Young, ambitious, and gay in Guatemala
“I’m a lot of things people don’t like around here: I’m not from here, I’m successful with my business, I’m gay.”
Andrés*, 28 years old, was born in a village in the province of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. He knew he was gay from a very early age on but didn’t dare to be open about it. Homosexuality is legal in Guatemala but the societal stigma around it remains since Guatemalan culture is patriarchal and machista. “Walking with my partner hand in hand over the streets? No way! Probably someone would come and shoot me,” Andrés says. So, he decided to migrate to the United States when he was 14 – all by himself, only helped by so-called coyotes, people traffickers. For several thousands of dollars, he bought a package with those traffickers. They helped him crossing into Mexico, passing the whole country, and crossing into the United States. For 10 years, he illegally lived in Atlanta, Georgia. “You’re scared basically every minute that the police ask you for your papers and then deport you.” In Atlanta, he studied everything around the topic of beauty including hair dressing, make-up, how to make nails, and tailoring dresses.
At one point, when Andrés was 24 years old, he had enough. “I wanted to go back home and help my country move forward.” He started his own beauty salon in a small city in the province of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, not far from where he was born. He wanted to use his talents and contacts from the United States to build up his own business. “I wanted the girls and women of our town to feel beautiful and help them to enhance their self-esteem but the local population didn’t like this,” he remembers downcast. When asked about how the people expressed their dissatisfaction with his beauty salon, the answer was shocking. “People went to the police accusing me of drug trafficking, abduction, theft, even murder. The police would come to my house at 6 am in the morning and search it from top to bottom. Of course, they didn’t find anything and couldn’t take me with them but this definitely hurt my reputation and business. People were scared to come to my salon.”
Andrés decided to move to Cobán, the capital city of the province of Alta Verapaz, and try his luck there. Two years ago, he opened another beauty salon. Again, local people, especially the competition, were not happy about him and his business. Again, he received threats as bad as scaring to murder him. “I don’t go out anymore. I only move by taxi from A to B. Basically, everything I do is going from my home to my salon and back. I don’t go to parties anymore. I don’t meet friends in public spaces. I’m afraid.” And nevertheless, Andrés keeps fighting for his dreams. “Because of my good contacts in the United States, it was easy for me to make my business big quite fast. Next to being a hair dresser and stylist, I design dresses for girls who participate in beauty contests. I do their make-up, hair, coach them, everything.” He, for instance, coached, dressed, and styled the current Miss Teen Guatemala.
Only last week, Andrés launched a non-profit organisation called Foundation Children of Cobán. His aim is to help children and their families in need by supporting them with resources such as food and study material. The idea is still a little vague but he wants to use the Miss Teens and Misses from the beauty contests to promote this good cause. During the official press conference and launch of the organisation Andrés stayed in the background. The people talking about the idea in front of the press were others. They were promoting his ideas, his plans. Why? “I would like to keep a low profile in this city. When people know that I’m behind this organisation, they wouldn’t support it anymore. That’s why the organisation needs someone with good connections in this city. This can’t be me.”
Andrés, 28 years old from Cobán, Guatemala. A young man with big dreams and ideas and an even bigger endurance to fight for these.
*In order to protect the main character of this article, Andrés is a fictional name.