In Guatemala, Marilyn Boror Bor is a meme. And all it took was a name change.
Boror Bor is a Maya Kaqchikel visual artist, teacher, and advocate from San Juan Sacatepéquez, a Guatemalan city of 81,584 known for its growing and exportation of flowers. On Tuesday, May 7, she visited Colorado College on her first trip to the U.S. to discuss colonization, whiteness, and her newest project, “Name Change Decree.” She spoke in Spanish, with English translations provided by Dr. Chantal Figueroa, a visiting professor in the anthropology, education, and sociology departments.
To explain the project, Boror Bor flipped through pictures of name-change announcements in local newspapers. To legally change a name in Guatemala, it costs 3,000 quetzals — the equivalent of about $392 — and must be announced three times in the local papers. “Crúz Hzép Túm changed his name to Bryn Kroos”; “Brenda Alicia Carolina Ajquí De La Crúz changed her name to Alicia Carolina Rodríguez Méndez.” “¿Es lo mismo?” the slides asked.
The answer is a definitive no. For a year, Boror Bor took notes of each name change in the newspapers. In that year, she observed that 440 Indigenous people changed their names to sound more Western.
“Maybe these examples are not shocking to you, but for us in Guatemala they are actually very revealing,” Dr. Figueroa translated. “And it really showcases the fact that in Guatemala, we were colonized by having a standard of whiteness and desiring that whiteness as a promise of humanity, but it’s a promise that will never be fulfilled.”
Dr. Figueroa explained that Guatemala still suffers deeply from colonization; internalized oppression causes people to negate their Indigenous heritages in favor of assimilation into the Eurocentric world. For Boror Bor, the frequency with which Indigenous people change their names is a perfect example.
And Boror Bor would know. To fully embody her art and to understand the name-changing process, she changed her own last name from Boror Bor to “Castillo Novella,” the last names of two of the most powerful families in Guatemala. She posted the name change in popular newspapers, and she instantly went viral.
In one viral post, someone placed “before” and “after” pictures next to her two names. Next to her Indigenous name, they placed a grainy picture of a woman with curly brown hair, her hands covering her mouth, and her face covered in what looks like dirt. Next to her new last names, Castillo Novella, is a headshot of a blonde movie star. She admitted that she still wants to cry when she sees it. At one point, she received so much online hate that she had to leave Guatemala.
And yet, Boror Bor also said that changing her name to Castillo Novella also gave her more access; even her friends began to treat her differently, like a VIP. There’s a direct link between names and power, she explained, and that’s why so many people change them. For her final piece, she showed a photo of floral bouquet on a plaque that mimics a tombstone — a tombstone for her Indigenous name.
“There are a lot of silences, and we must talk about the traumas, … about the hurts because that is how one heals,” Dr. Figueroa translated. “And for Marilyn, she uses art in order to speak, in order to understand, in order to heal, which is why this piece of art was so powerful.”
With her art, Boror Bor hopes to show a history of Guatemala that is often erased from the media and history books. She encouraged the audience members to take a moment to reflect on their privileges, and how so many people want to be in their shoes.
“This is not her art piece,” Dr. Figueroa translated. “It’s Guatemala’s.”