← View All Stories

El Sueño Americano

“You were always mesmerized by the country’s art and culture.”
Teresa Headshot
Teresa Maineri de Vasquez
Guatemala 2003-2005
Guatemalan Woman in traje

At age seven, I begged my mom to buy a tiny acrylic painting featuring a Guatemalan woman wearing traje, indigenous clothing, and balancing a jug of water on her head. I was fascinated by her clothing and wondered how she could balance the jug. 

As I grew older, I was attracted to handmade Guatemalan art and weaving. During high school, I wore jackets and pants made from woven Guatemalan fabrics. Thus, whenI received my Peace Corps assignment in 2002, my family celebrated. “Of course, you would be assigned to Guatemala,” my mother said. “You were always mesmerized by the country’s art and culture.” 

It was meant to be, I thought. I hadn’t even requested to be sent to Latin America.

I served with a Mayan women’s collective, working for indigenous rights in an agricultural town called Santiago Sacatequez near the capital, Guatemala City. Together, we studied marketing techniques, self-esteem, money management, product pricing, and nutrition. As the months passed, I became a part of the community—buying 7-Up in my favorite shop, being saluted by groups of kids wherever I walked. I enjoyed my friends who taught me how to prepare meals or accompanied me on early morning runs.

One of my assignments was to tutor girls who wanted to remain in school. Some of the girls told me that their fathers ventured to the United States with visas as agricultural workers to earn money for their families back home. Letitia, one of my favorite students, often contacted her father by cell phone. He worked in New York six months of each year, making enough money for his wife to open a small tienda (store) in their village. His sacrifices provided a pathway to business ownership for Letitia’s mother and the entire family.

I met Mateo, my future husband, during my Peace Corps training. We dated for two years, then got married at the end of my Peace Corps service. I stayed in Guatemala and lived with my husband’s family in Santa Cruz del Quiche for three more years. In 2008, I returned to Connecticut with my husband and the first two of our three children. We maintain our connections with Guatemala by visiting every couple of years. I enjoy visits with Mateo’s many relatives, and our children learned to speak Spanish fluently. So did I, but my kids have no awareness that I had to learn Spanish as a second language.

Sandra Cecilia in a corte

 In Connecticut, I used my marketing skills to establish Cecilia Imports, named for Mateo’s mother. I sell traditional crafts from Guatemala – items that I purchase from artisans around Quiche. My American customers are fascinated by the artwork, bright colors, and decorative weaving. Mateo built a floor loom in Connecticut like the one his father uses in Quiche. With it, he weaves traditional corte of threads which are tied and dyed before they are woven.

I also work with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer to manage a virtual website offering a marketing curriculum. We continue to pass on our skills on to a women’s group in Guatemala that employs social media to sell dairy products, eggs, and produce.

To express my love for both countries —Guatemala and the U.S.— I renewed my interest in painting in 2017. I painted El Sueño Americano, a scene I created in a primitive style, just like the painting I received as a child. 

My recent painting evokes Guatemalan memories that I carry with me every day. On the left is the American flag, a New York cityscape, and men who might have come to the United States from Central America. On the right is the Guatemalan flag, and toward center, scenes of my host town of Santiago Sacatequez. Two indigenous Guatemalan women are also in the center: one is Letitia, speaking on her cell phone with her father working in the U.S. A plane flies overhead. It represents my constant travel back to visit friends and family in my host country. 

I named my painting “The American Dream – El Sueño Americano because I always had a dream to serve my country as a Peace Corps volunteer. The painting also reflects my love for Guatemala, a fascination that I have had since childhood.