Guatemala City, the capital of the country, is literally divided into ‘zones’. In reality they are just like North American neighbourhoods, but the name seems to remind people of the ‘districts’ in “The Hunger Games”. What separates Guatemala City from Calgary or Chicago is the stark inequality and vast differences between the zones, and perhaps makes the Hollywood analogy a little more viable. The city seems to be a smaller representation of the country itself. Each city, town, or village in Guatemala boasts a very different way of life.
Like most middle-income countries, Guatemala is rapidly changing, but the pace at which its population accepts these changes varies greatly.
The bigger hubs, namely Guatemala City and Antigua, are very much influenced by North American culture. Other towns like Quetzaltenango, which have largely accepted a more ‘modern’ lifestyle, still retain some traditional culture. Even in the steep cornfields in the mountains there are whispers of change.
As it transforms, the country resembles a five star pile of contradictions.
Walk down the barely-paved street of a quaint little town and you will hear echoes of Justin Bieber playing a few blocks away.
Look at the local farmers in traditional clothing, milling the fields while talking on their cellphones.
Pass by a woman selling tortillas out of a 50 square foot store for fifty cents beside the most luxurious McDonald’s you’ve ever seen.
These juxtapositions mark what could be a shift in a positive direction. But the difficult part of change is choosing what to adopt, and unfortunately the best isn’t always chosen.
If you turn on a television you will be watching “Corazon Indomable”, but it will be filled with the same gender stereotypes as “Days of Our Lives”.
If you ask a typical Guatemalan family about home-life dynamics and domestic duties, their answer will often emulate that of a Canadian mindset from the 1940’s.
Almost no men wear traditional Mayan clothing, yet about half the female population still wear huipils and tzutes; an example of men embracing North American culture at a faster rate than women.
Some people who in the smaller villages, still ruled by traditional beliefs and values, believe that homosexuality is caused by a lack of traditional education in the bigger cities.
Of course, no transformation is ever perfect. Mark the evolution of Canadian, American or European thinking and you will see it is a constant struggle for progress.
But do developed countries, like Canada, Japan or Italy, have a responsibility to guide developing countries? Or do we have an obligation to let them control their own transition? Moreover, are we really centered enough at home to consider ourselves an authority on morality and issues of prejudice?
Guatemala is a beautiful country, filled with dynamic people and rich culture. The sun always shines brightly, the people greet you with a smile, and the birds sing beautiful songs. Most importantly, the people are proud of their emergent country, as they should be.
But it is also “a society dealing with the aftermath of nearly four decades of state terror and one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the hemisphere” (Menjivar, 2008). It has been an uphill battle since the end of their civil war in the 1990’s, but this country is truly growing into its own.
As this nation develops its economy and becomes a larger player in the global arena, it must make difficult decisions about which international norms to adopt. And as a ‘novice’ on the team, it is always seems easier to embrace what is already accepted by the masses.
I hope this wonderful country, and others similar, will choose a path leading to an existence where feminized people are prized and respected.
Hopefully countries like Canada will set a good example.