Robbed of Humanity

By Nancy Leigh Tierney



Three To-Be-Read Piles =

A Decent Read Indeed


Reviewer: Sage Webb


Sincere, unvarnished, raw, and so compelling, Nancy Leigh Tierney’s Robbed of Humanity: Lives of Guatemalan Street Children (Pangaea 1997) gives readers a look at the lives of Guatemalan street kids, often in their own words.


So why post an old book on Central American poverty and traumatized kids here? It’s not a beach read. Well, the issue of youthful trauma is one near and dear to my heart. Community responses to juveniles who have suffered unspeakable wrongs—and who may later walk a thin line between victims/survivors and perpetrators of their own wrongs—speak volumes about the values of a society. The lives of children like these need to come to light, so those voting on policy can take seriously issues such as trial of young offenders as adults and incarceration (and alternatives to incarceration) for young offenders. Whether American or Guatemalan, these kids face similar issues in many ways.


Tierney’s book also has the double aspect of exposing a world that travelers who enjoy shopping in “exotic” places like Panajachel’s markets or sipping coffee on the plaza in Antigua at Café Barista don’t necessarily consider. Guatemala offers beauty, adventure, yoga retreats, scuba diving, history . . . all sorts of lovely things for tourists. But those venturing there ought to know the challenges faced by the marginalized and struggling. (Anyone interested in supporting an organization that offers educational and economic opportunities might want to check of Amigos de Santa Cruz.)


In terms of the dated nature of the book, I would compare it to Salman Rushdie’s The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey and Evelyn A. Early’s Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone. Older works that explore a region can shed light on history, development, and trajectory. They can help situate current works and concerns.


Tierney’s passion for her subject comes across loud and clear, and her approach (with youths offering their own accounts) is creative and compelling. Sure, one might point to some problems with sources, logic, and depth of legal knowledge, and one can say the work lacks objectivity (Tierney’s position in favor of working to better the circumstances of these young people is obvious), but regardless, the book provides insight, exploration of various cultural threads (including liberation theology, Protestantism, and Mayan traditions), and a reminder that there’s usually  far more to sad stories . . . and easy answers may not be.