Between Twin Souls: German-Maya Children and Politics of Interracial Romance in Guatemala, 1930–45

Friday, January 4, 2013: 9:10 AM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Julie A. Gibbings, University of Manitoba
It is commonplace to hear among Guatemalans that German settlers and Mayas are “twin souls.” Ethnic affinities such as love of nature and drink, hard work and frugality, have provided popular explanations for the numerous interracial sexual unions between German settlers and Mayas that took place between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Interracial love, it is suggested, transcended extreme socio-economic inequalities and racial hierarchies that divided Mayas and German settlers. Drawing on the lives and affective memories of German-Maya children, this paper explores the limits of interracial love, the politics of sex and the production of race.

In Alta Verapaz Guatemala, a new class of mixed-race children produced from unions between German coffee plantation owners and Maya women had come of age by the 1930s. Drawing on their stories developed through an analysis of oral histories and archival materials, this paper examines how these interracial children negotiated between the German romanticization of Maya culture and language and their desire to leave behind the stain of indigeneity. This delicate balance between being neither fully German nor Maya ruptured, however, during the rise of German National Socialism and the populist dictatorship of Jorge Ubico and the contradictory demands of German and Guatemalan nationalisms. In the process, Maya-Germans confronted the limits of interracial love, the betrayals of their fathers, and the ability of romance to reproduce racial hierarchy.

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