The Blood of Guatemala

A History of Race and Nation

The Blood of Guatemala

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 27 b&w photographs, 6 tables, 4 maps Published: March 2000

Author: Greg Grandin

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Central America

Over the latter half of the twentieth century, the Guatemalan state slaughtered more than two hundred thousand of its citizens. In the wake of this violence, a vibrant pan-Mayan movement has emerged, one that is challenging Ladino (non-indigenous) notions of citizenship and national identity. In The Blood of Guatemala Greg Grandin locates the origins of this ethnic resurgence within the social processes of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century state formation rather than in the ruins of the national project of recent decades.
Focusing on Mayan elites in the community of Quetzaltenango, Grandin shows how their efforts to maintain authority over the indigenous population and secure political power in relation to non-Indians played a crucial role in the formation of the Guatemalan nation. To explore the close connection between nationalism, state power, ethnic identity, and political violence, Grandin draws on sources as diverse as photographs, public rituals, oral testimony, literature, and a collection of previously untapped documents written during the nineteenth century. He explains how the cultural anxiety brought about by Guatemala’s transition to coffee capitalism during this period led Mayan patriarchs to develop understandings of race and nation that were contrary to Ladino notions of assimilation and progress. This alternative national vision, however, could not take hold in a country plagued by class and ethnic divisions. In the years prior to the 1954 coup, class conflict became impossible to contain as the elites violently opposed land claims made by indigenous peasants.
This “history of power” reconsiders the way scholars understand the history of Guatemala and will be relevant to those studying nation building and indigenous communities across Latin America.


“[A] careful and compelling history of the genesis of race and nation among the K’iche’ Maya of Quetzaltenango. . . . Grandin’s original analysis is destined to be a classic work.” — Victoria Sanford , American Ethnologist

“[E]ssential reading for Guatemalanists and Latin Americanists alike. . . . The strength of Grandin’s work lies in his ability to see across boundaries and to show interconnections that run deep in Guatemalan history. . . . He is in dialogue with both historians and anthropologists and makes a valuable contribution to diverse disciplines and world regions. The Blood of Guatemala is an important book.” — Mark Carey , H-Net Reviews

“[I]mpressive. . . . If we fold neither race nor class into the other, the immense difficulty—and importance—of addressing both together comes into sharper focus. Grandin’s splendid book helps us to see how to proceed in this endeavor, and why it continues to matter.” — Florencia E. Mallon , American Historical Review

“A remarkable tour de force. It is one of the glories of American democracy that North Carolina is home to both Jesse Helms and the Duke University Press. This book describes a Latin America about as far away from the senator’s conception of the place as can be imagined. Grandin, who worked with the Guatemalan Truth Commission in 1997-1998, displays a powerful narrative style—touching on nationalism, state power, class and caste divisions, ethnic identity, and political violence—that remains free of heavy postmodern objuscation. . . . Grandin brilliantly dissects how the Mayans defined their own national identity within the Guatemalan state.” — , Foreign Affairs

“A timely and impeccably researched addition to the growing body of work that examines the extent to which the reformist government of the mid-twentieth century brought about their own destruction and the subsequent ignition of a violent Civil War.” — British Bulletin of Publications

“Among the many merits of this remarkable study is Grandin’s pioneering use of cutting-edge approaches to the study of Guatemalan Indians. . . . The result is an innovative study of an Indigenous community and its role in national history and state building that offers valuable direction for future studies and provides a much more complete portrayal of Guatemala and its ethnic diversity than has previously been done. . . . Lucidly written . . . . The book, as a whole, is rich in suggestive insights and bold hypotheses that will no doubt provoke scholarly debate and stimulate further research projects seeking to test Grandin’s assertions. . . . The book will appeal to readers interested in Latin American subaltern histories in general and the history of the Maya in particular. It will no doubt become the model on which future monographic work on other Guatemalan communities will be based.” — Jorge H. González , Ethnohistory

