Guatemala covers an area of 42,042 square miles (108,889 square kilometers) and is bounded on the west and north by Mexico; on the east by Belize, the Caribbean Sea, Honduras and El Salvador; and on the south by the Pacific Ocean.
The name Guatemala, meaning “land of forests,” was derived from one of the Mayan dialects spoken by the indigenous people at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1523.
The forty-year period of social unrest, violence, and civil war (1956–1996) resulted in massive emigration to Mexico and the United States and has been estimated to have resulted in one million dead, “disappeared,” and emigrated. Some of the displaced have returned from United Nations refugee camps in Mexico, as have many undocumented emigrants who had gone to the United States.
The culture of Guatemala is diverse and rich. Textiles, especially those woven by women on the indigenous backstrap loom, are of such fine quality as to have been the object of scholarly study. Music has been important in Guatemala since colonial times, when the Catholic Church used it to teach Christian doctrine. There is a national symphony as well as a ballet, national chorus, and an opera company. The national culture has been influenced by the arrival of other Europeans, especially Germans, in the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as by the more recent movement of thousands of Guatemalans to and from the United States. There has been increased immigration from China, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East, although those groups, while increasingly visible, have not contributed to the national culture, nor have many of them adopted it as their own.