Monday, January 14, 2008

"You Might be a Guatemalan If…"

1. The only safety devices on your car are a horn and a "Dios Me Guia" sticker.

2. You’re 34 and still live with your mother, who still lives with her mother, who still lives with her mother.

3. You’d rather decline a sale than make change for a Q100 note.

4. You use the Guatemalan 5-0-0 (5 forwards, zero midfielders, zero defenders) alignment in your papifutbol matches.

5. You drive a low-rider. Not because you’re into the whole early ‘90s L.A. style, but because 15 of your friends are riding in the back.

6. Your national tree is sponsored by Gallo.

7. Your kid’s lemonade stand has an armed guard with a shotgun outside of it.

8. Your reserve firecrackers for special events, such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, when your half cousins twice removed graduate from colegio, that time you found a good parking space, etc.

9. Like an ant, you can carry twice your body weight without breaking a sweat. We’re assuming ants don’t sweat. But who really knows?

10. In lieu of a period, you end every sentence with the word "serote".

"The top ten symptoms of whether or not you might be Guatemalan" according to the latest edition of "XelaWho", probably the most culturally insensitive culture guide here in Quetzaltenango. Another section of the same issue stages a mock debate between a white foreign traveler and a fabricated indigenous woman. The traveler’s argument is mediocre at best, but the counterargument depicts the Mayan woman as unintelligent with a childlike dependency, and speaking with simple and nearly illiterate Spanish (though the irony lies in that the Spanish must be simply written for us foreigners to understand). Commonly in each issue are travel information, essays of the "gringo experience", and volunteer opportunities, all embedded in the context of "harmless" jokes. Yet if you found absolutely nothing wrong with the list above or found it funny, then these following words are probably meant for you.

Of course almost all the writers of XelaWho are white travelers, completely oblivious to their offensive writings, such as jesting that a white person, or any foreigner, can be Guatemalan through a list of 10 things that are after-effects of poverty or long cultural tradition, disrespectfully diminishing its significance for their comedic enjoyment. Or the unawareness of continuing the dichotomy of “educated” white society dictating 'what's best' for the dispossessed third world, and simultaneously speaking for, and reducing the oppressed population to sub-human simpletons without a trace of validity. To me, XelaWho is a microcosm of white liberalism and/or white activism. While most political and social infrastructures are more or less understood, they are culturally ignorant, unaware of how offensive their comments and ungrounded assumptions can be.

Social oppression has been historically justified in the racist belief that the oppressed are of lesser intelligence and/or animal like. It amazes me how many "activists" can read it, memorize it, recite it, but still not understand and practice it. It is as if people just etch "anti-racist" into their personal pedagogy, make sure they don’t call someone a racist epithet, or befriend a best friend who’s black and suddenly they are absolved from perpetuating racism. Yet it is in times of raw emotions like sadness, frustration, hurt or anger, that you find out who you really are. These emotions trap you in a corner and you lash out with whatever you have left; perhaps a part that lays dormant during times of composure, but a still a part of you nonetheless.

For white liberals it is a check mark on a long laundry list of things to be and not to be, not a reality forced to be faced everyday. However that is simply a fact, not a criticism, as my male and heterosexual privilege shields me from other equally oppressive systems. But it is the arrogance of some people who think they are doing nothing wrong, the complete irresponsibility of their words and actions and treating talks about race as if they are only relevant three times a week for ninety minutes a session, that upsets me. Racism is a major component in human rights violations, a key perpetuating factor of a struggle originating from conflicts of class. If you treat its comprehension as if it is only to satisfy some "angry people of color", or don’t question your own role in the system, find another place to be infatuated with.

But maybe I’m making too big of a deal about this whole race thing. There are plenty of minorities that can get along with white folk and think race is "just not a big deal". Maybe I’m making assumptions of those whom I claim are making assumptions, (although mine are more thoroughly based in past experiences and observations than I’m sure theirs are, but which is, of course, another assumption). Yet if this post made you stop and think, perhaps there is some truth to my words. But again maybe this whole entry is just taking the world way too seriously and we all just need to relax. After all, like XelaWho says, they’re all just "harmless" jokes anyways, right?


Anonymous said...

my mac has been in the shop for a while so i haven't been keeping up with your travels lately. =] i hope your doing well.

what does serote mean?

Unknown said...

don't doubt what you say...theres so much truth to it. international activism is outside of american societal norms so it seems to be a safer space for people to talk about culture and people they are not at all connected with however they want. just as people in this country can become obsessed with other countries and their cultures, study them in universities, and feel that they know those cultures just as well or better than people who are part of them; these people feel entitled to talk about other cultures as if they are professionals or using whateve rlanguage they want, like grouping all latin american cultures into one whole "latin" culture, forgetting that to many of us that is an offesive term and an offensive way of talking about our individual national or otherwise defined cultures. wow, i totally went off on that...guess i've just been having a difficult time with some friends lately who tend to talk about other cultures like this. and i really can't stand ex-pats who thrust themselves into a country, believe that they know it inside and out, and yet never realize the priviliege behind why they are there and their role in that country. anyways...thanks for the thoughts. i miss talkin about this stuff with you!