Ronny Diaz served in Peace Corps from 1979 to 1981 and found his roots in Guatemala
Ronny Diaz, an Alamogordo native in search of his Latino roots, joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Central America. Two years in the Corps gave Diaz more than he had ever expected. He returned home in better touch with his heritage, speaking a second language and accompanied by his soul mate.
Diaz said Americans were generally accepted when he served in Central America. "We as a people were very respected," he said. But he does remember one occasion in which he was searched by soldiers and led out of a cafe with his hands up. Diaz said that's the only time he felt fear during his stay in Central America. "The hardest thing is getting over your homesickness," he said. He said volunteers leave their way of life behind, including the simplest of necessities, such as hot water. "You are basically going to a Third World country," Diaz said. "You live in isolated, primitive villages."
He first traveled to Costa Rica, where he immersed himself in an intensive, rigorous three-month Spanish course. Diaz said he lived with a family who didn't speak English. "I learned enough Spanish to survive," Diaz said. Then, he moved to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. His job involved teaching farmers soil conservation methods. In his time away from home, his way of life in the United States seemed to follow him around. As a young boy, Diaz helped on his grandfather's 43-acre farm. The Peace Corps assigned him to a soil conservation project due to his farming experience. Diaz was able to use his journalism experience as well. He was featured in a documentary, "Marco de San Marcos," which revolved around the work of Peace Corps volunteers. But, Diaz said, the most rewarding benefit of his Peace Corps tour was finding his soul mate, his wife of 25 years, Sonia Edith. A friend introduced them and, Diaz said, they connected immediately. "I noticed his sincerity and his heart," his wife, Sonia, said. "That's why I fell in love with him." Diaz' wife doesn't speak English and they both speak Spanish at home. They have two daughters, Raquel, 24, and Daniela, 22. "Meeting her was the highlight of my whole experience," he said. Read more.
Guatemala RPCV Mark Brazaitis wins Outstanding Researcher Awards
Brazaitis, who earned a MFA from Bowling Green University and a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard University, is a member of the English Department's creative writing faculty at Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University. A number of his writings have won national prizes, including “An American Affair,” winner of the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize; “The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala,” which won the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award; and his novel, “Steal My Heart,” which won the 2001 Maria Thomas Fiction Award. His work has also been published in prestigious journals such as “Shenandoah,” “The Notre Dame Review,” “Poetry International,” “Poetry East,” “Hayden's Ferry Review” and “The Carolina Quarterly.”
His remarkable debut collection, "River of Lost Voices," chronicles life in the impoverished Guatemalan towns of Santa Cruz and nearby Coban. The physical distance these 10 stories cover is short, but the geography of human spirit it traverses is vast. In "Gemelas," a young woman reacts with a mixture of happiness and jealousy at the prospect of her twin sister's marriage to a wealthy landowner; it is her fate to follow her sister down a tragic path. A father, his daughter and a young woman grapple with fear of abandonment and aloneness in "How They Healed." A young boy experiences the erotic thrill of mystery when he is seduced by his employer, whose face he never sees, in "Bathwater." Pervading each tale is ex-Peace Corps volunteer Brazaitis's understanding of the intricate social stratifications of his characters' rural community. Adopting the conventions of folktales in sophisticated ways, Brazaitis controls his narratives with sparse dialogue and omniscient or calmly retrospective narrators. His admirable restraint anchors the stories and connects them by a tight chain of motifs, while his lucid prose directs attention away from itself and toward the characters who provide their color and drama.
His writing frequently draws on his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. “Although I use small towns in Latin America as settings in some of my work,” he said, “I cast my thematic net wider, creating what I hope are complicated and rich tales of North Americans and Latin Americans meeting, approaching understanding, and sometimes even falling in love across language and culture.” Read more.
Torrey Peace's friends told her not to go to Guatemala as a Peace Corps Volunteer but she's glad she didn't listen
Torrey Peace's friends told her not to go. They said Guatemala was too dangerous, that it wasn't the place to be a Peace Corps volunteer, but the 26-year-old DeLand resident didn't listen. And she's glad she didn't.
Peace described her time in San Carlos Sija, a tiny Guatemalan town of 2,000 people, as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. "By the end of the two years I felt like I knew the majority of the people," Peace said. "Everyone was very friendly, and even more what struck me was their generosity." People she barely knew would invite her to dinner and give her food. Someone even loaned her a gas stove to use during her stay. "How is it that a country known to have so little can give so much?" Peace said.
Her job was to help the people in her town make better use of funds from immigrants working in the United States. "It is interesting to see the other side of the situation," she said. "That is, the fear of failure and lack of opportunity drives people to the U.S., where they believe they will have a better life." Peace met many people who had not seen their mothers, fathers, sisters for more than 10 years because they couldn't get a tourist visa, yet without the U.S. funds being sent, Sija and the economy of Guatemala would suffer. Read more.