Those Colors are for Our Flag!!!

Trip Start Oct 10, 2007
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36
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Trip End May 15, 2008


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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Thursday, March 27, 2008

This would be a quote from a friend of mine from Puerto Rico who was re-telling an experience she had when pulled over for one of those minor driving infractions we all have had or will have at least once in our lives. Seeing her Puerto Rican flag hanging in the rear-view mirror the police officer felt moved enough to let her know that "those colors are for our flag". This may be a bit of a misquote. Maybe it was, "those colors are for the USofA" but you get the idea and, no, he wasn´t from Puerto Rico and, yes, this was before the massive levels of xenophobia born out of post 9/11 propaganda. This is what I thought of the other day when I met a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary from Cuautla, México.

The man, wearing a detailed crucifix, told me how he had worked in Minnesota for 6 months once. I asked him how he felt, if he had faced, discrimination as a person from México working in the states. He looked at me for a bit. So I said, you know there is a lot of racism in the states for example against black people. He stares a bit more and says "ya, but they are all lazy". I´m not even freakin´kidding! I never got an answer from him about his experience and I went on about how that was certainly not true. How does a man from a small city/town in the midst of México get this idea that black people are lazy after a mere six months in Minnesota!?!!

I also thought of this quote when I was in Spanish class and had to explain to someone from Guatemala that Jewish people were not all rich and trying to take over the world. Last time I checked it was a bunch of rich men calling themselves "christian" who appear to be trying to take over the world.

These ideas are so rampant that stereotypes in the states and Europe manage to spread across an entire continent. Without traveling more I can only give my opinion of them spreading across the world. Every culture has its prejudices, racisms, systemic femicide. These are things I will never understand. Why people make assumptions about an entire group of people. How people dehumanize one group to the extent of genocide. The guy who stole my money before I even left the states...he was white. He was lazy. White and lazy. However, he sure isn´t lazy ´cause he is white. So let´s just take that rule and use it in general here.

I´m going to focus on Guatemala for a bit. I have witnessed quite a bit of prejudice against Mayan people both from foreigners and Guatemaltecos.

Here are some of the things I have heard:

Mayan people are stupid
Mayan people need to be yelled at to know what to do
Mayan people are filthy
Mayan people and Guatemaltecos are inconsiderate (this was referring to cars honking)
Mayan people are thieves


This is what I`ve observed:

Cultures that have survived centuries of war and genocide, as well as refusal to services from hospitals to cafes and yet continues to strive within the many different regions and languages of the world. While Guatemala´s official language is Spanish it legally recognizes over 20 more languages.

Cultures that in the face of present day prejudice have an increasing number of members in political office.

Cultures that bring thousands of visitors a year to ooo and awww at the great structures and cities of the past.

Cultures that have learned how to take the best of the tourist economy and attempt to keep the best of their own cultures.

Cultures where I rarely heard a raised voice towards each other or their children.

Cultures where people give notice to one another on a daily basis through a buenos dios, buenas tardes, buenas noches, que vaya bien, buen provecho.

A culture where not once, NOT ONCE, did I see someone turn away another who was asking for money. Even the poorest would offer 1 quetzal. The homeless were not ignored by what I witnessed, they were never swept out of a restaurant for fear of distastefulness affecting those who are spending more than the average wage in Guatemala on a meal.

These are not qualities of stupid, filthy, inconsiderate, thieves.


No culture is perfect and that goes for Mayan ones as well. Alcoholism and problems of domestic violence exist just like anywhere else. There are certainly people who steal just like anywhere else. I can only imagine what it must be like for, for example, the Mayan people of San Marcos Lago Atitlan where a huge influx of tourists have swept down in a relatively short period of time, taken over land for yoga and never quite left.

People come from all over to build houses that are extravagant even to the Western eye and many barely learn a word of Spanish and, yes, I have met similar folk.

I am in a hotel paying 40Q a night (the average wage in Guatemala is 30Q, about $4, a day) and young boys are doing hard labor all day to beautify the walkway outside and I overhear a group of foreigners stating that "you´ve got to be careful of the people here, they will steal anything" What!!! This belief is held so strongly that the question of other foreigners stealing is not even considered and out right ignored when mentioned.

I had this immediate desire to leave my room take all the food out of that kitchen all the money from these people, walk outside of my hammock ridden hotel and give it all away. And these are supposed to be the yoga meditative enlightened ones. Thus, I spent my day down by the dock hanging out with a Guatemalan man who is making and selling his own jewelry ´cause you know he is lazy and all and someone must have yelled at him to make some jewelry, and we have a decent conversation about people forgetting they are guests on someone else's land, in someone else's home.  He is also so inconsiderate that he helps me learn some español.

I am hardly perfect, and all to aware of my positive and negative impact as a tourist in Guatemala. However, I would hope that I would never presume to be better than, more civilized than, more human than an entire culture, an entire group of people different from myself.

May peace find its way into a world full of so much fear and misunderstandings. We are ultimately all the same. I have seen an impromptu game of basketball bring together people who would never have spoken otherwise. That is true beauty, that is true peace.

Take what you like and leave the rest. I am not here to convince, only to tell my story as I see it. Which I, of course, think is true.
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