Edwin Pastor portrait
2023 Senior Exhibition Artists 2023 Senior Exhibition Artists: Edwin Pastor
Edwin Pastor

Art + Design: Photography

About Edwin Pastor

Edwin Pastor is a photographer born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. His work is grounded in his identity as an Indigenous Guatemalan-American. He captures the diverse cultures and regalia of Native and Indigenous subjects through portraiture. He especially aims to capture the details and craftsmanship of their dress, hoping to display personal and familial narratives that convey the complicated history that defines their experiences. Edwin has been influenced by films such as Ixcanul and El Norte, as well as photography of Johnathan Moller in Guatemala. One particularly influential series by Moller, Our Culture is Our Resistance: Repression, Refuge, and Healing in Guatemala, included a photo of three women watching as the remains of relatives and friends killed in the early 1980s are exhumed. His interest in studying Indigenous Central Americans comes from his own experience traveling to Guatemala and learning about its culture. Edwin is currently working towards his BFA in Photography at UMass Dartmouth. 

Native, Indigenous & Proud

Throughout my life, my father has always told me stories of immigrating to the United States during the 1980s when he fled Guatemala in pursuit of a better life. Many immigrants escaped Central America back then due to the ongoing 36-year civil war, impunity, extreme poverty, hunger, social injustice, political corruption, and gang violence. The Guatemalan Civil War involved the brutal treatment of the country’s Native and Indigenous peoples. This was only the latest chapter of a larger history of the mistreatment of such people in the Americas. Being driven out of our homeland destroyed much of our connection to the land, and with that, our connection to our culture. The Guatemalan Military was ordered to eradicate Ixcel Indigenous Mayan people living in highland mountain communities. The military destroyed their villages and land and killed many people. According to the Holocaust Museum Houston, “The [Guatemalan] army destroyed 626 villages, killed or ‘disappeared’ more than 200,000 people, and displaced an additional 1.5 million, while more than 150,000 were driven to seek refuge in Mexico.” 

As a first-generation Guatemalan-American growing up in the United States, it has not been easy navigating between three different languages and cultures: Quiche, a dialect of Mayan; English, the language of my birthplace, the U.S.; and Spanish, the main language of my ancestral country. I first learned to speak Spanish from my parents, then Quiche, and then finally, I learned English. Having some familiarization with the first two languages has helped me keep in touch with my culture and maintain pride in my ancestry. 

The theme of this project is very personal to me. There have been attempts to eliminate my Native culture and language due to colonization and cultural white-washing of history. This has resulted in many Indigenous people like myself being unable to fluently speak their ancestral tongue. I am deeply interested in learning more about the Quiche language and culture in order to maintain that aspect of my identity and my true self. My photos represent the stories and personhood of Native and Indigenous peoples. Through my work, I shed light on the way in which various Indigenous nations have survived generations of oppression, injustice, and genocide. I do this by taking close-up portraits and conducting in-depth interviews; in doing so, I am enabling my subjects and myself to explore our Indigenous identities in the process. 

No matter how far Guatemala is from me physically, it will always be close to my heart. I want to be able to connect with something that is important to my identity. By learning about and discussing other Native and Indigenous cultures in this region, I am connecting with others similar to my ancestors and myself. I am also helping to preserve the cultures of people who have often been marginalized, experienced violence, and/or seen their cultural histories silenced.