Don Domingo Cholotio is 82 years old. Don Domingo is widow to Doña Ana Garcia with whom he had 7 children 4 of whom are now professionals while 3 continue to work the land and who, like their father, are members of Cooperativa La Voz, San Juan’s famous coffee cooperative. Don Domingo is also a grandfather and great grandfather.
San Juan La Laguna has been home to Don Domingo’s family for generations. He was born and raised in the town along with his 2 brothers and 1 sister. San Juan at that time was not very populated. Don Domingo says that they were a poor peasant family, very humble but also very hardworking. In his childhood, Don Domingo did not wear socks or shoes and his clothes were all mended. Don Domingo only studied until the third grade even though he liked going to school and studying very much.
Due to the situation of poverty in which his parents lived, Don Domingo worked since he was a child, taking care of and working in other people’s cornfields, from six in the morning to six in the evening. He earned 10 centavos (about 1 penny) per day but Don Domingo says that at that time Q0.10 was enough “not like now that Q1 does not buy anything”.
At 16, Don Domingo migrated to the south coast to work on corn plantations for about Q1 (about 15 cents) per day.
When Don Domingo was 30 years old, he continued to migrate to the coast for work but started to cut cotton instead of corn. Local contractors would take 100 or 150 workers to cut cotton at harvest time. Don Domingo says that they earned Q1 for cutting 100 pounds of cotton and that there were workers who could not cut even 50 pounds a day.
Between 1965 and 1970 in San Juan, farmers began to plant the first coffee fields and organize themselves into small groups, associations, and even cooperatives. In 1977, using his earnings from cotton picking, Don Domingo was able to buy land and plant coffee. Together with a few other farmers, Don Domingo also decided to create a small cooperative but at the time, the law required there to be a minimum of 25 people members to form a cooperative. So, each of the farmers registered their wives and together they founded Cooperativa La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto (the voice that clamors in the desert). A reference to San Juan’s patron saint, Saint John the Baptist, who, according to the Bible, preached in the desert.
In its first years, the Cooperative ran a store selling a very basic basket of goods but in 1980 the store was looted by the soldiers (remember that at that time Guatemala was suffering from civil war). This was a significant blow to the health of the cooperative and the members lost a big chunk of their investment but they kept it going. Don Domingo says that it was 1979 when they decided to start working in the production and export of 100% organic coffee in San Juan la Laguna.
In addition to farming coffee, Don Domingo has dedicated himself to public service. He has been President and Legal Representative of Cooperativa La Voz four times. He was Mayor of the Brotherhood of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in 1980 and then Vice President of Catholic Action in 1983. He has been a bailiff, a town commissioner, and in 1991, he was elected Municipal Mayor of San Juan and was the first to introduce piped water in the villages surrounding San Juan. He also built the Basic Institute by Cooperative in San Juan.
For Don Domingo, culture and respect are being lost very fast. And for culture, respect is one of the very important values. So he asks parents to try not to lose these values.
Don Domingo tells the children to study hard since now in any job study is always important. He also motivates young people to take an interest in the planting and cultivation of coffee, since it is the heart of the economy of this town and its inhabitants.
Don Domingo says “You reap what you sow”