“Clinton, Obama, Bush, the other Bush, Reagan – it does not matter to us. It matters to you! To us, it is the same evil.”
The day after arriving in Guatemala City, a fiery priest and activist Hector Castañeda (Ph.D.) introduced us to the country’s history.
There is a surprising level of globalization in Guatemala. Later that night my host family took me to Pizza Hut for a welcome home dinner. In a country whose civil wars, fueled by American weapons, ended in 1996, foreign influence marks extreme contrast between the wealthy and the poor. This division is also often split along racial lines of the two largest social demographics: Mestizo and indigenous. Racial groups are established and addressed differently here. A Mestizo is a person with a mix of Spanish, indigenous, and black ancestry. The indigenous population consists mostly of Mayan descendants with over 20 native languages, and comprises at least half of the population. Learning Spanish is crucial for more economic mobility. Many indigenous people (women, especially) can be seen in their native garb peddling textiles outside the National Palace, weighing vegetables in a bustling market, and selling sweet bread along my walk to school.
One traditional outfit consists of multicolored, high-waisted skirts tied over bright, lacy tops. Some of these women also clean houses for the host families with whom we will
live with for the next two months. Sophomore Emma Dalen’s family employs Sonia, a 19-year- old indigenous maid who speaks Poqomchi as well as Spanish. “It sounds like water,” Dalen commented about Sonia’s first language. Sonia proudly wears her traditional clothing when going out on Sundays, but quietly retreats from conversation with Dalen when the rest of the family comes home. Junior Landon Heavener has also had trouble adjusting to life with a maid, who is nicknamed “la Niña,” or “the girl.” Even though she is treated well, “it’s super uncomfortable, especially because of her living situation.” Julia lives in a room the size of a queen bed, and never eats with the family. Many Guatemalans migrate to the colorful kaleidoscope of barb-wire- topped cities for job opportunities. Land reform has been fought over several times in Guatemala’s history, but in the end, large land- owners such as banana companies occupy huge tracts of land with detrimental legal and farming practices. In the city exists Taco Bell, American Eagle, and Taylor Swift on the radio. It is fast-moving and modern. Machismo men blow kisses from cars, blowing past stop signs.
Shops and restaurants open on sidewalks, advertising doblados, pupusas, atol, and reinitos. Multiple universities prepare wealthy teens for careers of engineers, fashion designers, and administrators.
However, other Guatemalans end up living in tin shantytowns and working in the city dump. In this buzzard-encircled putrescence are underpaid workers trudging through the city’s waste to support their families.
“Two million Guatemalans are working in the U.S. without the ‘proper papers.’ Bullshit, there is nothing for them here,” exclaimed Castañeda.
The disparity is reflected in the city’s profuse and artistic graffiti. Beautiful anime girls, proud tags, a diseased pig, and the slogan “Justicia, dondeesta?”claimtheconcretewalls.
Culture shock for me has not come from living without electricity or participating in Mayan rituals. It has come from the stark contrast between young girls selling tortillas for pennies as a living and the American wealth I have left behind.