“Grandin’s work . . . helps cut through many clichés and stereotypes of recent Guatemalan historiography.” — E. H. Moseley , Choice

“The title of Greg Grandin’s fine and meticulously researched book, The Blood of Guatemala, refers to the inextricable roles that ethnicity, caste and violence have played in that nation’s history. This study presents a detailed analysis of the tensions, accommodations and carefully considered mutual alliances that have framed notions of race and power in Guatemala and in Xela. . . . [Grandin] lay[s] out a complex portrait of indigenous agency and self-conscious subjectivity in the creation of an alternative vision of Guatemalan ‘nationality’” — Virginia Garrard-Burnett , Times Higher Education

“This is an excellent book for those who wish to understand the complexities of Guatemala’s historical transition from a remote Spanish colony . . . to a racially and ethnically mixed sovereign nation-state. . . . Grandin offers considerable insight into the national and racial dynamics of [Guatemala]. . . . He provides not only an account of Guatemala’s past but also a more thougthful way of viewing its future.” — Steve C. Ropp , Perspectives on Political Science

“This scrupulously researched, ingeniously argued book deserves the most serious consideration.” — Stephen Henighan , TLS

"[A] wide-ranging discussion . . . . [C]ompelling. . . . [T]his is a very complex and elegant book that combines a compelling narrative with meticulous scholarship. It will be of interest to all scholars concerned with the relationships between class, ethnicity, gender, nation and state formation."

— Jennie Purnell , Journal of Latin American Studies

“Anyone interested in Latin American history will enjoy this myth-and-stereotype-shattering study of Mayan cultural and national identity as it has evolved over centuries in one region of Guatemala, ‘Los Altos.’ Thick with novelistic detail and anecdote, brilliantly and imaginatively researched, totally engrossing in its melding of convincing analysis and strong narrative sweep, Grandin takes us to a ‘high placee’ and guides us back over the tangled, treacherous paths that led there.” — Francisco Goldman

“Bold, fascinating, and important, The Blood of Guatemala is a model of careful, yet highly innovative and original scholarship. Grandin has gone well beyond fine research to create a powerful narrative of two important centuries’ worth of Guatemalan history. Its many different dimensions—political, economic, social, demographic—form a histore totale.” — John Demos, Yale University

“Brilliant, bold, and beautifully written from the first page to the last, The Blood of Guatemala convincingly challenges previous interpretations of the histories of ethnicity, commmunity, state, nation, and nationalism in Guatemala. Greg Grandin has skillfully united the disciplines of history and anthropology; he is part of a new generation of committed, sophisticated, and clearheaded intellectuals.” — Deborah Levenson, Boston College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Greg Grandin is Assistant Professor of History at New York University. He worked with the Guatemalan Truth Commission in 1997–1998.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: Searching for the Living among the Dead 1

Prelude: A World Put Right, 31 March 1840 20

1. The Greatest Indian City in the World: Caste, Gender, and Politics, 1750-1821 25

2. Defending the Pueblo: Popular Protests and Elite Politics, 1786-1826 54

3. A Pestilent Nationalism: The 1837 Cholera Epidemic Reconsidered 82

4. A House with Two Masters: Carrera and the Restored Republic of Indians 99

5. Principales to Patrones, macehuales to Mozos: Land, Labor, and the Commodification of Community 110

6. Regenerating the Race: Race, Class, and the Nationalization of Ethnicity 130

7. Time and Space among the Maya: Mayan Modernism and the Transformation of the City 159

8. The Blood of Guatemalans: Class Struggle and the Death of K'iche' Nationalism 198

Conclusions: The Limits of Nation, 1954-1999 220

Epilogue: The Living among the Dead 234

Appendix 1 Names and Places 237

Appendix 2 Glossary 241

Notes 243

Works Cited 315

Index 337
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Winner, 2001 Bryce Wood Award, Latin American Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2495-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2458-4
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