Vigil held for Guatemalan girls killed in children’s home fire

Dozens gathered at Sather Gate Monday to mourn the lives of 40 Guatemalan girls who were killed by a fire in a government-run children’s home that was reportedly set in protest against abuse at the center.

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Christina Reyes, a second-year student majoring in political science and gender and women’s studies, helped organize the vigil. A first-generation U.S. citizen born to Guatemalan immigrants, she says it’s important to include the narratives and struggles of people living in Central America, as the region is often overlooked.

“It’s important to bring to light the issues that plague so many Central American countries,” says Reyes. “As Guatemalans here at Cal, we have the immense privilege to use our voices that these girls never had. We must demand justice.”

The children’s center in San José Pinula housed girls and boys up to 18 years old. There were frequent complaints of abuse and overcrowded living conditions from the youth living at the shelter. It remains under investigation who set the fire on March 8, and why the doors remained locked as youths tried to escape the blazing building.

A student organization, Central Americans for Empowerment (CAFÉ), was recently started on campus for students and alumni to build a sense of community.

Arlette Jácome, a fifth-year student majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies, also born in the U.S. to Guatemalan immigrants, helped organize the vigil and is a founding member of CAFÉ. “It’s taken a long time for me to find the few Central American students I’ve connected with on campus,” she says. “To have a space where we can come together and learn about our culture and celebrate our history… it means a lot to me.”

CAFÉ, which already has more than 100 members, also hopes to establish an alumni chapter and to work with the campus to start a course on Central America.

Posted on a pillar of Sather Gate is a letter written in Spanish and English by Reyes and Jácome urging the Guatemalan government to take responsibility for the young lives lost in the tragic fire. They plan to deliver the letter to the Consulate General of Guatemala in San Francisco.

To learn more about CAFÉ, email cafeatucb@gmail.com.