Monday, July 24, 2017

Heather Vrana's "This City Belongs to You"

Heather Vrana is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala, 1944-1996, and reported the following:
This City Belongs to You follows several generations of students at Guatemala’s only public university, the Universidad de San Carlos (USAC). Each chapter explores how students engaged with the university as an institution and Guatemalan and (to a lesser extent) U.S. state apparatuses in the years between 1944 and 1996, a period marked by revolution, counterrevolution, and civil war. Through these encounters, USAC students (called San Carlistas) forged a loose consensus around faith in the principles of liberalism, especially belief in equal liberty, the constitutional republic, political rights, and the responsibility of university students to lead the nation. I call this consensus student nationalism. It was crucial to the meaning of the middle class across the twentieth century.

Student nationalism was a shared project for identity-making, premised on the inclusions and exclusions of citizenship. But it did not depend on the successful formation of a nation-state or even necessarily a territory. Nationalism was less something one had or believed than a way of making political claims. It helped to bring San Carlistas into enduring fraternal bonds with their classmates. As the civil war progressed and the military and police declared war on the university, San Carlistas used student nationalism to wage culture wars over historical memory. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the reactionary forces became ever more brutal. Some students turned away from oppositional politics and focused on their studies, work, or family life. Some left USAC for one of the newer private universities, which were much safer. Others remained involved in USAC politics, often seeking support from international human rights organizations. A small number left the university to join the guerrilla and some of them were killed.

The Coda extends beyond the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, bearing witness to the poignancy of a community’s willingness to die for an idea at the hands of the government. In short, this is a history of many generations of young people: their hopes, their actions, their role in social change; attempts to control them; their struggles against the government; and their encounters with the school as a state apparatus and a crucial site for resistance and celebration.

Page 99 finds Guatemala in a moment of reckoning in late 1957, when the electoral route to political change proved illusory. As such, it marks a poignant turning point.
Visit Heather Vrana's website.

--Marshal Zeringue