Julio Tojín Vásquez is a 21-year-old young man from Uspantán, Quiché. His great charisma and gracefulness makes him stand out from the crowd. He possess remarkable speaking abilities and great communications skills. We had the opportunity of interviewing him for SERES’s Annual Meeting and here’s a copy of our conversation:
Do you like to read?
I love to read. I read history and self-improvement books as well as those written by Latin American authors. For example, I really like Eduardo Galeano.
If you like Galeano then you surely like politics, or am I wrong?
Not at all. I love politics. I’ve been interested since I went to school. I was a rebel and not a single teacher believed in me. However, one day I decided that I had to take on a leadership role because I saw how class Presidents didn’t do anything. Teachers chose them because they obtained good grades, so I decided to set up a student party and summoned student elections. I was elected. That’s how I found out that this is my calling.
What are your views on Guatemalan politics?
I believe there’s a misuse of public services. They use their political office for personal purposes, to thank the party that led them to power, but completely forget the citizens. Their raison d’être.
In which phase of your training process does SERES fits in?
SERES is like nitrogen (laughing), it propels that which has already started. I’m going to tell you a story. I was already a student leader, but since teachers were uncomfortable with my low grades they didn’t suggest my name for a SERES’s YLP workshop scheduled for my community. However, I knew the meeting place and since I was interested in getting trained I arrived uninvited. That’s how the relationship began.
It surprised me that many of those who had been invited didn’t attend, and I, who went as an intruder, benefited significantly from the process.
What did you liked most about the process?
That it gave me tools which could be applied to facilitate consensus building with the groups with whom I was participating.
What bothers you from the current national reality?
I think locally before thinking at a national level. It bothers me that a small family controls my town. Is a limited group of politicians that decides on behalf of a lot of people. The current leader is just a puppet of the usual funders.
I am interested in coming to power but with the people. A friend told me there are three ways of achieving it: with money, with relatives engaged into politics or working with the community. I don’t have money or family members involved with the government but I like people. I feel close to, and embraced by, my community: the people believe in me.
Have you managed to get into an important political space?
Yes. The most important space I’ve gained is at the Consejo de los Pueblos (Villages Council). In the Mayan culture youngsters don’t have a saying, the authority belongs to the grandfather. Nevertheless, I got to show them that I have firm beliefs, plus valuable ideas, and they selected me as youth representative.
Who do you think awoke that yearning to change things?
I have a close family friend, a very wise and beloved man. Years ago he told me: “If you’re going to be rebellious you have to be a rebel with a cause”. That opened up my mind, I realized that there was a positive way to channel rebelliousness. He taught me to avoid being manipulated.
Was he the one who persuaded you into politics?
Yes. My grandparents were leaders, but they were murdered because they dared to organized their people. I think that the tradition comes from there.
Did your parents carried on your grandparents battles?
No. Sometimes I say to my father: “I see that you don’t participate in our battles. It’s true that people respect you, but you don’t fight”. He never answers me.
Do you see yourself as a inheritor of your grandparents and great-grandparents battles?
Yes. I empathize very much with their battles. There are those who criticize me because sometimes I use indigenous clothing but I couldn’t care less. I practice my culture and my language because I know how much blood was shed to keep it alive.
Some say that we are bitter. I tell them: if your grandfather and great-grandparents had been murdered, wouldn’t you also seek justice? That’s my motivation: justice, respect to our Mayan identity and saving the environment. Well, life.