Multiple floors, bright colors, tinted glass, columns, concrete …

Multiple floors, bright colors, tinted glass, columns, concrete … these are a few of the distinguishing characteristics of “remittance architecture,” or houses built with the money (and ideas) sent from immigrants in the United States to family members in the Northern Triangle and Mexico. Mostly found in isolated rural areas, these houses completely alter the rural landscape and redefine families’ interior “domestic spaces.“

I first became interested in this building phenomenon last year, while a fellow on an IWMF reporting trip to Chiapas, Mexico. I’m lucky to have been able to follow-up on my curiosities on this trip to Guatemala.

This week, my reporting partner and I traveled to the Mayan K’iche town of Zunil, in the department of Quetzaltenango, about four hours outside of Guatemala City, where remittance architecture has reshaped the landscape over the last two decades. We interviewed a family that is in the process of constructing a three-story house, thanks to the remittances sent by family members in the U.S. over the past 19 years.

– Jessica Weiss