Viva Guatemala! Celebrating Independence Day during a pandemic   
by Heidi Johnson

In the United States, Independence Day is celebrated with hot dogs and parades, concluding with a glamorous (expensive) fireworks show. But here in Guatemala, the Independence Day celebrations on September 15 looks very different.

Of course, Guatemala’s flags fly everywhere – outside homes, on cars, or printed on t-shirts, but that is only the beginning. Typically, the holiday is celebrated for the two weeks leading up to the Independence Day as schools practice for their presentations and parades, some starting as early as June!

The student with the highest GPA is named the “banderada,” or the privileged one to carry the Guatemalan flag in the parade. While the sights and sounds of fireworks and firecrackers are omnipresent, so is the all-day-long blast of recorded patriotic songs sung by children.

Though the highlight of the celebrations, “antorcha” (when schools and community groups run with a torch from their town or city center back to their neighborhood or school), was canceled along with the cultural nights at school and the elaborate parades, the other celebrations still went ahead.

Guatemala has a rich history of culture, which is celebrated and taught each year around Independence Day. Something that really encourages me is the way that Independence Day doesn’t just bring pride in being Guatemalan but instills in Guatemalans their rich history. And COVID-19 could not stand in its way.

Perhaps this year, more than before, celebrations of culture were even more special. At Oasis, each house was assigned a state (locally referred to as “department”) of Guatemala. The house had to decorate an area showcasing their assigned state’s culture, prepare food from that area, learn the important historical events of that place, dress in their traditional clothes, and prepare a song or dance performance.

After days of planning and preparation which went on in the day and night, their displays were presented on September 11. A team of the administrative staff at Oasis assigned as judges visited each house to evaluate the murals, decorations, and presentations. It was so fun to see how each house decorated based on their assigned state’s culture while weaving in each girl’s unique personality in the décor and presentations. Such a colorful event! Even the baby house participated and many girls from Casa Ester to Oasis to participate in the event.

With the ongoing pandemic and the economy in a steep spiral, it could have been easier to skip the celebrations this year, but to witness the spirit of Guatemalan pride in these young girls – the pride of being a part of something much larger made the day. Girls and house moms went all out to be judged the “Best House” and everyone noted how much effort went into creating the murals.

On September 15, during the Independence Day ceremony hosted at the Oasis campus, the winners of the murals were announced. There was a three-way tie for first place; Green House (state of Izabal), Gold House (Peten), and the baby house (Chimaltenango). The houses that won received an award and earned bragging rights, along with snacks to enjoy back in their houses. Viva Guatemala!