Tierra: How does a boy connect with his Guatemalan heritage?

November 23, 2022 / By Laura Yeager

The story of a visitor’s experience.

How does a boy who was born in Guatemala City and who now lives in Stow, Ohio connect with his Guatemalan heritage? 

We adopted our son Tommy in 2005.  We journeyed to Guatemala, the Land of Eternal Spring, in January, to pick him up.  And lo and behold, the weather was very mild, the air soft and almost warm.  I dressed in him PJs and a soft hoodie.  I was proud of myself that I had prepared perfectly for the temperate weather.  We stayed in the Marriott in Guatemala City for a few days and then got ready to journey back to the States.  We panicked for a moment because there was an air traffic controllers’ strike, but it only lasted 24 hours, and soon we were home on Ohio soil.

In the years he’s been in the US, Tommy hasn’t had many chances to experience his Latin roots.  As a baby and toddler, he belonged to a Guatemalan play group.  And as a high schooler in Stow, he does know a couple kids from Guatemala, also adoptees, but he hasn’t really experienced his culture with them.  The only time he does get to be around Latinos is when we go to the Guatemalan restaurant — El Rinconcito Chapin — in Cleveland, Ohio.  There, he eats traditional food and is able to hear Spanish.  We also dip into the Latin vibe when we eat at Mexican restaurants.  He likes to flirt with the servers and use a little Spanish he knows to communicate with them.  “Buenos tardes,” he tells them.

So when we set out for Pittsburgh this last weekend to go to the Latin American Cultural Center to view Guatemalan art, he was very excited.  On Friday night, we ended up at the Hyatt House, where we had a beautiful view of the Monongahela River.  From our 3rd floor balcony window, we admired the skyline as it reflected into the river, making two skylines, one wavering from water movement and one standing still and tall.

The next morning, after breakfast, we set out for our appointed time – 10:00 to 12:00 – to view the art.  Using our GPS, we had no problem finding the museum.  We parked in a parking deck and walked to the building.  Marching up the grand stone steps, we approached the door, which we tried to pull open, but it was locked.  We thought the museum was closed, but then, we noticed a little sign that said, “ring the bell.”  We rang it.  A soft voice said, “Hello.”

I said, “We’re here to see the artwork.”  It was not unlike Dorothy Gale and crew knocking on the Wizard’s door in the Wizard of Oz.

“Oh, yes,” she said.  She buzzed us in.

Once inside the beautiful white room with huge white columns, we were greeted by the same young woman with a lilting Spanish accent.  “Welcome,” she said.

“Thank you,” we said.

The woman, whose name was Daniella, gave us the lowdown on what we’d see on the first floor of the museum and then told us that the art was upstairs.  Tommy was a little under the weather and didn’t care to look at the sights on the first floor.  He was dismayed because seeing the Guatemalan artifacts made him miss his birth mother, whom he’d never really “met”; he was three-months old when he departed Guatemala.  He sat down quietly and waited for us to return.  Daniella sat down with him.  We could hear them conversing. 

“My parents and family are in Guatemala.  I miss them.  When I look at the full moon, I see my mother’s face.”  

Daniella could sense his sadness and loneliness, and she said something that Tommy claims changed his life.  She said “Focus on the people who are with you here.  Those are the people who count now.”

This pep talk gave him strength to tour the art.

We looked at the magnificent paintings in glorious multi-colors.  They were composed of dozens of bold figures with round faces.  Each face had a unique expression on it.  Some were happy; some were sad; some were confused; some, excited.  What a visual feast!

The art portrayed life in Guatemala – birth, death, bone setting, worship, eating, baptism.  It displayed Christian and native religions mingled together.

Daniella and Tommy began to talk to each other again.  She counted to fifteen in Spanish with him.  Then, they ran through the planets.

“Mercurio.  Venus.  Tierra.  Marte…”

What a fun time they were having!

And I couldn’t get the song “Love the One You’re With” out of my head.  Of course, he loved us, but the fact they he’d never met his birth family made them all the more special.

I was reminded of the famous line from The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

But where’s home? in Tommy’s case.

Maybe someday, Tommy would return to Guatemala, but that day, home was the Latin American Cultural Center.

For more information, contact:

Sandra Budd

About the Latin American Cultural Center (LACC)

LACC features a small but highly informative museum display, as well as live programming in an intimate performance venue that highlights the diverse cultures, music, film, and current day issues of Latin America and the Caribbean. Exhibits and related programming will be open to school groups who wish to explore this incredible region of our world. A large exhibit gallery is reserved for featuring changing presentations of special topics related to this vast geographical area.