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“She was more mature than many of the students I encountered and seemed more certain of her academic goals, which seemed completely reasonable to me in light of her abilities.” Mayer encouraged Serrano to apply to Reed, and she was accepted and began attending in 1999.

Being a native Guatemalan and fluent in Spanish were helpful to Serrano during her internship, but more crucial was her familiarity with political corruption in Guatemala and the genocide of the indigenous people in this country she says is “disintegrating.”

In 1999 the U.N.-sponsored truth commission blamed Guatemala’s army for 93 percent of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances during the 36-year civil war, which ended with 1996 peace accords between the government and leftist guerrillas. The commission’s report documented 626 state-directed massacres, most of which were carried out in isolated Indian areas. A stipulation of the accords had been that exhumations of clandestine graves were to take place. During a 1997 return to Guatemala, Serrano had gone to a village named Acul and witnessed an exhumation of 23 bodies in a mass grave, some in positions that

Fundación de Antropólogos Forenses de Guatemala has documented, only three have gone to court. What seems to be more important are the more human aspects of the process: verifying eyewitness accounts, identifying the dead and returning them to their communities for burial, providing documentation for death certificates so that widows may remarry and property rights can be reclaimed, and bringing back together Mayan communities that were torn apart by the government’s relentless search for “subversives.” In some cases, the land disgraced and misused by mass graves can be cleared so that it can again be used for agriculture.

Serrano was allowed in some places to sit in on the wakes and Mayan ceremonies held for the returned dead and feels privileged to have been so honored. “Along with the remains, personal problems were also unearthed, and the people had to deal with their horrific past,” said Serrano. She explained that these ceremonies allowed the people to grieve publicly and meet the requirements of their culture. They were also finally able to break their long silence and talk about what happened. Many of the survivors have had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including suicide, domestic violence,

 

Monica Serrano '01

Monica Serrano ’01 spent last summer as a Ducey intern in Guatemala helping exhume mass graves of victims of political executions
Man in mourning  

revealed torture before burial. This experience moved her to return to Guatemala to take part in addressing the injustices and indignities visited upon the people of her native land.

Serrano is clear about the obstacles facing the exhumation process and what it can achieve, although sometimes that is remarkably little. Part of the reason for the exhumations lies in gathering evidence to determine who might have been responsible for the murders. Corruption in the courts is endemic, and few perpetrators have been prosecuted even with the forensic evidence provided by exhumation; of the 103 sites that the

and alcoholism. The exhumations are a start toward helping these people cope with their sorrow, gain a sense of hope, and begin healing.

Now Serrano admits to feeling a bit overwhelmed by being back at Reed and facing the demands of her senior year, as anyone would who has experienced such intensity. But she also emerged a stronger person, more committed to social justice with greater understanding of the ways to get there.

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