Fejos Postdoctoral Fellow: Alejandro Flores-Aguilar

We're excited to share the following trailer and blogpost from Alejandro Flores-Aguilar who in October 2019 was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film to aid filming, "Raised Gaze in Ixil Time: Towards a Minor (hi)story of War."
Place of enunciation of an Ixil insurgent episteme. Photograph by: Author

In the latter half of the 20th century, the Maya-Ixil territory witnessed an indigenous-peasant uprising, a continuation of the resistance patterns familiar to the Maya people since the colonial era. This persistence was evident in the face of the dispossession that marked late 19th and 20th century liberalism. Historical records over several centuries detail frequent revolts within Maya territories, including the Ixil region.

The Maya-Ixil uprising of this period unfolded against the backdrop of the Cold War. During this era, the political engagements of indigenous communities, including those in Guatemala like the Ixils, were deeply entangled with global, East-West, geopolitical power struggles. The Ixils and other indigenous groups played a crucial role in fighting against centuries-long legacies of abuse, violence, dispossession, and structural racism. This visual ethnography captures a segment of these complex processes, emphasizing the perspectives of indigenous armed resistance and the enduring dialectics present in contemporary indigenous politics. This video-ethnographic series offers narratives of the lives of Ixil indigenous ex-guerrilla fighters, detailing their involvement in the war of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Despite the genocidal tactics employed by the Guatemalan State in the Ixil territory against the unarmed population, especially during the peak years of repression, the Ixil communities not only survived but also rose as symbols of dignity and resistance on a global scale. Presently, there’s a resurgence in the reconstruction of traditional structures of authority, which preserves and honors the intricate connections and political insights forged during the war. Participants in these historical events remain actively involved in Guatemala’s political life, both at the community and national levels. They are bridging the gap between the generations that took up arms and endured genocidal repression and the new generation of youths committed to rebuilding the social fabric ravaged by state violence. The documentary series captures some of these memories, interlacing the recollections of the Ixils who fought in the 70s, 80s and 90s with the ongoing efforts of indigenous politicization.


Although my name appears at the top of this publication, the project “Raised Gaze in Ixil Time: Towards a Minor (hi)istory of War” cannot be signed with my own name alone— I employ the term (hi)story, as a nod to the Spanish language where ‘historia’ denotes both ‘story’ and ‘history’. Describing the project in the first person is difficult for me, as I am inevitably betraying its underlying essence, which is of the utmost importance. This project has been the result of a lengthy research process, which began long before I arrived in the Ixil territory, Guatemala, as part of the doctoral dissertation project I would carry out in the following years to obtain my Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin in 2017.

In addition to support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, its realization has been made possible by the sustained interest of the Maya-Ixil Ancestral Authorities of Nebaj (B’oq’ol Quesal Tenam Naab’a) and the Ixil University. These Ixil indigenous institutions have emphasized the need to develop multidirectional pedagogies, actively involving students from Ixil University. The outcome is a documentary series, now in post-production, that aims to interlace the life stories and testimonies collected between 2020 and 2022. In this regard, this represents an effort to strengthen intergenerational ties.

In the process of developing and producing this project, special emphasis has been placed on collaboration and active participation of Ixil communities. Through interconnected and dynamic pedagogical encounters, participants have shared their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives, thus enriching memory by expanding the testimonial genre and ensuring that their results are relevant to the Ixil territory and beyond. Raised Gaze in Ixil Time’ emerged as a situated methodological strategy, built upon collaborative work developing since 2015 with students from Ixil University. As part of this collaboration, at the request of the University’s Rector, I taught a course on testimony and memory, wherein the students researched the life stories of ex-combatants from the Ixil territory. This course was integrated with a community research process undertaken by the Ixil students, exploring methods and approaches to create, validate, and share knowledge within and emanating from the Ixil world. I edited the testimonies collected by the Ixil students and compiled them into a community-crafted book of life (hi)stories, later returned to its protagonists. This marked the inception of this project, a visual ethnography aimed at broadening the dialogue and capturing the experiences and perspectives of the Ixil former guerrillas as political actors within their historical, social, and economic contexts.

These stories had been recounted long before this visual ethnographic project began. They originated during the years of war, in the late seventies and early eighties. These are insurgent, clandestine histories that first emerged from the population in resistance and the guerrilla experience. During Guatemala’s most intense years of political violence, the forest, mountains, caves, fog, and night transformed into nomadic spaces. In these spaces, indigenous combatants and Ixil populations in resistance engaged with alternative forms of political, religious, and economic organization. They pursued asymmetrical but dialogic objectives, which nonetheless opened new possibilities. Life in the mountains was marked by extreme hardship. People spent weeks without food, exposed to rain and cold, continually climbing uphill, and under constant threat from helicopters and planes dropping bombs that annihilated everything within their radius of destruction.

