The Cultural Survival family continues to grow as we welcome Pablo Xol (Maya Q’eqchi’) from Guatemala in the role of Design and Marketing Associate. Xol’s life has always been in motion. As a child, he moved from Cahabón, Alta Verapaz to Guatemala City to live with his mother, who worked hard to give him a head start in life. He recalls, “My love for art and design started as a child when I was 9 or 10 years old. At 19, I decided to study fashion design after having jumped from two careers in law and graphic design. I liked fashion design a lot, and it is where I have been able to grow and go far.”
During his early professional years, Xol collaborated with several clothing companies in Guatemala that work with brands from the United States. Through these experiences, he learned how to apply new technologies to the process of developing clothing and apparel, which gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Central America educating companies about the world of clothing. On one occasion, he visited a company in Panama, who were so impressed that they offered him a job. That was 12 years ago, and Xol says he believes it was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Although Xol is proud of his roots, he says he always wanted to leave Guatemala to explore the world and learn from it. During his travels to remote areas of Panama, he witnessed Indigenous communities taking great care of nature, and saw that the balance lies in being aware that we are all part of the land. “I love learning about different Indigenous cultures. Knowing my Maya cultural origins allows me to connect with my Nahual (guardian spirit) and project myself through our ancestral knowledge.”
As Xol began his studies and his life in design, he faced a personal challenge: coming to terms with his gay identity. In his teens, he hadn’t quite figured out who he was, and when he did know, he was hesitant to tell his mom. “I am an only child and I was living a double life, [caught between] pretending that nothing was happening or telling her and being transparent with her. I think I made the best decision to tell her who I am and what I feel, and ultimately it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Xol says that due to social taboos, it was very difficult for his mother to accept that he is gay. “I educated her on what [the 2SLGBTQIA+] world is like and told her that being gay was not something new, but that it was hidden through religion and other issues.” As the years passed, Xol’s mom began to understand more about his identity and she gave him advice that helped him significantly. “My mother told me, ‘Regardless of who you like, it is important that the person you meet respects you, loves you, and never hits you,” he says, adding, “I admire my mother a lot. It makes me emotional to talk about her because she is a wonderful woman.”
Xol says that attitudes in Central America toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are changing, and that more diverse identities and sexual preferences are becoming accepted. “The new generations have more open minds. Many times families do not talk about it, although previously within our cultures, being Indigenous and having a sexual preference other than heterosexuality was something quite normal. With the influence of colonizer religions, it became something difficult to manage. However, we should not be afraid to talk about it,” he says.
On joining Cultural Survival, Xol says that it is a great and unexpected opportunity and that he is excited to support many people through his work and talents, especially Indigenous youth and children. As a person who has overcome many challenges, he says, “The key is to accept and love yourself. I am a person who makes mistakes, but I am satisfied with what I have accomplished. We must be aware of who we are and promote our cultures. We should be proud of who we are.”