On June 14, 1941, Modesto Huex was born in San Jose, Petén, Guatemala. He could not attend elementary due to lack of resources, and therefore at an early age, he helped his father provide for the family. For example, at age six, Modesto would go into the jungle for weeks on end to help his father (my grandfather), Cruz Huex, harvest gum resin. Resin from the chicozapote tree was collected and then exported to the United States to make chewing gum.
A typical year in Modesto’s life involved six months living in the jungle helping to harvest gum resin and then the remaining six months growing vegetables that could be sold to the market in Flores, the capital city of the Peten. Typically my father and grandfather would grow bananas, sweet potatoes, plantain, corn, jicama, and habanero pepper. To get to the market in Flores, every Saturday, they would leave their home at 3:00 am and paddle a canoe on Lake Peten Itza from San Jose to Flores—a journey of about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) that would take almost three hours!
At age 33, Modesto fell in love and married my mother, Zoila Rosaura Chan. Together, they raised six girls: Berta, Marta, Jovita, Glenda, Susaneth and me (Alba). I’m three third oldest of the siblings. As children, we lived on a farm called El k’etz near a village called San Pedro, which is north along the lake from San Jose.
When my older sister Berta turned seven and was ready to go to elementary school, we moved into a home in San Jose that had belonged to my grandfather. Unfortunately, my two older sisters could not continue studying past the third grade, as our family had economic challenges and my parents needed them to work. Fortunately, as adults, my older sisters were able to continue studying through government-sponsored adult education programs
By the time I got to school, my father figured I should proceed with my studies, despite the economic challenges we faced as a family. Unfortunately, my father received a lot of criticism from other people in the village who told him that investing in his daughter’s education was a waste of time and money. Back then, this “macho” attitude was prevalent in the community. I can’t imagine the stress my father had to deal with, and I so admire his courage in ensuring that I could study. In fact, among my peers, only five girls from San Jose were able to make it to middle school, and we had to walk to a neighboring village called San Andres to be able to study.
Nearly forty years ago, when I was going to study, my father recognized that education held the potential to change his family. Inspired by the opportunity to get an education, I studied hard and I passed all my classes. My father was so proud of me and my sisters, and he was so pleased to see us succeed as professionals in the education field.
Incidentally, my father eventually learned to read and write with help from his daughters and through an adult literacy program in San Jose. He loved getting ahold of and collecting the Spanish edition of National Geographic, and cherished reading them.
My father was an incredibly positive person with strong beliefs. This is one of the reason I have created the Modesto Huex Foundation, and inspired by my father, this year I plan to grant 25 scholarships to girls and boys in my community.