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Film Catalog » Subject Areas » American Studies » Discovering Dominga

Discovering Dominga

Discovering Dominga - Image Produced by Patricia Flynn,Mary Jo McConahay.
57 min. Color. 2002.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: Yes
Catalog #: 0088
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Sale Price: $295.00 Buy VHS Buy DVD

This unforgettably dramatic and powerful documentary relates the extraordinary story of a young Iowa housewife who discovers she is a survivor of one of the most horrific massacres in Guatemalan history, committed in 1982 against Maya Indian villagers who resisted a dam project funded by the World Bank. The film follows her remarkable journey of transformation and discovery as she returns to Guatemala in search of her heritage and ultimately joins efforts to bring the perpetrators of the massacre to justice and to promote peace and reconciliation in her native country.

Dominga Sic Ruiz was nine years old when, during the bloody Guatemalan civil war, she escaped while paramilitary and army forces murdered her mother and 76 other women and 107 children in the Maya village of Rio Negro. She was eventually adopted and grew up in small-town America, where she became a "normal" teenager named Denese and later married. She buried her past so deeply it became transformed in adulthood into doubts and nightmares, until events brought her to face the truth.

Beautifully photographed in Iowa and amid the stunning landscapes of the Guatemalan highlands, the film follows her emotional reconnection with lost relatives, with a rich indigenous culture, and with the violent history in which her beloved adopted country -- the United States -- played a sinister role. Dominga joins the Maya community in the dangerous effort to demand the exhumation of a clandestine mass grave, and later provides testimony in a landmark genocide case, thus becoming part of a global grassroots struggle for justice and human rights.

"Discovering Dominga" is a compelling and inspiring story that will engage student interest and provoke reflection and discussion in a wide variety of courses in Latin American studies, cultural anthropology, Third World studies, human rights, women's studies, American history and studies, and sociology. It was produced and directed by Patricia Flynn and co-produced by Mary Jo McConahay for the Independent Television Service (ITVS) in association with KQED with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


"This is one of the best films I have seen on the violence in Guatemala. The film gives us, on the one hand, a tragic personal story situated squarely in the United States, and on the other hand, an accurate portrayal of one of the worst massacres of the recent civil war in Guatemala and how it affected a Maya community. Highly recommended for any course on the contemporary Maya, contemporary Latin America, Latin American indigenous peoples, or human rights." -- Nora C. England, Prof. of Linguistics and Anthropology, Univ. of Texas, Austin

"This remarkable documentary traces the story of a Guatemalan woman whose parents were massacred during the 1980s civil war. It takes us between the two worlds of Iowa and Guatemala, and allows us to accompany Denese/Dominga in her search for her own identity as a Mayan woman. Her story is a parable of the last two decades of Guatemalan history. It is ideal for use in undergraduate courses, drawing in students ever more deeply to explore the circumstances that created this human drama." -- Susanne Jonas, Prof. of Latin American and Latino Studies, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz

"A perfect film for anthropology classes! In a moving and beautifully filmed story, a young American woman finds that her search for her own identity is inextricably entwined with the indigenous culture of her Guatemalan family, the history of ethnic violence in that country, and the international political context that gives her personal journey a wider meaning. These are essential themes for anthropology today, as we continue to explore the meanings and multiplicities of cultural and ethnic identities. I plan to use this compelling film in my intro cultural anthropology classes, as well as in courses on multiculturalism and ethnic politics." -- Nancy Postero, Asst. Prof. of Anthropology, Univ. of California, San Diego

"This amazing and powerful film is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It is a valuable tool for teaching students about the relationship between gender roles and culture and the gendered lens through which adult women seek to understand and recover from traumatic childhood events." -- Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Prof. of Women's Studies, California State Univ., Long Beach

"A moving and powerful story of human survival. It explores a personal borderland where memory, identity, and self-discovery mix and ignite. One woman's tragic past returns and destroys her settled family life. Ideal for classroom use in courses dealing with human rights, native issues, war and society, and the repercussions of U.S. foreign policy in Central America." -- W. George Lovell, Prof. of Geography, Queen's Univ., Canada

"Dominga's journey of self-discovery is one of the great untold stories of the Third World. I consider it an indispensable teaching tool in my comparative politics and American government courses to compel students to understand and ask questions about the tragedy of those affected by U.S. foreign policy, and not just policy's ends. As a past chair of the African American Studies Department, I also consider it an excellent tool for helping African Americans understand what is behind migration from Latin America. Social Work, Sociology, and History departments would also be well served to use this powerful film, one of the most moving I have seen about victims of the "dirty little wars" of the last 50 years." -- Cobie Harris, Assoc. Prof. of Political Science, San Jose State Univ.

"This moving and very human film makes the recent history of Central America, especially Guatemala, come alive for students in a powerful way. It will inspire questions about the position of Mayans, the elites and the powerful military in society, as well as raise questions about the Cold War and the United States' activities in that part of the world. Students will be able to put an unforgettable human face on often abstract political issues." -- Beatriz Manz, Prof. of Geography and Ethnic Studies, Univ. of California, Berkeley

"This is an excellent video for instructional purposes, and will be an essential addition to my teaching materials concerning human rights and international justice. The approach is original, and the information is concise, relevant and accurate. I particularly liked the blend of images from Guatemala and Iowa. The scenes from the exhumation were extremely powerful, especially as presented through Dominga's eyes. Her struggles to deal with grief, the transformations in her identity, and (more generally) the discussion of the polemics associated with the pursuit of truth and justice speak to issues of universal importance. As such, the video is extremely useful beyond the Guatemalan case, and would be an excellent addition to any curriculum concerned with human rights and the evolving nature of international justice. I will use this documentary for all levels of students---in my large (300 students) introductory survey class (Introduction to Human Geography), in my upper-division course (Geography of Human Rights), and in my graduate seminar (Social Theory: Power and Violence)." -- Amy Ross, Asst. Prof. of Geography, Univ. of Georgia, Athens

"A major event in documentary ethnographic filmmaking. Combining artful reconstruction of historical events with interviews and commentaries, and with careful attention to historical detail and context, the film presents the journey of a Mayan woman through the horrifying, complex, and touching events of her life that are a fragment of the larger Guatemalan tragedy. Dominga’s road through remembrance, regret, outrage, and ultimately to recovered dignity and political awareness, and the role of U.S. complicity in the senseless war, will leave viewers stunned. Truly the story of all Guatemalans and of humankind as well, the film will touch one’s heart and soul and will awaken political consciousness and human sensibilities. It will be a welcome addition to college classrooms in anthropology, history, women’s studies, and Latin American studies." -- Jeffrey Ehrenreich, Prof. and Chair of Anthropology, Univ. of New Orleans

"An exemplary teaching tool that will reward viewing in women's studies classes that address gender and cultural issues and civil and human rights, especially in the context of the destruction of families and communities." -- M.A. Jaimes Guerrero, Prof. of Women's Studies, San Francisco State Univ.


  • Latin American Studies Assn. Award of Merit
  • Society for Visual Anthropology Award of Commendation
  • "Best Documentary," Los Angeles Latino Intl. Film Festival
  • American Anthropological Assn. honoree
  • Bermuda Intl. Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film
  • CINE Golden Eagle Masters Award
  • National PBS broadcasts on P.O.V
  • Chicago Latino Film Festival honoree
  • Taos Talking Pictures Festival honoree



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