Guatemalan NYC is a growing community centered in Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Guatemala is Indigenous Maya country, and still is.
Chapín is a nickname that Guatemalans call themselves. It comes from “chopine,” an old Venetian platform shoe that women once used to walk through muddy streets. It was the high heel of its day. The higher the chopine, the higher her status. Chopines came to the Americas through Spanish Andalusia.
The nickname became popular when Guatemalan writer José Milla y Vidaurre named a character Juan Chapín in his stories of mid-1800s Guatemala and made fun of his innocence. Today it’s an expression of Guatemalan pride.
Guatemalan Festivals in NYC
The Feast of St. Michael Archangel (Michaelmas) around Tuesday, September 29 has become a celebration of Guatemalan culture at Saint Finbar Catholic Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It’s popular because it reminds Guatemalan New Yorkers of the Catedral San Miguel in Guatemala.
The San Miguel Choir from Saint Finbar Catholic Church often participates in the Hispanic Day Parade. Guatemalan vendors may participate in the Junta Hispana street fair.
New York City’s “Little Guatemala”
There is a Guatemalan community around 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Saint Finbar Catholic Church and La Iglesia Jovenes Cristianos church are centers of the community. Saint Finbar has a San Miguel choir.
Guatemalan New Yorkers
Sergio R. Reyes is a talented violinist and photographer originally from Guatemala.
The Guatemalan World
Rigoberta Menchú is a women’s and Indigenous rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She is the founder of Winaq, Guatemala’s first Indigenous political party. Gaby Moreno is popular Guatemalan singer-songwriter.
Guatemala is famous for its brightly colored Maya textiles. Every town has its own design. The huipil is a traditional Guatemalan blouse. Some Guatemalans speak K’iche‘, a Mayan language.
The country makes its own style of tamales wrapped in plantain or banana leaves instead of corn husks. Guatemalans eat maize corn, not sweet corn.
The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala.
There is Garifuna culture along the Caribbean coast.
As is common in post-colonial cultures, there is a syncretized Mayan/Catholic faith. Maximón or San Simón is a popular syncretized folk saint. As both the messenger of God and a trickster, he shares characteristics with the Afro-Caribbean Orisha Eleguá/Eshu, Greek/Latin Hermés/Mercury and the Greek Prometheus. Eleguá is also syncretized with Saint Michael Archangel (San Miguel). We don’t know if there is any connection, but humans do similar things everywhere and across time.
Guatemala is Indigenous Maya country. Guatemala City was the seat of Spanish colonial power in Central America.
There are contrasts between urban and rural Guatemalans. Urban Guatemalans tend to be more Protestant and rural Guatemalans more Catholic or Mayan Catholic.