strong that it’s helped almost one million immigrants attain agricultural work visas.
Who are the members of the Guatemalan-Maya Center?
One might expect members’ native languages to be Spanish, but this group is extremely diverse. Many languages are spoken among them, including Indigenous languages like Mam, Chuj, and Popti.
But like many immigrants arriving in the U.S., language barriers can feel debilitating, leaving many of their struggles unheard.
“Who hears this person?” O’Loughlin said in an interview. “We, God willing, we hope we are.”
One of the more notable examples of people O’Loughlin said the center has helped was a woman living in an apartment so small that it couldn’t fit the crib of her newborn baby — the baby she was giving birth to when she discovered she had tested positive with the coronavirus for the second time. To make matters worse, because of a lack of medical assistance, an exploded cyst covered the left side of her face, blackening her face and lowering her immunity.
The center was able to help her into housing comfortable enough for her and her new child.
How has the center been affected by COVID-19?
Amidst the pandemic, the government’s oversight on aiding essential workers has not spared these communities in Lake Worth. Unable to qualify for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and COVID-19 stimulus checks, these families are left to prioritize work over safety without any of the aid millions of Americans arbitrarily received.
So, the Guatemalan-Maya Center has stepped in for the government. Not only has it administered free COVID-19 tests at hours specifically designed to accommodate agricultural labor workdays, it’s also dispersed funds to these families through its #Table2TableChallenge. Donations to the charity are currently going towards pre-packaged meal disbursements and even rent payment. This may seem like the act of angels, but the Guatemalan-Maya Center is simply ensuring these essential workers are treated as they deserve: with integrity, value and worth.
Although this organization was founded around the naturalization of Guatemalan-Mayan migrant workers, the focus shifted towards the creation of all these programs to encompass the families that came about.
When asked why the charity expanded during an era of lobbying and advocacy, O’Loughlin said “Real life happens.” It’s not just about securing a visa in this building located in Lake Worth, Florida; it’s about securing the welfare of this diverse community’s future.
Kaylinn Escobar is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She's fond of underrated claymation, sitting in extravagant chairs, and yearning to the sound of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. She adores classics, healthcare, and re-told historical fiction. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Anushka Dakshit is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She likes to read, watch really long films, listen to old Bollywood, and listen to sad music when it rains. She wants to use her writing to discuss the nuances of womxnhood and culture and is passionate about social justice, femininity, and words that bring her catharsis. You can reach her at email@example.com