A Guatemalan woman leads a group of students in a dance

Students explore identity in the Hispanic world

Students and faculty member Christina Lee traveled to Guatemala for the course “Identity in the Hispanic World” and captured photos and thoughts about the experience, which follow. In this photo: After women at a weaving co-op demonstrated how they create their textile art, they showed us a traditional Kaqchikel dance from Santiago de Zamora and invited us to dance with them. A couple of the women had baskets, which contained flower petals. They scattered these petals on the floor and on some of our classmates. This moment was filled with smiles and laughter for everyone at the cooperative.

To explore issues of social stratification and poverty and their connection to identity formation, students in the “Identity in the Hispanic World” course traveled to Guatemala over fall break to participate in a service-learning program at a nonprofit organization that addresses education, health care and housing in towns near Antigua.

The course, taught by Christina Lee, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, is a Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) Exploration Seminar.

With photos, Lee and the students captured the experience.

View out of the plane window, looking down on the Antigua Valley

After an early morning departure from Princeton and many hours of travel, we finally got our first glimpse of the Antigua valley in Guatemala. We had read a lot about the country’s natural beauty and the land’s significance in Guatemalan culture, but it was striking to see how nature interacted with urban growth and shaped daily life. This was an amazing view to start our trip with!

A student sits with 2 weavers

We went to a weaving co-op in Santiago de Zamora that was created by Kaqchikel women to educate other women how to weave to make a living and to cook for themselves. Two of the women walked us through the stages of weaving, giving us a glimpse into the work they do.


Students watch a silversmith at work

In this photo, the class watches a skilled silversmith show us his process. He was gracious enough to allow the group into his personal home as a part of the program Day in the Life. In this demonstration, the silversmith is demonstrating how shaving down the sides of the piece of silver makes them more shiny, perfect and ready for sale.


Students with a chocolatier

We had the opportunity to learn about chocolate-making from Doña Sonia in a town called Santa Inés del Monte Pulsiano. Although chocolate is native to this region, Doña Sonia did not get into the chocolate business until she moved to Nicaragua, where she learned chocolatier techniques from a European employer. When she moved back to Guatemala, she found a contact to sell her cocoa beans, and has sold her chocolates in Antigua ever since. From left to right: Kate Daugherty, Brittani Telfair, Doña Sonia, Hadar Halivni, Jacquelyn Davila and Christina Lee.

A woman gives a student a freshly made tortilla

Annabelle Mauri, Hannah To, Jacky Davila and I are learning how to make homemade tortillas. It was a lot more difficult than we expected because the dough would stick to our hands when we tried to flatten it out. After a few tries, we finally figured it out, and the tortillas we made ended up tasting delicious.


3 students involved in a construction task

We spent our first morning in Guatemala putting together panels for the walls of the house our group built with Common Hope. The construction team at the foundation showed us how to use power tools and how all of the pieces of the house fit together. It was a great start to the trip, and an amazing experience to give the finished home to the family at the end of the week. From left to right: Haneul Jung, Brittani Telfair and Hannah Smalley.

  • Students stand in front of an elaborately decorated kite while holding a Princeton University banner

    The group stands in front of the climate change-themed giant kite (barrilete gigante) of Santiago Sacatepéquez, one of the two main sites for the Giant Kite Festival that occurs every year on All Saints’ Day. The kite festivals display handmade paper kites that feature messages that refer to issues such as anti-violence, environmental protection and celebration of indigenous identities in Guatemala.

  • At the Kite Festival in Sumpango

    The Giant Kite Festival in Sumpango, Guatemala, thrillingly paints the sky with enormous, handmade kites on Nov. 1, the day Guatemalans celebrate the Day of the Dead. These kites that soar over the mountainous landscape require long periods of intense preparation that involves extensive teamwork, which reflects indigenous populations’ communal nature and their intimate relationship with the land. This event draws enormous international crowds who excitedly observe as these teams compete, endeavoring to launch their kites. Beyond the day’s competition, the teams painted inspiring, diverse messages on such themes as the environment and violence against women.

  • Two students in front of the church

    In this photo, you can see Santi Guirán '22 and Jared Holeman '21 behind a rustic church in the Antigua Valley. After a long day of helping build a house, they were happy to spend some time in the picturesque church plaza, where they also met a puppy named Scrappy, with whom they fell in love. They are on the back of a pickup truck, which took them from place to place during their construction duties.

  • Students in front of the Santa Catalina Arch

    We visited Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on our free day. Other sites we visited included El Convento de las Capuchinas, La Catedral and el Cerro de la Cruz.

  • Students walking from a visit in San Rafael El Arado

    We had the opportunity to visit an indigenous community in the town of San Rafael El Arado, in which we got to hear from indigenous families and their stories in regard to education, work and family life. In the photograph, a group of us were walking down a road that allowed us to have beautiful landscape views of the town after finishing our last family visit of the day.