My face, their stories: María Mercedes Coroy

María Mercedes is lending her face to Cecilia so that she can tell us her story.


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María Mercedes Coroy is a Guatemalan Mayan Kaqchikel actress.As a little girl, she participated in plays and local folk dances, but she had to interrupt her studies to help her mother sell fruits and vegetables.

At the age of 17, she continued her studies and was cast in the lead role in the film "Ixcanul". Since then, she has participated in various projects, such as "Bel Canto" with Julianne Moore, and the Mexican series "Malinche".

My name is Cecilia, I am from El Salvador and I am 45 years old.

I was never bothered about living surrounded by gang violence. Even as a child, you understand the nature of your country and learn to live struggling and surviving. But the time came when we couldn't keep ignoring it. Not only did the violence increase and gun fights become a daily activity, but they were messing with my family and neither my children nor I were at fault.

My family began to be poisoned when a nephew became involved with a gang that was a  rival of the gang that  controlled my neighborhood. One of my sons began to be persecuted for his relationship with his cousin and was accused of being a lookout. My other son was being harassed to be part of the local gang, and they threatened my daughter saying: "If you're not going to be ours, you're not going to be anyone's."

We lived scared because the situation went from harassment to threat and they constantly told my children that they have to be part of the gang or they would be killed. The situation got worse when a  group of armed men stormed my mother's funeral to let us know that we were being watched.

That was no longer living. I felt trapped because there was not much to do. I either reported them and provoked their revenge or I escaped and hid my children and provoked their suspicions.

Desperate with the fear of losing my family, I began to explore any option that might offer us a little more dignity and remembered a friend who lived in Guatemala. That would be the first step to safeguard my family.

Although I already had a plan to leave, the gangs accelerated everything. One day before dawn they tried to enter our house while shouting that my son must join the gang or we would all die. Time stopped. I was shaking and hugging my son. A wall separated us from a group of people who believed that our life had no value.

At that moment we looked for our papers and packed as much as we could, it was 3 AM. With the help of some neighbors, we snuck out through the neighborhood without making any noise. My youngest son didn't stop crying and he told me “We’re never going back, mommy. I'm never going to see my dad again because if we go back, they're going to kill us there."

It was very hard. I never thought that one day I would have to leave my country.

The names shown in this story were changed to protect the identity of the displaced persons who are part of it.

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