Despite all this, the experience of life in the mountains also occurred within what would become a new pedagogical model. Silent movements, nocturnal rests, and traceless paths provided opportunities to share stories that prominent academics might not recount. These narratives were not just tales of survival from colonialism and capitalism but also accounts of social organization, struggle, and the convergence of multitudes for a few years in those highly unstable and, consequently, somewhat liberated territories. Many of these mountain stories, narrated firsthand by their protagonists, serve as exercises in memorialization that move beyond binary thinking, victimization, and defeatism, which have often been employed to frame the testimonial narrative of the Ixil territory.

The testimonies represent alternative (hi)stories. They do not seek to challenge the enunciation of History, written with a capital “H,” which is an institution, far removed from this space of Maya-Ixil episteme production. These types of testimonies are often considered minoritized (hi)stories that have never undergone the disciplinary process imposed by the Archive. Frequently, they are overlooked because they do not conform to binary explanations or the political paradigms that underlie hegemonic epistemes.

Acknowledging that a space for insurgent and clandestine testimonies already exists, the Raised Gaze in Ixil Time project aims to connect with a more comprehensive understanding of the Ixil region and its context.

We wanted space, we wanted the State to recognize us, with all the rights that any human being has. (…) And nobody really wanted the war, but that was the only way. So, I say, “we only had two paths at that moment, either we knelt before what the State was doing, or we made a decision”. So, in my case personally, I made the decision to take up arms. But it is not just a personal decision, it is discussed with the family, I talked to my parents, with my younger siblings. And then when I already had the weapon in my hand, I talked to my maternal grandmother and she said, “it’s fair, it’s necessary what you’re doing.” As they were already Catholics, Christians, and she had already lost her sight, she sought my forehead, she blessed me. She said in Ixil, “it’s necessary, our grandparents are tired, our grandparents have fought, they have talked to this State, they have talked to institutions. If they pay attention to you with that, go ahead.” That’s why I felt supported by my grandmother, by my parents. So, it’s not like they say, that we were lazy, that we were deceived. In reality, nobody deceived us, we voluntarily went into the struggle and the guerrilla… But the Ixiles had already been struggling, the ancestors had been fighting, the guerrilla found us fighting. People think that the guerrillas tricked us, that they deceived us, and we left because we were young and did not know what we were doing… we voluntarily decided. In my case, I took the necessary time to rise up. We did it with other comrades, of course… So, the struggle is of the Maya and ladino people. Because some say that maybe the ladinos were the ones who deceived us, and it is not true. The historical moment was the one that brought us together, it was the one that united us around the popular revolutionary war.

T. C., Interviewee/participant of the project

One of the objectives has been to find mechanisms to situate an Ixil episteme in its own territory, based on processes of recovery, systematization, and dialogue of methods of knowledge production and dissemination in the Ixil world. The experience of creating knowledge in community processes has thus allowed the creation of horizons to produce social, cultural, and, in this case, visual ethnography that breaks with the function of authorizing ethnographic knowledge. This videographic project aims for a new way of telling and understanding Ixil reality, one that is nourished by collective, insurgent memory and does not seek to validate or deny existing narratives, but rather to engage in dialogue with them and ultimately provide a space for the emergence of new understandings and perspectives.

Considering the growing political turbulence in Guatemala, the Ancestral Ixil Authorities of Nebaj, members of Ixil University, and our research team have collectively agreed that exercising extreme caution with the collected records is in the best interest of all parties (hence the off-screen voices in the teaser). While not maintaining strict confidentiality, the focus is on careful management of their dissemination, especially within Guatemala. Recently, there has been a rise in instances of (post-counterinsurgent) Lawfare – the misuse of legal systems and principles against an ‘internal enemy’– which further endangers individuals involved in research projects like ours and increases the risks associated with publicly releasing sensitive information. An ongoing discussion among Ixil researchers, ancestral indigenous authorities, and community members focuses on the appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of those involved in our work within the Ixil territory. In such a volatile political climate, our ethical responsibility as researchers compels us to prioritize the safety of our research subjects and consider the broader impact of our work on the communities we engage with. This includes ongoing dialogue with research subjects to assess the content in each episode. By adopting a cautious approach and fostering close collaboration with local authorities and institutions, we aim to balance advancing research goals with respecting the desires and concerns of the Ixil people. Essentially, the project ‘Raised Gazes of Ixil Time: For a Minor (hi)story of the War’ seeks to promote mutual understanding, respect, and dialogue among diverse actors, generations, and communities.