Since I was a year old, my parents take me to both Guatemala and El Salvador for every summer vacation. While El Salvador is an extraordinary place, my mother’s home town is actually the place closest to my heart. LaUnión, Zacapa, Guatemala is a land filled with genuinely loving people, sights so strikingly beautiful you cannot even imagine in your wildest dreams, and above all, so much culture. Like any other place, it has its good and its bad, but for me it brings nothing but wonderful memories.
Geography and Demographics
The Municipality of La Unión, is one of the 10 municipalities in the department of Zacapa, Guatemala, and belongs to Region III of the northeaster part of Guatemala. The municipality is located on “La Sierra de Merendon,” a tropical forest covered mountain range that reaches altitudes from 800 to 1,500 meters above sea level (approx. 2,625-4,920 ft.). La Unión covers an area of just 211 square kilometers. Despite its small territorial extension, it has a population approximately 25,464 inhabitants, and is the only municipality of Zacapa home to the indigenous Mayan peoples known as the Ch’orti. According to data obtained by the Municipal Planning Department, 88% of the total population lives in the rural area, and 13% of the population lives in the urban center.
The poverty levels in the area range from 50-60% and the annual household income is about Q. 6,500.00, which roughly translates into $859.51. Due to the drop in coffee prices, a staple crop of Guatemala, there have been several problems of malnutrition within the community. Approximately 25% of La Union is cultivated with coffee, 15% of the land is not suitable for crops, 24% is covered with rainforest, and the remaining 35% is land devoted to the cultivation of maize, beans, other regional crops, and livestock.
The inhabitants of La Unión participate in several community events throughout the year. Some of the more popular ones are: the “Juegos Majisteriales, or the “Teacher Games,” a serious of athletic challenges in which the contestants are all professors of local schools, another similar event in which the participants are students, an event called “Flor de la Feria” during which a town beauty queen is chosen and there are various floats and a parade through out the town. For holidays and birthdays, extended families gather together and throw parties, which are accompanied by live music, and very loud fire works. As for religion, Catholicism is the primary religion in La Unión, and when the service bells rings ring the entire town begins to migrate towards the chapel located at the center of town. Despite there being a majority of Catholics, La Union still has a large religious diversity, from Catholicism, to other forms of Christianity, to Mayan beliefs such as Chorties and Pocoman, to no religion at all.
The Staple meal in La Unión consists of eggs and black beans with table cream, cheese, hand-made corn tortillas, and if lucky fried plantains. This meal is often consumed at both breakfast and dinner. Coffee is not only the staple crop, it is essential to the every day diet. Coffee is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner and accompanied with home-made sweet breads. Other traditional foods include Guatemalan Tamales, Chicharron con Yuca, Chiles Rellenos or stuffed peppers, Pepian de Indio a meat and vegetable stew, Ensalada de Escabeche a pickled vegetable salad, Pollo en crema or Chicken in Cream, marinated preserved beef, chicken soup, beef stew, banana bread, sweet corn atole, tosatadas, Fiambre, Salpicon, and Ceviche.
All in all, La Unión is is an amazing place! And it’ inhabitants are happy and proud.
If you’re ever in Guatemala, make sure to stop by.