June 5, 2012
Por Jean-Marie Simon
Luckie was a guerrilla, not the kind with a Che Guevara sweetheart locket and an Uzi under the bed, but a psychology professor at the San Carlos University who became an urban revolutionary through a process of concientización – literally, getting a conscience. She had first become involved in politics as a high school student in the 1960s when Tom and Marjorie Melville, a Maryknoll priest and nun, had formed a student organization called Cráter designed to get rich city kids into the countryside to work with Indian peasants during their school break.
It was the first time many of these students had ever traveled further than Antigua, the UNESCO-designated national heritage paradise outside the capital. And it undoubtedly was the first time they had talked to an Indian who was not the family maid. These were the privileged, sheltered fresas, slang for preppies, who would inherit their families’ restaurant chains,fincas and paper mills, and there they were, sleeping in huts with dirt floors and peeing in the cornstalks. I do not know how Luckie took to all this, but I imagine she fared better than most thanks to her father’s social conscience.
In the late 1960s, as a result of U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Guatemala that transported Vietnam’s hearts and minds strategy to the Guatemalan highlands, Cráter became suspect as a guerrilla front and the Melvilles, who by then had fallen in love and renounced the religious life, fled to Mexico where they were unsuccessfully hunted by the FBI. They later married, never to return to Guatemala, but they would write books on their experiences there and on the inequalities of land distribution. Their best-known book, the autobiographical "Whose Heaven Whose Earth" featured a full-page photo of the Melvilles with their high school protegees attending a social education course in Medellín Colombia in 1965.
Although it is hard to tell, Luckie may be one of the smiling faces among the girls with pageboys and headbands, and cow licked boys in suit and tie. When the Melvilles fled, Luckie was in Brazil doing who knows what, but she escaped a tyranny others did not -- the beginning or systemic large-scale repression directed against Guatemala’s fragile intelligentsia: lawyers, doctors, students, and even kindergarten teachers were now suspect simply for suggesting that life could be better in Guatemala.
Years later, when I knew her, Luckie would pull out Spanish translations of the Melville books tucked into her bookshelves between copies of "The Art of Loving" and "The Complete Works of Santa Teresa de Jesús." Sometimes she would take the trouble to cover the titles with birthday wrapping paper, a common precaution in Guatemala even with books featured in downtown shop windows.
Luckie’s room was not like other Guatemalan girls’ bedrooms, which looked pretty much like teenage girl bedrooms everywhere: fluffy, lacy and a hope chest in a corner already stuffed with queen-sized sheets and needle pointed hand towels. Luckie’s room was filled with Indian weavings from Rabinal and San Lucas Sacatepéquez, an apt backdrop for pink and purple African violets. A poster of Beethoven dominated the wall over her bed. The bed itself was more like a sofa, and I remember lazy afternoons after lunch when I would walk by and see Luckie lying on top of the embroidered pillows, taking a nap with Jose, the maid’s five-year-old son. The bedroom had an adjoining bathroom.
By late 1983, when Luckie had been missing for over four months, the seventeen-year-old maid, Julia, astonished the Orellana family with news: Luckie had entrusted Julia, an otherwise stranger to the family, with the whereabouts of highly confidential information including her revolutionary pamphlets and blueprints of the National Palace. Julia showed Mrs. Orellana the hiding places: behind the bathroom mirror, taped to the toilet pipe, in shelf corners, in Luckie’s shoes.
This must have been a shock to her mother, for until then no one in the family was aware that Luckie had an affiliation with any group or even a political orientation beyond then-mandatory voting in national elections. Not even her companions in arms understood why she divulged this to a young servant, but all questions were jettisoned that day as Mrs. Orellana and Julia embarked on a lightning scavenger hunt for papers in Luckie’s bedroom. There was a problem: it was Sunday, and General Rios Montt, a born-again dictator who promised to kill “legally,” literally by decree-law, instead of clandestinely, had prohibited the sale of gas on weekends in the hope that Guatemalans would stay home and read Scripture instead of seeking refuge from the tedium of war, at their chalets on Lake Amatitlán.
As a result Mrs. Orellana fed papers up the chimney and ran out to the neighborhood Shell station to see who would sell her a little gasoline under the table. She spent the day feeding Luckie’s propaganda into the fireplace in the aquarium living room, wondering if the neighbors were curious about the smoke curling out the chimney in the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon.